There was a great first weekend of games. Four double-digit seeds made it through the weekend, including the third 15 seed to ever make it to the Sweet Sixteen. We should be in for another fun four days coming up.
NCAA Tournament: Sweet Sixteen Preview
(1) Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. (4) Arkansas Razorbacks
This is Gonzaga’s seventh straight trip to the Sweet Sixteen. That is the third-longest streak of all-time. They also have the most NCAA tournament wins over the past 10 years. The Bulldogs are, as usual, super talented and athletic. They showed resilience in coming back from a 10 point halftime deficit against Memphis. They have been playing great basketball all season. Arkansas is a bit of a different story though. While the Razorbacks have won 17 of their last 20 games, they played terribly on Saturday against New Mexico State. This game is going to be a track meet. Gonzaga does things at a fast pace and Arkansas and the Muss Bus will love to do that with them. But the ‘Zags are just too good. They are the only team in the country that is in the top 10 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency according to KenPom.
(2) Villanova Wildcats vs. (11) Michigan Wolverines
Michigan’s 14 losses are the most ever for a team in the Sweet Sixteen. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t good. The Wolverines have played really well in the tourney so far as Hunter Dickinson has continued his dominating ways. Villanova has looked great throughout their first two games against an underseeded Delaware squad and a strong Ohio State team. The Wildcats are also the best free-throw shooting team in the history of college basketball. If this game comes down to free throws, then ‘Nova is going to win it. Plus, they have two-time defending Big East Player Of The Year Collin Gillespie.
(2) Duke Blue Devils vs. (3) Texas Tech Red Raiders
I think we have all heard enough about Coach K and his victory tour these past few months. It, and his legendary career, could end on Thursday. Other than Sunday against Michigan State, Duke has not played particularly well over the past month. They also got overseeded as a 2 seed. Texas Tech hasn’t missed a step in their first season under Mark Adams. The Red Raiders boast the best defense in the country. That elite defense combined with their experience and talent is a deadly combination. Plus, I’m sure they’d love to be the team that could say they ended Mike Krzyzewski’s career.
(1) Arizona Wildcats vs. (5) Houston Cougars
We, or at least me, have got to stop betting against this Houston squad. Despite not having Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark, arguably their two best players, for a while now, the Cougars just keep winning. They easily handled tough matchups in UAB and Illinois in the first two rounds. They prove people wrong at every turn. But Arizona is a whole different animal. A very popular pick to win the national championship, the Wildcats have been playing great all season. Granted, it did take overtime to beat a fiery TCU team on Sunday. But Arizona has Kerr Kriisa back, and Bennedict Mathurin and Christian Koloko are absolute monsters on the court.
(3) Purdue vs. (15) Saint Peter’s
Saint Peter’s has done an incredible job this month. Winning the MAAC tournament to winning two games in the big dance as a 15 seed, including beating Kentucky, despite the incredibly small budget that the program has to work with and the fact that none of the players on their roster were ranked as recruits coming out of high school. But the fact of the matter is they just do not have the height to contend with the height that Purdue has. That of course includes the mountainous 7’4″ Zach Edey. Three-time defending MAAC Defensive Player Of The Year KC Ndefo can limit some stuff they do in the post though. Both teams have a lot of depth. The Peacocks can go nine deep and the Boilermakers can go ten. Saint Peter’s has shown a lot of passion and talent in this tournament, but I don’t think it is enough to contend with the sheer amount of talent that Purdue has, including Trevion Williams and projected lottery pick Jaden Ivey.
(1) Kansas Jayhawks vs. (4) Providence Friars
You can look at Providence’s season in one of three ways: they are really lucky, they are really good in close games, or a combination of the two. But there is no denying that this is the best team the school has had in a while. The Friars won their first-ever Big East regular season title. So far in the tournament, they have had no problem with two really strong mid-majors. Any of their players can score. Kansas is hitting their stride right at the right time. Naismith Award finalist Ochai Agbaji has been excellent all season, and their roster is filled with talent. Arizona State transfer Remy Martin is finally healthy and is playing like everyone thought he would when he first came to Lawrence last summer. He is the Jayhawks’ x-factor. Plus, Bill Self is 9-3 in Sweet Sixteen games, with two of those losses coming by a combined seven points and one was in overtime.
(4) UCLA Bruins vs. (8) North Carolina Tar Heels
UNC was pounding 1 seed Baylor on Saturday until the extremely controversial flagrant 2 call on Brady Manek and his subsequent ejection because of that. The Tar Heels hung on to win in overtime, but it was a scare. UNC has won 13 of their last 16 games and are playing their best basketball right now. UCLA is trying to make it to the Final Four for their second straight year. The Bruins struggled with 13 seed Akron before controlling Saint Mary’s from start to finish. What happens in this game depends on if UCLA forward Jaime Jaquez Jr., who injured his right ankle on Saturday, is able to play or not.
(10) Miami Hurricanes vs. (11) Iowa State Cyclones
Ah yes, 10 seed Miami versus 11 Iowa State. Just like we all expected, right? Iowa State fell off late in the regular season, but made the tournament because of the many great wins they had. Just getting to the Sweet Sixteen is an impressive feat under first-year head coach T.J. Otzelberger considering they were picked by the Big 12 coaches to finish dead last in the conference this season. They pulled out two close ones in their first two games. Miami dominated 2 seed Auburn and projected top 5 pick Jabari Smith in the second round and have been playing a lot of good basketball. Hurricanes guard Charlie Moore gets to come back home to Chicago for this one in what should be a fun game to watch.
Embed from Getty Images