By Jon Rothstein
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MARQUETTE VS. MIAMI
Key matchup: Davante Gardner vs. Julian Gamble
Don’t be surprised if: Miami freshman big man Tonye Jekiri sees extended minutes up front since Reggie Johnson is out with a knee injury
X-factors: Junior Cadougan (Marquette), Rion Brown (Miami)
The skinny: Jim Larranaga’s team returns to the site where he had his greatest achievement as a head coach. Larranaga took George Mason to the Final Four in 2006 in Washington DC, and that is the location where Miami will try to replicate the same feat — it will not be easy. Marquette is the toughest team in college basketball, and has a versatile and skilled roster that allows them to play different ways. The Hurricanes have had a dream season, but Marquette is due to finally get past the Sweet 16 under Buzz Williams.
Prediction: Marquette 66, Miami 64
INDIANA VS. SYRACUSE
Key matchup: Indiana’s guards defensively vs. Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche
Don’t be surprised if: Tom Crean uses Remy Abell as a defensive specialist against Syracuse’s guards
X-factors: Christian Watford (Indiana), James Southerland (Syracuse)
The skinny: Indiana is the best offensive team in the country when they’re running the floor. The question is, will Syracuse’s 2-3 zone be able to slow down the Hoosiers? Jim Boeheim has always ran with any opponent he’s ever faced, but slowing the tempo against Indiana may actually play into the Orange’s favor. The Hoosiers struggled against Temple on Sunday when they had to generate offense in the half court, and the same thing could occur against Syracuse. The Orange also have 15 fouls to use from the center position against Cody Zeller with DaJuan Coleman, Rakeem Christmas, and Baye Moussa Keita. Indiana has been the best team in the country for the majority of the season — and we’re picking them to win — but they’ll have to play much better than they did on Sunday against Temple.
Prediction: Indiana 78, Syracuse 70
EXPERT PICKS: Rothstein, Malusis, Roberts, Giglio & Jastremski
ARIZONA VS. OHIO STATE
Key matchup: Mark Lyons vs. Aaron Craft
Don’t be surprised if: Arizona uses Brandon Ashley for long periods defensively on Deshaun Thomas
X-factors: Kaleb Tarczewski (Arizona), LaQuinton Ross (Ohio State)
The skinny: The Wildcats are the most talented team in the West Region — but they don’t have a player like Craft. The Buckeyes’ junior point guard is as special a player as there is in college basketball, and his tenacious on-ball defense will be a major key in this game. Still, Arizona’s overwhelming size could give Ohio State loads of trouble on the boards. We like the Wildcats.
Prediction: Arizona 69, Ohio State 66
LA SALLE VS. WICHITA STATE
Key matchup: Tyreek Duren vs. Malcolm Armstead
Don’t be surprised if: Rohan Brown plays 15-20 minutes for La Salle to help offset Wichita State’s size and power.
X-factors: Rohan Brown (La Salle), Cleanthony Early (Wichita State)
The skinny: The two unlikely members of the Sweet 16 square off in what should be a fascinating contrast in styles. La Salle has the most underrated perimeter in college basketball, and needs to play smaller to accelerate the tempo. Wichita State is a hard-nosed team that wants to play in the mud. La Salle should get a boost with the return of front court big man Steve Zack, but there’s no telling how effective he’ll be in his first game back from injury. The Shockers’ style should give the Explorers fits — but there’s just something about this group from North Philadelphia that we can’t get enough of.
Prediction: La Salle 76, Wichita State 72
Which teams do you see advancing? Sound off in the comments!