Just because we didn’t see many upsets doesn’t mean we haven’t seen madness. 15 of the top 16 teams are moving on to the Sweet 16, which is still incredible because it’s very rare to see that many top seeds moving on. However, 12-seed Oregon has moved on and is the biggest underdog left in the tourney. Let’s take a look at every matchup heading into the second weekend.
The West Region will start off the Sweet 16 on Thursday in Anaheim, California, when 1-seed Gonzaga Zags will go up against the 4-seed Florida State Seminoles. FSU defeated Gonzaga in last year’s Sweet 16, 75-60. Over a year later both these teams will square up again to have a chance to play in the Elite 8. The Zags have a record of 32-3 and their success has come from their deep lineup, and welcome back junior forward Killian Tillie who’s only played 13 games due to injury. Tillie scored 17 points against Dickinson in only 18 minuets. The Seminoles come in with a 29-7 record. They are led by senior guard Terrance Mann who scored 18 in lasts years win.
The second match up in the West will be between the 2-seed Michigan Wolverines and 3-seed Texas Tech Red Raiders. Both of these teams will be playing for their second straight Elite 8 appearance. If you love defense this is will be your favorite game of the year. These are two of the best defense’s college basketball has to offer this year, and they have been fun to watch. If both defenses are at their best and the lack of inconsistency of their offenses, this game could be in the forty’s. However, just because they’re inconsistent doesn’t mean they don’t have any offensive fire power. The Red Raiders are led by sophomore Jarrett Culver who averages 18.8 points a game and is a potential lottery pick in the NBA Draft. The Wolverines have a Freshman name Ignas Brazdeikis who averages 14.8 points a game. I think the team that limits each team’s star player will come up on top.
The South Region will also start Thursday and will be held in Louisville, Kentucky. The first match up is between the 2-seed Tennessee Volunteers and 3-seed Purdue Boilermakers. The Volunteers had great starts to both of their games to start the tourney but gave up double digit leads in the second half. They escaped an upset from Colgate and won in OT to beat Iowa after blowing a 25-point lead. Head Coach Rick Barnes has now taken three different teams to the Sweet 16 and is looking for his second Final Four after he took Texas back in 2002-03. But they will have to go through Matt Painter’s Boilermakers first. This is his fifth Sweet 16 appearance but is 0-4 in those games. If they want to win, they will need another big performance from Carsen Edwards whose been carrying them the whole year. Edwards scored 42 against Villanova, which is a tournament high in 2019. If Tennessee can slow him down and be able to play a full 40 minuets, I don’t see them losing this game.
The winner will face the winner of the 1-seed Virginia Cavilers and 12-seed Oregon Ducks. Like I said before, Oregon is the highest seed remaining, and they will try and continue to bust people’s brackets. But first they have to go through Virginia who is looking for their first Final Four appearance under Tony Bennett. They have had great teams under him but haven’t gotten over the hump. The Cavilers year in and year out have one of the best defenses, but their offense has disappointed them in their early exists. This year Tony has his offense playing at a high level to get them far in the tourney. On the other hand, the Ducks under Dana Altman have been to the Final Four and look to make it two out of three years. This year though they have played the role of the underdog. They had to win the Pac 12 conference to get here, but will certainly have their toughest test yet, when they go up against the hunger Cavilers.
On Friday the East Region starts Friday and will take place at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Two-seed Michigan State Spartans will go up against three-seed LSU Tigers. MSU is led by the Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston and arguably the best player in the country. He averages 18.9 PPG but his passing is what makes him standout. He averaged 7.5 APG, helping him win Big 10 POY. The Spartans are back to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2015 after losing in the first weekend three years in-a-row. LSU is back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since they went to the Final Four in 2006. LSU continues to be without Head Coach Will Wade after he allegedly told a player he would pay him if he came to LSU. Both teams won their respective regular season conference, and MSU also won their tournament conference. MSU has been plagued with injuries, but that hasn’t stopped them from getting better. As long as Cassius continues to carry his team, I don’t see them losing to LSU.
In the other game from the East it is the 1-seed Duke Blue Devils playing conference rival the four seed Virgina Tech Hookies. There’s no doubt Duke is the favorite to win it all, it’s been that way since day 1 because of Zion Williamson. Zion is a sensational talent and no doubt he’ll be the number one overall player in the NBA Draft. However, that doesn’t mean Duke is unbeatable. They survived a 77-76 win against UCF in the best game of the tourney so far. Duke trailed by three in the final 20 seconds when Zion when to the rim to get an And-One. RJ Barrett got the offensive rebound and put it back up to give Duke the lead with 11 seconds left. After UCF called a timeout, they had two great looks including the put back, but somehow someway it didn’t go in. Back on February 26th, the Hookies defeated Duke 77-72, but that was without Zion. If the Hookies want to defeat them for the second time this year, they will need to find a way to slow down Zion.
Below our Zion’s top plays from his Freshman season as a Blue Devil.
In the fourth and final region, we have the Midwest Region that will take place in Kansas City, Missouri. In the first match up we will see the 1-seed North Carolina Tar Heels taking on the five seed Auburn Tigers. The Tigers barely survived their first game 78-77 after giving New Mexico State every opportunity to beat them in the final seconds. They took care of business in the next round beating Kansas by 14 to move onto the Sweet 16. The Tar Heels cruised to the Sweet 16 winning both games by double digits. Expect this game to be the high scoring. Auburn shoots a lot of threes and UNC loves pushing the ball down floor. At the end of the day I like Carolina in this one because they have 6-7 players who can score a basket whenever they need to.
In the second matchup we have the two-seed Kentucky Wildcats going up against the 3-seed Houston Cougars. If you love the underdog, Houston is also a good team to route for. Yes, they are a three seed, but this is their first time back to the Sweet 16 since 1984, when they lost to Georgetown in the National Championship game. Head Coach Kelvin Sampson has now led four different schools to the Sweet 16. This could be his best team yet with a 33-3 record. He will have to coach against John Calipari whose led the Wildcats to eight Sweet 16’s in his tenure. They have come a long way since losing to Duke by 34 on opening night of the season. A big reason for their success this year is forward PJ Washington. Washington averages 14.8 points per game and shoots over 51 percent. This game will come down whose secondary players step up because I think both teams star players will be even in terms of scoring throughout this game.
It’s the year of the top dog in college basketball, and we’re about to find out who’s the best in the country. Just because we don’t have many upsets, doesn’t mean we won’t see madness in the last two weeks of college hoops.