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March 21, 2006

Breakdown of the round of 16 matchups

A look at Thursday and Friday's matchups in the NCAA tournament's round of 16 (seedings in parentheses):

Thursday's Games
ATLANTA REGIONAL

Duke (1) vs. LSU (4): The Blue Devils relied heavily on senior stars J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams - they scored 58 of the 70 points - to win the opener against Southern, then had freshmen Josh McRoberts and Greg Paulus make big contributions in the victory over George Washington. There will have to be help again, this time on the boards for Williams as he faces the young frontline of Glen Davis and Tyrus Thomas. When Williams has to sit because of foul trouble, Duke just isn't the same so McRoberts and senior Lee Melchionni will have to help up front to keep him on the court. LSU outrebounds opponents by almost nine per game and Duke averages almost three less than its opponents, so this will be the statistical key.

The number that flashes in the Blue Devils' favor is that they shoot 39 percent from 3-point range - led by Redick's 42 percent - while the Tigers allow opponents to hit 35 percent from beyond the arc. This will be the ultimate inside-outside matchup.

West Virginia (6) vs. Texas (2): These teams met in November and LaMarcus Aldridge was a force inside for Texas in a 76-75 win, but the Mountaineers still think there was a foul when he blocked Mike Gansey's last-second shot. Aldridge (15.0 points, 9.0 rebounds) and P.J. Tucker (16.3 points, 9.3 rebounds) are still an impressive force inside for the Longhorns. West Virginia, on the other hand, wants to stay outside. The Mountaineers are one of the worst rebounding teams in the country at nine less per game than their opponents. They take almost as many 3-point attempts as 2s, and 6-foot-11 Kevin Pittsnogle leads the way going 86-for-218 (39.4 percent) from beyond the arc.

West Virginia is using the same formula it did in its NCAA tournament run that ended one game shy of the Final Four last year. Texas will have to make sure it's not looking forward to a possible rematch with Duke.

OAKLAND REGIONAL

Memphis (1) vs. Bradley (13): If this were a first-round matchup the clever remarks about how Memphis would dominate would be flying. But, Bradley's wins over Kansas and Pittsburgh suddenly have stopped that and turned the focus to the matchups on the court.

The size advantage goes to Bradley with 7-foot sophomore Patrick O'Bryant a sudden national star after getting 28 points and seven rebounds in the second-round win over Pittsburgh and its 7-footer Aaron Gray, who had 12 points and four rebounds. There is a lot more to the Braves than O'Bryant, one of four starters who average in double figures. Memphis is one of the most athletic teams in the country and the Tigers average 81 points per game, 10 more than Bradley, but if the game goes halfcourt they can win that way, too, as they did several times late in the season. Still, Memphis wants to step up the pace and that will be up to sophomore point guard Darius Washington Jr.

Gonzaga (3) vs. UCLA (2): Adam Morrison, the nation's leading scorer with a 28.6 average, had 35 points in leading Gonzaga to a nail-biting opening win over Xavier, then the rest of the Bulldogs picked him up when he had 14 in the second-round victory over Indiana. They will need that kind of balance against UCLA which has become one of the better defensive teams in the country as the season has gone on. It has been nine straight games since anybody got more than 60 points against UCLA.

UCLA's backcourt of Jordan Farmar (13.6) and Arron Afflalo (16.3) are being recognized as one of the best in the country but Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has been the key up front, averaging 9.0 points and 8.1 rebounds while shooting 59 percent from the field. UCLA is going to try and keep it in the 60s, while Gonzaga wants to see a score in the 80s.

Friday's Games
WASHINGTON REGIONAL

Connecticut (1) vs. Washington (5): These teams are so close in most statistical categories that it makes sense they share the nickname Huskies as well. Connecticut is considered the most talented team in the field but it certainly hasn't looked that way in two less-than-impressive wins over Albany and Kentucky. Connecticut has six players averaging between 15.2 and 9.6 points per game. The Huskies lead the country in blocked shots and rebounding margin and are second in field goal percentage defense and scoring margin. That's what everybody is waiting for.

Washington relies heavily on Pac-10 player of the year Brandon Roy, a versatile guard who leads the Huskies in almost every category. It will be up to the frontcourt to give Roy a chance to showcase his skills and 6-7 freshman Jon Brockman could be the key to that. These schools met in this same round in 1998 and Connecticut won 75-74 on a buzzer-beater by Richard Hamilton.

George Mason (11) vs. Wichita State (7): This is the ''Bracket Buster'' game for two reasons. Obviously, there weren't many people who had these two moving deep into the tournament when they filled out the bracket sheet. And, these teams met Feb. 18, in one of ESPN's Bracket Buster games and George Mason won 70-67 at Wichita State. George Mason's NCAA path is the more impressive with wins over Michigan State and North Carolina, half of last year's Final Four. The Patriots are a very good defensive team and they beat defending national champion North Carolina by going to a seldom-used zone defense. All five starters average between 13.8 and 10.7 points and the Patriots shoot a gaudy 48.4 percent, showing their patience when they have the ball.

Wichita State has a good inside-outside combination in 6-10 Paul Miller (13.0 points, 51 percent shooting) and 6-2 Sean Ogirri (12.2 points, 45 percent 3-point shooting), but the Shockers are a balanced offensive team and they have to be ready for both of George Mason's defenses.

MINNEAPOLIS REGIONAL

Villanova (1) vs. Boston College (4): No names tags are necessary for this one considering they were both Big East powers in recent years until Boston College left after last season for the Atlantic Coast Conference. This will be a meeting of contrasting styles with Villanova's four guards going against the inside power of Boston College.

Randy Foye and Allan Ray are the scorers for Villanova but the Wildcats have to get contributions from the other guards, Mike Nardi and Kyle Lowry. The four combine for 61 of the Wildcats' 75 points per game. Will Sheridan has come on all season as the lone big man and he gets a lot of help rebounding from Foye and Lowry. Craig Smith, at 6-7 and 250 pounds, controls down low for the Eagles, averaging 17.7 points and 9.3 rebounds. Forward Jared Dudley is second in both categories (16.7, 6.7) and Boston College gets a big boost off the bench from 6-10 sophomore Sean Williams, a ferocious shot blocker. Villanova doesn't back down from bigger teams so this one should be decided in the paint.

Florida (3) vs. Georgetown (7): Florida, a team dominated by sophomores, should try to win this game by trying to run to get points before the Hoyas have a chance to set up their defense and use their size advantage. The Gators average almost 80 points per game, shoot 51 percent from the field and have two players (Taurean Green and Corey Brewer) who have hit more than 80 3-pointers this season. Al Horford (7.3) and Joakim Noah (6.1) will have to come up big on the boards.

Georgetown's frontline is anchored by 7-2 Roy Hibbert and what makes him even more productive is the Hoyas' spread offense that gives him more room to operate down low, something he did effectively in the first two games of the tournament, averaging 18.5 points, seven above his average for the season. The Hoyas have a balanced offense with six players averaging between 11.8 and 8.1 points, but they are most effective when 6-8 Jeff Green, tied for the team lead with 104 assists, run things from the top, looking for backdoor cuts.

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