After the first weekend of March Madness, the field of 16 is set and ready to go. In a tournament known for its upsets, this has been the chalkiest tournament in the last decade. You have to go all the way back to the 2009 NCAA Tournament to find the last time the No. 1,2 and 3 seeds all survived the first weekend. Funny enough, the 2009 tournament also saw a No. 5 and 12 seed survive along with the other top 14 seeds. However, as much as we like to root for the underdog (*Cough Cough* UCF), I believe that seeing the best college basketball teams play each other for a chance at a National Title is just as exciting. Of course, 12 seed Oregon is the exception, but with them being a popular first-round upset, PAC 12 Champs and winners of 10 straight, I firmly have them in the conversation of top 16 teams in the country. But, without further ado, lets take a look into my Sweet 16 preview.
#1 Gonzaga vs. #4 Florida St.
Time: 7:09 EST TV: CBS Where: Anaheim, California
Odds: Gonzaga -7 O/U 148
Gonzaga has cruised through their first two games of the tournament and have looked every bit of No. 1 seed. After a 38 point rout of Fairleigh Dickinson in the opening round, they were able to corral the Baylor Bears never trailing after the 14:40 mark in the first half and going on to win 83-71 behind 36 points from Junior Forward Brandon Clarke.
On the other side, Florida St. struggled in their first game against the Vermont Catamounts. Vermont shot a white hot 16-32 from 3 point range, but the Seminoles were able to fend them off in the 2nd half finishing 31-37 (83.8%) from the FT line and avoiding the first round exit. In their 2nd round game they came out and made a statement with a 90-62 win over Murray St. and media darling Ja Morant. Even behind Morant’s 28 points, the Racers were never able to get in the game as FSU finished 36-71 (50.7%) from the field, out-rebounded the Racers 45-33 and had 21 assists compared to Murray State’s 7.
Gonzaga comes into this game with the #1 adjusted offensive efficiency according to KenPom and they lead the NCAA in points-per-game at 88.8. They’re led by two legit NBA prospects in Rui Hachimura (19.7 pts, 6.6 reb) and Brandon Clarke (17.0 pts, 8.4 reb), both of whom are effective on both the offensive and defensive end. Meanwhile, Florida St. has the #10 adjusted defense according to KenPom. Florida St. is going to have to find a way to keep Clarke in check down low and limit the Cav’s damage from 3. Both teams play at a high tempo (both rank top 130 nationally) and Florida St. is going to have to have someone set up. Phil Cofer, Florida St.’s leading scorer last year, is not expected to play in this one after his father passed away last week. Gonzaga is top-20 in Rebounding Margin and FSU has to do a good job limiting the second chances against the Bulldogs. The Seminoles have the experience being here though. Most of the players from last years Elite Eight team are still on the roster. They’re going to need to play their best game in order to knock off the Bulldogs.
#2 Tennessee vs. #3 Purdue
Time: 7:29 EST TV: TBS Where: Louisville, Kentucky
Odds: Tennessee -1 O/U 146.5
To say that Tennessee has had quite the rollercoaster ride through their first two games would be an understatement. Against Colgate, in the first round they took a commanding 42-30 lead into halftime and seemed to be rolling along to a first-round win. Then the 2nd half came and behind Jordan Burns 18 second half points (finished with a game high 32 points) Colgate was able to take the lead with 11:37 to go in the 2nd half. In a neck and neck game, two big 3 pointers from the senior, Admiral Schofield, helped Tennessee survive an onslaught on Colgate 3’s and propel Tennessee to a 77-70 victory. Then the Iowa game happened. Iowa went down early but came back to upset the 7 seed Cincinnati in Columbus 79-72 for a chance to play the Volunteers. Tennessee roared out of the gate and took a 25 point lead with 4:22 to go… in the FIRST half. With a 21 point lead at the half, it looked like Tennessee would be cruising into their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2014. Then the wheels came off as Iowa stormed back causing a flurry of Tennessee turnovers. Iowa never held a lead but were able to erase the deficit and cause the first OT game in this year’s NCAA tournament. Behind Grant Williams’ 6 OT points, the Vols were able to outscore the Hawkeyes 12-6 in the overtime period for a birth in the Sweet 16.
Purdue had a lot more stress-free run to the Sweet 16. In their first game against the 13 seed Old Dominion they were able to take a 32-19 lead going into halftime and never looked back riding 1st Team Big-10 selection, Carsen Edward’s 26 points to a 61-48 win. Then against reigning NCAA Champions, Villanova, they made a statement. Behind Edward’s absurd 42(!) point performance they were able to coast to a 87-61 win. Even behind Nova’s, Phil Booth (15 points) and Eric Paschall (19 points) they never had an answer for Edward’s. Nova shot only 20-58 (34.5%) and watched their Tourny run get cut short.
This game is going to be a toss up and can go either way. First and foremost, the Vols must find a way to limit Carsen Edwards. The Vols have been prone to stopping the 3 recently and cannot let the Boilermakers get hot from deep. Lamonte Turner really stepped up his on-ball defense against Iowa in the 2nd half and Tennessee is going to need him to play like that again. He has already said that he is going to ask to guard Edwards, so that is a matchup to look forward to. Tennessee has to get the ball to their star Grant Williams. The Vols fed him in overtime against Iowa and they had no answer for the SEC Player of the Year. The offense needs to run through Williams and when they bring the double team he needs to be able to kick it out to the open man.
#2 Michigan vs. #3 Texas Tech
Time: 9:39 EST TV: CBS Where: Anaheim, California
Odds: Michigan -2 O/U 126.5
Michigan has been hot out of the gate in the NCAA Tournament, with arguably the best in-game coach, John Beilein, they look poised to make another run. Against Montana in the first round, the Wolverines never trailed and jumped out to a 15 point lead with 8:26 in the first half. They never looked back and were able to ride a big-time Charles Matthews’ performance to the tune of 22 points and 10 rebounds. Michigan won comfortably 74-55 and waltzed into the 2nd round. Then against a stingy Florida team, they were able to control the tempo and play stout defense against the Gators. Florida finished only 19-55 (34.5%) from the floor and never could get into any type of offensive rhythm. This time it was Jordan Poole who led the way with 19 points in the eventual 64-49 win to send Michigan to their 3rd straight Sweet 16.
Texas Tech and Big 12 player of the year, Jarrett Culver, have had a fantastic season and it has carried over to the tournament. In their first game against Northern Kentucky, they allowed the Norfs to stay in the game and only led by 4 at half. But, behind Culver’s 29-8-7 line they were able to pull away late in the 2nd half and win 72-57. Texas Tech then drew the MAC Champions, Buffalo, for a 2nd round date in the tournament. Tech was able to corral MAC Player of the Year, CJ Massinburg, and hold him to only 14 points on a 4-12 shooting performance. Culver struggled himself only scoring 16 points on 6-17 shooting. However, every starter for the Red Raiders was able to score in double digits and lead them to a 78-58 drubbing off the Bulls.
This game is going to be all about the defense. Michigan and Texas Tech are #1 and #2 in adjusted defense on KenPom respectively. Both of these teams also play at one of the slowest tempo’s in the country. The key for Michigan is going to be stopping Jarrett Culver, the offense runs through him and if they can limit him the will have a good chance to come away with a win. Michigan is 6th in the country in fewest turnovers and will have to continue protecting the ball from this stingy Texas Tech defense.
#1 Virginia vs. #12 Oregon
Time: 9:59 EST TV: TBS Where: Louisville, Kentucky
Odds: Virginia -7.5 O/U 119
We all remember last years Virginia loss to UMBC, first loss by a 1 seed and so on and so forth. With that in mind Virginia wanted to make a statement against Gardner-Webb, but with 7:33 to go in the first half Virginia found themselves down 28-14 and had the world wondering if it could happen again. They found themselves with a 6 point deficit, but from that point on it was all Virginia. In the 2nd half, Virginia took over and behind 17 2nd half points from De’Andre Hunter dominated the Bulldogs to a 71-56 opening round win. The Cavaliers then drew hot-shooting Oklahoma who, a two days earlier, exploded for 95 points and a trouncing of Ole Miss. The story of this game was vastly different as Virginia showed why they have a top 5 defense and held the Sooners to just 51 points on 19-52 (36.5%) shooting. The Cavs held a 9 point lead at half and were able to hold on to win 63-51 and advance to the Sweet 16.
Oregon has been one of the hottest teams in the country over the last month. As mentioned at the start of the article they have been winners of 10 straight, including a PAC-12 Championship run ending with a beatdown of Regular Season PAC-12 Champs, Washington, 68-48 in the Championship game. In their first game against #5 Wisconsin, it seemed like the Badgers were primed for an upset at the hands of the Ducks. After being tied at the half 25-25, Oregon flexed its muscles in the 2nd half. Behind Peyton Pritchard’s 19 points and 8 assists and Louis King’s 15 points, they were able to outscore the Badgers 47-29 in the 2nd half and pull off the “upset” 72-54. In the 2nd round they drew 13 seed UC Irvine, who themselves were able to upset the 4 seed Kansas St. From the 17:09 mark in the first half the Ducks never trailed and once again led by Pritchard (18 points) and King (16 points) were able to come away victorious 73-54.
Virginia comes into this game as 1 of only 3 teams to be top 10 in adjusted offense and defense. They are one of the most, if not the most balanced teams in the country. They have 3 legit scores that can also play defense. De’Andre Hunter is one of the best two-way players in the country on the wing. He’s a legit NBA prospect averaging 15.2 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. Kyle Guy is their sharpshooter who is averaging 15.1 points per game on 43.9% shooting from beyond the arc. Ty Jerome is one of the best facilitators in the country and is as competitive as they come. He has averaged 13.0 pts and 5.3 assists per game this season. Meanwhile, Oregon has quite possibly had the stingiest defense in their 10 game winning streak. They have given up an average of just 54.2 points per game in their streak, which would rank #1 in the country over the entire year. They are going to have to find a way to slow down this potent Virginia offense. The Ducks are going to need Pritchard and King to both step up in order to keep this streak alive.