The first two rounds of the tournament have been must watch TV. The round of 64 featured a multitude of Cinderella story’s and great play out of veteran players. The round of 32 saw most of those same Cinderella story’s crash and burn, but saw the play of older players continue to get better. With an interesting mix of teams remaining, the Sweet Sixteen is shaping up to be yet another great round of basketball.
The Sweet Sixteeen’s most intriguing matchup could be that of the only two double-digit remaining seeds left in the tournament. #11 Gonzaga and #10 Syracuse will face off in what should be a tight battle. Syracuse’s zone defense is the best in the country, but it will be up against a tough Gonzaga team that can win playing both inside and outside. The Zags have gotten really good guard play recently, and that will have to stay true, as the zone rarely allows the ball to get inside the paint.
Kyle Wiltjer will be the X-Factor for the Zags, as he’s a stretch four that can play both inside and out, and if he can find his stroke early, Syracuse could be in trouble. Either way, a Cinderella team will be packing its bags after this matchup on Friday night.
The other matchup in the Midwest region is between #1 seed Virginia and #4 seed Iowa State in a matchup of two veteran teams. However, these teams have extremely contrasting styles. Virginia relies on their defense, which is the best unit remaining. The Cavaliers are led on the defensive end by Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill.
Iowa State on the other hand has an efficient and productive offense, led by All-American Georges Niang. With both of these squads having elite units on opposite sides of the court, this is one of the more intriguing matchups in the Sweet Sixteen. Virginia has more experience in big time games than Iowa State, and that could be the deciding factor.
In the West bracket, #4 Duke and #1 Oregon both can spray threes with the best of them. Neither team really has a go-to option down low on the post and both love to get up and down the court quickly. Oregon is versatile on both offense and defense, which allows them to do a multitude of things on both ends.
Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey are a nice scoring combo, but Duke has the best combo in the nation in Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen, who have been hot this tournament. I expect this one to be high scoring and close throughout. This game will come down to which team can get stops down the stretch, which may put Duke at the disadvantage.
The second matchup in the West is between Oklahoma and Texas A&M. Texas A&M is riding high after they pulled off an incredible comeback against Northern Iowa to stay alive, while Oklahoma held of VCU to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Both of these teams are reliant on seniors. Aggies center Tyler Davis is the lone impact freshman for each team, and he’ll be matched up against Ryan Spangler. Davis is more of a post-up style center, while Spangler likes to pop out and shoot the three. But Spangler’s role in the offense has seemed to diminish in March, as he only has 11 points in two games.
Obviously, the player to watch is Buddy Hield, who has improved his scoring output in each of his career NCAA Tournament games. Last time out, he dropped 36 on VCU, including 29 in the second half. I’m not too sure that anyone for Texas A&M can cover him. Alex Caruso may be able to, but there isn’t a player of Hield’s caliber in the SEC. Look for Hield to have another massive game.
The East region features a game against #1 UNC and #5 Indiana. UNC has overcome two poor first halves to advance, and Indiana knocked off #4 Kentucky to reach the Sweet Sixteen. This game will be extremely high scoring. Each team averaged 82.3 points per game, tied for 11th in the country. Both teams can fill it up with ease, but the way they do it is drastically different.
Indiana lives behind the there point line, attempting 23 a game, making their attempts at a 41% clip. With shooters like Yogi Ferrell, Robert Johnson and Max Bielfeldt, and even big man Thomas Bryant, Indiana can knock down threes with the rest of them. North Carolina on the other hand relies on their bigs on the inside to get their points. Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson and Isaiah Hicks are the workhorses for the Tarheels, and Johnson is one of the best overall players remaining in the tournament. The ‘Heels are deep, experienced, talented and are hungry to get to a Final Four for the first time since 2009.
The other matchup in the East features #6 Notre Dame and #7 Wisconsin. Both teams had fantastic finishes to each of their games. Notre Dame got a tip in at the buzzer to beat Stephen F. Austin, while Wisconsin… just read this article if you’re interested in what happened.
Notre Dame has a great big man/point guard combo in Zach Auguste and Demetrious Jackson, who excel in the pick and roll. If teams shut down the pick and roll, key secondary options like Bonzie Colson and sharpshooter VJ Beachum can pick up the slack. Notre Dame’s offense is their strong suit, as their defense is lackluster at best.
Wisconsin is one of the best stories of the year, and they have a very balanced team. They are carried by Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig and Ethan Happ, all of whom average double figures. Nothing about this Wisconsin team really jumps out at you, but they play hard night in and night out. They take care of the ball and rebound pretty well, some underrated values that are overlooked in the tournament.
In the South bracket, #2 Villanova will face off against #3 Miami. Villanova hasn’t been challenged yet, but Miami has had to fight against Wichita State and Buffalo. Once again, it’s a matchup against two veteran teams who don’t turn the ball over. Each of them rely on guard play and don’t shoot much inside, which would lead to a very competitive game.
The ‘Canes rely on the backcourt of Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan to do the majority of the scoring. However, Davon Reed and Ja’Quan Newton are solid secondary scorers for this crew. They might not have a good post scorer, but Tonye Jekiri is solid defensively inside and cleans the glass effectively. Miami as a team is very proficient on the offensive end, hitting 47% of their shots collectively.
Josh Hart, Ryan Arcidiacono and Jalen Brunson are a strong trio of guards for the Wildcats, and all three shoot above 35% from three and average double figures in points. The offense runs through those three guys, and they each have their strengths. Hart is one of the best rebounding guards in the country, Arcidiacono is a good setup man, averaging 4.4 assists per game, and Brunson can shoot it and drive it as a freshman. Daniel Ochefu is inept offensively, scoring mostly on putbacks and lobs, but he, like Jekiri, is a good rebounder and shot blocker.
The second match in the South might be the best game to watch in the Sweet Sixteen. #1 overall seed Kansas faces off against #5 seed in the South in Maryland. Maryland might be the only team that can beat Kansas before the Final Four. They’re the only team with the size, talent and experience to do so.
Kansas is the deepest team in the country, and, once again, have a veteran roster. Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden, DeVonte’ Graham, Frank Mason III are the core players on this team. Svi Mykhailiuk, Brannen Greene and Jamari Traylor all provide valuable minutes for the Jayhawks. Kansas has a top 20 scoring offense, are the second best three point shooting team, rebound well and move the ball well. But the dynamic Jayhawks offense will be put to the test against an extremely talented Maryland team.
Maryland came into this season with big expectations, and have slightly underperformed despite going 25-8. The Terps may not be very deep, but their starting five is one of the best in America. Melo Trimble, Rasheed Suliamon, Jake Layman, Robert Carter and Diamond Stone all score over 11 points a game, but neither score more than 15 a night. Any given night one of these guys will be asked to carry the offense, and each of them can.
Trimble is great setup man and is clutch down the stretch, while Suliamon is a lights-out shooter. Layman is the do-it-all wing on the team, as he can drive, post up, hit a three and can cover multiple positions. Stone and Carter are two forces on the inside, and Carter can even pop three from time to time.
Maryland has the size and skill to matchup with Kansas. The only thing holding the Terps back is their maddening inconsistency. If they can disrupt the flow of Kansas’ offense they have a legitimate shot of taking down #1.
Cover photo via TestudoTimes…. seriously.