After a tumultuous two rounds of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, just 16 teams remain from the original field of 64. This year’s Sweet 16, which arguably is one of the most upset-heavy in recent basketball memory, takes place on Thursday and Friday (March 22-23) on the networks of TBS and CBS.
There’s a reason this tournament has come to be called “March Madness” and 2018’s edition magnified that in a big way. For the first time, in 136 tries, a No. 16 seed beat a No. 1, as the first overall seed, the Virginia Cavaliers, went down to a small honors college by the name of University of Maryland Baltimore County aka UMBC. The UMBC Retrievers made history and did so in a big way as they defeated Virginia by 20 points. This was a Virginia team that had lost just two games the entire season and one that had kept top-tier ACC foes to less than 60 points more often than not. UMBC scored 74, the highest total points allowed by the Cavaliers all year long.
Virginia wasn’t the only top seed to go down over the first two rounds however, as brackets were busted nationwide thanks to upset losses by No. 1 Xavier, No. 2 North Carolina and Cincinnati, No. 3 Michigan State and Tennessee and No. 4 Arizona and Auburn. Overall, there were nine upsets in the first round, followed by six in the second. The biggest damage came in the South region, which became the first region in NCAA tournament history to lose all four of its top seeds before the start of the Sweet 16.
Enough talking about the teams that didn’t make it out of the second round. Let’s talk about the ones that did.
Sweet Sixteen: Who’s Left Standing?
While all of America is likely sitting there with a bracket that has more red X’s than green checkmarks, that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. In fact, for every 1-4 seed that got knocked out early, there seems to be another that is still playing through. A little over 50 percent of the top four were eliminated but still standing are No. 1 Villanova and Kansas, No. 2 Duke and Purdue, and No. 3 Texas Tech and Michigan, and No. 4 Gonzaga.
The rest of the field is compiled of three five-seeds, two sevens, two nines, and two elevens. That’s not exactly what was expected when March Madness first began. Perhaps most surprising is the way the left side of the bracket has shaken out. Thanks to the South’s collapse and a share of upsets in the West as well, the first day of Sweet 16 games (Thursday) features no one or two seeds. Only one three-seed, Michigan, will be in action, joined by No. 4 Gonzaga and No. 5 Kentucky. The remaining five teams in action have a seed no higher than seven.
Let’s take a look at Thursday’s Day 1 of Sweet 16 match-ups, and we’ll add in our Sweet 16 predictions and betting picks for each game:
No. 7 Nevada vs No. 11 Loyola (Chicago) – 7:07 PM ET on CBS
In a tournament which has been the story of upsets, there’s no better way to tip off the Sweet 16 than with a battle of Cinderellas. On one side, you have Loyola (Chicago), one of the first upsets of the tournament as they took down No. 3 Miami in round one on day one. The Ramblers needed late game-winning shots in both of their tournament games but yet here they stand, perhaps divinely inspired by 98-year-old team chaplain, Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, who has become one of the faces of March Madness this year.
Loyola (Chicago) seems like a team of destiny, but Nevada also can make a case in that department. The Wolf Pack have been a story as in both of their tournament games, the team has come back from huge deficits. In their second round upset of Cincinnati, Nevada came back from 22 points down, leading for a grand total of 9.1 seconds of a 40-minute game. One of the reasons that Wolf Pack won that game were the two turnovers they committed, the least in an NCAA tournament game all-time.
- Take Loyola (Chicago) to keep their Cinderella story going, as they’ll best the 1.5 point spread favored to Nevada. Look for the total to hit the under on 143 as well. Place your bets with a top sportsbook such as Bovada, Bookmaker, 5Dimes or Intertops.
No. 3 Michigan vs No. 7 Texas A&M – 7:37 PM ET on TBS
Michigan was not really a team that most people thought about going far until they blazed through the Big 10 conference tournament en route to winning the title. From that point, the Wolverines were no longer an afterthought, and now they are in the Sweet 16.
Much like Nevada however, Michigan needed a buzzer-beater to get past Houston. The team has looked both good and not-so-good over the first two games but they will be favored to get to the Elite 8 against A&M due to guys like Jordan Poole and Moritz Wagner.
As for the Aggies, Texas A&M has played some solid basketball to get to this point. They were another team that was not expected to get this far but here they are. A&M outplayed a tough Providence team before getting a huge win over defending champion, UNC, by over 20 points.
- Michigan is favored by three but with all of the upsets this tournament has seen so far, pencil Texas A&M in for one more. Look for the Aggies to best the spread in victory. Take the over on 136 for the total. Our top recommended USA betting sites to place those bets with include Bovada and Bookmaker.
No. 5 Kentucky vs No. 9 Kansas State – 9:37 PM on CBS
Kentucky is name-recognition. Kentucky is pedigree. Kentucky now has, arguably, the easiest road to the Final Four. Of all of the teams to advance to the Sweet 16, Kentucky had a pretty easy road thus far anyway. They faced No. 12 Davidson in the first round and No. 13 Buffalo in the second round. In those two games, freshman standout Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, dazzled, averaging 23 points, seven rebounds and 6.5 assists. In both games, Kentucky also outscored their opponents 80-50 in the paint. This is where the Wildcats excel.
The other Wildcats, those of Kansas State, haven’t exactly played their best basketball, but it’s been good enough to get by. Against Kentucky, they will need to step up their game, something that could prove difficult without Dean Wade, who has been dealing with a foot injury.
The lower seed should get through to the Elite 8 relatively easily in this one. Take Kentucky and the six points they are favored by, to defeat Kansas State. Look for the over on 139 as well. Bovada and 5Dimes are two of our best go-to bookies.
No. 4 Gonzaga vs No. 9 Florida State – 9:59 PM on TBS
This match-up is a lot more even than the seeds would imply. Both teams have played well to get this point and each have a legitimate case for the Elite 8. Gonzaga pulled off two signature wins, defeating Ohio State and UNC Greensboro. They are one of the few top four seeds that has actually looked comfortable over the first two rounds of the tournament. They will be facing a Florida State team that has had a bit more of an unexpected road to this point.
The Seminoles entered the tournament in a rut but managed to get through their first round matchup before upsetting Xavier, one of two No. 1 seeds to fall. Florida State needed a comeback win but they did it, and changed a lot of minds about their ability to play-on to the Elite 8 in the process.
- Florida State has acquitted themselves well but Gonzaga has looked solid. Look for the Zags to get the win but expect Florida State to keep it close, besting the six points that Gonzaga is favored by. As for the total, look for the under on 153. Intertops, Bovada or Bookmaker would be good options to place your wagers with.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.