The Sweet 16 gets underway tonight with four marquee matchups. Who will be the first four teams to punch their tickets to the elite eight?
Midwest Regional: Oregon vs. Michigan:
Since the near disastrous plane accident a week and a half ago, Michigan has been on an absolute tear. After winning the Big Ten Tournament Title, the Wolverines have defeated Oklahoma St. and upset Louisville thus far in the tournament. Led by senior guard Derek Walton Jr. coupled with the emergence of an elite supporting cast including D.J. Wilson, Moritz Wagner, and Zak Irvin, the Maze and Blue can score with anybody. With that said, the success the Wolverines have enjoyed so far in the tournament has been largely due to their elite perimeter shooting. What happens when their shots aren’t falling? On the other hand, Oregon, who overmatched Iona in the round of 64 and narrowly escaped a highly contested matchup with Rhode Island barrel into the Sweet 16 looking for a decisive victory. The Ducks, who trot out a cast of elite playmakers including Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey have no problem scoring the ball themselves. However, since the devastating injury to their versatile big man, Chris Boucher, they have not looked like the elite team we saw earlier in the season. Furthermore, Oregon has had turnover laden sloppy starts to their past few games. If they can protect the ball consistently throughout the game, Oregon will be in it until the end.
Ultimately this game will come down to a few things: Will Oregon be able to defend the perimeter and run Michigan off the three – point line. Furthermore, will the Ducks be able to contain D.J. Wilson and Moritz Wagner down low in order to prevent the elite inside – out attack Michigan can deploy. And for Michigan, can the Wolverines turn Oregon over and capitalize on their opportunities. Furthermore, can they contain the backcourt of Oregon? Ultimately, Michigan’s offense will be too much for the Ducks as the Wolverines will continue their momentum into the Elite Eight.
West Regional: Gonzaga vs West Virginia:
This game will be determined by who controls the tempo. West Virginia, also known as “Press Virginia” is known for exactly that, their unforgiving full court press defense. Driven by point guard Jevon Carter, the Mountaineers want to turn you over and play a high tempo, wear you down attack that most teams aren’t equipped to handle. Furthermore, West Virginia also attacks the offensive boards very effectively which propelled them to a victory over a very solid Notre Dame team in the Round of 32. Alternatively, Gonzaga executes a more calculated game plan where they can wear teams down with their depth. The Bulldogs are strong in both the backcourt and front court. Led by their fantastic point guard Nigel Williams – Goss, Gonzaga is able to share the ball well and get the ball down low to their skilled big men, Zach Collins and Przemek Karnowski.
West Virginia will win this game if they are able to turn Gonzaga over and increase the tempo of the game. Furthermore, if the Mountaineers are able to get Gonzaga’s big men in foul trouble it will only up more opportunities for Jevon Carter, Nathan Adrian, Tarik Phillip, Daxter Miles Jr. and Co. to attack the rim more effectively. Conversely, if Gonzaga can take care of the ball, their depth should put them in a good position to win the game. Ultimately, Gonzaga is a veteran team with a very talented backcourt that should be able to handle West Virginia’s press and as a result win the game.
Midwest Regional: Kansas vs. Purdue
This game is very cut and dry. Kansas has a significant advantage in the backcourt and Purdue has a significant advantage in the front court. Which will have a greater impact on the game? The Jayhawks are led by National Player of the Year candidate Frank Mason who is the best point guard in the country. Furthermore, fellow guard Devonte’ Graham is a high quality playmaker and scorer. If that isn’t enough add in a lottery pick in this June’s NBA Draft in Josh Jackson and obviously Kansas isn’t having an issue finding talent. The Jayhawks move the ball, shoot well, and are extremely dangerous in transition. On the other side, the Purdue Boilermakers are led by All – American power forward Caleb Swanigan. Swanigan a stretch 4, is a double double machine. Although Purdue may not have the star power Kansas possesses, they do have a group of solid, fundamental players. Dakota Mathias is an all big ten defender who will be tasked with shutting down Josh Jackson, Isaac Haas is a moose down low and will control the boards. Will it be enough?
I don’t think so. Kansas’ guards are strong shooters, as a result Swanigan and Haas will be drawn out of the paint allowing Kansas to get to the rim at will and create foul trouble for the Boilermakers. Without elite talent on the wings, Purdue will have trouble scoring and Kansas will win this game handily.
West Regional: Arizona vs. Xavier
This is the most intriguing game of today’s slate. Arizona, a perennial Pac – 12 power has reloaded again this year and is trying to get over the top with an NCAA Title. The Wildcats are an athletic up and down team that can really score the ball. After some inconsistent play early in the season, Arizona caught a break when combo guard Alonzo Trier’s PED suspension was lifted. Since that point, Arizona has put it all together. Along with freshman forward Lauri Markkanen the Wildcats are a very explosive team. In contrast, Xavier who started the season very strong, fell into a bit of a slump throughout February. With that said, they are firing on all cylinders after a convincing defeat and upset of #3 seed Florida State. Xavier features a very talented guard in Trevon Bluiett who is averaging 25 pts/game thus far in the tournament.
I think this game is a complete toss up, if Arizona comes to play, they have more talent and depth than Xavier. Although the same was said for Florida State and things did not work out to well for them. Xavier wins and pulls off the upset on the back of Bluiett and their coach Chris Mack.