Three Things To Watch is a quick preview of the NCAA tournament's second weekend. It is exactly what it says it is.
Thursday's games in Syracuse, N.Y.: No. 11 Washington vs. No. 2 West Virginia, 7:27 p.m. ET and No. 12 Cornell vs. No. 1 Kentucky, 9:57 p.m. ET
Thing One: Box out, Huskies. Box out hard. In my little daily Saddle Up previews throughout the regular season, one thing was always certain: If West Virginia was playing, we'd be talking about offensive rebounds. The postseason has long since rendered Saddle Up obsolete, but the Mountaineers' still revolve their entire existence around their ability to rebound their relatively frequent misses. West Virginia grabs almost 42 percent of their possible offensive rebounds, the second-best mark in the country. (No. 1, Old Dominion, has since been sent packing.) Devin Ebanks, Wellington Smith and Kevin Jones make it difficult for any team to truly protect their defensive glass.
That trio ought to be doubly scary to Washington, though. The Huskies are No. 96 in the country on the defensive boards. If Washington can miraculously find a way to prevent West Virginia from doing what it's done to pretty much every team the Mountaineers have encountered this year, Washington has a chance. But if those numbers pan out? It doesn't look good.
Thing Two: Turnovers. Despite the whole "no true point guard" thing, West Virginia has been pretty careful with the ball for much of the season. In case you haven't heard, though -- and I'm guessing you have -- putative point guard Darryl Bryant is out for the rest of the season with a broken foot. That leaves Joe Mazzulla, who came up big in West Virginia's second round win over Missouri, to, ahem, handle much of the point guard responsibilities. Can Washington turn Mazzulla over? If so, they could negate one of West Virginia's main strengths and get more than a few buckets in transition.
Thing Three: Oh, yeah, that other game. Is it too easy to just say "watch Cornell and Kentucky, because that game's going to be awesome?" Maybe. But that's pretty much all you need to know. Kentucky treated its first two tournament opponents -- one of whom was a middle-of-the-road ACC team -- like No. 16 seeds. Cornell has put on the tournament's best shooting performance and downed two of the nation's best defensive teams in the process. Both teams are eminently enjoyable to watch, one for its sheer athletic talent, the other for its sublime offensive skill. It's going to be a good one.
And it should be pretty easy to figure out: If Cornell can shoot well over Kentucky's athletic and thoroughly underrated perimeter defense -- and manage to keep Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins from dominating the offensive glass -- this could go either way. No team shooting as well as the Big Red should ever be discounted, even against a team like Kentucky. This thing could happen. And it should be a really awesome watch.
Bonus bold East Region prediction!: Cornell stays hot, pushes Kentucky to the wire, and the Cats miss a series of key free throws down the stretch to fall in what many will consider one of the biggest Sweet 16 upsets of all-time. John Calipari is forced to answer semi-unfair free throw-related questions for yet another year. He is decidedly displeased about this fact. Eamonndamus has spoken!