2009 NCAA Tournament: Sweet 16 Preview

Last year all four No. 1 seeds made it to the Final Four, but this year the story is still unwritten.
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Last year all four No. 1 seeds made it to the Final Four, but this year the story is still unwritten. All of the two and three seeds are still in it, and four of those eight teams will advance to the Elite 8 after games tonight and Friday.

Here's a look at two of those matchups, as three-seeds Missouri and Syracuse try to overcome formidable two-seeds Memphis and Oklahoma.

First, Memphis and Mizzou will meet Thursday night in Glendale, Ariz. Mizzou had a perfect season at home, but it wasn't as successful on the road. The Big 12 Tournament champs are coming off a close, last-minute win against Marquette.

Senior forwards DeMarre Carrol and Leo Lyons are the scoring leaders, but Missouri has shown depth and versatility, putting up more than 80 points a game as a team. Guards Matt Lawrence, J.T. Tiller, Zaire Taylor, and most recently in Sunday's matchup, Kim English, have stepped up.

Mizzou, which held opponents to an average of under 67 points this season, arguably recorded its most valuable wins against Kansas and Oklahoma.

"The thing about it is if we say we played poorly, it takes away from Missouri," Coach Bill Self said after the Jayhawks first match against Missouri this year. "Missouri's effort was fabulous."

In a later loss to Kansas, Anderson said his team missed a lot of shots early in the game, and Lyons remarked that they were lacking in confidence and intensity. Those two things will be vital against Memphis.

Memphis has kept opponents to an impressive 57.6 points a game. On the offensive side, Memphis has four players eclipsing 10 points a game, with freshman Tyreke Evans and senior Robert Dozier averaging 16.6 and 12.7, respectively. But Robert Sallie, who averages 5.7 a game, scored 35 in Memphis' first-round game against Cal State Northridge.

"One of the things they do is crush people on the boards," said Mizzou coach Mike Anderson to the Associated Press, reflecting on his previous experience facing Memphis starters Dozier and Antonio Anderson. "Their best offense was to throw it up there and go get it. We can't afford to let that happen."

Memphis, which lost in last year's championship game to Kansas, is on a 27 game winning streak. As to how Memphis stands up to the other Sweet 16 contenders, Xavier and Syracuse account for two of Memphis' three losses. It did claim a win against Gonzaga.

"We can't play much better," Calipari said after Memphis topped Gonzaga. "There may be a better defensive team in the country

than Memphis, but I've got to see it."

On Friday, another Big 12 team, Oklahoma, and Blake Griffin will take on Syracuse. Griffin, likely the player of the year, averages a double-double, contributing 22.5 points and 14.4 rebounds a game. Griffin even outdid his own averages in the last tournament game, with 33 points and 17 rebounds.

"We're going to play the team that would be the No. 1 seed in this tournament if it weren't for Griffin getting injured," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said after the Orange got past Arizona State. "If he hadn't gotten hurt, they'd be the No. 1 seed. That's enough to worry about."

Griffin included, Oklahoma's top five scorers account for 65 points a game. Syracuse's top five scorers all average at least 10 a game and total 66.2 points. Eric Devendorf and Jonny Flynn contribute 17.3 and 15.9 points.

This is Oklahoma's deepest NCAA run since 2003, when Hollis Price led the Sooners to the East Regional final, ironically to lose to Syracuse and Carmello Anthony. Syracuse hasn't won a Sweet 16 game since.

The Orange competed in the Big East, which has five of the remaining 16 teams in the tournament. Although they had some tough losses, Syracuse did beat a slate of the Sweet 16 teams -- Kansas, Memphis and Connecticut. It also took down Marquette, which fell in the last round to Missouri. Despite a mid-season cluster of losses, it finished the season relatively strong, ultimately falling to Louisville in the conference tournament.

The key for Syracuse will be to contain Griffin, while not neglecting Willie Warren. It's a tough task, but it's been done, mainly through forcing and converting turnovers and high-energy play.

Oklahoma State knocked Oklahoma out of the Big 12 Tournament with a one-point upset that probably cost Oklahoma a No. 1 seed. Although that game came down to the wire, Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said that it wasn't won or lost in the final minutes, but rather through 19 turnovers, the inability to make shots, and a lack of movement on offense. "We were very, very stagnant," he said.

Missouri also shut down the Sooners in a late-season game, forcing 22 turnovers and holding them to a season low in points.

"One of the things we talked about was not turning the ball over and not allowing them to speed us up," Capel said after that game. "We didn't do a good job of either one of those."