And then there were 16. Must be pretty sweet to still be dancing at this point in the tournament. Each region has it’s own story. The Midwest is still Kentucky’s to lose but apparently West Virginia (who busted my bracket last week) believe that Kentucky’s perfection ends tonight when the two teams take the court. Witchita State is still alive and kicking as well. In the East, the top seeds have fallen and the remaining matchups read eight versus four and three versus seven. Upsets have riddled this side of the bracket as Virginia and Villanova fell last weekend. Out West, the bracket has avoided too many upsets, as Baylor is the sole top-four seed not to reach the Sweet 16, only to be replaced by sixth-seeded Xavier. Down South, old school powers meeting the new kids on the block. UCLA is the surprise in the regional semi-final as an eleven seed in this one. All of these storylines mean we are in for a great four days of basketball.
#1 Kentucky vs. #5 West Virginia: West Virginia freshman Daxter Miles Jr. made it clear that he does not think much of Kentucky. He called them out for not playing hard. That sounds like something you should do after you have beaten them if you ask me. Kentucky will come into this game with even more of something to prove now than ever before. The Wildcats rank third in the country in defensive scoring and second in blocks. That will spell trouble for a Mountaineer team that already does not shoot the ball very well from the field.
#3 Notre Dame vs. #7 Witchita State: Many said that the Shockers would be a tough matchup for Kansas and that proved to be true as Witchita rolled through the Jayhawks. However, I think the run stops here for the Shockers. They will have their eyes set on a rematch with Kentucky after the Wildcats knocked them out of the tournament last year and ended their perfect season. I don’t think Witchita gets the chance though. The Irish are battled tested with victories in a couple of close games. Notre Dame has only dropped one game in past eleven, I think they will move on to the Elite Eight.
#1 Wisconsin vs. #4 North Carolina: This is a tough one to call. UNC has the talent and ability to beat anyone in the country, and I mean anyone, when they are firing on all cylinders. However, they aren’t playing at their best very often. This Tar Heel squad is often streaky and they are facing one of the most consistently dominant teams in America tonight. The Heels rank second in the country for rebounds and assists per game this year though. That is a pretty tough combination to top. If Marcus Paige is on, UNC marches on to the next round.
#2 Arizona vs. #6 Xavier: The Musketeers were fortunate to have made it this far if you ask me. With games against Ole Miss and Georgia State, Xavier has yet to play a team that is not a double-digit seed. That said, they might stand a chance in the Sweet 16, if they were playing a team other than Arizona. The Wildcats have won by fewer than 10 points just once since playing Utah back in February. That one game? It was against UCLA, another Sweet 16 team. Arizona advance.
#4 Louisville vs. #8 North Carolina State: Raise your hand if you picked this game to happen. I wish I could say I did. NC State really busted my bracket last week when they knocked out Villanova, whom I had in the finals. As if this game was not important enough, this is rematch between ACC teams. The Wolfpack won the first time around but with Louisville finally starting to find a bit of a rhythm offensively, the Cardinals will be the ones who get to keep dancing a little longer.
#3 Oklahoma vs. #7 Michigan State: I didn’t predict this game correctly either. I had Dayton pulling the upset of Oklahoma but the Sooners ruined my fun. However, the Spartans looked convincing in their last two wins, especially Sunday against Virginia. Travis Trice caught fire against the Cavaliers, and if he does again on Friday, that could mean lights out for Oklahoma. I’ve got Tom Izzo’s crew heading to the next round.
#1 Duke vs. #5 Utah: This one will be fun to watch. We get to see Jahlil Okafor and the highlight reel that is Duke’s offense pitted against a Utah squad that excels in locking down the defensive end of the floor. The Utes ranked eleventh in the country this season in points allowed per game. Moreover, Utah has seven-footer Jakob Poeltl to contend with Okafor. Watch these two freshmen battle it out in the paint should be an entertaining matchup. I still think Duke has too many offensive weapons for Utah to contain. Blue Devils slide into the Elite Eight.
#2 Gonzaga vs. #11 California Los Angeles: Talk about a surprise guest. There were not too many people who foresaw UCLA in the Sweet 16. The Bruins were a bubble team to begin with. Gonzaga has been good this season but this has every element of a trap game to it. I think the Bruins will come out with a chip on their shoulder and give the Zags a tough test early. If Gonzaga can weather that test than they will be fine. If they falter early, like I think they will, UCLA will continue their Cinderella run.