Sweet 16 Madness
by Nick Grott
In this year’s NCAA March Madness, tournament upsets reign supreme, and the first two rounds of the tournament were absolute mayhem, leaving no perfect bracket in the world. The biggest upset in not only this tournament, but possibly any college basketball tournament ever, was handed to Virginia (1) by UMBC (16). Virginia, which had the highest ranked defense in the nation, could not stop the True Grits. Following this, Xavier, another one seed, fell. This madness has left people with an unforgettable Sweet Sixteen that includes two 11 seeds, two nine seeds, and two seven seeds. The following are the eight Sweet Sixteen games that will be played on the 22 and 23 of March.
Kentucky (5) vs Kansas St. (9)
Although Kansas State initially had no real chance to make it past the round of 32, the upset of Virginian by UMBC allowed them to win a toss up game against Crighton and then play a much weaker 16 seed, whom they barely squeaked by. Kentucky is 6-0 in the Sweet 16 under Coach John Calipari, and the average margin of victory in those games is 14.5 points. Kentucky is the favorite and should come out on top.
Loyola IL (11) vs Nevada (7)
Both of these teams have come out with very impressive victories so far. Loyola has beaten both a six and a three seed and Nevada beat two seeded Cincinnati in a major upset. Both teams play like underdogs and find ways to win because of their passion for the game. This will be one of the closest games of the round and will certainly come down to the wire. Although Nevada is a 1.5 point favorite, Loyola IL is playing with a fire that no other team has. When the game comes down to the final minutes, players on the Ramblers step up and lock down their men on much higher seeded teams, which has managed to bring them to this game. That is what should push Loyola to the Elite Eight.
Florida St. (9) vs Gonzaga (4)
Coming into the tournament, many thought Gonzaga should have been ranked higher. Given a four seed however, Gonzaga has managed to show their dominance against teams that are extremely competitive, such as Ohio State. However, few people thought Florida State would beat Mizzou, and nobody thought they would take down number one seeded Xavier. Although Florida State has have proved themselves as a true offensive powerhouse that can put up 70 points on a strong Xavier defense, Gonzaga looks like their playing at too high of a level.
Michigan (3) vs Texas A&M (7)
Although Michigan came three seconds away from being upset by six seeded Houston, this game should end in a Wolverine victory. Texas A&M can compete with most any team in the NCAA, but Michigan, since winning the Big 10 Tournament, has been playing with an “underdog” swagger that could very well take them to the championship game. Another big factor in this decision is the unbelievable hot streak Michigan has been on, having won 11 straight games. Texas A&M has been playing great basketball, but the last two games may have been their best two of the entire season. Although many teams play with a fire throughout the tournament, to expect the Aggies to up their performance yet again against a team that is on fire is too unreasonable.
Kansas (1) vs Clemson (5)
Clemson is tied for being the third least likely team to win it all out of the 16 remaining. They beat a weak 12 seeded team and then destroyed the four seeded Auburn. That last game was, for many people, enough to put them into the top tier of teams, but it could be that they played really well against a good team that had a horrible night. Auburn shot 25% overall and only 21% from 3-point range. Clemson has not shown greatness on a consistent level, while their opponent, Kansas, most definitely has. Kansas, the number one seed, has won the regular season Big 12 conference 14 years in a row. In one of the best conferences in the country, Kansas manages to be the best every single year. Coach Bill Self teaches his players to always be unselfish and smart, creating a culture of winning at Kansas. This discipline and winning culture will propel the Jayhawks to the Elite Eight without much trouble.
Syracuse (11) vs Duke (2)
This is the most one sided game in the Sweet 16, as Duke is an 11.5 point favorite. Syracuse barely beat out TCU and Michigan State to get to play in the third round. The second-seeded Duke Blue Devils looked every bit the part of the NCAA Tournament favourite in destroying Rhode Island 87-62. Duke was pegged as a nine point favorite and put on a clinic by hitting 57 percent of their shots from the floor, while all five starters scored in double figures. In order for Syracuse to pull off this upset, nearly every Duke starter will have to falter or be shut down by their defender, which Syracuse cannot do.
Villanova (1) vs West Virginia (5)
Villanova came into the tournament as another favorite and has hit 31 combined 3-pointers in the two wins; the second most over a two-game stretch in NCAA Tournament history. West Virginia has played Murray State, a 12 seed, and then an even defensively weaker 13 seeded Marshall team that gave up 94 points against WVU. Although Villanova has not had much competition so far, not many teams qualify as good competition for Villanova. While West Virginia is an underrated team that could have been ranked higher, Nova is on a different level and cannot be beaten by a team that is not an NCAA powerhouse, which West Virginia is not.
Texas Tech (3) vs Purdue (2)
Both teams barely survived second-round battles to reach the Sweet 16, with Texas Tech outlasting Florida, and Purdue squeaking by a strong Butler team. Purdue was able to hold on despite being without big man Isaac Haas, who is out with an elbow injury. If Haas still cannot play (and at this point it does not seem like he will), the Boilermakers’ depth will be tested like it never has been against a Texas Tech team that does not turn the ball over. The replacement for Haas is 7’3 Matt Haarms, who plays with more fire and defensive passion but lacks the offensive scoring to make him a reliable option. If Haarms is able to have the best game of his life, Purdue will win, but chances are that the quickly-paced offense of Texas Tech will take home a victory and a bid to the Elite Eight.