By Jon Rothstein
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SYRACUSE VS. WISCONSIN
BEST INDIVIDUAL MATCHUP: Rakeem Christmas vs. Jared Berggren
X-FACTORS: Dion Waiters (Syracuse), Ben Brust (Wisconsin)
THE SKINNY: A great contrast in styles brings together two teams with incredibly different approaches. The Orange want to turn you over as much as possible in hopes of getting baskets in transition while Wisconsin is more than comfortable playing at a snail’s pace. Look for Jim Boeheim’s team to implement some full court pressure in hopes of rattling the Badgers, something that is easier said than done. Early this season in a loss at North Carolina, Bo Ryan worked the shot clock to the brink and had his team right on the cusp of a monumental upset in Chapel Hill. Look for Wisconsin to play well but they simply can’t match up with the Orange athletically and in the end, that will ultimately be the difference.
PREDICTION: Syracuse 65, Wisconsin 61
OHIO STATE VS. CINCINNATI
BEST INDIVIDUAL MATCH UP: Yancy Gates vs. Jared Sullinger
X-FACTORS: Aaron Craft (Ohio State), Jaquon Parker (Cincinnati)
THE SKINNY: A huge game for the state of Ohio gives us as old school battle of big men as Gates looks to trade blows with Sullinger. The Buckeyes have been getting incredible play in the NCAA Tournament from lefty forward Deshaun Thomas but the real key in this game will be whether or not Craft can effectively handle Cincinnati’s pressure. The Bearcats have been terrific all year long at pushing the pace and it will be interesting to see if Ohio State’s sophomore floor general is up to the task. Also look for Mick Cronin to test the Buckeyes’ outside shooting with a hefty dose of zone defense, something that’s really helped the Bearcats down the stretch of the season.
PREDICTION: Cincinnati 71, Ohio State 68
MICHIGAN STATE VS. LOUISVILLE
BEST INDIVIDUAL MATCH UP: Draymond Green vs. Chane Behanan
X-FACTORS: Keith Appling (Michigan State), Gorgui Dieng (Louisville)
THE SKINNY: A heavyweight battle between two of the premier tacticians in the sport could provide one of the more memorable games in the tournament. Michigan State has relied on Green to do everything and more for them all season and the goal of Pitino will be to make the Spartans’ ancillary pieces beat the Cardinals. Look for Louisville to pressure Appling from the opening tip and force him into making quick decisions as soon as he puts the ball on the floor. Tom Izzo will likely play Travis Trice next to Appling for long stretches to give Michigan State a secondary ball handler on the floor — something this team will need against the Cards’ vicious pressure. If Louisville limits second shots, they can win. It says here they will.
PREDICTION: Louisville 72, Michigan State 65
MARQUETTE VS. FLORIDA
BEST INDIVIDUAL MATCH UP: Darius Johnson-Odom vs. Bradley Beal
X-FACTORS: Vander Blue (Marquette), Casey Prather (Florida)
THE SKINNY: This has all the makings of a classic and the pace should be beyond frenetic. Marquette plays the entire game from the opening tip like they’re running downhill and Florida won’t be far behind. The Gators love to get open 3-point shots in transition and could have a big time advantage if they get some added pop off the bench from Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario. Look for Gators reserve Casey Prather to play a major role off the bench because of his athleticism and toughness. Buzz Williams has seemed to have his team primed for a major run all year long and despite the fact that Florida doesn’t really have anyone to match up with Golden Eagles forward Jae Crowder, I just think Billy Donovan’s team will find a way to pull this one out.
PREDICTION: Florida 80, Marquette 77