It’s almost time for the tip-off of Thursday’s Sweet 16 games, previews for which can be found here. So while you’re preparing for those games and watching them, here’s some light reading to get you ready for Friday’s games, day two of the Sweet 16.
After previewing the West and South regions in part one, let’s take a look at the other side of the bracket, starting with the Midwest.
(#1) Virginia vs (#4) Iowa State
Friday, March 25th @ 7:10 PM
Bovada favors Virginia -5 (-110)
It will be a clash of offense vs defense when the Virginia Cavaliers meet the Iowa State Cyclones with a spot in the Elite 8 on the line.
For Virginia, this is a shutdown defense, one that has been dominant all season long. Including its first two playoff games, Virginia is currently ranked as the second best team in the nation in terms of opponents’ scoring defense, allowing on average just 59.5 points per game.
Iowa State meanwhile has the 14th best offense in the NCAA, averaging just over 82 points per game. In the tournament, they have been equally as impressive, currently holding the third highest offensive output among the remaining teams and averaging 86 points in their two games thus far.
Leading the way for the Cyclones is top forward Georges Niang, who has totaled 56 points, 28 each in the first two games. Niang’s success dates back to the regular season and he is currently the hot hand. Matt Thomas is also someone to watch as he is shooting 12-of-24 from beyond the arc in his six career tournament games. Stopping this duo could be an issue even for a defense as well-built as Virginia’s.
It’s going to come down to toughness and its going to come down to which team can impose their will on the other. Leading the way for Virginia in this category is ACC Player pf the Year Malcolm Brogdon (pictured). Brogdon is coming off a 22-point performance and looks fresh. He is going to be Virginia’s X-Factor and if the team wins on Friday, it will no doubt be because Brogdon had a huge part in things.
While it is said that defense wins championships, Iowa State has looked strong and has looked to be the team with more potential going forward. In a year where upsets have been prevalent, it’s high time a one-seed took its first fall.
- Take Iowa State to get the win.
(#10) Syracuse vs (#11) Gonzaga
Friday, March 25th @ 9:40 PM
Bovada favors Gonzaga -4 (-110)
This is exactly the kind of game that March was made for as the #11 Gonzaga, whose road to the Sweet 16 has been marked with wins over #6 Seton Hall and #3 Utah, takes on the #10 Syracuse, who defeated #7 Dayton and #15 Middle Tennessee State. To top it all off, it’s a Sweet 16 match-up where the 11-seed is favored. Honestly, it doesn’t get better than that.
As for the game itself there is a reason why Gonzaga finds themselves favored and it has less to do with them being the better regular season team and more to do with how the Bulldogs have handled themselves in the tournament so far.
One has to look no further than Domantas Sabonis’ domination on the boards and at the rim to see why. Against Utah, Sabonis outmatched the more highly-regarded Jakob Poeltl, limiting him to just five shots, while scoring 19 points and 10 rebounds himself. Sabonis’ aggressive play also resulted in early foul trouble for Poeltl, who missed important minutes as Gonzaga went on a 13-4 run to eventually take the lead.
Against Syracuse, Sabonis is certainly one to watch especially as it relates to the Orange’s signature zone defense. According to his head coach, Sabonis is a specialist when it comes to the offensive glass, as 72.7 percent of the time he turns offensive rebounds into points. Gonzaga’s other big man Kyle Wiltjer is another factor in besting the zone defense as he shoots 43.2 percent from beyond the line.
The clock hasn’t struck midnight for Cinderella yet as one double digit seeded team will advance to the Elite 8. It seems this team will be Gonzaga.
- Take Gonzaga to cover the spread in the win.
(#6) Notre Dame vs (#7) Wisconsin
Friday, March 25th @ 7:27 PM
Bovada favors Notre Dame -1 (-110)
This is about as evenly matched as a Sweet 16 can get as Notre Dame enters as the slimmest of favorites.
Entering the tournament, Wisconsin had been among the hottest teams in the country. After starting 9-9, the Badgers went 11-3 after that point, earning their way to the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in six years. They have history on their side beyond that as well, as Wisconsin is looking to reach the Final Four for impressively, the third year in a row.
Leading the way for this year’s squad is Bronson Koenig, who is the hero from the Xavier game. Koenig made a last second shot to put Wisconsin in the lead over the #2 seed and was crisp behind the arc the entire game shooting 6-of-12. He also sunk the buzzer beating three that got Wisconsin to this point, doing so after having just two points in the team’s opener against Pitt.
The key for Wisconsin rides on his ability to make shots and the team’s overall defense as offensively, Notre Dame is no slouch thanks to the contributions of big man Zach Auguste.
Notre Dame’s pre-tournament resume is impressive with wins over both North Carolina and Duke just to name a few. They are battle-tested having come out of the top conference in college basketball and have played well in two games thus far. Although, they did need a buzzer beater of their own to defeat #14 Stephen F Austin.
Both of these teams have had some close victories and haven’t exactly been perfect, but that’s the beauty of March Madness. Theatrics are part of the fun.
- Take Wisconsin to get the win.
(#1) North Carolina vs (#5) Indiana
Friday, March 25th @ 9:57 PM
Bovada favors North Carolina -5.5 (-110)
Saving the best Sweet 16 game for last, Friday’s nightcap features a tough, gritty Indiana team taking on one of the favorites to win it all in North Carolina.
When you think North Carolina and Indiana, you think history. These teams are two of the most historic programs in college basketball with UNC being victors of more March Madness games than anyone else and Indiana, actually holding the head-to-head 8-5.
UNC leads appearances 45-38. They lead Final Fours 18 to 8. The teams are tied at five titles apiece.
The rivalry is going to play a huge part in the game but so too with this year’s squads. Indiana is coming off of a solid win over Kentucky, a team that many believed were under seeded at #4. They are led by Yogi Ferrell, a top 10 guard in the nation. He’s scored 38 points in the first two games and has 14 assists to just three turnovers as well.
And while Tyler Ullis of UK was a good warm-up, nothing can prepare Ferrell for the showdown he faces against UNC’s Marcus Paige. Paige, another top-10 guard, has been electric ever since the ACC conference tournament. He hasn’t slowed down and UNC’s big victories have come as a result of his play.
With Paige, UNC is peaking at absolutely the perfect time. That should scare anyone as the team has since surpassed Kansas as the favored one to win it all.
- Take North Carolina and the points.