And then there were 16. In one of the wildest March Madness tournaments we have ever seen, two 11 seeds, two 9 seeds, and two 7 seeds have shocked everyone on their way to the Sweet Sixteen and look to continue this next round. Here is what to expect in the 8 games being played from Thursday to Friday.
11 Loyola Chicago vs 7 Nevada (7:07 PM ET Thursday)
Raise your hand if you predicted this matchup. In a game in each the two seed typically plays the three seed, these two teams have busted everyone’s brackets and moved on to face each other. Loyola Chicago has definitely played the most entertaining tournament, defeating both their opponents on game winners with less than 5 seconds left. Nevada have embraced their roles as the comeback kings, coming back from 14 points in the first round and 22 points in the second. The key for Loyola Chicago is to keep the game at their pace, they are not a high scoring team, and if they can hold Nevada to 65 points or less, they will be able to win this game. For Nevada, they need a strong performance from the Martin twins. The brothers have both played great tournaments so far, and will need to continue this in order for Nevada to move on. Expect a tight battle, and an exciting finish in this one.
7 Texas A&M vs 3 Michigan (7:37 PM ET Thursday)
While this may sound surprising, Texas A&M deserve to be in this game more than Michigan. Michigan won on an incredible buzzer beater from Jordan Poole, while Texas A&M defeated who most people called a final four lock UNC by 20 points. Nonetheless, the beauty of March Madness is anything can happen, and Michigan will make sure to not make the same mistakes. The key for A&M will be the productivity of the frontcourt. Robert Williams and Trevor Davis have played exceptional up to now, especially on the defensive end. They kept UNC’s star player Luke Maye under control, and if they can do the same with Michigan’s star player Moritz Wagner, they will keep the Cinderella run alive. For Michigan, they will need more production from everyone not named Moritz Wagner. They have struggled to find a constant scoring option, which has hurt them so far. If Charles Matthews or Muhammad-Ali Abdur- Rahkman can step up and score 20 points for the Wolverines, then they have a strong chance at winning this game.
9 Kansas State vs 5 Kentucky (9:37 PM ET Thursday)
In the “group of death”, featuring elite teams like Virginia, Cincinnati, Tennessee, and Arizona, only one top 6 team remains; the Kentucky Wildcats. One thing both teams have in common however is that they have had relatively easy schedules on their way to the Sweet 16. Kentucky has blown by their two opponents, a 12 seed and a 13 seed, while K State hasn’t had much more difficulty, defeating a 8 seed before knocking out the first 16 seed to make the round of 32. For both teams, this matchup will be the first real test of March Madness for them. Kentucky will rely heavy on freshman guards Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous Alexander. If both of them can perform the way they have in the first two rounds, this game should be an easy victory. The biggest question for Kansas State is the availability of their best player, Dean Wade. He has sat out both tournament games, but if he can suit up on Thursday, they automatically become a much stronger team, and he can put up points against an inexperienced Kentucky frontcourt. Don’t expect a victory for Kansas State, but with that being said, no high seed is safe in the South Region.
9 Florida State vs 4 Gonzaga (9:59 PM ET Thursday)
Florida State has definitely been one of the more impressive teams in the tournament, defeating a Michael Porter lead Missouri then knocking out the one seed Xavier. Gonzaga has battled in two close games, but have came out victorious in both, setting up what might be the most exciting Sweet 16 game. Florida State has succeeded on a balanced scoring effort by their players, and their five leading scorers are all shooting over 40 percent. They need to continue this balanced scoring if they want to contend with the high scoring Gonzaga. Gonzaga need a third person to step up to help Zach Norvell Jr. and Johnathan Williams on the offensive end. Rui Hachimura filled that role last game, scoring 25 points on 9-11 shooting. If the Zags can stay out of foul trouble and find that third scorer, they can control this game, but never underestimate this Florida State team.
5 Clemson vs 1 Kansas (7:07 PM ET Friday)
Clemson is riding high off of 31 point blowout against Auburn in the round of 32, and are looking to carry that momentum into the Sweet 16. This will be no easy task, as they will have to face one of the top teams left in Kansas. Clemson needs to continue to find a way to score, they have done a great job of that in the first two rounds, scoring 79, then 84 points. Kansas is a difficult team to defend because they has so many scoring options, so if Clemson can find a way to control these scorers like they did against Auburn, they’ll be dancing next round. Kansas was filled with a few question marks after their win against Seton Hall, one being Devonte Graham and one being Udoka Azubuike. Graham appeared to get hurt in the first half of the Seton Hall game, and wasn’t the same from there. He appears to be fine, and the hope for the Jayhawks is that there will be no problems. Azubuike was a huge presence in the post or Kansas this season, but an injury has limited his minutes this tournament. If he’s able to log 25-30 minutes, then that will be huge for Kansas, and may potentially be a 5-10 score difference for them.
5 West Virginia vs 1 Villanova (7:27 PM ET Friday)
No one wants to win this tournament more than West Virginia senior Jevon Carter. He has given everything he has the last two games, leading to two convincing victories. Villanova will be no pushover however, they have looked equally, if not more dominant in their last two games. Donte Divincenzo and Mikal Bridges have both had great tournaments so far, and Jalen Brunson has continued to impress. If they want to win this game, they will need to figure out this West Virginia defense. Many teams have struggled against it, but Nova has the pieces to break the press and score. For West Virginia, they need to contain the Nova stars. Jevon Carter, one of the best defenders in college basketball can shut down Brunson, while shot blocker Sagaba Konate can defend the rim and force difficult shots for Bridges. This game will be action packed, and don’t be surprised if we see another one seed go down.
11 Syracuse vs 2 Duke (9:37 PM ET Friday)
From First 4 in to Sweet 16, Syracuse has surprised everyone with the way they have played so far. The zone defense has been a nightmare for teams, and they will look to continue this against one of the best offensive teams in the country, Duke. Duke needs to find a way to score against the zone; the three teams Syracuse has defeated this tournament have scored 20-30 points less than their average because of this. If someone like Gary Trent or Grayson Allen can get hot from three, then their will be trouble for the Orange. Syracuse need a strong game from their best player, Tyus Battle. After scoring one point in the first half against Michigan State, he came up big in the second half, scoring 16 points and preventing Michigan State from ever getting their lead above 5. If Battle can perform like he did in the second half last game, we may be seeing an 11 seed in the Elite 8. Duke should win this game however, they have too much star power to control.
3 Texas Tech vs 2 Purdue (9:57 PM ET Friday)
The Purdue centers have gotten a lot of attention of the past week, but not for the reasons we expect. First it was Isaac Haas, Purdue’s 7-2 giant who got injured in the first game and will miss the rest of the tournament. Now it is 7-3 backup giant Matt Haarms, who could not control his hair in the victory against Butler in the Round of 32, leading to the hashtag #haarmshair becoming popular on Twitter. Distractions aside, this Purdue team is scary. Lead by the two Edwards, Carsen and Vincent, they have been able to control games and create open shots, especially with Haarms scaring offenses and defenses in the middle. Texas Tech has been one of the surprise teams this season, and more than deserve the run they are on. If Purdue can run their offense, Texas Tech will have many problems. Keenan Evans has been a beast for Texas Tech this season, and hasn’t slowed down this tournament, averaging 18 points on 48% shooting. If he can get help from the talented freshman Zaire Smith, the Red Raiders can win this game. It might be too hard however to find someone to guard Haarms in the post, and that might be enough to end their season.