The NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 has finally arrived. We have the best 15 teams in America with an underdog in Oregon that is arguably playing the best basketball right now.
On paper, each game is exciting on its’ own with the potential of turning into a slugfest. It will be interesting to see if these teams do in fact live up to the bill. Being blown out would be absolutely devastating at this point in the season.
Going with the former, the difference in these bouts is a matchup that could seal the fate for one team. Here is a matchup in each game that will decide whether a team experiences heartache or keeps dancing :
(4) Virginia Tech – (1) Duke
Tech Defense vs. Zion Williamson
The Hokies and the Blue Devils get ready to square off for the second time this season with the Hokies winning the first time around during conference play. The most important thing from that game, other than the outcome, was the absence of Zion Williamson.
Despite winning the first time, Va Tech can’t accord to let Duke shoot 50 percent from the field nor can they allow 72 points. They need to stiffen their defense this time around.
Williamson is going to score 20. It’s inevitable. However, they should look to use the game plan Florida State used against Ja Morant and Murray State. They have to smother everyone around Zion and pray he doesn’t somehow will Duke to a win.
(3) LSU – (2) Michigan State
Naz Reid vs. Nick Ward/Xavier Tillman
Cassius Winston versus Tremont Waters will be exciting when Michigan State plays LSU, but the play down low will decide this one.
Naz Reid is projected to go in the first round of the NBA Draft as an intriguing big. At 6’10” and 250 pounds, he can brutalize opponents with one or two power dribbles before rising up. He even has the touch to pull it from downtown.
The combo of Nick Ward and Xavier Tillman will have their hands full for the Spartans, but they embody the toughness of Tom Izzo.
MSU has the bodies to throw at Reid, but he is unlike anything they have seen this year. Rebounding, foul trouble, and defense will be the key stats to focus on.
(4) Florida State – (1) Gonzaga
FSU Bigs vs. Gonzaga Bigs
As far as talent goes, the Zags have the overwhelmingly better frontcourt with Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke leading the charge. They are extremely athletic and bounce off defenders during their drives to the rim. Together the duo averages 36.7 points, 15 rebounds, 2.2 steals, and they shoot 65.1 percent from the field.
Defending them sounds like an impossible task especially because they are two NBA prospects.
The Seminoles are down a big as Phil Cofer will miss this Sweet 16 game after his father passed away. The Noles will miss him sorely, but Christ Koumadje should fill in nicely as a strong defender and rebounder. He is second on the team in blocked shots with 1.4.
The guy ahead of him is Mfiondu Kabengele who averages 1.5 swats of his own. He is also the team’s leading scorer with 13.4 points per game. This is all while coming off the bench.
Gonzaga is much more talented than FSU, but the Seminoles beat this same team a year ago in the Sweet 16 with predominantly the same squads. Look for the Noles to harass the undersized Zags’ big men with length.
(3) Texas Tech – (2) Michigan
Red Raiders Defense vs. Wolverines Offense
The Red Raiders have one of the most vaunted defense in the country led by potential top 10 pick Jarrett Culver. They give up just 59.2 points per contest, 36.8 percent from the field, and smother three-point shooters as they relinquish just 30 percent from deep.
Meanwhile, the Wolverines are led by a three-headed monster in Jordan Poole, Ignas Brazdeikis, and Charles Matthews. Combined they average 39.9 points.
As a team, Michigan scores 70.7 points per game, hits 45.1 percent of their looks, and drills 35.1 percent of their threes.
Something has got to give.
Tech hasn’t seen an offense quite as potent as and balanced as Michigan’s all year. And they played Duke folks. In addition, the Wolverines just played a sound defense in Florida in which they picked apart.
The Red Raiders had better come out fast in this one otherwise they run the risk of playing catch up.
(5) Auburn – (1) North Carolina
Chuma Okeke vs. Luke Maye
Auburn and UNC will be one of the most exhiliariting contests during the Sweet 16. It will feature two uptempo offenses with highflyers on both sides. Yet, at a certain point, these teams will have to grind it out with pristine offensive sets in key moments.
Chuma Okeke and Luke Maye can provide those big moments as they will go against one another. Okeke is a bit more athletic with a good shooting stroke. Maye can shoot it from deep, but he makes a killing from the free throw line on down to the rim. He does a good job of using his body to create space.
A monster night by either Okeke or Maye could go a long way for their respective teams.
(3) Houston – (2) Kentucky
Corey Davis Jr. vs. Ashton Hagans
Overshadowed by Purdue’s star guard, Houston has a scoring machine of their own in Corey Davis Jr. He has scored 47 points in two games as he trails Carsen Edwards, Williamson, and Clarke for the most points scored among remaining players. The Cougars’ lead guard is also hitting 38.5 percent of his looks from deep.
The perfect antidote for a guy like this is Ashton Hagans for Kentucky. He plays with energy, anticipation, and is determined to lock his assignment up. Davis is 6’1” while Hagans is 6’3” so it will be interesting to see if that bit of length can frustrate Houston’s star.
Lastly, H-Town has lost just three games this year when Davis starts. Kentucky has lost five games with Hagans as their starter. Expect an intense matchup between two players that serve as the engine for their schools.
(12) Oregon – (1) Virginia
Kenny Wooten vs. DeAndre Hunter
Another case of offense versus defense. DeAndre Hunter is a professional bucket getter for Virginia. It’s the main reason why scouts have him projected to go in the top 10, maybe even top five in the upcoming NBA Draft.
Hunter plays a lot like Kawhi Leonard does on offense. He can hit the deep look, but makes a living from the midrange down into the paint.
Everyone pointed to Virginia losing last year to a 16-seeded UMBC team as a reason to not trust them this year, but they only lost because Hunter was sidelined with an injury. He has made all the difference this year, hence why they are in the Sweet 16.
Meanwhile for Oregon, they are the hottest team in the tournament as they have won their last 10 games. Look no further than Kenny Wooten as the main catalyst for this “quack attack.”
Since joining the starting lineup, Wooten has led Oregon to a 12-3 record with his defense being his calling card. During that span, he has been a pest at the rim averaging 2.8 blocks. He is leading the NCAA Tournament in blocks with 5.5.
Hunter and Virginia might be coming in as the favorites to win, but Wooten and Oregon will not lay down. The Ducks have been in tournament mode for the last 10 games so expect this game to be closely contested like Hunter’s attempts over Wooten.
(3) Purdue – (2) Tennessee
Carsen Edwards vs. Lamonte Turner/Jordan Bone/Jordan Bowden
In the Virginia Tech versus Duke game, it makes sense to smother everyone around Zion because he has lottery picks surrounding him.
Edwards doesn’t have the same luxury for Purdue. This makes this tough task of guarding a scoring threat like him easier for Tennessee.
The Boilermaker is leading the tournament in points scored (68) and three-pointer made (13). There is no stopping a guy this hot as all you can do is contain him. You do that by giving him different looks if you’re Tennessee.
The Vols intend to do just that.
Vols’ head coach Rick Barnes already made it clear Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bone, and Jordan Bowden would guard Edwards. Turner will start the game against him, but expect the other two to get their turn against Edwards. We might even see some trapping on pick-and-roll plays as well as drives to the basket. Barnes will do what is necessary to make sure Edwards doesn’t catch fire.
Edwards will jack up 20 shots because he has to. Making sure those are contested looks should be priority one for the Vols.
If the game is close late in the contest, one of these Tennessee players will need to put the clamps on him. Otherwise, they’ll be singing “Rocky Top” with tears in their eyes.
Wrapping it Up
No team wants to come this far to lose. However, this is the point in the tournament in which the contenders reveal themselves.
It’s gut check time for all 16 teams as no one is ready to take off their dancing shoes just yet.