by Ishaaon Sivansh
After a wild and possibly historic first two rounds, here is a breakdown and a guide for the upcoming Sweet Sixteen matchups.
1 Kentucky vs. 5 West Virginia
There is not much to say here; while I still maintain that Kentucky will not end up champions, I don’t think “Press” Virginia will be the team to knock them off. As good as West Virginia’s defense is, they are not talented enough to contain Kentucky on both offense and defense. They will likely struggle to put enough points on the board, and even avid West Virginia fans must recognize that they barely scraped by Maryland, and might have lost if freshman guard Melo Trimble was not sidelined late in the game with an injury. As long as Kentucky keeps playing like Kentucky, the Wildcats will roll.
3 Notre Dame vs. 7 Wichita State
Wichita State was an extremely underrated team going into this tournament, and Notre Dame came into the tournament with a head of steam, winning the ACC Tournament. Both teams are very deep and very talented, and that makes this an extremely difficult game to predict. In this game, I think pure tournament experience gives the edge to the Shockers. Wichita State took a trip to the Final Four in 2013, and was undefeated going in to the 2013 Tournament, while Notre Dame is a relatively inexperienced team in terms of tournament success. That may just give the advantage to Fred VanVleet and the Shockers.
Prediction: Wichita State
4 Louisville vs. 8 North Carolina State
Louisville is one of the few teams that can rely on defense for Tournament wins, but this team looks nearly unstoppable when their offense is on point. Meanwhile NC State is extremely inconsistent which makes them a target for an early exit in the Sweet Sixteen. While NC State puts great games together, they haven’t been able to string wins together in a reliable enough fashion that could really threaten Louisville.
3 Oklahoma vs. 7 Michigan State
Michigan State is the more tested team. They’ve played tougher opponents in this tournament and defeated a tough 2 seed in Virginia. Oklahoma has not yet played a Final Four Caliber team and Michigan State is Final Four caliber. If Michigan State keeps up its play, this may not even be close.
Prediction: Michigan State
1 Wisconsin vs. 4 North Carolina
As good as North Carolina has been, they have allowed teams to get too close in recent games. Their lackluster defense as of the last few games will not be enough to beat the powerhouse Wisconsin.
2 Arizona vs. 6 Xavier
Arizona has played too well to lose this early in the tournament. Even with less than stellar play by Stanley Johnson and Brandon Ashley, the Wildcats manhandled Ohio State behind TJ McConnell and Gabe York. Behind Kentucky, this is one of the easiest predictions of the Sweet Sixteen, no matter how well Xavier plays.
1 Duke vs. 5 Utah
Duke has not played a difficult schedule so far and this may still be the case. Utah simply does not have the perimeter talent or inside presence to matchup with Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor. Utah’s Tournament run likely ends here.
2 Gonzaga vs. 11 UCLA
UCLA is the only real “Cinderella” of this Tournament. However, the Bruins have advanced based off a combination of luck and skill. Against a Gonzaga team that has steamrolled most of its opponents this year, that luck will probably run out. That leaves UCLA to beat the Zags based on talent alone, which would be a heavy mismatch.