Article by: Harrison Weaver
#1 Duke vs #4 VT
Let’s just take a moment to catch our breath here. Perhaps the most thrilling game of the tournament so far, Duke vs UCF, came down to the very last second, and if that balled rolled any more around the rim it may have dropped in. But no, here we are. Brackets still intact, we get a great ACC matchup between Duke and Va Tech. Where do you even begin with this Duke team? With Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and Cam Reddish, this team is lights out. Barrett can put up points in bunches, Reddish getting buckets on command, all the while Zion is throwing down poster dunks and stuffing the stat sheet in every which way. But by no means is Virginia Tech any kind of slouch. They actually beat Duke in their only meeting of the season (minus Zion), and this is a team that likes to dig in and D-up. The most dangerous part about Va Tech is the three-point shooting, as 45% of their shots actually come from beyond the arc. Which kind of plays into Duke’s weakness, this is a team that has been very poor from three-point range this season. With a combination of good three-point shooting and being able to somehow disrupt Zion and RJ Barrett, Virginia Tech can put the Blue Devils on upset alert.
#2 MSU vs #3 LSU
Another fun game on the Sweet 16 schedule, Michigan State versus LSU. The Tigers are coming off of an absolute thriller against Maryland where they blew a double-digit lead at the end of the game and needed a last-second layup from star guard Tremont Waters to put them past the Terrapins. Meanwhile, Michigan State has been taking care of business and are looking, in my opinion, like one of the best teams left in the tournament. This is the Spartan’s 14th Sweet 16 appearance under coach Tom Izzo, while LSU has been busy proving people wrong while head coach Will Wade has been suspended for their entire run down the stretch of the season. It’ll be a fun matchup of guard play as MSU will be featuring Big 10 Player of the Year Cassius Winston, against LSU’s Tremont Waters who has been incredible down the stretch of the season and in the tournament run. Michigan State comes in as clear favorites, but don’t count out the Tigers because business is boomin’ when it comes to them proving people wrong this March.
#1 Gonzaga vs #4 Florida State
The sleeper game of the Sweet 16, Gonzaga is playing for revenge from last season’s Sweet 16 ending, where the Noles knocked them off 75-60. The Zags are playing great basketball just like they have all season and are showing they are deserving of the 1 seed and are poised for another Final Four run. However, Florida State may have what it takes to put the Zags on upset alert. Going 16-2 since a 3-game skid dating back to January, the Noles have only lost to Duke and North Carolina. Despite playing without their starting forward Phil Cofer, the Seminoles possess the depth and athleticism, which I believe can make them very dangerous for Gonzaga. This game will come down to whose big men can dominate the paint, between Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke, Rui Hachimura, and Killian Tillie, against Florida State’s Mfiondu Kabengele and Christ Koumadje. For the Seminole’s to pull the upset this year, they will have to control the boards and get those Gonzaga big men in foul trouble early on.
#2 Michigan vs #3 Texas Tech
This is a matchup that many are excited about. Last year’s runner up versus one of the most impressive teams to this point in the tournament. Two of the best defensive teams in the tournament; Texas Tech allowing 59.2 PPG, and Michigan allowing 58 PPG on the season. It will be fun to watch star player, Jarrett Culver of Texas Tech, duel it out against the balanced attack of Michigan. If you like games that feature high-powered, gunslinging, fast past offense, this will not be the game for you. This is a game for the old school, ground and pound basketball fans who appreciate some lock down defense, where neither team may score above 60. Fasten your seatbelts and get ready, because this is going to be a fun, physical game.
#1 Virginia vs #12 Oregon
Oregon comes into this game as quite possibly the hottest team in the country. Riding a 10-game winning streak, dating back to late February, and winning their first two tournament games by a combined 37 points. Led by Junior guard Payton Pritchard, the Ducks now face their biggest challenge of the tournament, by far. Virginia’s season up to this point has been nothing short of excellent. With a stellar record of 31-3, and boasting the nation’s top scoring defense, the Cavaliers can handle anything thrown at them. A slight hiccup in the first half in the first round against 16 seed Gardner-Webb has them refocused and ready to go. This game will come down to whether or not Virginia can get ahead from the beginning and use their defense to suffocate the energy and momentum out of the Ducks. The best way for Oregon to pull this upset is to come out hot, keep their foot on the gas, and get Virginia out of their comfort zone.
#2 Tennessee vs #3 Purdue
This Sweet 16 matchup features two very evenly-matched teams in Tennessee and Purdue. Tennessee was playing incredible basketball until a little halfway through the season, and they have been inconsistent ever since. As for Purdue, after a rocky start to the season, they are playing their best ball at the right time, after routing the defending champs Villanova, 87-61. This game will come down to an up-tempo Tennessee attack versus a Purdue team, who likes to slow the game down a bit, and get the ball into the hands of their key playmaker Carsen Edwards. I anticipate a close first half but keep an eye on who can control the flow of the game coming out of halftime, as that may very well be what dictates the outcome of this game.
#1 UNC vs #5 Auburn
UNC vs Auburn is a very exciting matchup between two of the most popular teams in the nation. After a mediocre start to the season, Carolina put together a tremendous back half of the season, earning a share of the ACC regular season crown, and positioning themselves as a 1 seed. Their counterpart has been equally as impressive. A little overlooked in the SEC, as most of the spotlight has gone to Tennessee and Kentucky, Auburn put together a fantastic run to win the SEC tournament. After an impressive win versus Kansas, Auburn will look to keep the ball rolling against the Tar Heels. You are going to want to tune in especially for this game, as we get a matchup against two frenetic offenses, both top in the country as they love to get out and run. The difference will be whether Auburn can keep UNC off the offensive glass, and keeping scorers like Coby White, Cam Johnson, and Luke Maye from getting hot and running away with it.
#2 Kentucky vs #3 Houston
Another big defensive matchup will be the feature in this exciting game between Kentucky and Houston. Both teams rank top-30 in the nation in scoring defense, while Kentucky is only allowing 50 PPG game in the tournament, to Houston’s 57 PPG allowed. That is incredible, and what many people would deem to be “shut-down” defense. Houston has been consistent all year, leaning on guards Corey Davis Jr. and Armoni Brooks to score and Galen Robinson Jr. to dish out assists. A balanced attack of those three guys will be the key to attack on offense for Houston. As for Kentucky, they have been battling inconsistency all year, struggling to find an identity at times. However, here they are, just two games away from the Final Four. The big question for them is whether they will have star player PJ Washington available, as he has been battling a sprained foot that he suffered in the SEC tournament. Without him, making the Final Four will be an intense uphill climb, as he leads the team in scoring and rebounding. Luckily, behind him, they have a strong guard combo with Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson that still hold them as slight favorites against the Cougars. Either way, this will be a very fun, defensive, down to the wire game that everyone loves to see late in March.
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