You can tell a lot from the first five minutes of a basketball game, especially in the Sweet 16, when coaches have had four or five days to prepare for their opponents. The way each team attacks and defends out of the gate should offer strong clues as to how the rest of a game will progress. With that in mind, here are the key factors to watch during the opening minutes of the Sweet 16 games in the East and West regions. To read about the South and Midwest, click here
Pittsburgh (1) vs. Xavier (4)
• Will Xavier target DeJuan Blair, looking to get him into foul trouble? You'll be able to tell right away. That strategy has been a huge factor in Pitt's losses before, so see whether Xavier goes at him early with hard post-ups, drives and pick-and-rolls. Blair is very aggressive in his pick-and-roll defense; be alert as to whether Xavier's guards try to generate contact on those plays to pick up an extra foul or two.
• When Pittsburgh has the ball, pay attention to Xavier's initial strategy on Blair and how he plans to counter. Will the Musketeers double him early, perhaps helping off a weak perimeter shooter? If so, Blair's response likely could decide the game. If he appears frustrated, the Panthers could be in trouble. But if Blair seems poised and the Panthers flow into set plays out of the double-teams, that's a good sign. Watch for Pittsburgh to swing the ball out of the double-team and either repost Blair or attack off the dribble as Xavier attempts to close out.
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