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Baylor would relish home-state advantage in Final Four

Baylor's Cory Jeffers(34) dunks ball against Nebraskduring second half second-round game NCAA college basketball tournament Friday March 21 2014 San

Baylor's Cory Jefferson (34) dunks the ball against Nebraska during the second half of a second-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament Friday, March 21, 2014, in San Antonio. Baylor won 74-60. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) ORG XMIT: TXDP121

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Updated: April 28, 2014 10:39AM

A guide to Sweet 16 action in the NCAA tournament on Thursday:

1. Court awareness

Much was made of the impact the crowd in Milwaukee had on Wisconsin’s third-round victory over Oregon, and for good reason — no way the Badgers come back from 12 points down at the half in that game without 15,000 red-clad, screaming maniacs on their side.

Baylor, the Badgers’ Sweet 16 opponent, wants a slice of that “home-court” pie. It won’t happen in Anaheim, but it’ll happen in Arlington, Texas, if the Bears can get themselves to the Final Four. This has become a real rallying cry for a team that started 2-8 in the Big 12 but now is playing as well as anybody.

“Definitely our guys know where the Final Four is being played at,” coach Scott Drew said, “and it’s a dream of every college athlete to make a Final Four. But when it’s in your home state, it’s even a little more special. I know that’s something that has motivated our guys throughout the year.”

2. Miller time

Look, like it or not, you’re going to hear about the Miller brothers — Arizona coach Sean and Dayton coach Archie — eight billion times a day for as long as both remain in the tournament. It’s our job as reporters and storytellers to make at least a few of those eight billion references interesting.

So here’s one: Sean Miller was 2-0 this season, and is 8-0 at Arizona, against Stanford. Dayton’s Sweet 16 opponent? Yep, Stanford. If you think Big Bro will be spilling his guts to Little Bro on how to beat the Cardinal, you’re absolutely, um, wrong.

No dirt? No juicy inside info? Nope — and it wouldn’t be relevant anyway, according to Archie, the younger of the two by 10 years.

“He could get me the greatest game plan in the world, but I don’t have his players,” he said. “My players have to execute what we do.”

3. Xavier Thames

West 4-seed San Diego State has been called a one-man offensive team, and it isn’t the slightest bit unfair. Thames, a 6-3 guard, has gone off for 53 points in two tourney games. No. 1 seed Arizona has two of the toughest perimeter defenders in the country in Nick Johnson and T.J. McConnell, so their efforts to corral Thames — and his attempts to outmaneuver them — will be the focus of this matchup.

Thames is unique because of his old-school offensive game. You know how everyone who has ever worn his socks long and his shorts short loves to lament the lost art of the midrange jump shot? Well, Thames is doing his part to bring it back. If he can beat Johnson/McConnell off the dribble with consistency, Arizona won’t be able to bury the Aztecs early as it did to Gonzaga.

4. Aaron Gordon

Duke’s Jabari Parker is gone from the tournament. Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid and Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis, too. Left to carry the flag for an all-time-hyped freshman class in college basketball are Julius Randle of Kentucky and Arizona’s Gordon, the 6-9 athletic marvel who seems on the verge of something really great.

Gordon is averaging 17 points and seven rebounds in the tourney, which is good. He also has a six-assist game and a five-block game, which is great. NBA teams are drooling over this guy.

5. UCLA’s offense
vs. Florida’s defense

UCLA has averaged 81.5 points this season, second-most (trailing Florida) among all remaining tourney teams. Florida has allowed 57.5, second-fewest (trailing Virginia) among teams in the Sweet 16.

But forget the numbers: If you’ve watched these teams play, you know the Bruins are good for a lot of oohs and aahs and the Gators are intimidating as heck on the defensive end. It’ll be a riveting clash of styles, for sure.

“You play Florida, you’re going to have to score,” Bruins coach Steve Alford said. “If the game’s in the 50s, that’s probably not favoring UCLA.”


Twitter: @slgreenberg

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