The 2010 NCAA Tournament - Sweet 16 Breakdown West Regional
The West is the only region where there really weren't any Sweet 16 surprises.
Butler, the five seed, was a preseason top 15 team that came into the tournament after sweeping the Horizon League and rolling through the league tournament. Xavier, the six seed, won a share of the A-10 title and was picked by many people to beat Pitt in the second round. Syracuse and Kansas State? They're supposed to be here.
Does that mean we are due for an upset in Salt Lake City?
Thursday 7:07 pm: (5) Butlervs. (1) Syracuse
On paper, this looks like a terrible matchup for the Bulldogs. A lot of people wrote off Butler early in the season after watching them struggle against much of their premiere competition. The knock? The Bulldogs can't handle the size and athleticism of the best teams in the country.
Butler is probably the smallest team left in the tournament. Gordon Hayward, their three man, is the tallest player that sees minutes. Their center - Matt Howard - is 6'8", a land warrior, and as foul prone as any player in the country. Their power forward is the same height as the Syracuse backcourt.
As you might imagine, that's a problem.
Syracuse is big. Even if Arinze Onuaku's quad isn't ready to go on Thursday, the Orange are big. Rick Jackson was one of the most underrated players in the Big East this past season. A lefty, Jackson is a good rebounder and a solid post scorer. He blocks his share of shots, and shouldn't have an issue matching up with Howard. If Onuaku is ready to go, Butler is going to be in some trouble. How are the Bulldogs going to defend and rebound against that much size?
The paint isn't the only place Syracuse is big.
Wes Johnson and Kris Joseph are both 6-7 and athletic with long arms. Andy Rautins, Scoop Jardine, and Brandon Triche are all big, physical guards that love to get in the passing lanes on the perimeter. Add in the fact that Butler doesn't have a lot of great shooter, and you can see how this team might struggle against a zone with that much length that can force turnovers.
Should one even mention that Johnson played his best game of the season on Sunday? He went for 31 points and 14 boards, hit a season high 4 threes, and was as aggressive offensively anyone has seen him over the course of this campaign.
Having said all of that, Butler is a tough team that plays hard, smart basketball. But eventually, athletic talent will outweigh effort.
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Thursday: 9:37 pm: (6) Xavier vs. (2) Kansas State
These two teams don't like each other, stemming back to a game when Michael Beasley was still on the K-State roster and Xavier gave the Wildcats a pretty good whupping.
Kansas State got its revenge earlier this season by winning a slugfest, 71-56. In that game, there was jawing, there was physical play, and there were people flying all over the floor.
You shouldn't expect anything different on Thursday.
K-State's bread and butter is its physicality. The Wildcats are going to get up in your jock on the defensive end. They are going to bump cutters. They are going to crash the glass as hard as anyone in the country. They force you into turning the ball over.
The way K-State operates is that it pretty much gives Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente free rein to do whatever they want on the offensive end. Those two are both capable of going for 30 on a given night, and Frank Martin knows that. And while they have, at times, shot K-State to a win, they are also capable of going 2-of-15 on a given night.
That's where the Wildcat front line comes into play. Martin has a ton of guys on his roster that are big, strong, and athletic. Xavier is going to have to box out, because you cannot let those kids get a free path to a rebound or else the Muskies or going to be on the wrong end of a SportsCenter top 10.
It is known that Xavier has already lost to this Kansas State team, but Xavier is better than it was early in the season. One of the biggest reasons is the development of Jordan Crawford. He was a gunner early in the season, and still is a gunner today, but the difference is that: a) he has better shot selection than he did early on, and b) he has started hitting the tougher shots he takes pretty consistently. Crawford was unreal the first weekend of the tournament, and Xavier is tough to beat when he plays like that.
Even if Crawford doesn't go for 25 points, Xavier can win if it eliminates Kansas State's easy baskets. Kansas State, as mentioned above, can go and get an offensive rebound, and the Wildcats love to pressure defensively and force turnovers. By boxing out and valuing possessions, the Muskies will make this interesting.
By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer