HOUSTON -- Here’s a quick look ahead at the Sweet 16 matchups in tonight’s South Region:
Baylor vs. Saint Mary’s
Key to the game: Overlooked in the Omar Samhan frenzy is the fact that the Gaels are one of the best shooting teams in the country. They set a school record with 270 3-pointers this season and connected on 41 percent from beyond the arc. Saint Mary’s will need all of that and more against a Baylor zone that, with Ekpe Udoh in the middle, is both long and active.
“Our defense changes as far as our zone," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “We’ll always tweak it and adjust it to the team we’re playing and what they like to do. I know with Saint Mary’s, they have an inside and outside attack. We’ll have to make sure that we keep them on their toes and try to keep them guessing and not let them get in a rhythm.’’
Player to watch: LaceDarius Dunn. The most highly recruited player to choose Baylor when he signed three years ago, Dunn has more than lived up to the billing. A gifted athlete who can shoot 3s, beat you off the bounce and is one of the best finishers in the game, Dunn is averaging 19.4 points per game. Only five teams have been able to hold him under double digits in scoring all year and frankly, Saint Mary’s doesn’t have anyone in the backcourt to keep up with him.
“Dunn is one of those guys you might do a great job on defending him and he still might score," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. “We’ve watched enough film on him. We know he’s a tough match-up for anybody."
Who has the edge: Considering how well the Gaels did against Villanova it’s hard to say they’ll have a tough time because of the backcourt of Baylor. But here’s the twist: The Bears have a much better frontcourt than the Wildcats. Ekpe Udoh, the Michigan transfer, and Quincy Acy add length to that zone but also offer inside/low post scoring.
Mix in what will essentially be a homecourt for Baylor -- Waco is just a three-hour drive and many alums call the Houston area home -- and the Saint Mary’s magic runs out.
Duke vs. Purdue
Key to the game: Purdue has had trouble scoring since Robbie Hummel went down with his knee injury, but the real problem in this game for the Boilermakers is going to be rebounding. If Purdue can hold its own on the boards, the Boilers’ improbable run can continue. If they can’t, it could be like last year all over again when the Blue Devils crushed Purdue on the boards, 44-26, in a 16-point rout in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
“At times with this team, when we’ve won against teams that are bigger than us, it doesn’t come down to always about with that size,’’ Matt Painter said. “It comes down to chasing down rebounds and being quicker to the basketball. That’s what we’re going to have to do to be successful against them.’’
Player to watch: Jon Scheyer. The guard is coming off a horrible shooting night against Cal, 1-of-11 from the floor, 1-of-8 from the arc. Mike Krzyzewski talked to him after the game, reminding Scheyer to relax and just play his game. If he starts shooting it well early, Purdue could be in trouble quickly.
“He doesn’t shoot the same shot all the time and that means you’re thinking about different things,’’ Krzyzewski said. “Jon wants it so badly. I came in here and heard his answer, ‘I knew we were playing great defense and if I hit that shot, we could break it open.’ So that’s not the reason you take that shot. You should take your shot because it’s open and you shoot it. So he’s putting more on it.’’
Who has the edge: Duke hasn’t been to the Final Four since 2004, not much of a drought for most programs in this country but Duke isn’t most programs. The Blue Devils are well aware of the drought and the doubting Thomases flocking around their program. But it’s not just the desire to prove people wrong that gives Duke the edge. The Blue Devils are one of the better defensive teams in the country, holding teams to just 48.5 points in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. For a team like Purdue that has been struggling to score since losing Robbie Hummel, that’s not good news.