As was to be expected, the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament were crazy. By the time the round of 64 concluded on Friday night, zero perfect brackets remained, and upsets had ruined nearly every entry in every challenge. We hope you didn’t listen to our original batch of predictions, because they were …not good.
However, all of that is in the past. It’s time to roll through the set Sweet Sixteen matchups in what are sure to be accurate and correct picks.
1 Kansas over 5 Maryland
The South region is the toughest remaining quadrant of the bracket, partly because it includes the best team in the country in No. 1 Kansas. The Jayhawks haven’t been challenged yet in this tournament, but that will change on Thursday night when former KU alum Mark Turgeon brings his Terrapins to Louisville. Points will be aplenty in this matchup. It’ll be one of the most thrilling games of the weekend. However, Kansas is one of the best rebounding teams in the country, and that’s been the weakness for Maryland as of late. If KU doesn’t shoot as well as it typically does from the floor, second-chance points will be available for the Jayhawk frontcourt, and the Terrapins’ lack of depth and defense will doom them in the Sweet Sixteen.
2 Villanova over 3 Miami
Everybody was weary of the Wildcats after the last two tournament early exits, but Jay Wright’s squad looked locked in and focused in a pair of 20+ point blowouts last weekend. Miami blew a huge lead but responded late to beat a gutsy Wichita State team, and on Thursday, the clash of veteran backcourts will be the story of the matchup. With that area a toss-up, Villanova gains its advantage in the backcourt, where Daniel Ochefu and Kris Jenkins will do their thing and will the Wildcats to a late win.
1 Oregon over 4 Duke
For the first time since 2012, all four No. 1 seeds are in the Sweet Sixteen. We haven’t seen all four top seeds make the Elite Eight since 2009, but Oregon will do its part to buck that trend here. The Blue Devils are simply not good or deep enough to hang with the Ducks. Oregon showed its grit with Sunday night’s comeback win over St. Joe’s, and Duke doesn’t have anybody that can slow down both Elgin Cook and Dillon Brooks. Additionally, this is essentially a home game for the Ducks, so the Blue Devils’ eight-game NCAA tournament winning streak will come to an end here.
3 Texas A&M over 2 Oklahoma
This may be the most anticipated third-round game in the tournament. Buddy Hield, fresh off his 36-point performance against VCU, leads his Sooners into a showdown with the lucky-as-hell Aggies, who just put together the greatest last-minute comeback in college basketball history. It’ll be a thriller all the way to the end, but I just don’t see a way that the Sooners keep Danuel House in check. Oklahoma relies heavily on jump shots, and the Aggies’ defense will put pressure on the Sooner guards not named “Buddy” to make shots and beat them in a shootout. I just don’t think that happens.
5 Indiana over 1 North Carolina
The winner of this game has to feel like it’ll be penciled into the Final Four, even with one game remaining until it’s made official. The under-seeded Hoosiers and the surging Tar Heels collide with both teams clicking on all fronts. In impressive Saturday wins, both showed the ability to put up points in a hurry, but also the ability to get stops against quality offensive teams. The Tar Heels are better shot-blockers and rebounders, but the Hoosiers are faster and better at shooting. I’ve been on the Indiana hype train all year, and I’m going to continue to do so, as I think the Hoosier backcourt is a real force for even the quickest guards to prepare for.
7 Wisconsin over 6 Notre Dame
Nobody thought either one of these teams would still be dancing, but the ingredients are in place for this to be a very entertaining game. Both squads are well-coached, experienced, and tough. They’ve benefitted from a bit of luck in their runs thus far, but they also deserve credit for executing at the end of big games. In recent tournaments, the Badgers have shown their ability to slow their opponent down and make the game “ugly,” and Notre Dame hasn’t been successful in such games this year. I think Wisconsin advances, but with either Indiana or North Carolina coming off of an emotional victory, I think whoever wins this contest has a real psychological advantage on Sunday’s regional final.
1 Virginia over 4 Iowa State
Seriously, is there a more underrated No. 1 seed in tournament history than Virginia? This is legitimately one of the best teams in the country, and so many people gave the Cavaliers no chance to win a region they shared with Michigan State. Tony Bennett’s squad is two wins away from the Final Four, yet everybody still doubts Virginia’s ability to score points. People assume that because they typically play lower-scoring games that the Cavaliers can’t score. However, they boast one of KenPom’s top offensive efficiency ratings in the country. The slow pace in which they play creates the illusion of a poor offensive team. Virginia will prove everybody wrong in this game by scoring 80 points and knocking off the high-powered Cyclone offense.
11 Gonzaga over 10 Syracuse
Of all the years for Mark Few to finally lead the Zags to their first-ever Final Four, wouldn’t it be something if it was this one? The Bulldogs have to be feeling good about their chances to at least advance one more round. Syracuse’s zone shut down Dayton and Middle Tennessee, but neither one of those teams had Kyle Wiltjer. Gonzaga is coming off an absolute ass-beating of Utah and elite center Jacob Poeltl, so who do the Orange have that can exploit a fiesty Bulldog defense? The answer: not enough.