After a great first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, we are now heading into the nitty gritty of the Big Dance. Before I get into my preview of what should be an entertaining Sweet 16, I want to recap some of my predictions from the earlier rounds. I did miss on a couple, like predicting the Hoyas to exit in the 1st round, but I was right about a few too. I said the BIG 12 was overrated, Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma State, and Baylor all losing in the first two rounds. I said the ACC was the best conference, 5 teams in the Sweet 16, most out of any conference. And I said that Nova had a tough matchup with NC-State, who is the only 8th seed in the Sweet 16.
Midwest: #1 Kentucky v. #5 West Virginia, #3 Notre Dame v. #7 Wichita State
Kentucky is only 4 games away from the record books but from here on out it's not going to be easy. Cincinnati gave them a tough challenge but they manage to still win by 15 even though they were out rebounded 43-35. Cincy couldn't hit their shots reason why they lost by 15 but they did irritate the Wildcats. I think the Mountaineers can do the same thing but they also might struggle to score against this great defensive team. The full court press of the mountaineers will keep them in the game but the size disadvantage in the paint will be the deciding factor for the Wildcats. Towns and Cauley-Stein could have a monster game against the undersized front court of the Mountaineers. If WVU can keep this game in the backcourt, along with knocking down 45% of their shots, they'll have a chance of shocking the world.
Notre Dame defeated Northeastern and Butler by a combined 7 points, so their road has yet to be easy. Luckily for the Irish they are Tournament ready. They have their closer in Jerrian Grant and a great supporting cast. In both games, someone other than Jerrian Grant led the team in scoring. Zach Auguste scored 22 points against Northeastern and Steve Vasturia scored 20 points scored Butler. Wichita State will be another tough challenge for the Irish, mainly because of their experience. Not shocked at all that the Shockers beat Kansas because like I been saying all season, they were overrated. This is a tough game to pick because both sqauds are very even. I will give the edge to the Irish just because they have a POY candidate in Jerrian Grant, but I think it will be a instant classic.
West: #1 Wisconsin v. #4 UNC, #6 Xavier v. #2 Arizona
The Badgers had somewhat of a scare against Oregon, which I wasn't surprised by. Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker combined for 33 points while Joseph Young of Oregon dropped 30. The Badgers look like they are ready for another run to the Final Four and I'm sure they still remember how Kentucky ended their championship hopes. North Carolina could be a tough matchup depending on which Carolina team show up. Carolina is a very talented team but sometimes doesn't play up to their potential. If Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson can get into an early groove, I think they will be able to beat the Badgers. J.P. Tokoto will be the x-factor in this game, and to me, for the entire tournament.
The funny thing about this region is that it could possibly be an Elite 8 rematch between Arizona and Wisconsin. Wisconsin defeated Zona in the West region Elite 8. TJ McConnell, Gabe York, Kaleb Tarczewski, and Rondae Hollis-Jeffereson all return from that 2013-14 Zona squad so I'm sure they are hoping for another crack at the Badgers. First they will have to go through Xavier who hasn't seen a caliber team like Arizona yet. I don't think the Musketeers has what it take to knock off the hungry Wildcats.
East: #8 NC-State v. #4 Louisville, #3 Oklahoma v. #7 Michigan State
I don't think anyone got this part of the bracket right. The only region without a #1 or #2 seed in the Sweet 16. I said along with the Midwest, this is the toughest region. The Wolfpack continue their Cinderella run, defeating LSU with a buzzer beater after being down 14 at halftime, then defeated the #1 seeded Villanova WIldcats by three. Next they have Lousiville who they already beat earlier this season, 74-65, while the Cards still had Chris Jones. I'm not really sure if they can knock off the cards again but it's not impossible. Louisville has had moments through out the season where, like Carolina, they don't play to their potential. It hasn't happened in the tournament so far but if it does, the Wolfpack could possible take another win from them. I do think the Cards will actually play well, especially Montrezl Harrell who only scored 7 points in that first matchup.
Surprised that Oklahoma actually made it this far. I thought the committee was a little too generous with their #3 seed but they are making the committee look right about that decision. Now they have to deal with a totally different beast than #14 Albany and #11 Dayton with the Michigan State Spartans. Three things are for certain in this world, Death, Taxes, and Tom Izzo in the tournament. You can never count out a Michigan State team whenever Tom Izzo is on the sideline. I like the Spartans in this match-up just because I think the Big 12 is overrated and Tom Izzo is on the sideline.
South: #1 Duke v. #5 Utah, #11 UCLA vs #2 Gonzaga
I said this region would have the most upsets and I was wrong on that prediction, only 1 major upset UAB over Iowa State. I do still think it is the weakest especially when you look at who the two top teams have to play to advance to the elite 8. Duke has Utah, who isn't a bad team, and could possibly give Duke a good run but I don't think they have enough to keep up with the Dukies. Delon Wright is a big guard who score some points but so far in the tournament he is 4-14. The Utes also have a freshman 7'0 center in Jakob Poeltl from Australia, so they could match the size in the paint but I don't if they can match the production, and who is going to stop Tyus Jones.
I said that this may be the best Gonzaga team in awhile and they're proving me right, scoring 173 points in the first two games, most out of all remaining teams. UCLA is proving to everyone that they do in fact belong in the tournament but that will end when they step on the court against Gonzaga.