The Sweet 16 begins on Thursday and by Sunday night we will have gone from 68 teams to just four teams remaining — The Final Four.
It was a wild ride in the first and second round so why should the regional semifinals and finals be any different?
We can’t predict any wild finishes to rival what we’ve already seen in the tournament, but we do see some good matchups this weekend.
1. Oregon beats Duke: Neither of these two teams are particularly deep or particularly strong defensively, but Oregon does have a wider variety of options it can go to offensively. Dana Altman is a master of finding ways to pick apart defenses, and this Duke unit is one ripe for the picking.
If it’s not Dillon Brooks or Elgin Cook overpowering wings, it’ll be Tyler Dorsey or Casey Benson succeeding in dribble-drives. If it’s Dorsey killing them with screens, it’ll be in pick-and-pops with Chris Boucher hitting 3s. Simply put, I’m not sure Duke can stop the copious options the Ducks can bring, which is why I’m going Oregon despite Duke’s advantage in the best players category.
2. Oklahoma over Texas A&M: The Aggies simply will not die. That much is clear after its insane come-from-behind victory over Northern Iowa. The Aggies are tough, and experienced with four senior starters. Oklahoma is one of the few teams that can match them in the experience department though, and the Sooners have simply just been the better team all season.
The questions here in this matchup though are plenty. Who wins the tempo battle? Can Alex Caruso or Danuel House slow down Buddy? Will Oklahoma get enough from its supporting cast? My read is that they will get just enough to win a tight game 66-63.
3. OU beats Oregon to reach Final Four: The difference is defense. The Sooners are a tough defensive-minded group that can also score. The Ducks are an offensive-minded group that struggles at times to string together stops. This will be a fun, up-tempo game though, as both teams aren’t afraid to push the pace and chuck up shots from distance.
The key for me though is that I trust Oklahoma to slow down the Ducks just a little more than I trust Oregon to slow down the Sooners. 79-77 Oklahoma, with Buddy being named regional MVP after he goes for 30 yet again.
— Sam Vecenie
|Odds to win the West Region|
1. Kansas beats Maryland: Mark Turgeon was a captain during his junior and senior seasons as a player at Kansas, and he was coached by Larry Brown and then-assistant Bill Self during the Jayhawks 1986 Final Four run.
“I hate that I have to play Kansas,” Turgeon said after the Terps beat Hawaii in the Second Round. “I’m just glad we’re there. They’re the best team in the country. We’re just excited to be in the game.”
I don’t want to use one interview as a reason to make a pick — there are plenty reasons to think Kansas will win this game, including a deeper rotation of reliable contributors and the team’s current 15-game winning streak — but the comments revealed what many assume, this will be an emotional game for the Maryland head coach. The Terps are loaded with talent but unfamiliar with this spot and this stage, and given some of the inconsistencies we’ve seen from the team in Big Ten play it’s much easier to side with the squad that has been clicking since mid-January.
2. Miami beats Villanova: This game is much tougher to call, but Villanova’s reliance on the three-pointer and lights-out shooting from behind the arc against Iowa has me a little less moved by what has admittedly been one of the best debuts in the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
When the Hurricanes are locked in defensively they have the length and athleticism to make the Wildcats uncomfortable and play through the offensive sets to avoid giving up open looks. It’s a huge game for Tonye Jekiri, going to up against Daniel Ochefu, but if the Canes big man steps up and Angel Rodriguez continues his current tear I think Jim Larranaga is dancing again after Thursday night’s game.
3. Kansas beats Miami: I think you could put Miami or Villanova in this position and I’d still side with the Jayhawks. It’s an election year, so I’ll put it like this: on title contenders you usually have stars, let’s call them supporters, and you have your contributors, who we will call swing votes. Right now, Kansas is getting all of the swing votes it needs to have a matchup advantage against its opponents.
Devonte Graham has been a game-changer since the Oklahoma game in February and Wayne Selden is playing the best postseason basketball of his career right now. Perry Ellis is the star, but we’ve always been prepared for his impact on games. It’s been the elevated level of play elsewhere on the roster that will have the Jayhawks punching a ticket to Houston.
— Chip Patterson
|Odds to win the South Region|
1. North Carolina beats Indiana: The Heels and Hoosiers can give us one of the best games of the tournament because both teams have such high upside on offense. UNC’s looking like the rightful No. 2 odds-on favorite to win the title (behind Kansas) thanks to the inspired play from pretty much every impact guy on the roster. In both UNC’s games last weekend, six players had an offensive rating above 100. The Heels aren’t a reliable 3-point shooting team, but the rest of the offense is looking fantastic.
Indiana gave us one of the two or three best games of the tournament with its win over Kentucky. Yogi Ferrell has put up one of the best careers in IU history. The key is OG Anunoby, the big-time player with a name that sounds like a Star Wars character. He could be the breakout player of the second weekend. Expect a game decided in the 80s by the team that wins. We think that will be UNC, but Indiana — underseeded as a No. 5 — is capable.
2. Notre Dame beats Wisconsin: The two lowest-rated KenPom teams left in the field line up to, potentially, give us the most dramatic game of the Sweet 16. How’s that? Consider what these two teams have done in recent tournaments. The Fighting Irish have an average margin of less than five points in their last six NCAA Tournament games.
Wisconsin had the Xavier thriller, beat Pitt by four the game before that, and of course had a run of entertaining games in 2015 and 2014. How could we expect anything but a two-possession game or closer in the final minute? Notre Dame is the choice here because it has the better offense, and contrary to popular belief, good offense is what wins games more often than good defense.
3. North Carolina beats Notre Dame to reach the Final Four: Barely taking the Heels. Maybe it’s just going to be one of those things where the preseason No. 1 team fulfills its destiny by reaching the Final Four. Go with UNC over Notre Dame because Roy Williams has the bigs to match up with Zach Auguste. UNC has the better point guard. It has the more talented team.
And, yeah, here’s this: Yes, Notre Dame beat UNC earlier in the season. But that was at Notre Dame. In the ACC tournament two weeks ago, the Heels romped the Irish 78-47. It was the fewest points for Notre Dame in eons. UNC is better on D now than it was even six weeks ago. It’s not the most consistent team in the tourney, but at its best, it’s the most completely. UNC to Houston is the pick.
— Matt Norlander
|Odds to win the East Region|
1. Virginia defeats Iowa State: Man, what a fascinating clash of styles. The Cavaliers will try to slow things down and play a drag-it-out game. The Cyclones will want to speed things up and try to get out into transition. Over the last few years though, Virginia has been one of the best teams in the country at slowing down the opposition when they get out on the break.
While Iowa State is certainly a capable and solid offensive team in the half-court, cutting them off when they get out either fully on the break or in slight transition settings hurts a large portion of their offensive efficiency. Virginia will control the tempo of this one, and win something like 71-65
2. Gonzaga defeats Syracuse: The Zags are a different team now that the backcourt is playing like this. The key here though will be shooting from distance. Simply put, if Gonzaga shoots well from distance, it will defeat Syracuse.
They’re coming in hot from distance, having knocked down 15 3s in their first two tournament games. Plus, they have the ultimate zone-buster in Kyle Wiltjer, and Sabonis should be the ultimate extra possession creator in the middle of that zone with his rebounding ability. This one ends up being closer than either Gonzaga’s first two games, but the Zags win 74-67.
3. Virginia beats Gonzaga to reach Final Four: What a stressful game this one will be for two coaches looking to get the Final Four monkey off of their backs. In the end, Virginia is just a bit more disciplined than Gonzaga, and ultimately has been a bit more consistent throughout the season.
With London Perrantes and Anthony Gill with them, Brogdon, Bennett and company cut down the nets in Chicago and head on to Houston for the first of what could be many Final Fours for Bennett at Virginia.
— Sam Vecenie
|Odds to win the Midwest Region|