It’s finally Thursday, which means the tournament is back on! If you’re like me , these past 3 days without basketball have been the longest of the year. For those of you that read and followed my previous “Contenders and Pretenders” article, your bracket shouldn’t be in too bad of shape. I warned you about the fall of multiple schools that the public identified as power houses, that just weren’t up to snuff this year. Villanova, Louisville, Wichita State and Cincinnati just to name a few. Now here we are, about to venture into the Sweet 16 and what it has to offer.
The No. 7 Michigan Wolverines have been somewhat of a “Cinderella” story following their plane skidding off of the runway right before the Big Ten tournament. Man, if this team isn’t exciting to watch the way they move the ball and can all shoot from all over floor then I don’t know what is. Derrick Walton Jr. has been the catalyst for the Wolverines all year and has continued that role through the tournament. D.J. Wilson and Mo Wagner have proved to be match-up nightmares for opposing big men with the way they can work in the post and stretch the floor. I’m not saying No.3 Oregon doesn’t have a chance in this game, I’m just very high on this Michigan team and have been for the last few weeks. The Oregon Ducks suffered a big loss when Chris Boucher wasn’t going to be available for the tournament, but are still led by Dillon Brooks, who might be the most clutch shooter in the whole tournament. This will pose for a very exciting game between two squads that like to get up and down the court. Give me the Wolverines, there’s something about that plane crash that really brought this team closer together and I can’t go against that.
Next up we have No. 4 West Virginia against No.1 Gonzaga. The Mountaineers, or should I say “Press Virginia” are known for their extreme pressure and ability to turn teams over. If you watched their game Saturday, then you saw them make Notre Dame look like they’ve never seen a press before. The Zags are that team that just constantly goes out and wins, and have done so all year. Although they have never seen pressure like this in the WCC, I believe Mark Few will have his team prepared and will be moving onto the Elite 8. Foul trouble will be the deciding factor of the outcome of this game.
No. 4 Purdue vs No. 1 Kansas facing off is what the majority of people had, as well they should have. This match-up consists of two player of the year candidates with Caleb “Biggie” Swanigan (Purdue) and Frank Mason III (Kansas). Mason III is just a complete coach and floor general out there, and Swanigan is a double-double machine. I just don’t think that Purdue has enough of a surrounding cast around their star as Kansas does on their team. Josh Jackson (Kansas) came into the year as one of the best Freshmen in the country, but it took him a couple of months to really emerge. The Jayhawks are firing on all cylinders, and have often looked like the best team in this tournament so far. I’ll side with Kansas to knock off the Boilermakers, as I’m sure most people will agree with.
Thursday night’s final game is No. 11 Xavier vs. No.2 Arizona. Xavier punched their ticket to the Sweet 16 with a pounding over Florida State which surprised many, but this will be the final stop for the Musketeers. Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura are exceptional scorers, but the loss of PG Edmond Sumner earlier in the year will finally catch up with them. The Arizona Wildcats are still being slept on, along with everyone else from the Pac-12. I get it, they play their games late at night and the East coast doesn’t stay up to watch them, but this team is for real. The Finland Freshman, Lauri Markkanen, stands at 7’0″ and can shoot it behind the arc with no problem. That right there is a nightmare for coaches anywhere. Then throw in Allonzo Trier and company, and this team is certainly no joke. Arizona has plenty offensive talent, but I love how they get after it on the defensively side as well. I’ll take the Wildcats easy.
No.4 Butler and No.1 North Carolina tip-off the action on Friday, in what will be a better game than expected. The Tar Heels have far more talent as a team, but this Butler program always finds a way to stay close. Kelan Martin is a scoring machine, and if he gets hot you better watch out. However, I can’t pick against my North Carolina squad, who I see pulling away late in this one.
Don’t get me started on the nonsense that has allowed No.7 South Carolina to get this far and take on No.3 Baylor in the round of 16. Nevertheless, the Gamecocks have been the big story of the tournament after taking down No.2 Duke over the weekend. Well it’s time for the fairy-tale to come to an end Friday night as the Gamecocks won’t be granted anymore home court advantage and will have to travel to Madison Square Garden. I see Jonathon Motley having a field day down low and the Bears getting out of this one with a somewhat easy win.
The marquee rematch between No. 3 UCLA and No. 2 Kentucky is what everyone has been waiting for. I promise you this will be the most exciting game of the Sweet 16. Future NBA stars Lonzo Ball and Malik Monk will not disappoint. I’ve been high on both of these players all year, but more so Lonzo Ball (even despite his ridiculous Dad). Unlike his dad, Lonzo lets his play do the talking for him, and in my opinion should be the Number 1 overall pick in the NBA draft (Markelle Fultz isn’t worth the hype). Anyway, both these teams love to run and gun and will light up the scoreboard all game long. Give me the Bruins to win this one 85-80.
No. 4 Florida and No. 8 Wisconsin probably isn’t the game everyone was looking to see in this spot. Wisconsin pulling off the upset win over Villanova, while Florida completely ran Virginia out of the gym. The Badgers love to slow the game down and make you play their way in the half-court. The Gators on the other hand, look to really push the tempo and get out in transition. I think the Badgers do just enough here to slow Florida down and keep advancing.
Be sure to check back after the completion of the Sweet 16 for more insight and information on the Elite 8.