Heading into the second weekend of the tournament there are eight games lined up in the Sweet Sixteen with four games on Thursday and Friday. I will be going region by region picking the winners in what amounts to a second chance for my bracket as my champion (Michigan State) is no longer in the tournament, as is another of my final four teams in Xavier. Nevertheless, the games have been fantastic and I would take the busted bracket if it meant watching the same buzzer-beating quality we have seen thus far.
Here are my picks going region by region.
(5) Maryland vs (1) Kansas
This game should be one of the better ones in the Sweet Sixteen games because each team seems to be playing well at the right time. Maryland has gotten lucky thus far playing teams that they are far superior to in South Dakota State and Hawaii and although they had a brief scare in the first round versus the Jackrabbits, they seem to have point guard Melo Trimble back on track. On the other side, the Jayhawks as usual, are playing well at the right time. Frank Mason will have his hands full with Trimble at the point and that will dictate how well Maryland will be able to run their offense. If Mason can hold down Trimble and keep him out of the paint without fouling Kansas could run away in this game, but if Trimble can continuously beat him off the dribble Maryland can stay in this thing. Jake Layman will be a big x-factor as he really stretches the floor. Look for Perry Ellis to have a solid game, but in the end, Layman hits a couple of threes and Trimble creates enough for everyone to advance the Terps.
The Pick: Maryland
(3) Miami vs (2) Villanova
This game is one where I see the makings of a blowout. If Villanova plays defense like they did against Iowa when they came out and suffocated the Hawkeyes holding them to just 29 points at half. They also shot the ball extremely well from deep, something not necessarily similar to their season as they are a high volume shooting team from deep, but do not always hit a high percentage. If they start off hot, they could run the Hurricanes out of the building. The good news is Miami has a very old and experienced team led by star point guard Angel Rodriguez who outshined Fred Van Vleet in the round of 32. Miami can at times struggle shooting from the three-point line though which can be their downfall especially against an athletic Villanova team that can attack the pick and rolls and prevent penetration. Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins will have great games and the Wildcats will win by at least 12 points advancing to an elite eight.
The Pick: Villanova
(4) Duke vs (1) Oregon
This game is another one that has all the makings of a blowout with Oregon possessing a lot more depth than the Blue Devils. Brandon Ingram is a great player and should be able to score some, but the athleticism of Oregon should negate some of the advantages he has had in past rounds against lesser opponents in Yale and UNC-Greenville. Grayson Allen is likely to struggle due to his struggle against length and Oregon’s length on defense. The one thing about Oregon is they can get outrebounded at times, but Duke is not a team that can really take advantage of that other than Marshall Plumlee who picks up fouls at a high rate. If Oregon doesn’t defend with focus Duke can put up points in a hurry particularly if Allen and Ingram are hitting from deep and Plumlee can stay out of foul trouble. However, I see Dillon Brooks and Oregon as having too much for the Blue Devils and getting them into early foul trouble winning by double digits.
The Pick: Oregon
(3) Texas A&M vs (2) Oklahoma
Last round the Aggies barely survived as Northern Iowa collapsed in the final minute. Danuel House and Jalen Jones are a formidable tandem for any opponent to have to deal with, but like the first 59 minutes of the Northern Iowa game, they can disappear at times. The Aggies should have an advantage with big man Tyler Davis inside against Ryan Spangler who has struggled to defend bigger guys inside this season. However, the real test for the Aggies is defending star guard Buddy Hield as VCU learned last round what happens when you let Hield get space with him scoring 29 points in the second half alone. The Aggies should be able to score as Oklahoma isn’t a great defensive team, but Isaiah Cousins and Hield are too tough for the Aggies to matchup with.
The Pick: Oklahoma
(5) Indiana vs (1) North Carolina
When looking at this game most probably assumed the Wildcats would have prevailed over the Hoosiers, but Indiana played well despite a relatively off game from Yogi Ferrell and foul trouble early on from Thomas Bryant. This is a bad matchup for the Hoosiers as they have very little depth left and Bryant struggles to defend in the paint due to limited athleticism and foul trouble. Bryant staying in the game will be key as he needs to attack Brice Johnson and wear him down to try to make him less effective on the offensive end. The key will be how easily Ferrell gets in the paint and if he is hitting from deep. If he is Indiana can hang around and potentially pull the upset. Unfortunately, I am not predicting such luck as I think the bigger UNC guards lock down Ferrell and the Tar Heels use their depth in the front court to knock around the Hoosiers.
The Pick: North Carolina
(7) Wisconsin vs (6) Notre Dame
This is one matchup no one saw coming. Wisconsin stole a victory from Xavier as Bronson Koenig came up clutch down the stretch shooting from deep and Ethan Hap provided key plays up until that point. On the Notre Dame side, Demetrius Jackson has had an offseason so far and if not for the lucky tip in against Stephen F. Austin, the Badgers may be playing Thomas Walkup and the Lumberjacks. A key in the game will be to see if the game gets high scoring. If the game gets into the mid to high 70s it favors Notre Dame, but if it stays in the 60s and low 70s then it favors the Badgers. Nigel Hayes is a key figure who will be critical on both ends to the Badgers winning the game and Notre Dame needs something out of Steven Vasturia if they are going to win. In the end, I see the Badgers winning with Koenig coming out on top in the battle of point guards with Jackson.
The Pick: Wisconsin
(4) Iowa State vs (1) Virginia
This matchup is really intriguing to me. It features a solid point guard in London Perrantes and a star college point guard in Monte Morris who very rarely turns the ball over while Malcolm Brogdon and Georges Niang figure to see a lot of each other along the way. Iowa State needs to hit threes if they are going to stay in this game and Virginia is very good at defending the three-point line. If Morris can continuously create off the bounce and Niang can score in the mid-range this game has the making of a classic, but if Morris or Niang get in foul trouble or are ineffective there is very little chance this team can win. I see this being a close game, but in the end, I think Virginia pulls it out on the back of Brogdon.
The Pick: Virginia
(11) Gonzaga vs (10) Syracuse
This is truly a game no one saw coming. It is very intriguing nonetheless though with Domantas Sabonis providing a solid presence inside and being virtually impossible to stop on the block. He is also a willing passer, something that is important for a zone as he can play at the free throw line and pass to cutters in the lane or back it down into the paint and cause a collapse on him, kicking out to shooters. However, the Orange allowed shooters to shoot just 29 percent from the three-point line in ACC play making it surprising if Gonzaga had many three point makes considering they are barely average from deep. The Orange will need Michael Gbinije to step up and be the scorer he can be and not disappear like he has on occasion, ditto for sharpshooter Trevor Cooney, who if he is hitting is incredibly hard to disrupt. In the end, Kyle Wiltjer scores enough to pull out the victory for the Zags.
The Pick: Gonzaga