Ah, the sweet 16. Yeah, the rounds of 64 and 32 were fun and all but now the real action begins. The 16 best teams in the country will play Thursday and Friday and battle it out for a spot in the elite eight. Here is a preview of every game of the sweet 16.
Florida St. vs Gonzaga: 7:09 Thursday
There is no doubt who the favorite is here. The Zags knocked off Fairleigh Dickinson and Baylor in the first two rounds in games that weren’t really that close. Brandon Clarke is hitting his stride at the right time and the Bulldogs are proving that they are one of the deepest teams in America. Gonzaga will win if they can slow down Florida State’s offense and score at their normal rate against a defense that held Murray State’s explosive offense in check.
Speaking of that Murray State game, Florida State dismantled every bit of the Racers in a 90-62 beatdown last Saturday night. The Seminoles paint defense was difficult to get around as not even future NBA pro JA Morant could figure it out, shooting just 3-15 inside the three point arch. Gonzaga is a different beast though and for Florida State to win, they will have to play the exact same way they did against Murray State: nothing easy inside the paint, defend the three point line, rebound and hit their shots. If Florida State can out-rebound Gonzaga, (they grabbed 15 offensive boards last game) they should win this game.
Purdue vs Tennessee: 7:29 Thursday
Purdue is HOT. Carsen Edwards decided he didn’t want to miss a shot Saturday night against the defending champion Villanova Wildcats. He dropped a casual 42 points, hitting nine threes in the process. Purdue as a team shot an insane 53.3% from deep against Nova and will look to repeat some of that success against Tennessee. Matt Haarms is a quality big man. Standing at 7’3 the Purdue center is a rebound waiting to happen. If Edwards and Ryan Cline are firing from three, look for Haarms to get behind the defense for easy dunks. If Purdue’s offense is firing on all cylinders like they were against the Wildcats, the Boilermakers will win.
Tennessee was close to cruising into the sweet 16 on a high. Up by as much as 25 on Iowa in the round of 32, the Volunteers blew their lead and ended up barley escaping in overtime. Despite the lack of momentum, Tennessee is still the more talented team. Grant Williams leads a physical team that likes to play in the paint. He will meet Haarms when he gets there but expect Tennessee to have a game plan coming into the game to get Haarms out of the lane and score easier in the paint. This will be a high scoring game and if Tennessee can find points the way they like them, high scoring favors them.
Texas Tech vs Michigan: 9:39 Thursday
The Red Raiders are rolling at the right time. The lone BIG12 team remaining in the tournament dismantled Buffalo in the round of 32, showing why they are the nations best defense. Jarret Culver is tearing up defenses and he will have to be on fire in order to beat a stellar Michigan defense. The Red Raiders shot 48% from the field against Buffalo and will need another beautiful shooting performance Thursday night. This will be a low scoring affair which the Red Raiders don’t mind at all.
Michigan is a solid team that is less than a year removed from a trip to the National Championship game. They are favored in this game but let’s not be too certain they will win this game. The Wolverines have struggled scoring at times away from home this season with no clear number one option to find points. If Jarret Culver and the Texas Tech offense comes up firing, Michigan won’t have the power to win the game. The Wolverines will have to force turnovers and play a slower paced game on both sides of the ball to win.
Oregon vs Virginia: 9:57 Thursday
TRAP GAME ALERT!!!
The Oregon Ducks are one of the top three hottest teams in the country. After winning the PAC12 with no competition, the Ducks ran through Wisconsin and UC Irvine during the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Payton Pritchard has made the loss of Bol Bol much easier to handle as he is running an offense that has became somewhat dangerous. Oregon is one of the most dangerous 12 seeds the tournament has seen in years and there is legit concern for Tony Bennett and Virginia that their season could to an end Thursday night.
With that being said… this isn’t an ordinary Virginia team. This is a team that boasts two or three NBA pros next season including DeAndre Hunter who is a lottery pick. Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome are deadly three point shooters that will help spread the floor and Hunter can hit the shot as well. Stopping Prichard will have massive emphasis in the game plan of the Cavilers and if they can do that even to an extent they will escape this game with a win and advance.
LSU vs Michigan State: 7:09 Friday
The Tigers played well in both of their first two games but haven’t done nearly enough to make their fans feel comfortable. They blew a double digit lead on Saturday against Maryland and had to rely on a last second shot to send them to the sweet 16. With that being said Naz Reid and Skyler Mays are impressive talents and could easily get hot and carry this team all the way to the elite eight or beyond.
Michigan State is a complete team led by one of the best players in the country in Cassius Winston. The senior is playing with everything he has and he is making it much easier on Coach Tom Izzo to rely on the guys he has out on the floor. Winston has been a leader for the Spartans all season on both ends of the court and expect him to do the same against LSU. Michigan State’s defense should be enough to stifle LSU, and their offense should take over the game when it counts.
Auburn vs North Carolina: 7:29 Friday
It’s tough to be hotter than Auburn is right now. The Tigers were often criticized for not being able to beat good teams but then they went out and won the SEC Tournament and convincingly beat Kansas in the round of 32. The Tigers are hot mostly thanks to their three point shooting which has been impossible for opposing defenses to stop. UNC will have to defend the line if they want to beat the Tigers and if Auburn wants to advance they will have to force the Tar Heels into bad shots and turnovers.
It’s not easy to beat North Carolina. The prolific scoring of Coby White has been a giant factor for Roy William’s team all season long. The key in this game though is going to be Nassir Little. The freshman came into the season with high expectations but never lived up to the hype. Since starting the tournament though, Little has been producing, averaging 19.5 PPG and shooting 71% from the field during the first two games. If Roy Williams can rely on another option off of his bench to put up starter caliber numbers, UNC won’t lose this game.
Virginia Tech vs Duke: Friday 9:39 Friday
The Hookies have beaten Duke this year once before but that was without Zion. What nobody mentions is that Virginia Tech was also without their best player, Justin Robinson. This game is going to come down to who missed their top player more. Robinson provides additional scoring that the Hookies lacked at times without him. Virginia Tech will have to guard the paint as every team has to against Duke and hope for missed shots from deep. If the Blue Devils don’t shoot well, pencil Virginia Tech into the elite eight.
Yes, Duke almost lost (and honestly should have lost) to UCF. No, that doesn’t mean the Blue Devils will lose this game but it does bring up a cause for concern. Duke shot 40% from the three point line, a good clip for them, and still barley escaped with a victory. The Blue Devils need to out-rebound Virginia Tech and get easy points in the paint if they want to win this game. They are favored and they should be, but there are cracks in Duke’s armor that can easily be exposed.
Houston vs Kentucky: 9:57 Friday
Houston is good. You can’t go 33-3 and not be considered good no matter what conference you play in. The Cougars have ran through every opponent they have faced seemingly all season besides a few in-conference hiccups but this game will be different. Houston has not played a team as talented or well coached as the Wildcats all season long. Expect the Cougars to rely heavily on Corey Davis Jr. for scoring and leadership as the senior enters what could be his final game. The 6’1 guard will look to give the Kentucky defense headaches and that is the formula to success if Houston wants to move on.
The Wildcats hopes and dreams relies heavily on PJ Washington. Against Wofford, Kentucky’s defense and Fletcher McGee’s poor shooting bailed them out in what was just a six point victory. Washington didn’t play in those games but he is ready to go tonight against Houston. If Washington plays well, Kentucky wins. If he doesn’t… this could be the end of Kentucky.
Florida State will win a close one against Gonzaga. If there is a game to predict an upset this is it and although the Zags have looked nearly unstoppable in their first two games, Florida State is lethal and will squeak out a win.
Tennessee will beat Purdue as Carsen Edwards shooting performance against Villanova is not even close to sustainable. Jordan Bone will have a big game for the Volunteers in the win.
Texas Tech has a better offense and defense than Michigan. A team that looked unstoppable early in the season in the Wolverines will find their season come to an end in the sweet 16 at the hands of Jarret Culver and Co.
Virginia will get a scare from Oregon but they will squeak out a victory thanks to their shooting advantage. Expect the big three to have big games for UVA as they will advance.
Michigan State is going to win this game and it’s not really going to be close. LSU will be lucky to keep this game within seven or eight points when the final buzzer sounds as they have done nothing to prove to anybody that they can beat the Spartans.
UNC will win this one although Auburn will give them a scare. A team playing with a lot of confidence is dangerous but let’s not forget that the Tar Heels are also riding a hot streak and playing with just as much confidence as the Tigers.
No upset here; Duke beats Virginia Tech. The Blue Devils are too good to pick against before a meeting with Michigan State.
PJ Washington will play well and Kentucky will cause Houston’s best season in years to come to an end. Corey Davis Jr. will have a stellar game but Kentucky will still advance.
photo via: CBS Sports