Thursday's Sweet 16 matchups

Mike Huguenin
Yahoo! Sports

TD Banknorth Garden, Boston
Announcers: Verne Lundquist play-by-play, Bill Raftery analyst

No. 1 Pittsburgh vs. No. 4 Xavier
Time: 7:27 p.m.
Records: Pitt 30-4, Xavier 27-7
How they got here: Pitt def. No. 16 East Tennessee State 72-62, def. No. 8 Oklahoma State 84-76. Xavier def. No. 13 Portland State 77-59, def. No. 12 Wisconsin 60-49.
Stat that matters: Both are good on the boards. Pitt outrebounds foes by 9.4 per game, Xavier by 9.1.
The line: Pitt by 7
The buzz: This will not be a thing of beauty. Instead, it will be a grind-it-out affair with a lot of banging and bumping in the paint. Xavier would rather the game finish in the 60s; Pitt wants it at least in the low 70s. Pitt was 2-3 when scoring fewer than 70 points this season, and Xavier allows just 61.9 points per game. Pitt’s starting frontcourt of DeJuan Blair, Sam Young and Tyrell Biggs is large and physical, but there are no big guys on the bench. Xavier has better frontcourt depth, and you can bet the Musketeers will take it at Blair in an effort to get him in foul trouble. Xavier’s biggest worry is taking care of the ball. The Musketeers are the only team left in the field that has more turnovers than assists and commits 14.7 turnovers per game. Pitt forces only 12.9 turnovers per game, though the Panthers know how to score in transition with point guard Levance Fields. Xavier is vastly better from 3-point range than Pitt, with forward Derrick Brown and swingman B.J. Raymond the most dangerous marksmen. If the Musketeers are hot from the outside, they have a great chance to pull the upset. Xavier’s point guards are going to have trouble with Fields. Pitt is trying to get to a regional final for the first time since 1974, when it was routed by eventual national champion North Carolina State. Xavier lost in a regional final last season, to UCLA.

No. 2 Duke vs. No. 3 Villanova
Time: 9:57 p.m.
Records: Duke 30-6, Villanova 28-7
How they got here: Duke def. No. 15 Binghamton 86-62, def. No. 7 Texas 74-69. Villanova def. No. 14 American 80-67, def. No. 6 UCLA 89-69.
Stat that matters: These teams are remarkably similar offensively. Duke averages 77.9 points per game, shoots 44.9 percent from the field, 35.5 percent from 3-point range and 72.0 from the line. Villanova averages 77.0 points per game, shoots 45.7 percent from the field, 36.5 percent from 3-point range and 74.6 percent from the line. Villanova has better defensive numbers, though. The Blue Devils allow 65.6 points per game, and foes shoot 43.4 percent from the floor and 34.2 percent from 3-point range. Duke outrebounds foes by 3.2 per game. The Wildcats allow 67.1 points, and foes shoot 40.6 percent from the field and 33.9 percent from 3-point range. Villanova outrebounds foes by 4.6 per game.
The line: Duke by 2.5
The buzz: Both teams like to score in transition, but each is adaptable and can run half-court sets. Duke has had trouble against penetrating guards, and in Scottie Reynolds and reserve Corey Fisher, the Wildcats have two distributors who can get into the lane. The insertion of freshman guard Elliot Williams into the starting lineup has improved Duke’s defense, but Villanova’s guards – on the whole – are quicker than Duke’s. Duke has done a good job forcing turnovers, but Villanova has taken good care of the ball – though its big men can be sloppy at times. The inside matchup between Duke’s Kyle Singler and Villanova’s underrated Dante Cunningham will be a good one. Cunningham is Villanova’s leading scorer and rebounder, and he can score in a variety of ways from 15 feet or closer. A key for Villanova will be to stymie Duke swingman Gerald Henderson, who not only has 3-point range but also can put it on the floor and get to the rim. Look for Villanova to rotate Dwayne Anderson, Reggie Redding and Corey Stokes on Henderson in an effort to slow him down. Villanova has better overall depth and actually gets consistent offense from its reserves.

University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
Announcers: Dick Enberg play-by-play, Jay Bilas analyst

No. 1 Connecticut vs. No. 5 Purdue,
Time: 7:07 p.m.
Records: UConn 29-4, Purdue 27-9
How they got here: UConn def. No. 16 Chattanooga 103-47, def. No. 9 Texas A&M 92-66. Purdue def. No. 12 Northern Iowa 61-56, def. No. 4 Washington 76-74.
Stat that matters: UConn outrebounds opponents by 8.9 per game, while Purdue is outrebounded by 0.3 per game. Purdue starting center JaJuan Johnson had zero defensive rebounds against Washington in the second round.
Spread: UConn by 6.5
The buzz: UConn will look to push the pace against the Boilermakers, who don’t have the firepower to hang with the Huskies if the game gets into the mid-70s. UConn also will look to use its frontcourt depth against the smallish Boilermakers. Purdue has two true “power guys” up front, Johnson – a 210-pounder – and reserve forward Nemanja Calasan, while UConn likely will use as many as four. Johnson is an effective low-post scorer who generally avoids fouls; he must take the ball right at UConn’s 7-3 Hasheem Thabeet to try to score and to try to induce Thabeet into foul trouble. Purdue has no chance if it’s simply shooting jumpers, though the Boilermakers do have some guys who can hit 3-pointers. UConn has played solid perimeter defense all season, but the injured Jerome Dyson was the Huskies’ best perimeter defender. That means Purdue’s Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore and reserve Keaton Grant could get some looks. Watch Purdue freshman point guard Lewis Jackson and how he handles a physical UConn backcourt on both ends of the floor.

No. 2 Memphis vs. No. 3 Missouri
Time: 9:37 p.m.
Records: Memphis 33-3, Missouri 30-6
How they got here: Memphis def. No. 15 Cal State Northridge 81-70, def. No. 10 Maryland 89-70. Missouri def. No. 14 Cornell 78-59, def. No. 6 Marquette 83-79.
Stat that matters: Memphis allows 57.6 points per game and allows foes to shoot just 36.6 percent from the floor, the nation’s best defensive percentage. Missouri averages 81.1 points per game and shoots 47.3 percent.
The line: Memphis by 4.5
The buzz: Missouri thrives by forcing turnovers and scoring in transition. When Mizzou has to play a half-court game, it frequently struggles. Memphis freshman Tyreke Evans has done a nice job since being moved to point guard about a third of the way into the season. But while he has 139 assists, he also has 128 turnovers, so look for Missouri to attack him as frequently as possible. Antonio Anderson takes much better care of the ball, but Memphis’ offense doesn’t flow as smoothly when he’s the main distributor. Memphis is a good rebounding team, not surprising when you consider six players who are at least 6 feet 6 play double-digit minutes. There will be a ton of pressure on Mizzou big men DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons to work hard on the boards; those two also are Mizzou’s leading scorers. Missouri has good depth, with nine guys averaging at least 12 minutes, so the Tigers will press all game. Senior guard Matt Lawrence is the only 3-point shooter of note for Missouri. Memphis is shooting just 32.9 percent this season from 3-point range, but has been on fire (21-of-47, 44.7 percent) in the NCAA tournament. If Memphis continues to shoot that well from the outside, it will win the national title. Doneal Mack and Roburt Sallie are the guys to watch in that area.

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