For college hoops fans like myself, the break between the 1st weekend of the tourney and the Sweet 16 games has been a tedious one (even though technically it’s been less than 4 days). But the day is finally here and NCAA Tournament games will resume this evening with some great match-ups. Here are Carolina Blitz’s predictions for the round of 16.
Wichita State vs Notre Dame: Don’t sleep on this game. It has the potential to be the best of this round. Wichita State plays a very physical and gritty brand of basketball, while Notre Dame’s style is more methodical. You can totally throw about considering seedings in this one, because during last week’s Kansas game, the Shockers proved they can play with anybody, but Notre Dame is one of the most dangerous teams in this year’s tournament. They closed out the season on a incredible run and haven’t lost a game in entire month of March. Just like a few other Sweet 16 match-ups, which ever team establishes control and forces the other to play their style of hoops will win this game. Wichita State gave Kansas the business last Sunday. They were playing for state respect against a team that had been dodging them for over 20 years. They laid it all on the line and I honestly don’t think they’ll have enough to beat a Notre Dame squad that seems to have a bit of the luck of the Irish on their side.
Notre Dame: 72 Wichita State: 68
North Carolina vs Wisconsin: UNC, by far, will face their toughest challenge of the tournament when they take on the #1 seeded Wisconsin Badgers led by Frank Kaminsky. Everyone on the Badgers’ team can knock down the 3, which means they’ll spread the floor – forcing the Heels to step out of the paint to guard them. This doesn’t play into UNC’s style. They match up much better with teams that have traditional post players. The Tar Heels, however, have the upper hand when it comes to speed and athleticism. Wisconsin doesn’t want to get into a track meet with the Heels, because they know that’s a race they’ll lose every time. The key to this game will be tempo and coaching. Will UNC be able to get Kaminsky and crew out of their comfort zone and play their style of basketball? Will Roy be able to properly manage the game and make adjustments if necessary? This by far is the toughest game to try to predict a winner. It can honestly go either way. The X factor for the Tar Heels will be Justin Jackson. If he can relive his performance against UVA in the ACC Tournament and counter Wisconsin’s three-point attack with one of his own, the Tar Heels will knock off the #1 seed in the West. The likelihood of that happening though, isn’t strong enough for me to deviate from my original bracket prediction – although I wouldn’t be the least surprised if UNC knocked them off.
Wisconsin: 66 UNC: 63
West Virginia vs Kentucky: The Mountaineers have a TALL, and I mean that literally and figuratively, task on their hands against the undefeated Wildcats. Lucky for both teams, Ohio borders both Kentucky and West Virginia so neither squad should have a sizeable crowd advantage (Although Kentucky ALWAYS travels well). This battle will come down to what happens on the court. If West Virginia plans on playing David to UK’s Goliath, they will have a play a perfect game. That means challenging the Wildcats on defense, limiting their turnovers, being aggressive on the boards, attacking the basket, making free throws draining threes…West Virginia will have to play the game of their life and hope that Kentucky has a bad one of their own. Playing a perfect game is nearly impossible and the Mountaineers have struggled against ranked teams this season. There are just too many things that have to go right for them and too many things that have to go wrong for Kentucky.
Kentucky: 75 West Virginia: 65
Arizona vs Xavier: Outside of Kentucky, Arizona has been playing the best basketball this season and they carried that right into this year’s tournament where they’ve beaten their opponents by an average of 18 points per game. I don’t expect this Arizona train to ease up against Xavier who hasn’t played a team this talented and athletic all season, add in the fact that the Musketeers will be playing on the Wildcats’ side of the country and it should be another cake-walk for Arizona.
Arizona: 82 Xavier: 69
UCLA vs Gonzaga: UCLA is a better team than what they appear to be on paper and although they challenged Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament, they’ve been the beneficiary of a fairly easy road to the Sweet 16 compliments of UAB’s upset of Iowa State But that ends Friday when the Bruins take on a Gonzaga team that, although are no stranger to the NCAA Tournament, have not been able to crack the Sweet 16 since 2009. The Bulldogs are playing not only the respect and confidence of others, but for themselves and they’ll carry that motivation right into the Elite 8.
Gonzaga: 85 UCLA: 76
North Carolina State vs Louisville: What’s better than a good ACC battle in the Sweet 16? These two only played each other once this season, where the Wolfpack, fueled by a second half run and dominance in the paint, defeated the Cardinals 74-65. It’s hard to beat any team twice in college basketball. It’s even harder beating that team when they’re coached by Rick Pitino. Expect him to have his squad ready early and match NC State’s intensity in the post with some of their own.
Louisville: 74 NC State: 70
Utah vs Duke: If you ask Coack K, his Blue Devils have improved since the tournament started and that’s quite impressive given the fact that they’re a number one seed. But just because they’ve gotten better, doesn’t mean they’ll be able to breeze through this round like they did the 2nd and 3rd. Jahlil Okafor will have his hands full banging in the post with 7-footer Jakob Poeltl and the Blue Devils will have the fight like hell through Utah’s ball screens. On top of that, Duke will have to carry the shooting efficiency and defensive intensity they showed last weekend over into Friday against one of the best offenses in terms of field goal percentage. We know Coach K will have his team ready when it comes to game plan. The question is how a young Duke squad will respond in what will probably be the closest game of the tournament for them thus far. All things considered I think they are ready. Expect Okafor to prove himself more on defense and Tyus Jones to have his best game offensively of the tournament.
Duke: 75 Utah: 71
Michigan State vs Oklahoma: This Michigan State team reminds me a lot of last year’s UConn team that rode the wave of winning their conference tournament right to a National Championship. The Spartans have an explosive leader in guard Travis Trice, experience, oh…and they’re coached by one of the best to ever do it. Michigan State is the toughest 7th seed you’ll see and although they may not have the talent of last year’s squad, they are playing the role of spoiler. It’s them against the world and that’s a role where there’s no pressure and they’re thriving off it.
Michigan State: 63 Oklahoma: 57