With one day of the 2011 Sweet 16 down, can the second half of the 2011 NCAA Tournament's Regional Semifinal Round (if we're being technical) match what we saw on Thursday night? The two remaining NCAA Tournament bracket No. 1 seeds are both in action Friday night. What should viewers watch for in those games?
East Region Semifinal from Newark, CBS (Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg), 7:15 p.m.
There's an obvious contrast between the Tar Heels and Golden Eagles — North Carolina has blue-chip players, while Marquette's roster is full of diamonds in the rough — but the more interesting one is that both teams have trios that are critical to their success. UNC relies on Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes, and John Henson; Marquette has Jimmy Butler, Darius Johnson-Odom, and Jae Crowder.
The win in this Sweet 16 game will go to whichever team's trio can perform better. And the edge is obviously Carolina's: their trio has a catalyst, Kendall Marshall, who would certainly be part of a quartet of important Tar Heels, but does not quite have the scoring acumen of Zeller, Barnes, or Henson. If Marshall can push pace and avoid turnovers — and he has so far in this Tournament — North Carolina will make the Elite Eight. If not, well, Marquette has a chance.
Southwest Region Semifinal from San Antonio, TBS (Marv Albert, Steve Kerr), 7:27 p.m.
The first of two games featuring a team from Richmond, Virginia is the one that finds the squad from the Commonwealth in a less favorable position. Kansas vs. Richmond may as well be Athleticism vs. Shooters, and though Richmond's snipers are superb (four Spiders shoot better than 40 percent from three-point range and have made more than 30 triples on the season), there's not much to recommend their ability to hang with the deep Kansas roster if those shots don't fall.
So the most interesting aspect to watch in this Sweet 16 game is probably Justin Harper, and specifically what he can do to slow down Markieff and Marcus Morris in the paint. Harper, compared to the Morris brothers, is a slight, finesse-based player, and might struggle when matched up against whichever Morris the much stronger Dan Geriot isn't tasked with guarding. If Harper instead shuts down some of the Jayhawks' inside game, it makes the Spiders' task a bit easier.
Of course, it will also be fun to watch a team full of three-point shooters. Who doesn't love that?
East Region Semifinal from Newark, CBS (Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg), 9:45 p.m.
Here's the heavyweight bout of the Sweet 16: Ohio State vs. Kentucky provides us a chance to see how Ohio State basketball — an array of veterans supporting one massively talented freshman, Jared Sullinger — against the Kentucky basketball of John Calipari and his freshman-heavy dribble-drive offense.
The matchups of those freshmen are what viewers should pay attention to: you will see Sullinger matched up against Terrence Jones of Kentucky, and the Wildcats' Brandon Knight going against Buckeye Aaron Craft again and again. Yes, you might also enjoy seeing the undercard three-point shooting competition between Jon Diebler/David Lighty and Doron Lamb/Darius Miller, but seeing great players play against great players is one of the more enjoyable (and rare) aspects of any NCAA Tournament game: Sullinger-Jones and Knight-Craft afford us two opportunities in one Sweet 16 showdown.
Southwest Region Semifinal from San Antonio, TBS (Marv Albert, Steve Kerr), 9:57 p.m.
This is certainly the least anticipated of the Sweet 16 games on Friday. But Florida State vs. VCU — and, specifically, Florida State basketball vs. VCU basketball — is the most interesting matchup in the round by my estimation, and certainly has significant potential to be the most entertaining.
That's because Florida State's game is predicated on grinding opposing offenses to a fine dust with a withering, merciless halfcourt defense. The Seminoles boast tremendous athleticism and discipline at nearly every position, and though a lack of creators hampers them on offense, those defenders can be hellhounds, especially in the half court. VCU has a decent offense, but has been punching well above its weight class during the NCAA Tournament; FSU's defense could end that trend decisively.
But VCU gets to play defense, too, and the Rams love to press. Florida State struggled against an improvised press when Notre Dame deployed one out of desperation; how the Seminoles handle the "havoc" that Shaka Smart's squad seeks to wreak may be the key to this game. And if that press both coaxes a ton of turnovers out of turnover-prone Florida State and forces the plodding Seminoles to run, the VCU Rams could well be an Elite Eight squad by night's end.
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.