James Crisp/Associated Press
Michigan vs. Oregon: Rebounding
It’s a good thing Michigan’s offense has been so efficient because it’s not very good at getting second chances. The Wolverines have been out-rebounded in four straight games and rank last among remaining NCAA tournament teams in total (47.9) and offensive rebounding (24.6) percentage. Oregon is 54th and 66th nationally, respectively, in those categories and is 21-1 when winning the rebounding battle.
West Virginia vs. Gonzaga: Turnovers
Gonzaga’s turnover rate (14 percent) ranks 29th in the nation, but it’s yet to face a team that presses and disrupts as much as West Virginia. The Mountaineers force a turnover on 24.1 percent of possessions, tops in the country, and record 10.2 steals per game. Second-round opponent Notre Dame was the best in Division I at taking care of the ball, but it gave it away 14 times.
Purdue vs. Kansas: Three-Point Shooting
At 40.4 and 40.6 percent, respectively, Purdue and Kansas are top-10 in the country from three-point range. Kansas has three players with at least 66 made threes, while five of Purdue’s top seven scorers shoot at least 40 percent from deep. Where they differ, though, is how they defend the perimeter shot: The Boilermakers hold opponents to 32.4 percent, while Kansas’ foes shoot 35.2 percent.
Xavier vs. Arizona: Defense
Arizona allows 65.8 points per game and holds opponents to 30.9 percent three-point shooting, but five of its worst defensive performances (in terms of points per possession) have come in its last seven games. Xavier is coming off its best offensive effort of the season, shooting 55.6 percent overall and making 11 of 17 threes, and its defense has ramped up of late.
Butler vs. North Carolina: Rebounding
It’s not necessary to beat North Carolina on the boards to win, but it sure helps. The Tar Heels, who rank No. 1 nationally in total (58.8) and offensive rebounding (42.2) percentage, have lost just once when pulling down at least 56 percent of missed shots, and that was against Duke in the ACC title game. Butler has been outrebounded 13 times.
South Carolina vs. Baylor: Pace
The Gamecocks and Bears are two of the slower-paced teams left in the NCAA tournament, yet each tends to do just as well when things get sped up. South Carolina went 8-0 in games with 75 or more possessions (compared to 4-4 in ones with fewer than 68) while Baylor won seven of its eight highest-tempo games and lost two of its three slowest. Which team dictates the pace and which direction that ends up could be the deciding factor.
UCLA vs. Kentucky: Free-Throw Rate
There’s boundless athleticism on both rosters, but how they use it differs quite a bit, particularly when it comes to drawing contact on offense and making contact on defense. UCLA takes 17.4 free throws per game, and its .269 free throw rate (foul shots attempted per field-goal attempt) is 10th-worst in the country, while Kentucky’s 944 foul shots are the most in Division I. Kentucky is also more willing to send someone to the line, as its opponents take 20.4 free throws per game, compared to 16.7 for UCLA’s foes.
Wisconsin vs. Florida: Foul-Shooting
At 64.3 percent, Wisconsin is the worst shooting team from the line left in the NCAA tourney and among the least accurate on free throws in the country. The Badgers somehow managed to rally to beat defending champ Villanova despite going 7-of-16 from the line, the fifth time they’ve shot worse than 50 percent this season. Florida is much better, at 72.6 percent, and gets to the line much more as well.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.