Below is a short preview of each of Friday’s Sweet 16 matchups. Included in the preview is a “factor to watch” based on Dean Oliver’s Four Factors of basketball success, which have been shown to correlate with winning: shooting, turnovers, rebounding and free throws.
11 UCLA vs. 2 Gonzaga
BPI Edge: Gonzaga 85 percent
This matchup might come down to ... if UCLA can contain Kyle Wiltjer. The transfer from Kentucky shoots 48 percent on 3-pointers, a shot that UCLA has struggled to defend. In the previous meeting between the two teams this season, Wiltjer made three 3-pointers and scored a game-high 24 points. Wiltjer has the ninth-highest player efficiency rating in the nation.
(Four) Factor to watch: Shooting: Gonzaga has the highest offensive effective field goal percentage in the nation (58.8 percent), and UCLA ranks 124th (49.9 percent). The Bruins are 17-0, including both of their tournament wins, when they have an effective field goal percentage of at least 50. They are 5-13 when their effective field goal percentage is below 50.
8 NC State vs. 4 Louisville
BPI Edge: Louisville 65 percent
This matchup might come down to ... if NC State can limit Terry Rozier ... again. Rozier has been responsible for more than 55 percent of Louisville’s points in the NCAA tournament, the highest percentage of any player remaining. In the teams' previous meeting, an NC State win, Rozier was held to seven points on 3-of-11 shooting before he fouled out with five minutes remaining.
(Four) Factor to watch: Turnovers: Louisville forces a turnover on 22 percent of its opponents' possessions this season, sixth-best among major conference teams. In NCAA tournament games, only West Virginia had a higher defensive turnover rate than the Cardinals among Sweet 16 participants. NC State is generally good at avoiding turnovers, but in a few losses this season (such as against West Virginia), the Wolfpack struggled to protect the ball.
5 Utah vs. 1 Duke
BPI Edge: Duke 62 percent
This matchup might come down to ... freshman centers Jahlil Okafor and Jakob Poeltl. Okafor is averaging 23.5 points per game in the NCAA tournament, including a tournament-high 38 points in the paint. Poeltl is 12-of-13 from the floor in the tournament and ranked tied for fourth in paint points entering Thursday's games. On the season, Duke leads major-conference teams in points per game in the paint, and Utah ranks sixth in paint points allowed.
(Four) Factor to watch: Shooting: Duke ranks third in the nation with a 57.4 effective field goal percentage. The Blue Devils are 28-1 when they post an effective field goal percentage of 50 or higher and 3-3 when they do not. Utah ranks fifth in the nation in effective field goal percentage defense and has 27 games in which its opponent shot less than 50 percent, tied for eighth most in the nation.
7 Michigan State vs. 3 Oklahoma
BPI Edge: Oklahoma 55 percent
This matchup might come down to ... which team can get out and run. Oklahoma averages 19.7 transition points per game, most among major-conference teams. Michigan State is not far behind at 16.5 transition points per game, including 18.0 in its two NCAA tournament games. Both teams score more than 23 percent of their points in transition, so it is important for each to get out and run.
(Four) Factor to watch: Free throws: Michigan State has an above-average propensity to foul, and offensively, the Spartans rarely get to the line. They score 16 percent of their points from the free throw line, the fifth-lowest percentage in the nation, and are one of the worst free throw shooting teams (63 percent). Oklahoma also rarely gets to the line, but when the Sooners get there, they are able to knock down their free throws (74 percent).