South Region Sweet Sixteen Game Breakdowns
North Carolina and Butler will meet in the Sweet 16 in a match-up between vastly different school cultures. North Carolina has as many national championships (5) as Butler had Sweet 16 appearances before the two teams play Friday in Memphis. The Tar Heels are playing in their 33rd Sweet 16, while Butler is just in their sixth. Butler has only made the Elite Eight twice, in 2010 and 2011 when they went on to be national runner-up both times.
North Carolina narrowly escaped the second round where Arkansas surprisingly gave them all they could handle. The Tar Heels only shot 38% from the field and committed 17 turnovers as Arkansas consistently frustrated them with their full-court press. Joel Berry never looked 100%, shooting just 2-13 from the floor. The Heels did collect their typical amount of offensive boards (18), but weren’t able to turn them into points often enough. Berry and the rest of North Carolina will need a much sharper game to beat Butler. The Bulldogs are a well-disciplined team and won’t make as many mistakes as Arkansas did trying to pull off the upset. Butler only committed about 10 turnovers per game this season and are shooting 50% from the field in their two tournament games.
Butler got to the Sweet 16 by beating two mid-major schools, so North Carolina will be a completely different animal to go up against. However, Butler collected their fair share of quality wins during the regular season with wins over Arizona, Northwestern, Cincinnati, pre-collapse Indiana and Villanova twice. The Bulldogs will have their hands full keeping the UNC big men off the glass. Only one player in the Butler rotation stands taller than 6-8, while the Tar Heels are fully stocked with players at or above 6-8. Butler will need to limit North Carolina’s second chance opportunities to have a chance at the upset.
Blue bloods Kentucky and UCLA will face off for the second time this season with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line in this one. In the December matchup at Lexington, UCLA blitzed the Wildcats putting up 97 points on 53% shooting from the field. Kentucky scored 92 points themselves, but were consistently down by double digits throughout the second half.
After surviving Wichita State's attempt at revenge, Kentucky will look for their own revenge against UCLA in John Calipari's return to Memphis. This game should be nothing like the defensive slugfest that Wichita State gave Kentucky in the second round. Kentucky showed they are capable of playing lockdown defense, holding the Shockers to 62 points on 39% shooting. They will need a defensive effort like that against UCLA's high powered offense. UCLA outlasted a tough Cincinnati defense in their second round matchup and will be tested again by Kentucky. UCLA was able to score 79 points in 63 possessions and only committed three turnovers against Cincinnati. They will need to be similarly efficient against the Wildcats to advance.
Both teams are led by big name freshmen who will likely be lottery draft picks. Malik Monk and De'Aaron Fox are capable of carrying Kentucky to a victory by themselves, as are Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf for the Bruins. However, the seniors may be the key for both teams. For UCLA, seniors Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton combined for 33 points in the first matchup with Kentucky, but neither have played great so far in the tournament. For Kentucky, their seniors have been playing key roles for them for most of the season. Derek Willis will need to continue to hit big shots while Dominique Hawkins and Michael Mulder have key roles to play off the bench for the Wildcats.