I hope everybody has recovered from one of the most incredible weekends in the history of sport. Every year, the NCAA Tournament delivers tons of heart-pounding action that even non-basketball fans can’t help but enjoy. This year, it upped the ante. A weekend filled with dramatic, emotional games, capped off by possibly the most improbable comeback in basketball history and a fall-away three from the corner as time expired to send a team to this second weekend of action. Those weren’t the only two amazing finishes though, as there were just too many to list. If you missed out, shame on you, but that’s okay, because there’ll hopefully be more this weekend!
Four games each on Thursday and Friday will decide who advances to the Regional Finals for a shot at reaching the Final Four next Saturday, April 2, in Houston. Here is a preview of the Sweet 16!
Thursday 3/24, Louisville
#3 Miami FL vs #2 Villanova
7:10 pm CBS
Villanova was finally able to exercise some of its demons, as they have reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009, when Scotty Reynolds led the Wildcats to the Final Four. They hope to make it back this year, led by Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono. Nova pretty well dominated 7-seed Iowa in the Second Round, winning 87-68. They look like they are clicking at the right time, but they’re going to have their hands full in this one with the Miami Hurricanes. After squeaking past 14-seed Buffalo in the First Round, Miami came out firing in the Second Round against 11-seed Wichita State, and led big in the first half. The Shockers came roaring back in the second half, but Miami was able to hold them off thanks to a big game from point guard Angel Rodriguez, who scored 28 points in the 65-57 victory. These two teams match up pretty well, with Villanova the better shooting team, and also better on the defensive end, but Miami is more experienced and definitely more athletic. This is a toss-up in my humble opinion, and it could come down to which team makes more shots. As they showed in the Wichita State game, if Miami gets hot, it doesn’t matter how good the defense is. That being said, I think Villanova is the better team, and I think they are on a mission to prove their doubters wrong. I like the Wildcats in a close one here.
#5 Maryland vs #1 Kansas
Approx. 9:40 pm CBS
Kansas is the #1 overall seed in this tournament, and they have proved why through the first two rounds. After easily dispatching 16-seed Austin Peay, the Jayhawks took on a red-hot UConn team, and handled them with relative ease, winning 73-61. This team doesn’t have a true superstar, but they are just solid across the board. Their weakness (if they have one) this year has been the lack of an interior presence, but Landen Lucas has really emerged here at the end of the season for them, giving them that inside presence they’ve been searching for. It hasn’t been quite as easy a trek to this point for the Maryland Terrapins, who were able to outlast 12-seed South Dakota State in the First Round, and then used a late-second half surge to defeat 13-seed Hawaii 73-60. Melo Trimble scored 24 points in that one, and it appears that he has saved his best basketball for the end of the season. Maryland is a really good team, and they could give Kansas some fits with their size, but if Kansas is going to lose, I don’t see it being to a team like Maryland. I think the Terrapins can keep this thing close in the first half, and maybe even into the second half, but Kansas will ultimately be too much, and they’ll advance to the Elite 8.
Thursday 3/24, Anaheim
#3 Texas A&M vs #2 Oklahoma
7:37 pm TBS
Remember that improbable comeback I talked about in the opening? The team that was able to make that comeback was Texas A&M, as they rallied from a 12-point deficit with just 44 seconds left in regulation to force overtime against 11-seed Northern Iowa. The Aggies would eventually win the game 92-88 in double OT to move on to the Sweet 16 and send the Panthers home. As amazing as it is to even just read about, it was one of the most mind-boggling things you could ever watch as a sports fan. Texas A&M will look to ride that momentum all the way to the Final Four, but standing in their way here is the 2-seed Oklahoma Sooners, who were able to fend off a strong performance from 10-seed VCU in the Second Round, winning 85-81. The Sooners gave up 50 second half points to the Rams, and that is definitely cause for concern heading into this match-up. Many people expect Texas A&M to use the momentum from their epic comeback on Sunday to propel them to Houston next weekend, but the fact that they needed a comeback like that against Northern Iowa doesn’t give me much faith that they’ll be able to hang with a team as talented as Oklahoma. It’s obvious that the Sooners have some issues on the defensive end right now, but I think they’re the better team, and they have Buddy Hield. That alone may be enough for them.
#4 Duke vs #1 Oregon
Approx. 10:07 pm TBS
Seed wise, Duke has had the easiest road to the Sweet 16 they could have possibly had. But as far as the games have gone, it has been far from easy. The Blue Devils were tested in the First Round by 13-seed UNC Wilmington, with Duke eventually coming out on top 93-85 in a high-scoring affair. In the Second Round, they’d have a re-match with 12-seed Yale, a team they beat by 19 in November. After trailing by 23 at halftime, the Bulldogs came all the way back in the second half, making the game really interesting. Yale just didn’t have enough though, as Duke was able to pull it out 71-64 and advance to Anaheim. Here they will take on the 1-seed in the West, the Oregon Ducks, who came out on top in a slugfest with 8-seed St. Joseph’s, 69-65. The Hawks had a chance at the end of the game, but DeAndre Bembry turned it over, allowing the Ducks to put the game away at the free throw line. Oregon is one of the most athletic teams in the country, and that can cause problems for anybody, but especially for a team as thin as Duke. Coach K has a very short bench, and I expect the Ducks to play a fast pace with that in mind. Duke is a good team, and they could absolutely win this game, but this is a terrible match-up for them, and I expect Oregon to move on to the Elite 8.
Friday 3/25, Chicago
#4 Iowa State vs #1 Virginia
7:10 pm CBS
Many people believe that Virginia is the best team in the country, despite some questionable results during the regular season. They have looked very good through the first two rounds of this tournament though, as they easily defeated 16-seed Hampton, and then were able to grind out a victory over 9-seed Butler, 77-69. They have the ACC Player of the Year in Malcolm Brogdon, and they are arguably the best defensive team in the land. That defense will be put to the test in the Sweet 16 as they take on the Iowa State Cyclones, who scored a 94-81 win over 13-seed Iona in the First Round, and then were victorious over 12-seed Little Rock in the Second Round by a score of 78-61. The Cyclones are very well-rounded, and they look to be playing some of their best basketball when it matters the most. They like to play fast, and they are very efficient on the offensive end. That could definitely give Virginia some fits. This game could come down to Virginia’s offense and Iowa State’s defense, and which one of those can be stronger. I believe it is Virginia’s offense that will be able to do enough to score the victory here, putting the Cavaliers in the Regional Final.
#11 Gonzaga vs #10 Syracuse
Approx. 9:40 pm CBS
The only two double-digit seeds to advance to the Sweet 16 this year will face each other here in the Midwest Region, meaning we are guaranteed a double-digit seed in the Elite 8. One of these teams, Gonzaga, has looked much better than a double-digit seed so far in this tournament. They dominated one of the hottest teams in the country, Seton Hall, in the First Round, and then wiped 3-seed Utah off of the Pepsi Center floor in the Second Round, 82-59. Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis look really motivated to get this Zags team to Houston and the Final Four, something that looked far from realistic just a couple months ago. They’re going to take on the Syracuse Orange, who defeated 7-seed Dayton and 15-seed Middle Tennessee to get to this point. After losing five of six down the stretch, the Orange have looked much better in their two tourney wins, and they have a real shot at the Final Four if they can keep playing well. Their zone defense can give any team fits, but Gonzaga is a team built to do well against it. Sabonis is a force in the middle, and the Zags are shooting the ball really well from the perimeter in this tournament. If they keep playing the way they did last weekend, I like Gonzaga to win this one fairly easily, and move on to the Elite 8.
Friday 3/25, Philadelphia
#7 Wisconsin vs #6 Notre Dame
7:27 pm TBS
Each of these teams advanced to Philly in one of the most dramatic ways possible. The Badgers could barely score in their nail-biting First Round victory over 10-seed Pittsburgh, but in the last 15 seconds of their Second Round game with 2-seed Xavier, they got two three-pointers from point guard Bronson Koenig, including a fall-away in the corner at the buzzer to give them a 66-63 win, advancing them to the Sweet 16. Notre Dame meanwhile came back from a 12-point halftime deficit in the First Round to defeat 11-seed Michigan, and then they got a tip-in from freshman Rex Pflueger, his first field goal since March 5, with 1.2 seconds left to give them 76-75 win over 14-seed Stephen F. Austin in the Second Round. You could say that both of these teams are extremely lucky to be here, but that’s the beauty of the NCAA Tournament. One of these teams is going to have a shot at the Final Four, and I expect it to be Notre Dame. They are the better team, and if they are able to play at least a little bit of defense, their offense should then be able to do enough to push them past the Badgers and into the Regional Finals.
#5 Indiana vs #1 North Carolina
Approx. 9:57 pm TBS
Entering this tournament, North Carolina was a popular pick to cut down the nets in Houston. After the first weekend, that hasn’t changed much. They led 16-seed Florida Gulf Coast by just one point at halftime in the First Round, but routed them in the second half. They used another dominant second half performance to defeat 9-seed Providence 85-66 in the Second Round. They are going to need to have a better first half in their Sweet 16 game, as they take on 5-seed Indiana, who destroyed 12-seed Chattanooga in the First Round, and then outlasted 4-seed Kentucky in the Second Round, winning 73-67 behind 19 points from freshman Thomas Bryant. There aren’t many teams that can match up athletically with the Tar Heels, but Indiana is one of those teams. This might be the game I’m most looking forward to in the Sweet 16, because North Carolina is a title favorite, but Indiana is playing really good basketball right now. The loss to Michigan in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament may have been the best thing that could have happened to the Hoosiers. If they play like they did against Kentucky, I think they’ll upset North Carolina. And I do believe they’ll play that well again, and you’ll see a lot of brackets busted with North Carolina being the first 1-seed knocked out.
I can only hope that this weekend will provide action half as good as last weekend, but rest assured, it will be exciting no matter what. Enjoy it everybody!