Breaking down Thursday's matchups

Mike Huguenin
Southeast Region
No. 2 Florida vs. No. 3 BYU
WHERE: New Orleans Arena
TIME: 7:27 p.m.
ANNOUNCERS: Gus Johnson play-by-play, Len Elmore and Reggie Miller analysts
THE SPREAD: Florida by 3
ENROLLMENTS: Florida 52,112; BYU 32,995
RECORDS: Florida 28-7, BYU 32-4
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Florida d. No. 15 UC Santa Barbara 79-51, d. No. 7 UCLA 73-65; BYU d. No. 14 Wofford 74-66, d. No. 11 Gonzaga 89-67.
KEY STAT: BYU shoots 76.3 percent from the line (10th nationally); Florida is at just 67.1 percent (237th).
THE BUZZ: BYU beat Florida 99-92 in double-overtime in the first round of last season’s NCAA tourney, and Jimmer Fredette scored 37 to lead the Cougars. This Florida, team, though, is a lot better than last season’s. The Gators enjoy a big advantage in the frontcourt, and coach Billy Donovan certainly will be happy if C Vernon Macklin, F Alex Tyus and F/C Patric Young get a lot of touches in the low post. When those guys are scoring down low, the perimeter opens up for Gs Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker and F Chandler Parsons. Parsons, in particular, bears watching in this one. Parsons, who is 6 feet 10, was the SEC player of the year and can hit from the outside and finish at the rim; he could do some damage against BYU, considering the Cougars’ lack of size and their sometimes-shaky defense. BYU, of course, is all about Fredette, who is just a magnificent scorer. He has phenomenal range and a quick trigger, but he’s also strong and a great finisher. He’s going to get his points, and a key for Florida is to make sure no other Cougar scores 15 or so. G Jackson Emery is a solid backcourt mate for Fredette; Emery is a good defender (2.8 steals per game) and distributor who can hit the 3-pointer. Swingman Charles Abouo might be the best athlete on the floor, and his rebounding and defensive toughness will be key for BYU. BYU has lost just four times this season, and the Cougars shot 26.4 percent from 3-point range combined in the losses. That’s 10.1 percent worse than their season average.
THE KEY INDIVIDUAL: BYU’s frontcourt took a huge hit when F Brandon Davies was suspended, and the Cougars need junior F Noah Hartsock to be productive on both ends of the court. Hartsock averages 8.6 points and a team-leading 5.9 rebounds. Despite the relatively low scoring average, Hartsock is a talented offensive player who can score from 3-point range, with a mid-range jumper and in the low post. But in BYU’s four losses, Davies scored a total of 16 points.
No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 8 Butler
WHERE: New Orleans Arena
TIME: 9:57 p.m.
ANNOUNCERS: Gus Johnson play-by-play, Len Elmore and Reggie Miller analysts
THE SPREAD: Wisconsin by 5
ENROLLMENTS: Wisconsin 42,099; Butler 4,200
RECORDS: Wisconsin 25-8, Butler 25-9
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Wisconsin d. No. 13 Belmont 72-58; d. No. 5 Kansas State 70-65; Butler d. No. 9 ODU 60-58, d. No. 1 Pittsburgh 71-70.
KEY STAT: Wisconsin leads the nation in free-throw percentage (82.3) and in fewest turnovers per game (7.5).
THE BUZZ: Neither team is flashy, and both win with toughness, defense and timely 3-point shooting. There are two intriguing player matchups: Wisconsin G Jordan Taylor vs. Butler G Shelvin Mack and Wisconsin F Jon Leuer vs. Butler F Matt Howard. (Truthfully, Butler probably won’t use Mack on Taylor all that much.) Howard (16.7 ppg) and Mack (15.6 ppg) are the only Bulldogs averaging in double figures, and Leuer (18.7 ppg) and Taylor (18.0) are the only Badgers who average in double figures. While each team has others who are complementary scorers, no other player on either team is truly offensive-minded. One worrisome aspect for Wisconsin is its perimeter defense. While the Badgers give up just 58.8 points per game, their opponents hit 37.3 percent from 3-point range, a figure that ranks 313th nationally. Wisconsin doesn’t have the quickest guys on the perimeter, and that could hurt against Butler, which is going to run Badgers defenders off numerous screens. Butler can be foul prone, which could be dangerous against a Badgers team that is excellent from the line. Then again, Wisconsin has gone to the line less frequently than its opponents (just 15.6 times per game) because it’s not a team that attacks the basket. All eight of Wisconsin’s losses have come to teams that made the NCAA tourney; three of Butler’s nine losses came to NCAA tourney teams.
THE KEY INDIVIDUAL: G Ronald Nored is probably Butler’s best defender, and his work against Taylor and Jason Gasser is going to be important. But Nored commits silly fouls on occasion and has fouled out a team-high six times. He’s not an offensive threat, but his experience, passing ability and defense is missed when he’s on the bench.
West Region
No. 2 San Diego State vs. No. 3 Connecticut
WHERE: Honda Center, Anaheim, Calif.
TIME: 7:15 p.m.
ANNOUNCERS: Verne Lundquist play-by-play, Bill Raftery analysts
THE SPREAD: UConn by 1
ENROLLMENTS: San Diego State 32,396; UConn 28,383
RECORDS: San Diego State 34-2, UConn 28-9
HOW THEY GOT HERE: San Diego State d. No. 15 Northern Colorado 68-50, d. No. 7 Temple 71-64 in 2 OTs; UConn d. No. 14 Bucknell 81-52, d. No. 6 Cincinnati 69-58.
KEY STAT: San Diego State outrebounds opponents by 6.9 per game, while UConn outrebounds foes by 4.8 per game.
THE BUZZ: The Aztecs are the latest team that will try to slow UConn’s Kemba Walker. San Diego State’s frontcourt will be able to hold its own, but can the Aztecs’ backcourt hold up? Both of SDSU’s losses came to BYU, and BYU G Jimmer Fredette scored 68 points in the two games. Walker is the only “scary” offensive player for the Huskies, but that offensive method has led to 28 wins and a spot in the Sweet 16. UConn coaches have to feel good about Walker’s ability to get his points against the Aztecs, so the Aztecs’ goal has to be to make sure that no other Huskie has a breakout game. Look for SDSU to pay particular attention to freshman swingman Jeremy Lamb. Each member of SDSU’s starting frontcourt averages in double figures, and that trio combines for 37.1 points and 23.1 rebounds per game. Kawhi Leonard, Malcolm Thomas and Billy White have to control the paint if the Aztecs are to win. THE KEY INDIVIDUALS: San Diego State Gs Chase Tapley and James Rahon need to be productive. Tapley isn’t a great athlete, but he has a nice offensive game and is a competent defender. Rahon, who began his career at Santa Clara, hits 43.3 percent from 3-point range. If he can hit a few from beyond the arc early and extend UConn’s defense, the Aztecs’ frontcourt will have that much more room to work.
No. 1 Duke vs. No. 5 Arizona
WHERE: Honda Center, Anaheim, Calif.
TIME: 9:45 p.m.
ANNOUNCERS: Verne Lundquist play-by-play, Bill Raftery analysts
THE SPREAD: Duke by 8.5
ENROLLMENTS: Duke 6,400; Arizona 38,800
RECORDS: Duke 32-4, Arizona 29-7
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Duke d. No. 16 Hampton 87-45, d. No. 8 Michigan 73-71; Arizona d. No. 12 Memphis 77-75, d. No. 4 Texas 70-69.
KEY STAT: Duke shoots 37.4 percent from 3-point range, but Arizona opponents hit just 29.1 percent of their 3-point attempts.
THE BUZZ: F Derrick Williams (19.1 ppg) is the only Arizona player averaging in double figures, and as with every Wildcats opponent, Duke is going to pay extra attention to Williams. When that happens, Arizona’s perimeter guys need to hit their 3-pointers. Arizona is better than Duke from 3-point range (the Wildcats hit 39.9 percent from beyond the arc), and the Wildcats can’t chuck up bricks against Duke. Neither team gives up that many 3-pointers and open looks are going to be hard to come by. Duke has 15 fouls to use on Williams – with the Plumlee twins and Ryan Kelly – so you can expect the Blue Devils to bump and grind with Williams all night in an attempt to wear him down. While Duke F Kyle Singler has solid perimeter skills, he has struggled with his 3-point shooting this season. Arizona’s guards are going to have trouble keeping up with Duke’s Nolan Smith, and if Duke also can get offense from Kyrie Irving, Seth Curry and/or Andre Dawkins, the Blue Devils will be in good shape.
THE KEY INDIVIDUAL: Irving missed three months with a toe injury before returning last week in the first round against Hampton. He had 14 points against the Pirates, then had 11 – but just one field goal – against Michigan. At times against Michigan, the Blue Devils looked a little out of sync offensively. That’s not surprising, considering Irving missed those three months. Roles were established when Irving was out, and Smith became used to having the ball in his hands on almost every possession. With Irving back, there has been a subtle change in roles. While Irving is the most talented player on the team, he’s not the best right now; that is Smith, and that is why the insertion of a mega-talent such as Irving could be disrupting Duke’s chemistry.