Four days took the NCAA Tournament field from 64 down to 16. There were upsets along the way, including the top two seeds in the East Region (number one overall seed Villanova and 2-seed Duke) being knocked off; despite two of the best programs—and teams—in the country being out of it, this weekend should deliver some great games and a lot of excitement.
Wisconsin had no business being an 8-seed. With an experienced group, including Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, they were perhaps the only team in the tournament with as much tournament experience as Villanova. Honestly, Villanova was dealt a bad hand with the seeding, but they will be the first to say they need to beat the teams in front of them. Wisconsin should be considered the favorite in the East Region.
However, the Badgers’ next opponent, Florida, has been dominant through two games of the tournament. They absolutely stifled 5-seed Virginia in the second round. At the bottom of the East Region, we should have a shootout between 3-seed Baylor and 7-seed South Carolina. Baylor is averaging 86.5 points through two games, while South Carolina is averaging an astonishing 90.5 points per game. Even with the top two seeds being out already, these games should be a ton of fun.
It’s not often two of the top candidates for the Naismith Trophy meet in the Sweet Sixteen. But that’s what we’ll be getting with 1-seed Kansas, led by Frank Mason III, going up against Caleb Swanigan and 4-seed Purdue. Overall, the Jayhawks have more firepower than Purdue, but if Swanigan can take over the game (maybe drain a few threes), Purdue will have a chance.
Arguably the hottest team right now, 7-seed Michigan will try to keep it going versus 3-seed Oregon. Even before Louisville’s loss to Michigan, Rick Pitino said playing Michigan is like playing the Golden State Warriors. The Wolverines are led by seniors Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin, but big Moritz Wagner may be the difference against Oregon; obviously, Oregon is without big-time shot blocker Chris Boucher, so Wagner will try to have his way down low. Led by Dillon Brooks, Oregon is still a dangerous team. I think it’ll come down to Kansas and Michigan, though.
The South is the only region that has gone chalk (in terms of the top four seeds remaining). Butler has calmly taken care of business in their first two games against 13-seed Winthrop and 12-seed Middle Tennessee, but now they’ll have to face North Carolina. The Tarheels seem to be a bit hot/cold, as evident in their last game versus Arkansas; after jumping out to a huge early lead, they were battling at the end and looked bad, at times.
The matchup between UCLA and Kentucky is likely the game of the tournament for most NBA evaluators. There will be young stars all over the court on Friday night. Kentucky has two guards that almost certainly will be taken in the top ten of the 2017 NBA Draft, point guard De’Aaron Fox and scorer Malik Monk. Meanwhile, UCLA has the potential top pick in the draft in Lonzo Ball. The Bruins won the early season matchup, 97-92, and their style of play should get them past Kentucky and potentially to the Final Four.
The wild, wild west. Gonzaga held on to beat the charging Northwestern squad in the second round. “Press Virginia” will try to keep the pressure on Gonzaga and force them into mistakes. If the Bulldogs can beat the press without issue, they should be able to get past West Virginia.
After being a 2-seed that was eliminated in the second round last season, Xavier is back with a vengeance and looking to get to the Elite Eight. A 2-seed this year, Arizona probably thinks it’s their time to make a deep run in the tournament. To make this game more interesting, Sean Miller will be facing his former team, coached by his friend Chris Mack, in the Sweet Sixteen for the second time in three seasons.
Some of this weekend’s matchups seem to be quite the coincidence.