The 2013 NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 will begin in the East Region, as the third-seeded Marquette Golden Eagles and the second-seeded Miami-Florida Hurricanes square off at the Verizon Center on Thursday.
Flying a little under the radar this season, the Golden Eagles are making their third straight appearance in the Sweet 16, tying them with Kansas, Florida and Ohio State. However, unlike those three teams the Golden Eagles have not advanced past this round since a Final Four trip in 2003. The path here has been a tough one for the Golden Eagles who won on a last-second layup from Vander Blue in the second round and barely held on for a 74-72 win over Butler on Saturday in third-round action.
Miami has not been a regular in the Sweet 16 with this marking the team's second trip ever and first since 2000. The Hurricanes will be entering unfamiliar territory with a win as they have never advanced past this round previously. The Hurricanes blew past 15th-seed Pacific, 78-49, in the second round but had a bit more trouble with Illinois on Sunday, surviving a 63-59 decision behind the unlikely heroics of Rion Brown. The ACC regular season and tournament champions have won seven straight contest and are within range of their first ever 30-win season.
These teams have met four times previously with each team coming out with a pair of victories on their home court. The winner of this contest will face either top-seed Indiana or fourth-seed Syracuse in Saturday's Elite Eight.
Against a team that beat it on a buzzer beater in November, Marquette was able to seal the deal this time around when it took down Butler in the third round. The contest was another one that came down to the last possession. The Bulldogs forced a turnover with two seconds left and got the ball to Andrew Smith on the inbounds pass. However, strong defense forced Smith to put up an awkward shot that was well off the mark.
Blue (14.8 ppg) has really risen to the occasion during the first two games, making big plays and draining huge shots down the stretch in both contests. He followed up his game-winning layup against Davidson by netting a game-high 29 points against Butler, including a key 3-pointer with just over a minute to play that tied the contest. Although Blue has clearly grabbed hold of a leadership role for the Golden Eagles they are normally a team with a ton of balance up and down the roster. Davante Gardner (11.3 ppg) was the Big East Sixth Man of the Year and Jamil Wilson (9.7 ppg), Chris Otule (5.0 ppg) and Junior Cadougan (8.6 ppg) have all made some big plays during the tournament run.
With just over a minute to play Miami was staring at a second-round disappointment as it trailed, 55-54, against Illinois. However, after a rather difficult game Shane Larkin came through when it mattered and nailed a 3- pointer to put the Hurricanes back in the lead for good, as they hit 6-of-6 free throws in the final minute.
The Hurricanes found themselves getting a big contribution from an unlikely source in the second round when Brown (6.5 ppg) went off for 21 points nailing 5-of-10 shots from beyond the arc. That type of effort can't be expected again for the Hurricanes but getting confidence for the junior could be important moving forward. Larkin (14.5 ppg, 4.6 apg) finished with 17 points and five assists against Illinois as he continues to be the driving force for the Hurricanes, after winning the ACC Player of the Year Award from conference coaches. Durand Scott (13.2 ppg) continued his erratic streak as he followed up a 21-point effort in the first round with just six points against Illinois, his fourth game with less than 10 points in the last six contests. Kenny Kadji (13.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg) had 10 points and eight rebounds on Sunday and will be a tough matchup with his ability to spread the floor. However, the front line for Miami will be a little thin, as center Reggie Johnson suffered an injury in the third-round game and will not make the trip to D.C.