Sweet Sixteen Preview: Friday Games

Previewing the match-ups in the sweet sixteen and highlighting the NBA draft prospects in those games

#1 Duke vs. #4 Virginia Tech (9:39 PM on CBS)

Duke survived the scare from Central Florida in the second round in one of the best games of the tournament so far. Zion Williamson played well despite struggling at times with the size of the UCF interior defense putting up 32 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists as well as going 3 for 7 from deep. Although Kerry Blackshear is a good player, Williamson will have the opportunity for another big game, although it does help that Virginia Tech has already seen Williamson this year. RJ Barrett has played well in the first two rounds, and Cam Reddish has hit some big shots, which is something that he has shown the ability to do in his career. Any 1 of the Reddish, Williamson, Barrett combination can go off, and the size advantage of Duke’s guards should play a significant role in what they do on offense. Virginia Tech will need big games from Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Justin Robinson to pull off the upset, and their defense will be equally as important as the numbers they put up. As we mentioned, Kerry Blackshear is another offensive weapon for the Hokies, although he will have his hands full on defense with Zion Williamson jumping around the paint. This is a tough match-up for Virginia Tech, but they know the enemy well, and it is March.

#3 LSU vs. #2 Michigan State (7:09 PM on CBS)

When Jalen Smith of Maryland hit a big three pointer to tie the game in the round of 32, it looked like the Tigers were heading to overtime. Enter Tremont Waters game winning layup, and LSU faces off with the 2 seeded Spartans. Waters can score, and Naz Reid is a likely first round pick on the inside. What makes Reid such a difficult cover is his ability to score inside paired with the fact he can put the ball on the floor or catch and shoot from behind the three point line at 6’10 240 pounds. This Michigan State team has overcome injuries for an impressive season finding themselves in the sweet sixteen after taking down fell Big Ten member Minnesota 70-50. They play a typical hard nosed, fundamentally sound brand of basketball like many other Tom Izzo teams in the past, with Cassius Winston being the most important offensive player. While Winston is the star, he has have a supporting cast that can shoot the three and play good team defense, which will be the biggest key to the game for Michigan State. LSU has been tested in the first two rounds by Yale and Maryland, and Michigan State is better than both of those teams which means on paper this should be a close match-up of a good offensive team vs. a good defensive team.

#1 North Carolina vs. #5 Auburn (7:29 PM on TBS)

This could be one of the highest scoring games in the tournament considering the amount of threes that both teams like to take and the fast pace they both prefer. On paper Auburn looks a bit overmatched, but again this is March and anything can happen. Chuma Okeke is a legit NBA prospect who will likely enter the draft whenever their season is completed, at 6’8″ with length he will be asked to do a lot on the wing defensively with Cameron Johnson and Coby White flinging threes around. Johnson was somewhat quiet in their win against Washington in the round of 32 scoring 13 points on 5-10 shooting, which is still a solid game considering the lack of attempts. Coby White went off early in the game finishing with 17 points, and Nassir Little scored 20 in just 21 minutes of action against Washington. The player who could have the biggest impact on the game is Luke Maye. If Johnson, White, and Little are all playing well and you add in Maye hitting shots and bringing down rebounds, UNC becomes very hard to beat. It will no doubt be a fast paced, back and forth game, that could simply comes down to whichever team is more efficient from behind the arc. One thing is for sure, those shots will be going up often after the tip on Friday night.

#3 Houston vs. #2 Kentucky (9:57 PM on TBS)

In what on paper seems like a david vs. goliath type of match-up if you just look at that names, Houston has been one of the best teams in college basketball this season. Corey Davis Jr. can flat out play and take over a game on offense, and their sharpshooter Armoni Brooks can be deadly from deep. They will have all they can handle facing a Kentucky team that has 4 NBA prospects in Ashton Hagans, PJ Washington, Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro. PJ Washington is still considered day to day, but he posted a short clip of him walking without a boot which is a good sign for the Wildcats. They would obviously prefer to have Washington available considering Kentucky will want to use its size inside to exploit an advantage, with Reid Travis being another focal point that. The Wildcats depending on your perception either got lucky or played good defense resulting in Wofford’s star shooting guard Fletcher Magee to go 0-12 from deep in Kentucky’s second round win. If they can shutdown Davis Jr. and Brooks in that way, or have a little luck go their way it is going to be a tough night for Houston. The dynamic of the game changes completely should Washington suit up and play well, but even without him the Wildcats will have the edge on paper. Keldon Johnson followed up a 25 point game in the first round with a quiet 9 point performance, and he will need to be more assertive against a quick team like Houston. Along with the UNC/Auburn game, this matchup could produce a lot of offense if both teams have their shots falling.

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