Top NCAA Tournament Individual Player Matchups (Sweet 16)

Top NCAA Tournament Individual Player Matchups (Sweet 16)
Mar 25, 2009, 09:59 pm
We know which teams will be going head to head, but what will the most intriguing individual player matchups be this coming weekend? Who stands the most to gain or lose?

all times EST

Hasheem Thabeet vs. JaJuan Johnson, #1 UConn vs. #5 Purdue, 7:07 PM

Purdue has been heavily reliant as of late on the scoring of their starting center JaJuan Johnson, but the sophomore has never had to matchup with the game-changing size and length that Thabeet brings to the table. Johnson will likely try to pull Thabeet out to the perimeter, where he’s looked very comfortable shooting jump-shots as of late, and Thabeet will either have to abandon the paint or be part of a zone defense, which Jim Calhoun absolutely despises. Foul trouble has been a major issue for the Tanzanian giant in the last few games, and another game sitting on the bench could spell problems for his draft stock (and UConn’s chances at advancing). On the other end of the floor, Johnson’s wiry 215 pound build clearly is no match for Thabeet’s chiseled frame, but the question is first: will UConn will be looking to take advantage of that matchup, and second: will Thabeet show any kind of desire to receive the ball inside? His offensive limitations are well-known, but Johnson can’t stop him from establishing position in the post if Thabeet chooses to, and UConn will be in great shape if they can somehow get Purdue’s center in foul trouble.

This will be a very interesting tactical tug of war to watch on both ends, between hall of famer Jim Calhoun and widely respected up and comer Matt Painter.

Tyreke Evans vs. Missouri’s ’40 minutes of hell’ press, #2 Memphis vs. #3 Missouri, 9:37 PM

Memphis had a surprisingly difficult time in the first round going up against the full-court press and half-court zone that lowly Cal-State Northridge threw at it, but then proceeded to absolutely dismantle Maryland when they adopted the same tactics two days later. Which version of the Memphis Tigers will we get this time around? A lot of that depends on the poise and decision making skills that their freshman point guard Tyreke Evans is able to display in this game. Evans is obviously a huge talent, but he’s also the 3rd most turnover prone player in our database, and Missouri happens to force turnovers on 25% of their defensive possessions, easily the best of any remaining NCAA tournament team. Their full-court press can absolutely wear teams down over the course of 40 minutes, but Memphis will have almost a full week to prepare for how to break it, and clearly has the athletes to do so. Ironically, Missouri is also one of the best teams in college basketball at taking care of the ball, so the turnover battle could very well be a deciding factor in who ends up winning this game. Evans and co. will need to make some 3’s to ease up Missouri’s zone defense as well, but this is not an area that they particularly excel in.


Terrence Williams vs. Chase Budinger, #1 Louisville vs. #12 Arizona, 7:07 pm

Chase Budinger seems to have recovered much of the momentum he lost over the past two years while NBA scouts were inevitably forced to adjust their expectations, but he’s running into a real buzz-saw of a half-court defense, spearheaded by possibly the toughest and most athletic small forward he’s ever encountered at the college level. Arizona will need Budinger to make plenty of shots from the perimeter and also continue to be aggressive putting the ball on the floor and creating for himself and others, things he’s been doing very well over the past few months. He’ll have to do a good job on the other end of the floor getting up on Terrence Williams, as the senior has knocked down 24 of his last 52 3-point attempts, a scintillating 46%. Arizona is not particularly known for their defense, so it will be interesting to see what kind of night Williams can have.

Louisville will clearly be favored in this game against this former bubble team turned Sweet 16 participant, and it’s very likely that a horde of NBA scouts show up in Indianapolis to evaluate this matchup, as well as lottery prospects Jordan Hill and Earl Clark.

Wayne Ellington vs. Matt Bouldin, #1 North Carolina vs. #4 Gonzaga, 9:57 pm

We could have picked a number of matchups here—Jeremy Pargo against Ty Lawson, Austin Daye vs. Tyler Hansbrough, Josh Heytvelt against Ed Davis/Deon Thompson—the list goes on and on. The bottom line here is that there is a lot of talent on the floor, and both teams have incredibly efficient offenses, which should make for a phenomenal game.

The key to this game for Gonzaga will absolutely be the play of their defacto playmaker Matt Bouldin. He’s shouldered quite a bit of the ball-handling duties lately, and has racked up 25 assists over the past 4 games, compared to just 8 turnovers. NBA scouts are beginning to take notice of his terrific all-around efforts, and another big outing against the top team in the country could do wonders for his draft stock. He’s rumored to be heavily considering entering the draft, and this could certainly be what puts him over the top.

On the other end of the floor, Wayne Ellington has been on fire recently, averaging 24 points per game over his last three contests, while knocking down 18 of his last 35 3-point attempts. He’s been much more aggressive over the past six weeks or so, looking much more versatile in his ability to put the ball on the floor, and becoming more of a playmaker on both ends of the floor. His defensive intensity appears to be much improved as well, which will be a big factor going into this matchup with the extremely strong and intelligent Bouldin. Ellington also reportedly very much wants to declare for the draft, and a strong showing will help him continue to win over decision makers.

If the NBA scouts aren’t headed to Indianapolis, they’ll surely be in Memphis, where they’ll be able to see Syracuse and Oklahoma in addition to this game.

Other Interesting Matchups:

Kalin Lucas vs. Sherron Collins, #2 Michigan State vs. #3 Kansas, 9:37 pm

Two point guards looking to make a name for themselves, manning the offense of two of the most respected coaches in college basketball. Which team will be able to impose their will on this game’s tempo? And will Cole Aldrich be able to continue his ascent up draft boards with another strong performance?

Willie Warren vs. Jonny Flynn, #2 Oklahoma vs. #3 Syracuse, 7:27 pm

Not exactly a positional matchup, but still a big factor in this game: guard play. Oklahoma will need Willie Warren to be aggressive trying to pick apart Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, as they will likely crowd Blake Griffin heavily and do everything possible to deny him the ball. Warren’s ability to create his own shot will be sorely needed here. For Syracuse, Jonny Flynn will have much more freedom to get out and run and look for his own shots than he did against Arizona State. Will he continue to play as steady and under control?

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