NCAA March Madness: Sweet Sixteen Preview, Day 1

The loss of No. 1 overall seed Villanova and college basketball powerhouse Duke in the round of 32 marked the first major upsets of this year’s NCAA tournament, while underdogs South Carolina and Xavier continued to advance against the odds. Who will take a spot in the Elite Eight and advance in the tournament? The Fourth String team previews the first four games of the Sweet Sixteen to find out.

#3 Oregon vs #7 Michigan

7:09 PM on CBS
Michigan -2 | Michigan 57%

The Sweet Sixteen opens with one of the most exciting matchups in the tournament so far. The Michigan Wolverines have gone undefeated in tournament play since their plane crashed during takeoff on March 8th. No players were hurt in the crash, but the team was forced to make the flight to D.C. the morning of their first Big 10 tournament game and played in practice uniforms for several games. Since then, the Wolverines have defeated big name teams like Purdue, Wisonsin, and Minnesota while eliminating underseeded Oklahoma State team and Elite Eight favorites Louisville in the NCAA tournament.  Led by Senior Guard Derrick Walton Jr. (15.4 PPG), Michigan’s offense averages more than 75 PPG and a scary 48% from the field while shooting 38% from beyond the Arc. Another player to watch is 6’11 Sophomore forward Moritz Wagner, a German national who seemed to singlehandedly propel the team beyond Louisville in their last game.

#3 Oregon has struggled so far this tournament, making them favored to lose against a lower seeded Michigan team. Since Senior Forward Chris Boucher tore his ACL during the PAC-12 tournament, the team lost to #2 Arizona in their next PAC-12 tournament game, and were in serious jeapardy of losing to #11 Rhode Island before staging a last minute comeback. The team is propelled by Junior F Dillon Brooks and Junior Guard Tyler Dorsey, who combine for more than 30 PPG. If Michigan can shut down these dual threats, which is not an easy task, the Duck’s offense runs the risk of full collapse. Oregon will have to ensure consistent, tough, inside the paint offense to keep up with Michigan’s hot streak.

#1 Gonzaga vs #4 West Virginia

7:39 PM on CBS
Gonzaga -3 | Gonzaga 66%

#1 seed Gonzaga has its fair share of doubters-and they have been unable to silence them so far this tournament. Gonzaga has only one regular season loss, to Brigham Young University, but having arguably one of the easiest schedules has not helped its case. Since starting the tournament, Gonzaga appeared unable to put away #16 South Dakota State until the second half and was saved from first time tournament contenders Northwestern’s 22 point comeback by a series of awful referee decisions (including a missed goaltending call where Gonzaga’s Zach Collins had his hand completely through the net and rim). #4 West Virginia provides them their first tournament challenge and a chance to prove the hype was real. Led by Junior Guard Nigel Williams-Goss, the Bulldogs average a monstrous 84 PPG and shoot more than 50% from the field, making them one of the hardest teams in the tournament to defend.

Defense, however, is the West Virginia Mountaineer’s specialty. Specifically, the Mountaineer’s run a full court press defense that can shut down even the most experienced teams. West Virginia easily defeated #13 Bucknell and #5 Notre Dame, and it became clear that both teams were shaken up and unable to get past West Virginia’s defense. West Virginia put up 34 rebounds, 6 steals, 5 blocks, and forced Notre Dame to take 28 3 pointers, of which they only made 10. Gonzaga will likely prove harder to defend, as the Mountaineer’s full court press results in plenty of 4 on 5 fast breaks that Gonzaga can take advantage.Watch to see if Gonzaga can power through the Mountaineer’s defense and advance to the Elite Eight.

#1 Kansas vs #4 Purdue

9:39 PM on CBS
Kansas -5 | Kansas 70%

#1 Kansas is the team that has benefitted the most from the upset of Villanova and Duke, becoming a fan and analyst favorite to win the tournament. The Jayhawks have good reason to be hopeful: according to fivethirtyeight they have the highest chances of any team to reach the Elite Eight (70%) and Final Four (53%). The Jayhawk’s backcourt is arguably the best in the NCAA, with Senior Frank Mason III and Freshman Josh Jackson averaging more than 37 PPG combined. The team also shoots 40% from the 3 point line, propelled by Mason III’s rediculous 47% from behind the arc. The Jayhawks have also crushed their last two opponents, defeating #9 Michigan State by 20 points and crushing #16 UC-Davis by 42, making them one of the scariest teams to face in the tournament.

The Purdue Boilermakers should be cautiously optimistic heading into tonight. On the one hand, the Boilermakers top a Big 10 that has so far exceeded expectations at this year’s NCAA tournament, and sport one the best frontcourts in the NCAA. Sophomore Forward Caleb Swanigan does it all, averaging a double-double with 18.5 PPG and 12.6 RPG, and Junior Forward Vince Edwards puts up 12 PPG with 5 RPG. The team is completely different with Swanigan off the court, however, as the team almost blew a 20 point lead to #5 Iowa state after benching Swanigan. Depth and consistency will be key for Purdue, as Kansas will put all they can into shutting down Swanigan’s monstrous production in the paint.

#2 Arizona vs #11 Xavier

10:09 PM on CBS
Arizona -8 | Arizona 68%

#2 Arizona Wildcats’ head coach Sean Miller has reason to sweat his team’s prospects moving forward. His team was down early to #7 St. Mary’s before clawing their way to a 9 point victory that felt like it shoud’ve been easier for the #1 team in a crowded PAC-12. Despite their slumpy performance, Arizona has arguably the easiest Sweet Sixteen matchup against #11 Xavier, the lowest seed remaining in the tournament. The Wildcats have also beaten some of the top teams remaining in the PAC-12 tournament including #3 Oregon and #3 UCLA. It’s worth noting that their probable Elite Eight opponent #1 Gonzaga has defeated them, although this was before Allonzo Trier returned to the lineup following a PED suspension.  The Wildcats average 77 PPG behind Sophomore Guard Allonzo Trier’s 17 PPG since his return to the lineup.

#11 Xavier remains the only pseudo-cinderella remaining in the tournament, as the Cincinnatti school is the lowest seeded team left in the tournament. After knocking off #7 Maryland and #3 FSU, the Musketeers have proved themselved as a force to be reckoned with this NCAA tournament. Xavier is led by Junior Guards Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura along with Sophomore Guard Edmond Sumner who combine for 47 PPG. Outside of those three, Xavier lacks significant depth or stardom. The Musketeers need to ensure that these three do not get shut down and may need other players to step up if they want to continue their tournament run.

-Joseph Politano

The Fourth String Team



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