NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview: Which Teams Are Elite?
Have you recovered from your college basketball coma yet? (Check our recap of Rounds 1 and 2 here.) Better hurry. The NCAA men’s basketball tournament field of 68 was reduced to 16 over the past six days. Here’s what to expect in this week’s Sweet 16:
Thursday, March 24
All of Thursday’s regional semifinals feature teams who were supposed to advance this far; fifth-seeded Maryland is the lowest of the seeds in this half of the Sweet 16. Which of these teams will win to advance to the Elite Eight?
(3) Miami vs. (2) Villanova; KFC Yum! Center, Louisville at 7:10 p.m. (ET) on CBS
The chess match between head coaches Jim Larranaga of Miami and Jay Wright of Villanova on Thursday will be as interesting as the game on the floor. The offensive-minded Wildcats (31-5) will count on Jalen Brunson, Ryan Arcidiacono and Josh Hart to get them to the Elite Eight, while the Hurricanes (27-7) hope Angel Rodriguez, Sheldon McClellan and Tonye Jekiri can slow ‘Nova down.
Bonus Note: Villanova is playing in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009.
(5) Maryland vs. (1) Kansas; KFC Yum! Center, Louisville at 9:40 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Thursday night’s Kansas-Maryland matchup could be the best game of this round. Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden and Devonte’ Graham lead the deep and balanced Jayhawks (32-4), who haven’t lost in months. The Terrapins (27-8) counter with lead guard Melo Trimble, who leads them in scoring, assists, free-throw percentage and steals. To beat Kansas, Maryland must force the Jayhawks into bad shots, and hit 3-pointers on the offensive end.
Bonus Note: Terps head coach Mark Turgeon played point guard at Kansas from 1984-87.
(3) Texas A&M vs. (2) Oklahoma; Honda Center, Anaheim at 7:37 p.m. (ET) on TBS
Hopefully Texas A&M didn’t use all of its miracles in the last minute comeback against Northern Iowa on Sunday night. The Aggies (28-8) will need something special to slow down Oklahoma superstar Buddy Hield. The All-American has scored 63 points in two tournament games so far, and could pour in another 30 on Thursday. The Sooners (27-7) have other players, but Hield will be the reason they do — or don’t — make the Final Four.
Bonus Note: The Aggies are making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2011.
(4) Duke vs. (1) Oregon; Honda Center, Anaheim at 10:07 p.m. (ET) on TBS
Top-seeded Oregon might be the favorite against defending national champion Duke, but they certainly don’t have the same history of success. The Ducks (30-6) have athleticism, depth and size, but they don’t have guard Grayson Allen or forward Brandon Ingram. The Blue Devils (25-10) also have head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has led teams to the Final Four 12 times.
Bonus Note: Oregon is riding a 10-game win streak.
Friday, March 25
Friday’s regional semifinal games feature four teams who really weren’t supposed to be here, yet all have been here very recently (2013 – 2015). Four of these squads will make the Elite Eight.
(4) Iowa State vs. (1) Virginia; United Center, Chicago at 7:10 p.m. (ET) on CBS
The Midwest Region semifinal game between Iowa State and Virginia will likely be the ugliest game of this round. It might be a competitive contest, but the Cavaliers (28-7) and Cyclones (23-11) will likely grind their way to the 60s. Maybe. Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon can take over the game on offense, but his defense will be needed against the ISU attack led by Monte Morris.
Bonus Note: Iowa State’s Georges Niang scored 28 points and grabbed six rebounds in each of his team’s tourney games thus far.
(11) Gonzaga vs. (10) Syracuse; United Center, Chicago at 9:40 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Cinderellas? Nope. Both Gonzaga and Syracuse are storied basketball programs that have made seven and 22 trips to the Sweet 16, respectively. Their head coaches, Mark Few and Jim Boeheim, will have their teams prepared to advance to the Elite Eight. Given the lack of a dominant team on the other half of the bracket, both the Bulldogs (28-7) and the Orange (21-13) will certainly have the chance to sneak into the Final Four.
Bonus Note: Gonzaga’s Domantas Sabonis is the son of former Portland Trail Blazers center Arvydas Sabonis.
(7) Wisconsin vs. (6) Notre Dame; Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia at 7:27 p.m. (ET) on TBS
Wisconsin and Notre Dame came thisclose to meeting in last season’s Final Four. The Fighting Irish (23-11) lost in the Midwest Region final to then-undefeated Kentucky, right before the Badgers (22-12) knocked off the Wildcats in Indianapolis. These two teams aren’t as loaded as they were in 2015, but one will return to the Elite Eight. It’s hard to bet against Wisconsin, which has buzzer-beating Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes to lead a charge at another Final Four.
Bonus Note: Notre Dame forward Zach Auguste registered a double-double in both tourney games thus far.
(5) Indiana vs. (1) North Carolina; Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia at 9:57 p.m. (ET) on TBS
Indiana and North Carolina have met several times in the NCAA Tournament, most notably in the 1981 national championship game (won by I.U.). While Yogi Ferrell isn’t Isiah Thomas, he does lead the Hoosiers (27-7) in scoring and assists. He’ll also be in charge of limiting Carolina’s Marcus Paige, who sets up the Tar Heels (30-6) tremendous post attack. UNC’s Brice Johnson could be the difference in the game. Indiana doesn’t have anyone who can match his talent and size.
Bonus Note: The Hoosiers defeated the Tar Heels, 72-68, in the regional semifinals in 1984: Michael Jordan’s last college basketball game.