8 biggest storylines entering the Sweet 16
5.) Oregon to be truly tested without Chris Boucher
Since Oregon lost rim protector Chris Boucher to a torn ACL in the Pac-12 Tournament, the Ducks escaped anyone capable of truly exploiting their loss in the first two rounds of the Big Dance. Iona was an easy hurdle for Oregon, and Rhode Island simply did not have the tools or gameplan to take advantage of Boucher’s absence.
Michigan is uniquely suited to attack the hole in Oregon’s lineup.
The trio of versatile Wolverine frontcourt players Duncan Robinson, DJ Wilson, and Moritz Wagner, will make the Ducks defense work inside the paint and on the perimeter. Jordan Bell will need to respond on the glass and in the post.
Kavel Bigby-Williams and Keith Smith have absorbed some of Boucher’s minutes and will need to replicate his production. Wagner and Wilson aren’t easy covers, so Dana Altman and the Ducks will need to respond defensively to earn a spot in the Elite Eight.
Oregon and Michigan will get all Sweet 16 action started with a 7:09 pm ET tip on Thursday.
6.) All eyes on a UCLA-Kentucky rematch
The Sweet 16 offers us a second chance to see two top teams square off this season. UCLA beat 97-92 Kentucky at Rupp Arena all the way back on Dec. 3 in one of the most exciting games all season.
The match-up of the two backcourts will decide this game.
De’Aaron Fox is a blur, capable of getting into the paint against any defender, let alone against Lonzo Ball and Bryce Alford, who are both average on that end of the floor at best. Malik Monk is a deadeye shooter and has shown himself a capable playmaker in the pick and roll for the Wildcat offense.
Ball is the most talented point guard in the NCAA Tournament, with the size, speed, shot, and vision to do almost anything on offense. Alford is one of the best jump shooters in America and knocks down outside shots almost at will.
Whichever group of guards can challenge their counterparts, particularly by baiting them into early foul trouble, will put their team into a position to win.
The rematch is scheduled to tip off at 9:39 pm ET on Friday.
7.) The pace of UNC-Butler
No game in this round of play offers a better clash of styles than the Tar Heels and Bulldogs.
North Carolina loves to push the ball in transition, off of turnovers, rebounds, or even made baskets. Joel Berry and Nate Britt are looking to drive the Heels and push the pace; the faster the better. Roy Williams’ team looks to get shots or mismatches out of their frenetic tempo.
Meanwhile, Butler loves to grind out games in a much slower fashion.
The Bulldogs work for a good look every time down the floor, boasting a top-ten turnover rate in the nation. Butler looks to use their offensive sets and patience to find the right scoring chances, working the shot clock to the bone.
Pace will be a major factor in this game, with the eventual winner likely dictating their preferred style onto their opponent.
The teams will meet at 7:09 pm ET on Friday in Memphis.
8.) South Carolina looks to continue historical run
The Gamecocks’ program has never reached the Sweet 16, but Frank Martin and his team don’t seem too concerned with historical precedent. Against Duke, every member of South Carolina’s rotation came ready to play and outworked their counterpart from the Blue Devils.
Scorer Sindarius Thornwell is a tough guard for anyone, with the ability to fill it up from anywhere on the floor. The senior scored 29 points in a first-round win over Marquette, and he posted 24, 6 and 5 in the upset win over Duke. Each of Baylor’s athletic forwards will need to pitch in to slow down Thornwell’s attack.
With so much focus being put onto Thornwell, the game could be decided by South Carolina guards PJ Dozier and Rakym Felder. Both played fearlessly against Duke and could cause serious problems for a Baylor team whose strengths are on the interior. Dozier, a sophomore, scored 21 in the win over Marquette by shooting 9-of-14. Felder had 15 against Duke, thanks largely to a 9-for-10 performance at the free throw line.
The Gamecocks will take on Baylor at 7:29pm ET on Friday.
Shane McNichol covers college basketball for Larry Brown Sports. He also blogs about college basketball and the NBA at Palestra Back and has contributed to Rush The Court, ESPN.com, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.