Mar 25, 2013, 12:00 PM EDT
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1. Louisville: Coming into the tournament, we knew that guard play would dictate far this team goes. If Russ Smith and Peyton Siva played well, that would mean that the defense is able to set up and create turnovers, which takes the Cardinal attack to another level. They’ve not fallen short of those expectations so far and face Oregon next.
2. Indiana: The Hoosiers were able to do enough against Temple to get the win, but the defense can’t allow another Khalif Wyatt-like performance in this tournament. Shooting from the perimeter will be key against the Syracuse zone in the next round, so the impact of Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford is magnified. As has been the case all season, the more involved and aggressive Cody Zeller is, the better off the Hoosiers are as a whole.
3. Duke: Ryan Kelly has yet to get going in this NCAA tournament, but the Blue Devils have still advanced without much trouble. If he starts to find his stroke like he did when he came back from injury, the offense will be able to spread the floor and make more happen. That will be especially key against a Michigan State team that is no slouch defensively.
4. Michigan: Michigan looked like a well-oiled machine against Virginia Commonwealth. When Michigan is playing up-tempo and in transition like that without turning the ball over, they’re hard to beat. The real question will be what happens when they meet a team that is physical inside and can exploit their lack of size in the paint.
5. Michigan State: The first two games of this tournament were no problem for the Spartans, but point guard Keith Appling is banged up with injuries and will need to play well against Duke in the next round. Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne will also be key as players who can go head-to-head with the strong front line of Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee for the Blue Devils.
6. Miami: Miami can play at different paces and still win, as it showed Sunday night in a grind-it-out win over Illinois. It will likely be another slow-paced game against Marquette in the Sweet 16. The Hurricanes need Shane Larkin to continue to run the show with the confidence that he has shown all season.
7. Kansas: Few liked what they saw from Kanas through sixty minutes of play in one and a half NCAA tournament games. The Jayhawks then took it to UNC in the second half of their win Wednesday. They’ll need to play for like that second half and get Ben McLemore more aggressive and involved to make a run to the Final Four.
8. Florida: It will be about defense if Florida wants to stop the high-flying Florida Gulf Coast attack. The Eagles already dismantled one quality defensive team, Georgetown, and will be out for another in the next round. The Gators got 25 points from Mike Rosario in their win over Minnesota. Can he be a reliable scorer down the stretch?
9. Ohio State: LaQuinton Ross broke out for 17 points in the Buckeyes’ win over Iowa State and that was a much-needed surprise. This team is solidly built around defense, but needs an ensemble of scorers around Deshaun Thomas to contribute in order to advance. Aaron Craft played the role of hero with his shot ISU.
10. Syracuse: Syracuse blew out Montana, but then struggled past California. Against Indiana in the next round, it will be up to Jim Boeheim’s zone to slow down Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo. The biggest question is, though, can they hit shots consistently? Misses would create run-out opportunities for the Hoosiers and the Orange could get buried quickly.
11. Arizona: Arizona has yet to be given a test, but they beat two mid-majors in a way that they ought to. The bigger question moving forward centers around whether the inexperienced front court of the Wildcats can produce when it meets a team that matches up well in the paint. Teams will also try to neutralize Mark Lyons, so who steps up to score?
12. Oregon: Oregon has proven itself to be one of the most underseeded teams in this tournament. The key in the next round will be limiting turnovers because Louisville forces a lot of them. That weight falls on the shoulders of point guard Dominic Artis.
13. Wichita State: The Shockers were the first team to take down a No. 1 seed in this NCAA tournament when they beat Gonzaga. They have a good chance of advancing to the Elite Eight because of their size on the interior against the guard-oriented La Salle attack. Cleanthony Early needs to be a factor, as he has been up to this point.
14. Marquette: The Golden Eagles shot horribly from the field and barely escaped against Davidson, but deserve credit for outlasting a tough Butler team in the Round of 32. The reason for the low seeding here is because of their next matchup, Miami. The Hurricanes have proven that they can play at different speeds and still win ballgames.
15. Florida Gulf Coast: Florida Gulf Coast has been electric through the first two games of this tournament. They are confident, flashy, and explosive in transition. For all of that, though, they now face one of the nation’s best defenses in Florida. Does the show continue?
16. La Salle: The four-guard set for La Salle has been terrific so far, but big man Jerrell Wright will be the X-factor in the next round. Ramon Galloway and Tyrone Garland are great, but Wright’s ability to be a force inside is the complementary piece that makes this team more well-rounded.
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