TAMPA, FL - MARCH 19: Albert the mascot from the Florida Gators performs against the UCLA Bruins during the third round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at St. Pete Times Forum on March 19, 2011 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
The Regional Semifinals, the "Sweet Sixteen" in NCAA trademark and popular parlance, tip off tonight. Thursday and Friday are the last two nights of the tournament that require a serious viewing guide, as the remaining seven (yes, you read that right) games are all on CBS without another option.
Things get started with some marquee games in the West and Southeast regionals, which begin not long after 7 p.m. ET this evening. Information on those games, starting with the action in Anaheim is after the jump.
West Region at Anaheim
Announcers: Verne Lundquist/Bill Raftery
|No. 3 Connecticut Huskies vs. No. 2 San Diego St. Aztecs
||7:15 p.m. ET||CBS
|No. 5 Arizona Wildcats vs. No. 1 Duke Blue Devils
||approx. 9:45 p.m. ET||CBS|
With UConn and BYU both playing in the first game in their respective regions, you'll need to have two screens up to keep an eye on what two of the strongest National Player of the Year candidates, the Huskies' Kemba Walker and Cougars' Jimmer Fredette, are up to. The third, Duke's Nolan Smith, will basically have the spotlight (from an individual awards perspective) all to himself in the late games, though Arizona's Derrick Williams is another player who's worth a watch, especially if you're looking at future NBA talent.
As for the actual matchups, San Diego State-UConn is should be a close contest, as the Huskies' emerging frontline, led by Alex Oriakhi, will challenge the Aztecs' established unit, anchored by Kawhi Leonard, Malcolm Thomas, and Billy White. However, SDSU's guards, D.J. Gay and Chase Tapley, will need to cut down on their errors for the Aztecs to have a legitimate chance at grabbing a win, even with an expected home crowd advantage in Anaheim.
Meanwhile, in game two, Arizona needs to control the perimeter at both ends of the court to have any chance at winning. They also need to cut down on silly turnovers (looking at you, Momo Jones). That may not be enough, however, simply because of the amount of weapons Duke will be able to throw at them, particularly with Kyrie Irving seeing more minutes this evening than he did during the first weekend.
My picks: Even though I went with a Duke-San Diego State regional final in my off-the-cuff bracket picks on Selection Sunday, UConn has outperformed my expectations, and they'll provide a difficult matchup for the Aztecs. I'm now expecting a Duke-UConn West final on Saturday.
Southeast Region at New Orleans
Announcers: Gus Johnson/Len Elmore/Reggie Miller
|No. 3 BYU Cougars vs. No. 2 Florida Gators||7:27 p.m. ET||TBS
|No. 8 Butler Bulldogs vs. No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers||approx. 9:57 p.m. ET||TBS|
Tonight's first regional semifinal is a rematch of a thrilling 2010 First Round match, which saw the Cougars top the Gators 99-92 after two overtimes. However, two of BYU's key performers that afternoon, Jonathan Tavernari and Michael Loyd, are no longer on the team, and the Cougars' key interior performer this season, Brandon Davies, has famously been suspended for an Honor Code violation. Meanwhile, the only subtraction from Florida's roster is oft-ridiculed forward Dan Werner. So, that should mean the Gators' win easily, right?
Not quite. Florida's guards are notoriously streaky to begin with and Kenny Boynton is coming off an ankle injury, one suffered in the closing moments of Saturday's win over UCLA. The keys to the game will be how well the Gators defend the Cougars backcourt, keeping in mind that Fredette will get at least 20 points, and if Florida's bigs can get inside to score and control rebounds. If they fail to do these things, BYU will take advantage and move on to Saturday.
In the nightcap, Wisconsin will hope its fundamental, efficient play will get it to the Elite Eight, but they'll have to contend with a Butler team that is peaking at the right time. (If you haven't been paying close attention to the Bulldogs, they've won 11 in a row now.) Expect this one to be slow, as the Bulldogs average pace of 64.3 possessions per game is already below the national average (66.7), but the Badgers simply redefine "clock-killing." Bo Ryan's team plays at a stifling 57.6 possessions per game. The difference tonight may come at the foul line, as the Badgers aren't great at getting freebies (though they are deadly when they get opportunities), while foul shooting is one of the Bulldogs' strengths.
My Picks: Obviously, I'm sticking with Florida in game one, but since I had Kansas State advancing out of the other side of the bracket, I need to make a change for game two. So, I'll go with Butler, simply because the game should be close and the Bulldogs once again seem to have luck on their side.