Complete Sweet 16 breakdown (cont.)
How they got here: Beat Arkansas-Pine Bluff 73-44, beat California 68-53.
Selling points: The Blue Devils have looked sharp through two rounds, defending extremely well against a Cal team that has significant offensive capacity. Don't let the score fool you -- it was played at a very low tempo, so Duke's offense has been clicking nicely, too. Ever since Kyle Singler found his stride at the 4, the Blue Devils have become a much more formidable foe. Overall, this Duke team has much more capable size and quality than recent versions.
Warning signs: In the near term, there aren't very many. The pressure's on now to go further than Duke teams of recent vintage have, and they are a significant favorite against Hummel-less Purdue in the semis. An Elite Eight matchup with athletic Baylor would be an interesting test of Duke's newfound size.
Final Four-cast: Sunny and pleasant.
Duke had the easiest bracket draw and has taken advantage with strong play. Now they get a break with Purdue nipping Texas A&M in overtime and get either a mid-major or a newbie in the regional final. There's no excuse for Duke not making it to Indy.
How they got here: Beat Sam Houston State 68-59, beat Old Dominion 76-68.
Selling points: They're tall, they have quality guards, they are a very good shooting team and defend well inside the arc. Plus the Bears haven't played their best ball yet in the NCAAs.
Warning signs: There's not much not to like. Baylor doesn't force many turnovers, but a lot of good defensive teams don't and the Bears are eighth nationally in two-point field goal percentage defense. Being this deep in the NCAAs is a new experience, but if we're OK with Kentucky being led by freshmen, this shouldn't be the reason to discount Baylor.
Final Four-cast: Spring is coming!
A lot of people liked the Bears to make it out of this region and it remains very possible. They should be a much better matchup against Saint Mary's than either of the Gaels first two foes. Taking out Duke will be difficult, but the Bears' length (they are the biggest team in the nation in terms of effective height) and overall athleticism advantage could carry the day in a matchup with the Blue Devils in Houston.
How they got here: Beat Siena 72-64, beat Texas A&M 63-61.
Selling points: The Boilers amped up their defense in the subregional, returning to their normally stingy standards to slug their way into the Sweet 16. They've shown admirable toughness to recover to this extent from Robbie Hummel's knee injury, which looked to have derailed a possible Final Four team.
Warning signs: Purdue still can't score. At all. They averaged just over 0.90 points per possession in their two NCAA wins, which is terrible. They haven't shown any ability to get to the offensive glass, and now they're not getting to the line, either. They could have huge trouble scoring against Duke.
Final Four-cast: Fog lifting, but another cold spell possible.
The Boilers should be commended for gritting through two tough games to get here, but the lack of scoring punch will be too much to overcome against two high-quality opponents.
10. SAINT MARY'S
How they got here: Beat Richmond 72-64, beat Villanova 75-68.
Selling points: Omar Samhan has been a one-man wrecking crew in the paint. The Gaels surround him with extremely heady, capable shooters. They're a very strong offensive team that shoots well from every area on the court. They're a loose, fun bunch riding a woe-is-us public persona to good effect.
Warning signs: The Gaels can be had in the paint, and two of their potential opponents in Houston are extremely competent in that range. Also, Baylor immediately provides interior post defense of a caliber that neither Richmond nor Villanova could provide.
Final Four-cast: Pleasant, but seas getting rougher.
Saint Mary's got what turned out to be two excellent matchups and rode Samhan all the way to Houston. The Gaels are a fun bunch that playfully undersell how good they actually are, but they could have to beat two teams better than they are to make it to Indy. It won't be easy.
How they got here: Beat Vermont 79-56, beat Gonzaga 87-65.
Selling points: The Orange were fine after all without starting center Arinze Onuaku, giving their big man an extra chance to rest ahead of the regional. They are the best shooting team in the country from inside the arc. Everyone's focusing on Kentucky as the new favorite without Kansas around. Maybe they should look at the team that plays where Kentucky is contesting its regional.
Warning signs: Syracuse is surprisingly soft inside the arc, which the Orange usually make up for with a lack of fouls and stinginess from beyond the arc. It will be interesting to watch the three-point battle against Butler. Butler takes 40 percent of its shots from the arc and Syracuse foes take that many, on average.
Final Four-cast: Smooth flying so far. Increased turbulence ahead?
Pretty much all season long, the Orange looked like a national title contender. They should be suited to handle Butler. A regional final with Kansas State (or Xavier) won't be easy, but 'Cuse would be favored. If the Orange get a healthy Onuaku back, they should have enough to make it to Indianapolis.
2. KANSAS STATE
How they got here: Beat North Texas 82-62, beat BYU 84-72.
Selling points: The Wildcats are possibly coming off the best four and a half hours in program history, with its fans getting to watch Kansas lose to Northern Iowa before rooting on the 'Cats past BYU. They're aggressive on the offensive glass, get to the free-throw line a ton and force a lot of turnovers. Plus, they have a lead scorer in Jacob Pullen and some solid options behind him. Good team.
Warning signs: They put teams on the free throw line a ton and Xavier shoots 71 percent as a team. For a team often ID'd as a defensive club, their offense has been very solid and the D has been a bit suspect lately. They did a very solid job against BYU, but Xavier has superior athletes to the Cougars, and so does Syracuse.
Final Four-cast: Partly sunny, high in the 70s (for tempo).
If Kansas State can keep tempo to its liking, it's talented enough to make it to Indy. The 'Cats will have to beat two very capable teams to get there, but it's definitely possible. And now that Kansas has been removed as a roadblock in the national semis, maybe a step or two more should enter their minds.
How they got here: Beat UTEP 77-59, beat Murray State 54-52.
Selling points: The Bulldogs are pretty experienced, keep you from shooting well or collecting your misses and shoot very effectively themselves. They have some quality size inside and a trip of primary scorers who can hurt you.
Warning signs: Butler is an elite defensive rebounding team, but hasn't faced very many teams like Syracuse this season. Since they don't rebound on offense themselves, their margin for error will likely be very small against the Orange.
Final Four-cast: Questionable conditions ahead.
Syracuse is not a great matchup for a team that doesn't shoot the three exceptionally well and has mid-major size. If they upset the Orange, either Xavier or K-State would create different matchup concerns.
How they got here: Beat Minnesota 65-54, beat Pitt 71-68.
Selling points: They keep people off the glass, they don't turn it over and they don't allow a lot of good looks from three. They also are a pretty experienced bunch, despite some significant turnover from last season's roster. They're a hard team to prepare for with their funky athleticism and size.
Warning signs: Xavier has a tendency to let teams back into games, and against the caliber of foe this weekend, that could cost them their tournament life. They also don't have a ton of effective size; shotblocking is not really part of their interior arsenal and their two-point field goal defense is just OK.
Final Four-cast: Getting overcast.
This is a program that has been to this level before, so the stage shouldn't be too big. Beating K-State and then possibly Syracuse, though, is a tall order. Xavier is scrappy, resourceful and has solid star power and depth. They'll have to play extremely well -- and for 40 minutes, twice -- if they want to get to Indy.
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