At last, the Sweet 16 is upon us. We're down to two games in each region of the 2011 NCAA Tournament bracket, and there are four games both tonight and Friday on the the Sweet 16 schedule. There's plenty of analysis and prediction at SB Nation's NCAA Tournament hub, but viewers likely want to know what to watch for in these Sweet 16 games, too. Good thing they're reading this article, then!
West Region Semifinal from Anaheim, CBS (Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery), 7:15 p.m.
There are plenty of things to watch in this game — how well Kawhi Leonard is able to drive against Roscoe Smith and Alex Oriakhi, who The UConn Blog writes is the key to UConn advancing; whether the occasionally brick-laying Aztecs will be able to shoot at all; how UConn's very young team handles the veteran Aztecs — but, really, this game and Connecticut's season have been all about Kemba Walker.
Walker will have to be very good for the Huskies to beat an Aztecs team that has been strong all year, but very good is Kemba's baseline. If Walker can pour in 30 points on fewer than 20 shots, it's going to be a rout; if he gets to the line and converts 10 or more times, it's going to be very hard for the Huskies to be beaten.
However, if Walker is limited by D.J. Gay in man-to-man coverage or trammeled by an Aztecs defense that collapses when he drives into the lane, UConn might not advance without a superb effort from at least one member (Jeremy Lamb?) of Walker's supporting cast. UConn basketball, all season, has been predicated on Kemba Walker getting his points — and for the viewer, that will be the most enjoyable thing to watch in this game.
Your subtle thing to watch: how many jumpers does San Diego State take? If the Aztecs fail to turn their possessions into drives, the lack of great shooters on their roster will doom them.
Southeast Region Semifinal from New Orleans, TBS (Gus Johnson, Len Elmore, Reggie Miller), 7:27 p.m.
By far the most fun thing about this Florida vs. BYU game is the presence of two players who take nearly unconscionable shots. Yes, that's right, two: Jimmer Fredette's shot selection is obviously the better-known example of firing away from well beyond NBA range, but Florida's Erving Walker tends to bomb away, too.
For Fredette, the deep shooting is rooted in both confidence in his shot and a chance to get a shot off without a defender glued to him; for the Lilliputian Walker — he's listed at 5'8", but having once walked by him in a barbershop, I'd have a hard time believing he's taller than 5'7" — it's a matter of getting a shot off at all. Walker's drives to the basket are regularly thwarted by taller defenders, so his shots from afar are more calculated than chutzpah.
Obviously, you will watch Fredette work his magic, and might want to pay attention to how well Kenny Boynton, likely Fredette's shadow for the night, looks in his first game since an ankle injury sustained against UCLA. But remember to watch Walker, too, if only to see that it's not just Jimmer firing up "No, no, no ... YES!" threes.
Underrated: Chandler Parsons has been a hellion on the offensive glass for Florida in the last two months. If he can get the Gators going with a tip-dunk or two against an undermanned BYU front line, Gator Nation will be smiling tonight.
West Region Semifinal from Anaheim, CBS (Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery), 9:45 p.m.
The obvious fun thing to watch in this game: whether Kyrie Irving can give Duke more than he did in his sparing play on the NCAA Tournament's opening weekend. The more interesting fun thing to watch: how Kyle Singler defends Derrick Williams.
Singler entered the 2010-11 season as a National Player of the Year favorite; that hasn't worked out. But what Singler has done is draw the opponent's best forward on defense more often than not, and he's used his length and lateral quickness to do yeoman's work on that side of the ball. With Nolan Smith's emergence as one of the five best players in college basketball, Singler's regression on offense hasn't been as damaging as it could have been, either.
But if Duke gets Irving going, get typically brilliant nights from Smith, and gets two or three three-pointers per game from Singler — whose stroke has deteriorated since 2010, and especially since the ACC schedule began this season — these Blue Devils might yet make that repeat dream a reality for Duke basketball fans.
Sneaky interesting facet of this game: Sports Illustrated writer Luke Winn makes a compelling case for his hunch that Andre Dawkins could break out for Duke.
Southeast Region Semifinal from New Orleans, TBS (Gus Johnson, Len Elmore, Reggie Miller), 9:57 p.m.
Shelvin Mack is unquestionably the most enjoyable player to watch on the Butler Bulldogs' roster. Mack can make so many things happen on offense with his very good, if streaky, shooting and smart driving, and he's the kind of player who isn't reluctant to chirp some trash talk at an opponent.
But Matt Howard is Butler's best offensive player, with the sort of post move arsenal that conjures the image of the world's dullest Swiss Army knife. And it's the way Brad Stevens runs brilliant offensive sets that gives Howard a lot of his efficacy.
You would be foolish not to enjoy the potential point guard duel between Mack and Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor. If Butler's going to pull this upset, though, Brad Stevens' offense is going to have to out-execute Bo Ryan's offense — no small task, as the Badgers rank second nationally in offensive efficiency and have no shortage of well-designed sets and plays — and the Xs and Os of Butler vs. Wisconsin may be the most important aspect of the game.
Your undercard: Mike Bruesewitz. Or maybe just Mike Bruesewitz' hair.
Need help catching up with all the action? Here's a printable NCAA Tournament bracket and an updated Sweet 16 schedule. And be sure to check out SB Nation's NCAA Tournament hub for full March Madness coverage.