Spartans, Gators help make West best

The ESPN College Basketball Power Index rates the West Region as the strongest in the Sweet 16. All four teams are ranked in the top 20 nationally in BPI.

However, saying that West is best is a misnomer in one regard.

There are no teams left from the Mountain or Pacific time zones in the Men's Basketball Championship, only the second year since 1975 that the Sweet 16 field did not have at least one team from the Pacific OR Mountain time zones.

The only other year that happened was 1985, when the closest team to either time zone was Oklahoma (Central Time zone).

Let's look at a couple of statistical tidbits related to the teams the West will adopt as honorary members during the regional semifinals.

Louisville Cardinals vs. Michigan State Spartans (Thursday, 7:47 p.m. ET)

Michigan State has scored a tournament-best 86 paint points, well above its average of 34 paint points per game. The Spartans have dominated around the basket, shooting 73 percent on shots from in-close.

The Cardinals have held 10 straight opponents below 45 percent shooting from the field and six straight opponents below 22 percent from 3-point range.

Most Paint PPG
Men's Basketball Championship

Since the start of the Big East Tournament, teams are shooting 38 percent from the field and 18 percent on 3-point attempts against the Cardinals.

The key to that has been Louisville’s 2-3 zone defense. Louisville has held opponents to 34 percent shooting and forced 17 turnovers while playing zone against half-court sets in the past two games (opponents shot 41 percent against Louisville's man defense). Louisville has consistently ranked among the best teams at getting steals all season, doing so on 13 percent of opponents' possesions (seventh-best nationally)

Both coaches figure to have their teams well prepared. Michigan State's Tom Izzo is 5-0 all-time in tournament play against Big East teams. Louisville's Rick Pitino is 9-0 all-time in the Round of 16, with all of those wins coming by double figures.

The Spartans have a slight edge, by BPI, in which they ranked fourth nationally. Louisville ranked 11th.

Florida Gators vs. Marquette Golden Eagles (Thursday, 10:17 p.m. ET)

By BPI's account, this game is almost an even matchup. Florida and Marquette finished even in BPI and were separated by one tenth of a point in ESPN's strength of schedule evaluation.

No team makes more 3-pointers than Florida (9.8 per game). The Gators have made at least 10 3-pointers in three of their past four games and 22 of their 35 games this season.

Marquette can defend the 3-point line. The Golden Eagles have held their past 10 opponents to 28 percent 3-point shooting and none of them have made more than seven 3-pointers or shot better than 40 percent.

The 3-point shooting has been a little off in the tournament (14-for-51), but the Gators are shooting 79 percent and averaging 38 points per game in the paint during the Men’s Basketball Championship, both of which rank second in the field. The Gators entered the tournament averaging 28.8 paint points per game, seventh-most in the SEC.

Marquette has outscored its opponents by 11.0 points per game in transition during the 2012 Men’s Basketball Championship. Yet, it’s not all positive for the Golden Eagles, as they lead the field with 10 transition turnovers.

Darius Johnson-Odom
Last 2 Games

Darius Johnson-Odom has attempted the most transition field goals and scored the most transition points of any player in the 2012 Men’s Basketball Championship.

Johnson-Odom averaged 5.5 transition points per game in his first 31 games this season but has scored 19 transition points in the first two games of the tournament.

Johnson-Odom has also been huge in the paint these last two games, as noted in the chart on the right.