Previewing the Sweet 16
Sixteen teams remain. Eight games to be played to decide who is elite enough to move on to be one step closer to cut down the nets and take a trip to Minneapolis to play for the National Championship. Seven conferences remain and will battle it out in hopes that their teams can keep the momentum going and break into the Elite Eight. Looking ahead to the Sweet Sixteen matchups it looks to be one spectacular weekend.
#1 Duke vs. #4 Virginia Tech
An ACC battle that has already guaranteed the ACC has earned a spot in the Elite Eight. Duke is favored to win in Vegas by 7.5 and by 5 according to KenPom. The two have met earlier in the season but we really can’t call this a rematch. Virginia Tech beat Duke at home less than a month ago but Duke was without their star Zion Williamson while Virginia Tech was playing without one of their stars, Justin Robinson. In a Sweet 16 battle, both teams will be at full strength and looking to move on to the Elite Eight. With Zion back on the court for Duke, the Hokies will have a hard time keeping him off the glass and even just matching up with him. Zion is the difference maker here. Virginia Tech has a chance to stay in the game if they can keep Duke out of transition and knock in plenty of shots from deep, but the size and athleticism of Duke should be all it takes to send the Blue Devils back to the Elite Eight for the second straight season.
#2 Michigan State vs. #3 LSU
LSU has been a difficult team to read all season and without Will Wade coaching the team in the tournament it really is a small surprise that the Tigers even made the second weekend of the tournament. Michigan Stat however despite a lull in the middle of the season have proven their worth and look to be a formidable team. The Spartans are favored in Vegas by six and in the metrics KenPom has the Spartans winning by eight, but numbers don’t mean anything. LSU is big and athletic but the Spartans can match their size on the interior. The matchup at the point should be a thing of beauty as Cassius Winston and Tremont Waters will both do whatever their team needs to win. The key thing to watch in this one will be experience and turnovers. The Spartans are starting two Seniors and a Junior and also have plenty of upperclassmen to come off the bench while LSU uses mostly underclassmen to get the job done. The Spartans are however extremely turnover prone and even in their blow out win over Minnesota still committed 22 turnovers leaving the door wide open for LSU if things look the same.
#1 Virginia vs. #12 Oregon
Virginia will look to make it at least two ACC teams in the Elite Eight as they take on the lone surprise Sweet 16 team in the Oregon Ducks. Oregon has been hot as of late and has finally found their stride after losing their big prospect, Bol Bol, earlier in the season. Virginia on the other hand has been one of if not the best team all season long. Oregon has relied on defense to make it this far and will use their length to try and disturb the efficient offense of Virginia. Virginia’s defense is just as good if not better than the Ducks and will give Oregon a hard time. If Virginia can figure out the defense of the Ducks they should have no problem advancing to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2016.
#2 Tennessee vs. #3 Purdue
Tennesse and Purdue look to possibly have the most intriguing matchup on paper. The Boilermakers are favored to win according to the metrics as KenPom has Purdue winning by one point. On the other side of things, Vegas has Tennessee by 1.5. This game should come down to one thing, Carsen Edwards. Edwards has everything in his repertoire to explode for a huge game and repeat his second round performance where he had 42 points and made nine three-pointers in a rout of Villanova. Tennessee has plenty of weapons on the offensive end to keep pace with Purdue if Edwards has an explosion, but it will be on the defensive side where Tennessee may hold the advantage. When the Volunteers play with a fiery passion they can be the best team in the country but have found themselves flat on too many occasions. Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield need to have big games and Jordan Bone may be the deciding factor as he will match up with Edwards. Tennessee has more weapons and more talent but Carsen Edwards may just be too much for the volunteers.
#1 North Carolina vs. #5 Auburn
North Carolina and Auburn will have one thing for certain, lots of points and lots of possessions. Both teams love to get up and down the court and neither team has ever found a shot that they didn’t like so if you’re looking for an offensive affair you’ve come to the right place. With both teams looking to score defense is not forgotten. North Carolina has many more weapons and is much deeper which should give the Tar Heels the advantage. Auburn must avoid foul trouble and knock in plenty of three’s to have a chance. Auburn has found their stride and has been playing extremely well as of late but looks to have met their match when they take on UNC.
#2 Kentucky vs. #3 Houston
Kentucky survived the first weekend without PJ Washington but will be tested form the Cougars as Houston will compete in their first Sweet 16 since 1984. Houston is an all-around solid team that can score the ball in many different ways but most importantly will defend the ball with a ferocity that is not seen too much in today’s game. Kentucky will be able to defend the ball just as well and with PJ Washington returning to the lineup will have plenty weapons on the offensive end to end Houston’s run.
#1 Gonzaga vs. #4 Florida State
In a rematch of last years, Sweet 16 battle Gonzaga will look to revenge their loss to the Seminoles in what looks to be a fantastic game. Florida State has been on a role as of late as they have lost only to North Carolina and Duke in the last two months. Gonzaga, on the other hand, has lost one game to Saint Mary’s after rattling off 21 straight wins. Gonzaga will look to push the ball and get out and run but they use their team extremely well. The Bulldogs share the ball can play inside and out and have plenty of weapons who can all get hot at any time. Florida State will have their work cut out for themselves but certainly have a team that can make the push back into the Elite Eight. With a squad mostly returning from a season ago the Seminoles have experience and depth. Gonzaga will rely plenty on Rui Hachumara and Brandon Clarke but it will be Josh Perkins who wins or loses the game for Gonzaga. The Bulldogs played in a National Championship game two years ago and have the experience to match the Seminoles. If Florida State can disrupt the offense of Gonzaga they will have a chance to stay with the Bulldogs and end their run two years in a row.
#2 Michigan vs. #3 Texas Tech
Michigan and Texas Tech are almost mirrored images of each other with two slight differences. Both the Wolverines and Red Raiders have streaky offenses but when they can get going both teams can score with the best of them. Michigan looks to have the best offense out of the two and should be able to do more damage but Texas Tech has Jared Culver and he can take things into his own hands for the Red Raiders. On the defensive side, these are possibly the two best defensive teams in the tournament. The Red Raiders are more consistent on defense and have an opportunity to head back to the Elite Eight after making a trip their first-ever Elite Eight last season. The game will ultimately be decided on the defensive side of the ball and Texas Tech looks to have the advantage but if they fall flat shooting the ball it will be tough for the Red Raiders to make a run back to the Elite Eight.