FedEx Forum, Memphis, Tenn.
Announcers: Jim Nantz play-by-play, Clark Kellogg analyst
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 4 Gonzaga
Time: 9:57 p.m.
Records: North Carolina 30-4, Gonzaga 28-5
How they got here: North Carolina def. No. 16 Radford 101-58, def. No. 8 LSU 84-70. Gonzaga def. No. 13 Akron 77-64, def. No. 12 Western Kentucky 83-81.
Stat that matters: North Carolina averages 90.3 points and shoots 48.1 percent as a team. Gonzaga allows 61.9 points and foes shoot just 37.2 percent from the field.
The line: North Carolina by 8.5
The buzz: The last time Gonzaga played a team of this caliber, Memphis whipped the Zags by 18 in a game that wasn’t that close. Simply put, is Gonzaga tough enough to duke it out with the Tar Heels? Gonzaga has the personnel to score with North Carolina. But will the Zags’ defense be able to handle the quickness of the Heels? Gonzaga’s defense was shredded by Western Kentucky in the second round, and UNC has far better big men than Western. UNC has had trouble with athletic, offense-minded point guards, so the Zags need production from Jeremy Pargo and Matt Bouldin. Bouldin isn’t that athletic, but he is tall and relatively physical. The Zags also need painfully thin big men Austin Daye and Micah Downs to rebound well and for Josh Heytvelt – their only legit big body – to avoid foul trouble. Deon Thompson and Ed Davis – UNC’s forgotten frontcourt players – could have their way in the low post along with Tyler Hansbrough. Gonzaga’s 3-point ability – the Zags have five players who are legit outside threats – has to worry UNC coaches. Gonzaga’s guards also take care of the ball.
No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 3 Syracuse
Time: 7:27 p.m.
Records: Oklahoma 29-5, Syracuse 28-9
How they got here: Oklahoma def. No. 15 Morgan State 82-54, def. No. 10 Michigan 73-63. Syracuse def. No. 14 Stephen F. Austin 59-44, def. No. 6 Arizona State 78-67.
Stat that matters: Oklahoma star big man Blake Griffin shoots just 58.8 percent from the line. He has made 38 more free throws than anyone else on OU has attempted.
The line: Oklahoma by 1
The buzz: Syracuse has the reputation of being a bombs-away team, and OU is best-known for Griffin’s dominance in the paint. But Oklahoma has scored a higher percentage of points from 3-point range than Syracuse; it’s a minuscule amount (25.8 percent to 25.1 percent), but it’s still more. Thing is, Syracuse’s Eric Devendorf, Andy Rautins and Jonny Flynn must be on from the perimeter if the Orange are to win, while Oklahoma is much better off relying on Griffin. That reliance on Griffin is what gets the Sooners’ guards open looks, yet we imagine Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim will tell his players to pack their 2-3 zone tight and make OU’s guards win the game. Freshman Willie Warren, if he’s hot, will mess with that strategy. But backcourt mates Tony Crocker and Austin Johnson are inconsistent offensively. Griffin’s poor free-throw shooting is worth watching. Syracuse will use three big men – Rick Jackson, Arinze Onuaku and Kristof Ongenaet – meaning the Orange have 15 fouls to use on Griffin. A wild card is undersized Syracuse forward Paul Harris. He’s 6-5 and about 230, but he’s extremely physical and aggressive. Harris led the Orange in rebounding, and given that he has gone up against the likes of Hasheem Thabeet, Luke Harangody, DeJuan Blair and Jeff Adrien in the Big East, he won’t be intimidated by Griffin’s physical nature.
Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
Announcers: Gus Johnson play-by-play, Len Elmore analyst
No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 12 Arizona
Time: 7:07 p.m.
Records: Louisville 30-5, Arizona 21-13
How they got here: Louisville def. No. 16 Morehead State 74-54, def. No. 9 Siena 79-72. Arizona def. No. 5 Utah 84-71, def. No. 13 Cleveland State 71-57.
Stat that matters: Louisville forces 16.3 turnovers per game, and Arizona has had more turnovers (25) than assists (23) in the NCAA tournament.
The line: Louisville by 9
The buzz: Arizona has one of the best trios in the nation in Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill and Nic Wise, but there is basically no offense beyond those three. Louisville is one of the nation’s better defensive teams, both on the perimeter and in the paint. Louisville’s attacking style will put a ton of pressure on Wise to make the right decision at the right time. A good defensive team can stymie Louisville, especially on the perimeter. However, Arizona’s defense frequently is lacking. Louisville will look to wear down Hill up front. If that happens, all of Arizona’s points are going to have to come from the perimeter. Two of the nation’s best all-around players will be on view: Arizona’s Budinger and Louisville’s Terrence Williams.
No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 3 Kansas
Time: 9:37 p.m.
Records: Michigan State 28-6, Kansas 27-7
How they got here: Michigan State def. No. 15 Robert Morris 77-62, def. No. 10 USC 74-69. Kansas def. No. 14 North Dakota State 84-74, def. No. 11 Dayton 60-43.
Stat that matters: Michigan State outrebounds foes by 9.5 per game, Kansas by 7.1.
The line: Michigan State by 1.5
The buzz: Michigan State beat Kansas by 13 in East Lansing in January. Michigan State shot only 39.3 percent from the field but won easily because it hammered the Jayhawks on the boards. KU was 5-for-20 from 3-point range, too. Kansas center Cole Aldrich played relatively well that day but had no help up front, which means the play of the Morris twins, Markieff and Marcus, bears watching for the Jayhawks. Kansas is best when it can play at a fast pace, but Michigan State – despite averaging just 71.9 points in the regular season – wouldn’t mind that, either. The Spartans have a lot of good athletes and they know how to score in transition. There will be a lot of pressure on Aldrich to produce on both ends of the court, and you can expect Michigan State to frequently rotate its big men. The point-guard matchup between Michigan State’s Kalin Lucas and Kansas’ Sherron Collins will be entertaining. In their first meeting, Collins had 25 points and eight assists – but also eight turnovers. Lucas had 22 points, one assist and one turnover. KU needs Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed to hit their 3-pointers.