After a few days of rest the NCAA Tournament resumes with the Sweet Sixteen stage. In the South region, the semifinals give us two double digit seeds in Dayton and Stanford opening the evening, followed by another Pac-12 team, UCLA, facing the number one team in the country, Florida.
We start with Dayton and Stanford, both pretty much a surprise to get this far. Stanford haven’t been to the regional semifinal since 2008, and for Dayton you have to go back 30 years to find their previous visit this far in the tournament.
Both teams won their first two games through excellent defense, but their approach is slightly different. Dayton goes 11-man deep in their rotation, and have a very balanced offense, led by Jordan Sibert, averaging 13.1 points per game in March. But this team can surprise you, having 11 different players score in double figures this season. This depth allows the team to defend very aggressively, allowing only 112 points combined from Ohio State and Syracuse, #6 and #3 seeds.
Stanford approach things a different way. Their rotation is only six man deep, and their defense was just as impressive against Kansas, holding the Jayhawks to only 57 points, keeping Andrew Wiggins at four points, hardly allowing him to get off shots. They rely on their size to create problems for teams, and their biggest star is Chasson Randle, scoring 18 points per game in the tournament, not getting a second of rest so far.
However, Dayton have beaten bigger teams along the way – Syracuse, Ohio State, and they’ve played Baylor, California and Gonzaga this season. The only difference is compared to the Orange and Buckeyes is that Stanford won’t take them very lightly.
The main course in Memphis will be the #4 vs #1 game, UCLA and Florida. UCLA rely on Kyle Anderson, a 6’9 sophomore who plays like a point guard, to make or break their game. He is averaging 14.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 6.5 assists this season. He’ll be guarded by Scottie Wilbekin, who had dealt with big guards before, but no one quite like Anderson.
This Florida team is too good to worry about just one guy. They’ve won 28 consecutive games to put themselves in this position, aiming towards a fourth consecutive Elite Eight appearance. They’ve allowed only 57.5 points per game all season, going undefeated in the SEC and making a good team like Pittsburgh look completely miserable when trying to score against them, holding them to 45 points in the round of 32.
UCLA is probably the best offensive team they’ve seen this season. Their smallest starting guard is 6’4, and there’s Jordan Adams, the team’s leading scorer (17.4 points per game). They like to post up with their perimeter players and stretch the floor with their “bigs”. Florida have dealt with pretty much everything this season, but UCLA present a new kind of challenge.
The key in this one will be how UCLA react to Florida’s pressure, which will come early. UCLA turned the ball over only three times in the win over SF Austin, and the Gators will try to make them slow down the play and over think things. If the Bruins react quickly to a defense they haven’t seen before this season, this might be a lot closer than most of Florida’s games have been this season.