By Kevin Sweeney
Thursday night, the NCAA Tournament will resume with 8 teams in action as part of the Sweet Sixteen. 8 more will play on Friday. As the stakes rise, here’s my preview of all 8 games to be played in the Sweet Sixteen.
Miami vs Villanova: Thursday at 7:10pm
This game should showcase some of the best guard play the tournament has to offer. Villanova’s duo of Ryan Arcidiacono and Josh Hart will be matched up with Miami’s Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan. The roads to get to this point have been much different, as Villanova blew out each of its first 2 opponents, while the ‘Canes have been forced to work in wins over Buffalo and Wichita State. I feel that this game will come down to which team’s supporting cast plays better. Both sets of guards will get it done, but is someone like Kris Jenkins for Villanova or Tonye Jekiri for Miami is able to have a big game, they will put their team at a huge advantage.
My Pick: Miami
Texas A&M vs Oklahoma: Thursday at 7:37pm
Following a miracle come-from-behind win over Northern Iowa, Texas A&M seems like a team of destiny. However, they now have to deal with the best player in the country in Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield. A dominant scorer and lethal outside threat, Hield will demand constant attention from the Texas A&M defense. The Sooners will need Hield to carry them in this one, especially if guys like Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins aren’t making their shots. If the Aggies can shut down the Oklahoma supporting cast, they have an excellent chance to win.
My Pick: Oklahoma
Maryland vs Kansas: Thursday at 9:40pm
So far this tournament, the Terrapins have shown signs of brilliance and signs of mediocrity. Against 2 mid-major opponents, the Terps have dominated one half and have been outplayed in the other. For them to knock off the overall #1 seed Kansas, they will have to put it all together. Personally, I think that Maryland matches up well with the Jayhawks, as Maryland has lineups to offset the versatility of this Kansas team. To pull the upset, they will need Melo Trimble and Jake Layman to come up big. After struggling with his shot towards the end of the season, Trimble has heated up in his 2 games in the Big Dance. Layman must provide some shooting as well as defense against Wayne Selden and possibly Perry Ellis.
My Pick: Maryland
Duke vs Oregon: Thursday at 10:07pm
In this matchup, one thing that concerns me for both teams is depth. Both teams are basically 7 deep, so foul trouble could easily become a big factor. If Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram are hot for the Blue Devils, they are very difficult to beat. However, Duke struggles defensively, and relies heavily on Allen and Ingram for production. Oregon is better defensively and has more balance on offense than the Blue Devils. It wouldn’t shock me to see Duke win this one, but I think that Dillon Brooks’s versatility will give the Blue Devils fits and earn the Ducks a spot in the Elite Eight
My Pick: Oregon
Iowa State vs Virginia: Friday at 7:10pm
This game will be all about contrasting styles. Virginia and Tony Bennett’s heralded pack-line defense is all about keeping opponents under 60 points and slowing the tempo. However, Steve Prohm’s Cyclones want the game to be fast-paced and high scoring. Neither team has a ton of size, but it will be interesting to see how the Cavaliers match up point forward Georges Niang, who plays like a guard with forward height. Malcolm Brogdon is probably too small, but Anthony Gill might be an interesting matchup for Niang.
My Pick: Virginia
Wisconsin vs Notre Dame: Friday at 7:27pm
Both teams are coming off of thrilling buzzer-beating victories over the weekend. For Wisconsin, Bronson Koenig hit a fall-away 3 as time expired to upset Xavier, while Rex Pflueger had the game-winning tip-in with 1 second to play against Stephen F. Austin. The point guard matchup in this one should be awesome, as Koenig matches up with 2nd-team all-ACC performer Demetrius Jackson. Both teams come with the experience of a deep tournament run last season, making this game one to watch.
My Pick: Wisconsin
Gonzaga vs Syracuse: Friday at 9:40pm
Both of these teams have been extremely impressive in their first 2 NCAA Tournament games. The Bulldogs handled Seton Hall before dominating Utah in the second round. While Syracuse did avoid Michigan State, they won in blowout fashion in each of their first 2 games. What makes this matchup so intriguing to me is how Gonzaga will attack the Syracuse 2-3 zone. While big men Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis are capable of scoring from the high post, the Bulldogs lack good guard play. For Gonzaga to reach the Elite Eight, they will need one of their guards to step up to open things up on the inside.
My Pick: Gonzaga
Indiana vs North Carolina: Friday at 9:57pm
Indiana seems like a team on the rise. After easily beating Chattanooga, the Hoosiers knocked off rival Kentucky to reach their first Sweet Sixteen since 2013. An interesting factor for the Hoosiers will be the performance of OG Anunoby. Despite averaging under 5 points per game in the regular season, Anunoby has scored 13, 14, and 7 in his last 3 games. He has also made an impact on defense, averaging 2 steals and 2 blocks per game in that span. He may be the piece that puts the Hoosiers over the top against a North Carolina squad led by player of the year candidate Brice Johnson. If Anunoby continues his strong play, and players like Yogi Ferrell have big games, the Hoosiers have an excellent chance to knock off the Tar Heels.
My Pick: Indiana