NCAA Tournament: Sweet 16 Predictions: West 3. Marquette vs. 7. Florida

By: Kels Dayton

 Marquette (27-7, Big East)

Marquette forward Jae Crowder is the Big East Player of the Year. (AP Photo/Jim Prisching)

HOW THEY GOT HERE: The Golden Eagles‘ run to the Sweet Sixteen has been as impressive as any team in the tournament’s. Marquette squashed BYU like an annoying bug, 88-68, in the second round before ending 31-win Murray State’s dream season in perhaps the most hotly contested and best third-round matchup in the NCAAs. The Racers were a very good basketball team, and Marquette outlasted them behind Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder‘s 17 points and 13 rebounds.

BURNING QUESTION: How good is this team? Marquette finished in second place in the loaded Big East with a 14-4 record. They have a unique talent in Crowder, a 6-6, 235-pound senior forward who averaged 17.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game this season. They also have a bunch of high-energy defenders, and a crafty guard in leading scorer Darius Johnson-Odom (18.5 ppg). Still, Marquette hasn’t gotten as much recognition and media attention as they probably deserve.

KEYS TO WINNING THE REGION: Marquette did a nice job in containing Murray State’s star point guard Isaiah Canaan, who shot just 4-for-17 against the Eagles’ defense in the third round. Marquette is going to have to do the same thing to Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton in the Regional Semifinals, and then will have to contend with either the region’s most unique player in Michigan State’s Draymond Green or its quickest guard in Louisville’s Peyton Siva. Whether or not Marquette can come out of the West is going to depend on how well they fare covering the key offensive threats they’ll face in the region.

Darius Johnson-Odom is Marquette’s leading scorer. (AP Photo/Darren Hauck)

X-FACTOR: Junior Cadougan or Davante Gardner. One of the two key role players on the Golden Eagles must add more scoring punch if Marquette is going to get through to the Final Four. Johnson-Odom and Crowder can’t do it all.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO: Marquette locks down on Florida’s shooters, Jae Crowder abuses Patric Young inside and the Golden Eagles advance to the Elite Eight. There, they take out Michigan State behind a virtuoso performance from Johnson-Odom and advance to the Final Four.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO: Florida shoots the lights out against the Golden Eagles, and the Gators’ pressure gets to Marquette. The Golden Eagles go down in the Sweet 16 for the second straight year.

 CHANCES OF WINNING REGION: 26%. There are some great teams in this region, and things are going to have to break Marquette’s way, but it is more than feasible to see the Golden Eagles advancing to the Final Four for the first time since 2003.


7   Florida (25-10, SEC)

Bradley Beal keys the Gators’ offensive attack. (Photo/US Presswire)

HOW THEY GOT THERE: The Gators were impressive in dominant wins over 10th-seeded Virginia and 15th-seed Norfolk State. Kenny Boynton, Bradley Beal and Erving Walker have all been outstanding in the NCAA Tournament thus far.

BURNING QUESTION: Live by the three, die by the three? Florida is one of the most reliant teams on three-point shooting left in the Dance, but last year’s insistence on bombing up three-pointers in the Elite Eight against Butler cost the Gators a trip to the Final Four. Also, Florida has yet to be tested, winning by 26 and 34 points. The game with Marquette is not going to be like that.

X-FACTOR: Patric Young. The 6-9 forward is going to have to try and neutralize Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder. Young averages 10.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game this season, and he’s going to have to come up big if the Gators want to advance.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO: Florida’s waterbug guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton give the Marquette backcourt fits. Both are feeling it from three-point range, and Marquette is unable to keep up with the Gators’ punishing pace. The Gators get Michigan State in the Elite Eight, and somehow Patric Young is able to handle Draymond Green, while Bradley Beal and the rest of the Gators run past the Spartans on the way to the Final Four.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO: Marquette is too physical for the Gators inside, and Boynton, Rosario and Walker struggle from the field. Florida bows out in the Sweet 16.

CHANCES OF WINNING REGION: 22%. Billy Donovan has been here before, and he knows what it takes to get his team through a region and into the college basketball promised land. This Florida team was a top-ten preseason pick by us, so we know they’re talented. It’s going to come down to whether or not the guards can stay hot, and whether or not Florida can enforce its pace on the rest of the teams in the West.



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