Below is a short preview of each of Thursday’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.
7 Wichita State vs. 3 Notre Dame
BPI Edge: Wichita State 50.1 percent -- projected to be the closest game of the Sweet 16.
This matchup might come down to ... the backcourts. Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker of Wichita State and Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson of Notre Dame are two of the best backcourts in the nation. Each duo has combined for more than 12 win shares, an estimate of the wins a player produces for his team.
Most win shares among guard duos, 2014-15 seasons
Fred VanVleet-Ron Baker, Wichita State, 13.3
Jerian Grant-Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame 12.8
Source: CBB Reference
(Four) Factor to watch: Shooting: Notre Dame ranks second in the nation in effective field goal percentage, behind Gonzaga. Because Notre Dame ranks outside of the top 100 defensively, it is reliant on its efficient offense; the Irish’s three worst shooting performances resulted in losses. Meanwhile, Wichita State has allowed the second-lowest effective field goal percentage in the nation since the start of February.
4 North Carolina vs. 1 Wisconsin
BPI Edge: Wisconsin 76 percent
This matchup might come down to ... which team can control the tempo. Wisconsin averages 59.8 possessions per game, seventh fewest in the nation and 10 fewer than UNC, the fastest-paced team in the ACC. The Tar Heels have never been held to a pace as slow as Wisconsin’s season average for possessions this season, but of their seven lowest-possession games of the season, they lost five.
(Four) Factor to watch: Rebounding: UNC rebounds more than 40 percent of its missed shots, the fifth-highest offensive rebound percentage in the country. This leads to 14.2 second-chance points per game. Wisconsin rebounds 76 percent of its opponents’ missed shots, fourth-best in the nation.
5 West Virginia vs. 1 Kentucky
BPI Edge: Kentucky 92 percent -- projected to be the most lopsided game.
This matchup might come down to ... whether West Virginia can create offense from its turnovers. The Mountaineers force a turnover on 28 percent of their opponents’ possessions, best in the nation, which leads to a Division I-high 20.7 points per game off turnovers. In the half court, Kentucky is allowing a Division I-best 0.68 points per possession, and West Virginia ranks 258th in the nation in half-court efficiency, so the Mountaineers will have to get out and run to score with the Wildcats.
(Four) Factor to watch: Rebounding: West Virginia and Kentucky are two of seven teams that rebound at least 40 percent of their own missed shots. Each team scores about 13 points per game off offensive rebounds. One weakness for Kentucky is defensive rebounding (ranking 196th), so West Virginia might be able to score some easy points on putbacks.
6 Xavier vs. 2 Arizona
BPI Edge: Arizona 84 percent
This matchup might come down to ... which point guard can make plays. T.J. McConnell and Dee Davis have the highest and third-highest assist rates among players remaining in the NCAA tournament, according to KenPom.com. Each player has been responsible for more than a third of his team’s points in the tournament.
(Four) Factor to watch: Rebounding: Xavier rebounded 33 percent of its missed shots in each of its first two NCAA tournament games, resulting in 25 second-chance points and contributing to its off-the-charts 63.9 effective field goal percentage. Arizona is the best defensive rebounding team in the nation, grabbing 78 percent of its opponents’ missed shots.