Knowing now that all brackets are busted, here’s a look at how each team could have a shot at winning their game in the Sweet 16 and my prediction.
This year has really gripped me and compelled me to believe that this year, you’re probably going to pick wrong no matter what. But here goes!
9) Kansas State vs 5) Kentucky
Why the purple Wildcats?
Assuming Dean Wade is in the lineup, this could be a real toss-up kind of game. Seeing him matched up against Kevin Knox would be an intense battle all game long. Seeing that Knox is prone to foul trouble and the aggressiveness of Wade may lead to a few easy points from the strike. KSU can really slow you down on offense and cause turnovers, something Kentucky doesn’t want. Also, Bruce Webber doesn’t have any one-and-done players with a team that has it’s star power from last year’s early-out squad looking for revenge and then some.
Why the blue Wildcats?
Maybe it’s because Kentucky is a bonafide blueblood. Maybe it’s because John Calipari is 6-0 in the Sweet 16. Maybe it’s because Kentucky is 9-0 against Kansas State. I think it’s just simply the talent and a weird seeding/tournament/region for Kentucky that led them to this weird regional semifinal. Nonetheless, Kentucky can hand the turnovers right back to KSU and be able to get ahead early to set their own pace.
This will be a much different game than UMBC for KSU and Buffalo for UK. I really can’t see this being close. Blue Cats beat the Purple Cats 78-65
11) Loyola-Chicago vs 7) Nevada
Why side with Sister Jean?
Why wouldn’t you side with such a passionate, no…. Mystifying, no… ahh, yes, divine team. It has to be true that this was one of the more under-seeded teams in the bracket, but you can’t rank intangibles. And man does this team have a high measurement of wit, grit and survival tactics. Offensive efficiency has really saved this team in being able to be in position for the last shot. However, it’s the number of shots that could hurt the Ramblers in this one. Sister Jean must speak on behalf of the team before each game and declare a win to pull this and the rest of the tournament off.
Why The Pack?
Because they can and will score on you whenever they so choose to. They’re like a pack of well, wolves. They sit and watch and wait for the right moment to strike when you’re most vulnerable. They don’t just attack for a minute and quit when they think the gettin’ is good, they pounce and spear their way at you until every last bit of you has been immobilized. Just ask Cincinnati or Texas. Ask them, “Hey, do you remember that time when you were beating Nevada in a winner-take-all tournament?” And they will simply not respond and become very angry with you, because that is what this team will do to you. They simply remember a cold night on the team bus back to campus.
Sister Jean is too busy watching reruns of those comebacks and forgets to speak on behalf of the Ramblers. The Pack feasts again in the same comeback fashion 67-65.
WEST (Los Angeles)
9) Florida State vs 4) Gonzaga
Why the ‘Noles?
They have big guys inside that tend to have a hay day in the paint, kind of like those guys in Chapel Hill, NC. They have a very tough defense inside and out, one that led to a comeback win versus the top-seeded Xavier squad. Terance Mann can score inside like it’s a hobby and block shots and rebound at the other end. Perimeter shooting is going to have to be key to keep up with the efficiency of Gonzaga.
Why the Zags?
They can keep up with Terance Mann down low in terms of rebounding and maybe even scoring. The true winner for the Zags can come down to their efficient offense and perimeter shooting. Even if that isn’t enough, any player is willing to crash the glass and get the second chance points they need to put the opponent away. But when you have Rui Hachimura and Zach Norvell that can combine for over 50 points, it’ll be hard to stop this underrated Gonzaga team.
Boom. Boom. Fiyapowa. An explosive offensive game from the Zags combined with a superior performance on the glass leads to a comfortable 77- 69 win for Mark Few’s group.
3) Michigan vs 7) Texas A&M
Why Big Blue?
They have a very strategic and even confusing offensive scheme that can spread the floor. With a team that has had some struggles with shooting, especially the deep ball, they can defend the ball very well ranked as the top defense left in the tournament. They have depth and are still on a winning streak dating back before the conference tournaments. Keeping a lock on A&M’s big guards can only increase their chances of taking this game and keep riding the hot streak.
Why the 12th Man?
These guys are huge. How about 6-10, 241 pound Robert Williams who averages nearly a double-double with 10.3 PPG and 9.3 RPG? Or 6-9, 270 pound Tyler Davis who averages 14.6 PPG and 9 RPG? And a guard who sounds like he should be the emcee of a rodeo, 6-9, 215 pound DJ Hogg, who is incredibly efficient on offense. These guys can crash the glass and are also very efficient defensively.
DJ Hogg and the Aggies take home the bacon in a nail-biting finish to a fundamental, defensive basketball game 59-57.
1) Villanova vs 5) West Virginia
This is the most efficient, explosive and ergonomic team in the bracket. How they weren’t voted first in all the land is unfathomable, well at least it seems that way now seeing Virginia lose to UMBC. Donte DiVincenzo is a monster beyond the arc and really so is the entire team. With future NBA talents Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, this offense poses a threat to any critically acclaimed defense. Nova can hit the boards well too in order to make up for missed shots on their own end and create second-chance baskets for Brunson.
Why Jevon Carter, or the Mountaineers?
This team is as much of a machine on defense as Nova is on offense. Or so it seems so far through the bracket. Press all game long is their best option, but they have to able to lockdown at halfcourt, something they have struggled with every so often. Jevon Carter has great vision to take away any pass or dribble and turn it into points. But it’s going to take a team effort this time.
Jevon Carter gets six steals, but the three machine just devastates WVU’s lack of perimeter defense. Nova moves on 84-79.
3) Texas Tech vs 2) Purdue
Why Guns Up?
The Red Raiders are another force on defense in this tournament. They steal and block the ball more than most teams in the dance this year and they’ll need all of that come the rest of the tournament. Keenan Evans and Zhaire Smith are one heck of a duo that can shoot lights out at any given moment. As long as they can keep up on the glass, they have a very good shot at taking this game home.
Why Boiler Up?
This is tricky because it’s another question mark game for Purdue star Isaac Harris. If he can get his elbow brace accepted by the NCAA it can spell big trouble for Tech. Even if he doesn’t play, freshman Carsen Edwards looked to be able to hold his own on the court. Big man Matt Haams can lead this team in scoring and rebounding to take the load off the young guy and create space for the guards to do their outstanding work along the perimeter by keeping their average to a par 42%.
I almost wish I would have picked Tech because of this whole Isaac Harris ordeal, but I’m staying true to myself and my all-so-busted bracket. Haams is leading Purdue to another victory 67-60.
1) Kansas vs 5) Clemson
Why Rock Chalk Jayhawk?
Well, you have given Bill Self and his young team almost a week to prepare and rest. That’s the difference between now and two days rest which led to a close game against Devonte Graham and Seton Hall. KU can get it done from deep, make over half of their shots and can shut down All-American players on defense. A team I picked to lose to Seton Hall has shown me the determination and almighty coaching ability needed to make it deeper into the tournament.
Why Solid Orange?
This or probably the most sound and well-rounded team in the tourney. A group of players, no real stars. They have a very sound defense that can lock down the paint and the perimeter and aren’t afraid to get in your face to block a shot. If this team can shoot lights out like it did against Auburn, it can certainly give Kansas a shocking bus ride back to Topeka.
In the end, I have a firm belief in KU, at least for this game. Another team with tons of big game experience can close the deal late and move to the Elite 8 in 79-75 fashion.
2) Duke vs 11) Syracuse
Why the Cameron Crazies?
The Blue Devils are coached my legendary Coach K. Yeah, that guy we all have to remember as the greatest collegiate basketball coach of all-time, but we can’t even say his name or spell it. He and his big three stars: Grayson Allen, Marvin Bagley III, and Wendell Carter Jr, are heading into this matchup looking to destroy another team with their new and perfected zone defense that allows teams to hit only 40% of their shots and become third in the nation in rebounding. They have the size and the matchups to keep up with the Cuse. They even beat them earlier in the season while going 2-17 from three to beat the Orange 60-44.
Why the Cuse?
Tyus Battle, Frank Howard, and Oshae Brissett. This trio is going to have to hang with Duke’s trio in order to pull out another stunning dub. Syracuse is just as good as Duke on the boards and their very own zone defense can match up with Duke’s. With an outstanding perimeter defense and the ability to grab second-chance points, the Cuse look like a good matchup despite losing earlier in the season. Plus they too have a legendary coach in Jim Boeheim.
Zone vs Zone. Boards vs Boards. This looks like it can become a completely different game opposed to earlier in the season. It’s March baby! Boeheim is 4-5 against Coach K and the last time these two teams met in the tournament, Boeheim lost. In the Sweet 16. This was 20 years ago. And it’s going to be the same result. Coach K makes it 2-0 against Boeheim in the Big Dance 66-58.