V-PREVIEW | NCAA Tournament — Sweet 16 | Thursday's Games
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Let's look at the Sweet 16 showdowns -- first, Thursday's games. There should be excitement galore and competitive basketball. I'm really excited about the two games in the East Rutherford Region, while the two games in the Phoenix Region also should be outstanding. On Friday, action shifts to the St. Louis and Atlanta Regions (all seeds in parentheses).
EAST RUTHERFORD REGIONST. JOSEPH'S (1) vs. WAKE FOREST (4)
This is a matchup featuring two of the premier guards in America. Freshman Chris Paul is a diaper dandy who plays like a senior. He's electrifying with his speed, he has uncanny passing ability and can flat-out score.
Paul has been a special player, the most influential diaper dandy in America. He has been dominant at the point, with 13 assists and just three turnovers in the tournament so far. The Demon Deacons' star meets the best point guard in the nation, St. Joe's senior Jameer Nelson, a phenomenal scorer in his own right. Both guys have scored big in the first two rounds (Nelson 57, Paul 51).
The question is, can St. Joseph's consistently make the trifecta? If the Hawks can knock down 10 or more 3-pointers, they have a great chance to win. Remember, the 3 is so vital to them because of their limited frontcourt scoring.
Wake Forest needs a solid performance inside from center Eric Williams, who was plagued by foul trouble and scored just four points vs. Manhattan. Forward Vytas Danelius also has to step up and contribute.
You can count on trapping defense and pressure out of St. Joe's, as they try to create turnovers that lead to fast-break layups in transition. That will be tough going against the backcourt of Paul and Justin Gray.
Something tells me that this will be a donnybrook, but coach Phil Martelli's kids will find a way to survive.
OKLAHOMA STATE (2) vs. PITTSBURGH (3)
Two of the fiercest defensive teams go head-to-head. The Panthers are as physically as tough as they come. Coach Jamie Dixon's team will come right after you on the defensive end.
The question with Pittsburgh is point production after being held under 60 points in each of its two tournament games. They found a way to survive and advance against a good Wisconsin team, playing in the Badgers' backyard in Milwaukee.
Dixon needs better shooting from guards Carl Krauser and Julius Page; the duo has shot poorly so far in the NCAAs.
Oklahoma State, in the eyes of many, should have been a No. 1 seed. Coach Eddie Sutton's club has great balance and inside-outside scoring ability. Guys on the baseline like forward Joey Graham can create mismatch problems. And forward Ivan McFarlin has had a solid tournament so far.
The Cowboys have a talented backcourt tandem, John Lucas and Tony Allen. The coaches in the Big 12 rave about Allen, who is a complete player.
Pittsburgh may have trouble scoring, but its ability to rise to the occasion in the big game makes it a dangerous team. Physically, the Panthers will find a way to shut down Oklahoma State.
PHOENIX REGIONCONNECTICUT (2) vs. VANDERBILT (6)
Connecticut is a No. 2 seed but would have been a No. 1 if center Emeka Okafor had been healthy all season. The Huskies have been playing brilliantly after building momentum by winning the Big East tournament.
To me, Connecticut has too many weapons for forward Matt Freije and Co., even though this is an experienced, senior-led Commodores team. Guard Mario Moore has been sensational, and Freije is a big-time scorer inside and out.
Connecticut has beaten Vanderbilt each of the past two seasons. Last year coach Jim Calhoun's Huskies won in Nashville, with Okafor scoring 25 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.
The Huskies have guard Ben Gordon and Okafor, who form a dynamic duo. The support players have contributed as well. Forward Rashad Anderson, guard Denham Brown and Co. can make a big difference in this contest. Just look at what Anderson did against Vermont in the tournament opener, hitting six trifectas.
I see Connecticut moving on. Wow, what about Connecticut vs. Syracuse for a spot in the Final Four! Jim Calhoun vs. Jim Boeheim in a matchup of future Hall of Famers. They split during the regular season and the rubber match could be special.
SYRACUSE (5) vs. ALABAMA (8)
The big question to me is whether Alabama can attack that vaunted Syracuse 2-3 zone.
Alabama is not noted as a good perimeter shooting team, yet coach Mark Gottfried's team crashes the offensive boards and could get into the gaps against the zone.
Syracuse, the defending national champion, is battle-tested after close wins over BYU and Maryland. Alabama also survived tight games against Southern Illinois and Stanford. The Crimson Tide has already lost to Big East teams Pittsburgh and Providence this season.
Guard Gerry McNamara and forward Hakim Warrick have been dynamite. I have to believe their winner's mentality and their ability to handle pressure situations based on the title-winning experience from last year gives them an edge.
Dick Vitale coached the Detroit Pistons and the University of Detroit in the 1970s before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979 (he's been an ESPN analyst ever since). Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.