Sweet Sixteen Preview

Much like the past twelve months have been crazy and unpredictable, the NCAA Torunament has been absolutely crazy, and the Sweet Sixteen is one of the most diverse range of teams we have ever seen still alive after the first weekend. 

I will go through matchup by matchup and breakdown what to expect from each game. The game that I personally am most excited for is Oral Roberts(15) vs Arkansas(3). Both of these teams are very fast-paced, and this is set to be an incredibly high-scoring affair. Arkansas has an NBA lottery prospect in Moses Moody and finished second in the SEC. Oral Roberts is the cinderella story of this tournament, beating second seed Ohio State in the first round, and taking down Florida in the second round. They are led by the most efficient pick and pop duo in the country in Max Abmas (b is silent) and Kevin Obanor. Abmas can shoot from anywhere in the gym and Obanor shoots the best percentage in the country on pick and pop three-pointers. If teams elect to switch a smaller guard onto Obanor, he has the ability to bully smaller defenders in the post. These two teams matched up earlier in the season, and Arkansas won by 10, but started out slow and were down by double digits at halftime. Arkansas figured out how to stop the pick and pop in the second half, so I think we will see Oral Roberts’s miraculous run come to an end on Saturday.

The next game that I am most excited to watch this weekend is USC(6) vs Oregon(7). All season the PAC-12 has been overlooked and didn’t have a team in the tournament seeded higher than a five, yet they have four teams remaining in the Sweet Sixteen. USC is coming off of a dominant statement win over Bill Self’s Kansas squad last weekend, and Oregon got a win by default in the first round due to COVID, and then comfortably beat Luka Garza and second-seeded Iowa by 15 points. 

USC is led by the Mobley brothers, with Evan shaping up to be a top-5 pick in the draft, and easily the best big man, and his brother Isiah making a statement in March, showing off his shot-creating ability at 6’10. Oregon has more of a well-balanced attack, but is led by Chris Duarte, who is one of the most underrated players in the entire country, and if he didn’t play in the PAC-12, would be in discussions for the best player in the country. He averaged 17 points per game this season and was also named to the all-defensive team in the PAC-12. These two matched up only once this season late in February and USC handily won, and they were shorthanded, playing without Isiah Mobley. I think that USC will ride the moment of their big Kansas win into this game, and the Mobley’s will be too much for the undersized Oregon roster to contain, and Oregon will advance to the elite eight. 

The Big Ten has struggled in the tournament so far, and there is only one team remaining from the conference, and that is the Michigan Wolverines. They are set to take on Florida State and likely lottery pick Scotty Barnes this weekend. The Seminoles were able to get past UNC Greensboro in the first round and dominated Colorado in the second to advance to the sweet sixteen. Their guards are huge and will prove to be a matchup nightmare for Eli Brooks and the already short handed backcourt (Livers injury) of the Wolverines. Michigan’s success in this game will be based on Hunter Dickinson’s ability to score and stay out of foul trouble. FSU’s 7-footer Balsa Koprovika is a force on defense, and should be able to neutralize Dickinson and I think that FSU will have what it takes to take down the last remaining Big Ten team in the tournament and advance. 

Gonzaga is the only unbeaten team in college basketball, and for good reason. Freshman Lottery pick Jalen Suggs quarterbacks the team, but is also surrounded by two elite big men in Drew Timme and Cody Kispert. Their opponent, the five seed, Crieghton, has taken down twelve seed Santa Barbara and then 13 seed Ohio. That is not to undermine the fantastic play of their star guard Marcus Zegarowski, who has been on a tear ever since their conference tournament started, averaging 19.5 points in his last six appearances. However, Gonzaga’s big men will prove to be too much for Creighton, and the Zags should cruise into the elite eight, unless we see a performance of a lifetime from Zegarowski. 

Oregon State may just be the most overlooked team in this tournament. After coming out of nowhere to win the PAC-12 conference tournament, they beat five seed Tennessee and then the heavily favored Oklahoma State, who was led by likely number one draft pick Cade Cunningham. They were led in that game by star guard Ethan Thompson, who scored 26 and lifted the Beavers to victory. Their matchup this weekend comes against Loyola Chicago, who is once again a team of destiny led by Cameron Krutwig and the cheers of Sister Jean in the stands. This will be a grind it out game with Loyola’s stingy defense, and should come down to the wire, where I think Krutwig’s squad edges out a close one since they are no stranger to the big stage, having gone on a huge final four run in 2018 and still having two players who were contributors on that team, still in the starting lineup this year in Krutwig, and lockdown wing defender Lucas Williamson. 

The Villanova Wildcats have won two of the past four NCAA championships, and have hydroplaned into the Sweet Sixteen this year without their best player, and point guard Collin Gilespie. They have a tough draw this weekend in the second overall seed Baylor Bears. They should have an easy time this weekend with their elite guards in Jarred Butler and Davion Mitchell. Both can create their own shot going to the rim, take a three themselves or rotate the ball to their other open teammates who combined are the best three point shooters by percentage in the nation. The undermanned Nova squad won’t have enough firepower to withstand Baylor’s balanced attack, and the Bears will move one step closer to the championship game. 

Jim Boeheim is  no stranger to catching teams off guard in the tournament, and he has done so again this year behind a team led by his son, Buddy Boeheim. Buddy may be the hottest player in the nation, dropping thirty points in the first round against San Diego State in the first round, then giving Bob Huggins West Virginia squad twenty-five in an upset during the second round. The Orange are taking on the Cougars from Houston, who pride themselves in their team defense. Their offense led by Kansas Jayhawk transfer Quentin Grimes is consistent, but for some reason in March, teams freak out when they see Cuse’s zone in person. I think Buddy continues his terrorizing of brackets everywhere and send Houston packing, but hopefully for Houston’s sake, not in the heartbreaking fashion Jordan Poole did in 2018. 

Mick Cronin is no stranger when it comes to getting his players fired up to play defense. In his long tenure at Cincinatti they were consistently one of the best defenses in the nation. When he got the opportunity to try and bring UCLA back to their glory days as head coach, he took it. UCLA has been lights out on defense in the first two rounds, and Johnyy Juzang has been getting it done on offesne. However, there may be no answer fot Alabama’s potent offense. After starting slow against Rick Pitino’s Iona, they did enough to pull away from the Gales. They then put on an offensive clinic right out of the gates against Maryland two nights later, putting 96 points on their head in a game where arguably their best player, Herb Jones, only scored six points. I expect to see Herb Jones take a bigger role on offesne Sundau night and play for a chance at the Final Four later in the week.

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