NCAA Tournament 2014: Sweet 16 matchups to watch on Thursday

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport

Half of the Elite Eight will be set Thursday night. These matchups could determine who moves on.

SB Nation 2014 NCAA March Madness Coverage

After a wild first weekend to the 2014 NCAA Tournament, the madness picks up again on Thursday with the first four games of the Sweet 16. The West and South regions will determine their Elite 8 fields, with No. 1 overall seed Florida, upstart Dayton and Pac-12 regular season champion Arizona all in action.

While each game figures to be close, specific matchups within each could make all the difference. Here's a look at what to expect Wednesday night.

No. 4 San Diego State vs. No. 1 Arizona: Nick Johnson vs. Xavier Thames

Because his Aztecs play in the Mountain West, you might not have had a chance to see Xavier Thames play yet. Make that change on Thursday night. The senior guard was named first team all-conference and is probably the team's best player on both ends of the court. His 17.4 points per game, 38 percent mark from three and 83 percent from the foul line are all team bests, and he models his defensive game after former NBA Defensive Player of the Year Gary Payton.

However, Thames will have his hands full on offense and defense against Arizona's Nick Johnson. The Pac-12 Player of the Year is also highly skilled on defense -- one Pac-12 coach called him the best defensive guard his team faced all year -- and is the team's leading scorer. He can both shoot the ball and drive, making him a nightmare to defend.

No. 4 UCLA vs. No. 1 Florida: Kyle Anderson vs. Florida's defense

There might not be a bigger matchup nightmare left in the tournament than Kyle Anderson. The sophomore is 6'9, can rebound and shoots nearly 50 percent from three. During the regular season, the Gators were good -- not great -- at defending the three, but have turned it up since the start of the SEC Tournament. Over their last five games, opponents have made just 14 of 67 three-point attempts against Florida, good for just 20.8 percent.

But if that trend continues and Anderson struggles early, he still has plenty of other weapons. Though notoriously tough defender Scottie Wilbekin will cover him, Anderson has made it a habit of getting into the lane easily and finishing at the rim. Florida has dependable bigs in Dorian Finney-Smith and Patric Young, but the Gators will try to keep Anderson out at the perimeter as much as possible in hopes that Wilbekin can force him to take low-percentage shots.

Then again, even if Anderson can't get a good look, he can always pass the ball. He has more than double the number of assists as the second closest player on the team.

No. 6 Baylor vs. No. 2 Wisconsin: Frank Kaminsky vs. Isaiah Austin

This matchup in the west region could be decided above the rim. Frank Kaminsky and Isaiah Austin are two 7-footers who have led their teams early on in the tournament. Austin dropped 17 on Creighton last week in the third round; Kaminsky poured 19 on Oregon.

Defensively, Baylor loves to play zone. Against notoriously good three-point shooting Creighton, though, the Bears tightened up their perimeter defense, forcing the Bluejays to challenge Austin. Wisconsin is also a good team from long range, so Baylor might take a similar approach.

Of course, this makes Kaminsky a key player for the Badgers, even more than usual. If Baylor can hold shooters Josh Gasser and Ben Brust in check, Kaminsky and fellow post Sam Dekker will need to pick up the slack offensively. This shouldn't be a problem for Kaminsky, who is known for the occasional scoring outburst, much like his 43-point performance earlier this year against North Dakota State.

No. 11 Dayton vs. No. 10 Stanford: Stanford's size vs. Dayton's frontcourt

The winner of this game gets to play for a spot in the Final Four -- a possibility that few could have predicted when the tournament started -- and it could be determined by how Dayton handles the size of Stanford's bigs. The Flyers don't have much size at all, while after Chasson Randle, the Cardinal are fueled by their frontcourt. Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis will be the two toughest challenges for Dayton. Powell is a 6'10 senior who can score and rebound. He posted 15-and-7 last week in Stanford's upset win over Kansas. And at just 6'7, Huestis pulled down a team high of just over eight rebounds per game.

Dayton does not have much size and will need to find a way to contend inside. Dyshawn Pierre and Devin Oliver contribute most in the frontcourt, but neither is taller than 6'7. They could run into problems against Powell. Fortunately for the Flyers, both can also shoot the three, and so can guard Jordan Sibert. But if shots from beyond the arc aren't falling, Dayton will have some serious problems staying close to the favored Cardinal.

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