And Then There Were 16: What You Need to Know for the Sweet 16
There weren't too many upsets in the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament but it leaves the door wide open for the madness to ensue in the Sweet 16.
Write the tournament thus far as rolling chalk, with all No. 1's, 2's and 3's still intact.
Let's breakdown the matchups and what you need to know going into this weekend:
- (1) Virginia vs. (12) Oregon (Thursday, 8 p.m. MT TBS)
David versus Goliath. The prestigious ACC versus the underrepresented Pac-12. One-seeded Virginia versus Oregon, the scrappy 12th seed. Aside to their scare of the first half against Gardner Webb, Virginia stormed through both first round opponents with ease. Oregon out-scored their opponents (Wisconsin and UC Irvine) 145-108 through the opening rounds.
The Cavaliers makeup of De'Andre Hunter—a projected top-10 NBA draft pick—Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome makes them a Final Four contender. But Oregon, led by junior guard Payton Pritchard, has won 10-straight. This might be a huge upset possibility for the Ducks but should Virginia win, they could race to Minneapolis.
Prediction: Virginia 77 - Oregon 70
- (3) Purdue vs. (2) Tennessee (Thursday, 5:30 p.m. MT TBS)
Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes might need to channel his inner Jaime Escalante in order to inspire his once glorious Vols bunch to get back to form. They haven't looked the same since they held the No. 1 ranking in college basketball. Guys like Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield aren't your traditional towering frontcourt due to their size, but they pack a punch like very few others.
The only problem for the Vols is they still have to go through Carsen Edwards and Purdue. Edwards put up a combined 68 points through the first two games for the Boilermakers and his 42 points on 57 percent shooting against Villanova makes him the toughest task yet for Tennessee.
Prediction: Tennessee 72 - Purdue 71
- (1) Gonzaga vs. (4) Florida State (Thursday, 5 p.m. MT CBS)
The Zags easily have the hardest road to Minneapolis among all the other one seeds and it starts against the red-hot Seminoles on Thursday. With one of the best frontcourt duos in Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke, getting to the Final Four is totally possible.
Having won 15 of their final 17 games, with their only losses to Duke and North Carolina, Florida State might be poised for a huge upset over the Bulldogs. If they are able to limit their turnovers, the Seminoles might taste the Elite Eight.
Prediction: Florida State 82 - Gonzaga 79
- (2) Michigan vs. (3) Texas Tech (Thursday, 7:40 p.m. MT CBS)
Texas Tech has given us every reason to support their journey this season and take them as a true contender. Jarrett Culver is the best player in the state of Texas and will be a great NBA product. But as great as this Chris Beard run has been, especially winning the Big 12 regular season title, this team has some holes that can't be patched up in the Sweet 16.
John Beilein, on the other hand, has been here and done that. He coached the Wolverines to the championship game last year and this year's group looks even more comfortable than last. They have a far more balanced attack offensively, with guys like Ignas Brazdeikis (try saying his name five times fast, it's quite enjoyable), Charles Matthews and Jordan Poole.
Prediction: Michigan 82 - Texas Tech 72
- (1) Duke vs. (4) Virginia Tech (Friday, 7:40 p.m. MT CBS)
Zion Williamson and the star-studded Duke Blue Devils have shown they're absolutely beatable. Well, so is each of these other 15 teams left (possibly with the exception of UNC). What amazes me about this team though is both RJ Barret and Williamson refusing to lose. Through this five-game win streak for Duke, they've shown that they simply will not accept anything short of a victory, even if one of them came in the final seconds (*cough UCF*).
Virginia Tech has overachieved up to this point but more power to head coach Buzz Williams as a dark horse candidate. They beat Duke earlier this year without Zion but they too were without senior guard Justin Robinson. The Hokies are the sixth-best 3-point shooting team in the nation (.395) so they will live and die by the 3-ball on Friday.
Prediction: Duke 70 - Va. Tech 65
- (2) Michigan State vs. (3) LSU (Friday, 5:10 p.m. MT CBS)
Say what you want about Tom Izzo and his recent struggle in the NCAA Tournament but his coaching effort this season, despite the bulk of injuries on their squad, has been remarkable. Cassius Winston's leadership—and 18.9 points per game—continues to propel this Spartans squad. What could stop them?
How about a head coach-less squad like LSU, who continues to play like they have something to prove. Like their counterpart in Auburn, the Tigers are a hodge-podge of really talented athletes, like guard Skylar Mays and Tremont Waters.
Prediction: LSU 71 - Michigan State 70
- (1) North Carolina vs. (5) Auburn (Friday, 5:30 p.m. MT TBS)
Simply put North Carolina is the best team in college basketball right now. Now that could change by an utter Zion domination over Va. Tech or a Virginia killing of both Oregon and Purdue/Tennessee. But Roy Williams' Tar Heels are so fun to watch. Pick your guy, they're all a treat to see, from Coby White's bobbing hair—and 16 points per game—to the bizarre physical frame of senior Luke Maye, who is 6-foot-8, 240 lbs. but plays like he's 7-foot-1, 300 lbs. Also can't forget about Cameron Johnson's near 17 points per game.
The organized chaotic team of the Auburn Tigers have given every reason for the Tar Heels to be worried about though. Bryce Brown and Jared Harper are a fantastic guard combo. And even though they are on a 10-game winning streak, eventually this tornado will stop.
Prediction: North Carolina 76 - Auburn 65
- (2) Kentucky vs. (3) Houston (Friday, 8:00 p.m. MT TBS)
It felt unfathomable to image a Kentucky team going far in this tournament without PJ Washington. But this week, it looks like Washington will play against the Cougars and with guys like Tyler Herro (14 ppg) and Keldon Johnson (13.6 ppg), the Wildcats are a top-5 team in the country.
Houston's Kelvin Sampson probably wishes his name would stop surfacing in every Power-5 head coaching opening. And while the Cougars have had a nice year, including various times being ranked in the top-10, they are undersized and don't match up well against this Kentucky team.
Prediction: Kentucky 81 - Houston 70