Wow! What an opening week for the NCAA tournament. Crazy action from the opening round of games, including a historical 16th seed upsetting a 1 seed with UMBC defeating the overall number one seed, Virginia Cavaliers. I’m sure there are more fireworks and surprises to come. Let’s take a look at the Sweet 16 match-ups and go over what to watch for and I’ll make some predictions as to who will move on to the Elite 8.
Loyola vs Nevada Thursday 6:07 PM CST
The first game of Thursday is the Loyola (Chicago) Ramblers versus The Nevada Wolfpack. These two teams have been in some incredible games in the tournament. Comeback wins by the Wolfpack and last second shots from Loyola helped them get to this point. This Sweet 16 matchup should be no different. Loyola has proven that they can play with anyone knocking off a talented Miami team and a good physical Tennessee team, both with late buckets to win. They’ve accomplished this by playing great defense and executing on offense, almost flawlessly. The only team that has played better on offense in my opinion, has been Villanova.
Nevada has been the true definition of a Cinderella team. Just when you’re thinking that they’re done, they go on an offensive explosion and find a way to come out victorious. Boasting a potent offense led by the Martin brothers, Nevada is able to turn it on and really put pressure on opposing defenses. What they did against Cincinnati was remarkable. The Bear-cats have been extremely stingy on the defense this season, they rarely give up big leads. That did not matter once Nevada got going. They were able to get to the line and chip away at the lead while playing some stingy D of their own.
The clock is going to strike 12 for one of these teams. I am picking Loyola to win and advance.
Kansas State v Kentucky Thursday, 8:37 pm CST
Pretty sure everybody had this matchup right? All jokes aside, this has the potential to be a really good game. Kansas State has played lockdown defense in their first two games of the tournament and so has Kentucky. The Kentucky Wildcats are maturing right before our eyes and they’re doing it at the right time. Coach Calipari has the young Cats clicking right now and it all starts with their Point Guard, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The Freshman out of Canada has been UK’s best player and a big part of the turnaround this season. After the first weekend, Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 23 points, 6.5 assist, and shooting 60% from the field. If Kansas State hopes to advance, they will have to find a way to slow down Mr. Gilgeous-Alexander.
On the other side, Kansas State hopes to get Dean Wade back for the game Thursday night. I’m reading that he should be able to go. Getting Wade back should help out tremendously on the offensive end, as he can provide them with a go-to guy to run offense through. If Wade is a no-go, that won’t be an issue as Kansas State will hope to bring the same effort on the defensive end like the first two games. In the opening round game against Creighton, Kansas State allowed them to shoot 38 % from the field and 26 % from three. One of Creighton’s worst shooting performances of the season! In the second round against UMBC, the Retrievers shot 40% from the field and a whopping 8 percent from three-point land! This Kentucky team has more talent, let’s see how Kansas St performs.
Kansas State’s lack of offense will be their downfall as they fall to a hot Kentucky team
Texas A&M vs Michigan Thursday 6:37 PM CST
Tipping off shortly after 6:30 will be the Aggies of Texas A&M and The Wolverines of Michigan. The Wolverines come into the Sweet 16 by knocking off Houston with an unbelievable buzzer beat by Freshman, Jordan Poole when the game looked just about over. The Aggies come in after dismantling the defending National Champs, North Carolina Tar-heels.
Michigan comes in as one of the hottest teams in the tournament, Fresh off winning the Big Ten conference tournament and winners of their last 11 games. They have an exciting offense that they can use to hurt opponents from inside and out. Led by Zavier Sampson, Moritz Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, the Wolverines not only can score, but play potent defense that can shut down any team in the country! It’ll be interesting to see their approach against Texas A&M. The Aggies have talented guards but the difference makers will be their two bigs, Tyler Davis and Robert Williams.If Michigan struggles, it will be defending the combination of Davis and Williams. The best big for Michigan, Moritz Wagner has struggled to stay out of foul trouble this tournament and that could play a huge factor in this game. It hasn’t hurt them yet, but having him sit early in the game will put a lot of pressure on the Michigan guards to keep them afloat.
The Aggies are a very underrated team. Like I mentioned earlier, they have the size to play with anyone and their guards are very talented. One guard in particular, TJ Starks has been playing very well this postseason. Against North Carolina, he scored 21 points and dished out five assist. He’s played more down the stretch and seems to be finding a nice rhythm. He should draw the assignment of Zavier Sampson and that should be a fun match up to watch throughout the game.
I originally picked Michigan to win this game for my bracket, but as of this writing, I am leaning towards Texas A&M to come out victorious
Florida St. vs Gonzaga Thursday 9:07 PM CST
The last game on Thursday concludes with Florida state taking on Gonzaga for an Elite 8 appearance. Gonzaga hasn’t really looked dominant in their performances while Florida st handled Missouri and came from behind to defeat one seed, Xavier.
Florida st has been a pesky group. They don’t have elite talent but they have grit and always play hard. They will have the tall task of slowing down Killian Tillie and The Bulldogs. Fourth seeded Gonzaga has had their struggles to open the tournament. A late three by Zach Norvell helped them hold off North Carolina-Greensboro. I know they were a popular pick by many to reach the Final Four but their play has me concerned. A close game could spell trouble for them with Florida st showing the ability to will themselves to victory if needed.
Gonzaga is the choice here. I don’t think they’ve played their best yet. With the pieces and experience in place, I would be shocked if they are defeated
Clemson vs Kansas Friday 6:07 PM CST
Coming off an impressive win against Auburn, Clemson now faces The Kansas Jayhawks. Kansas hopes that sophomore big man Udoka Azubuike will be fully healthy when they take on Clemson. KU’s lack of front court depth is something not many teams have been able to exploit. Getting him back gives them an inside presence that they desperately need if they hope to make an appearance in the Final Four. Not pleased with their play from the opening weekend, Coach Bill Self believes his Jay hawk team will turn it around.
Clemson destroyed Auburn in their matchup, they are playing with a lot of confidence and it will be interesting to see how they matchup against KU. Not much was expected after Clemson lost Donte Grantham for the season with a torn ACL but they have had other players step up big time. One player in particular, Gabe Devoe, has been a huge part of why Clemson has reached the Sweet 16. Devoe scored 22 points in the game against Auburn and has shot lights out.
Rock Chalk Jay-hawk, Kansas is my pick
Villanova vs West Virginia Friday 6:37 PM CST
They say styles make fights right? Well this one will be a rumble. Villanova, arguably the best offensive team left in the tournament against arguably the best defensive team in the tournament. This one should be very interesting, the match-up between Jevon Carter and Jalen Brunson could be the deciding factors as both have been the clear cut leaders for their programs.
Villanova has looked great through their two games. Winning by margins of 23 and 26 points. They’re executing at a high level and settling in for the long haul. Playing with the poise of a veteran team, they are a well prepared team so I feel like they will handle West Virginia’s pressure with the various ball handlers on their roster. One concern I do have though is if the shots don’t fall early for Villanova. Keeping the game within striking distance can be the edge West Virginia needs to steal the victory in this one.
I picked them to win it all in my bracket, sticking with Villanova
Syracuse vs Duke Friday 8:37 PM CST
It seems like every year Syracuse is on the bubble and they end up making the field of 68 and go on deep runs. This year they find themselves in another Sweet 16, this time against a talented clone of themselves in Duke. I say clone because for most of the later part of the season, Duke has used the 2-3 zone exclusively and their defense has improved because of the change. It’ll be interesting to see how Duke attacks the zone. I don’t recall any team running zone against them.
Taking Duke in this match-up
Texas Tech vs Purdue Friday 8:57 PM CST
The last game on Friday features Texas Tech taking on Purdue. Purdue hopes to have Senior big man, Isaac Haas back after he suffered a fractured elbow in their opening game of the tournament. It would be a huge boost but if he isn’t able to go, Matt Harms showed he can fill in nicely. In their game without Haas, Purdue adjusted just fine. Vincent Edwards looked unstoppable and Carson Edwards kept up the solid play. Texas Tech will hope to slow down the two and advance to the Elite 8. They lost a little steam toward the end of the Big 12 play but have found that same edge that they’ve played with all year.
The Boilermakers have had a great season, I think they’ll be fine even if Haas doesn’t play. Purdue advances
What do you all think? Do you agree with my choices? If not, who do you have winning?
*Stats from Basketball-Reference