Friday's East Sweet 16 Games
No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Kentucky; No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 11 Marquette
When the NCAA Tournament bracket were announced, conventional wisdom had the top heavy East playing according to seed up until the Sweet 16. But conventional wisdom forgot about Marquette's slingshot as the Golden Eagles played David to Syracuse's Goliath with a huge upset. The double digit seeded underdog will have to play just as well as they did against the gigantic Syracuse frontcourt to knock off the lengthy Tar Heels.
In the top half of the bracket, it shapes up to be a battle of young vs. experienced. The Wildcats rely on three freshmen to do the heavy lifting in Knight, Lamb, and Jones while the Buckeyes surround perhaps the most talented freshman in America Jared Sullinger with a collection of grizzled veterans. Will youth be served, or get served in this battle of different experience levels?
Players to Watch
Jared Sullinger is not only the best freshman in America, he may be the best player period. His physical talents are off the chart but his ability to do the little things like pass out of double teams and using terrific footwork to carve out space while avoiding offensive fouls is what's staggering considering his limited experience. Sullinger will be battling fellow true freshman Terrance Jones for interior bragging rights come Friday evening, but keep a close eye on unheralded senior post Josh Harrellson because his play might just be the difference in this ballgame. Harrellson is playing at an elite level, carrying the Wildcats to victory in their round of 32 victory over West Virginia with his physical play. If he can give Kentucky man-sized minutes against Sullinger, it will free up Jones to go to work on the other end.
On the bottom half of the bracket keep an eye on another unsung hero in Marquette center Charles Otule. Since he's been inserted into the starting lineup, the Golden Eagles have found the answer to their big man woes. Otule's big, athletic presence will be really important against the dynamic interior duo of UNC.
Speaking of the Tar Heels, obviously you have to start with the frontcourt of Henson, Barnes, and Zeller, but guard play will be key for the Heels come Friday evening. Dexter Strickland will have to take some pressure off of Kendall Marshall and play turnover free for most of the evening otherwise the freshman guard will be worn down. Marquette sends guards at you in waves so it's important to have more than one ball handler.
The Ohio State vs. Kentucky game will have all of the drama of a heavyweight fight. Kentucky is the young challenger looking to unseat the top team in the land who has left a wake of destruction in its tournament path thus far. Aaron Craft vs. Brandon Knight, Jared Sullinger vs. Terrence Jones, and Calipari vs. Matta are indeed must see matchups.
Marquette has proven it can take down big, physical frontcourts after dismantling Syracuse, and North Carolina has shown a propensity to struggle with quick, athletic backcourts because they don't guard the perimeter all that well. That's a recipe for a shocking 11 vs. 2 seed upset and an upset stomach for Heels' fans.