Given just how crazy-spectacular the first week of the NCAA March Madness tournament was, complete with eight buzzer-beaters, a whole lot of drama, elation and with that, corresponding heartbreak, it’s hard to believe that it was in fact, just the first week and just the first two rounds.
For a lot of people, the meat and bones of the tournament hasn’t even started yet and that of course is the Sweet 16, to take place this Thursday March 24th and Friday March 25th on the various partnership networks.
While the upsets ran rampant and most brackets found their way into the trash, or for those eco-friendly individuals out there, the recycling bin, we’re still looking at a round of 16 which for the first time since 2012 and just the second time since 2009, features all four of the top seeds advancing.
But other than the ones holding to the proverbial “chalk,” the rest of the field is just about as open as one would like to see. Only one region, the West, advanced all four top seeds with two others, having no greater than a four alongside the ones. Point being made, this leaves for some great match-ups and as I promised when I wrote my pre-tournament preview, I’m going to walk you through each one of them, region by region.
First up, the South.
(#3) Miami vs (#2) Villanova
Thursday, March 24th @ 7:10 PM
Bovada favors Villanova -4.5 (-110)
For the first time since 2009, Villanova is back in the Sweet 16. The Big East outright regular season champs have looked just about as good as a fan would hope and they have made quick work of their first two opponents. Villanova is playing with a tenacity and a confidence they haven’t possessed in years and one reason why is because of Daniel Ochefu (pictured).
Nova’s guard play has always been its bread and butter as the Wildcats have for years now been a team that lives or dies based on their shooting, especially from beyond the arc. However, this year, the senior Ochefu really came into his own and has given Villanova that presence under the rim that they had been lacking.
But Villanova doesn’t exactly match up well against Miami. The Hurricanes boast Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan, two guards who have been on fire lately. They also possess a certain athleticism that Villanova hasn’t yet encountered in the NCAA tournament but one that has caused them plenty of trouble throughout the year. Miami also holds a size advantage that could create problems for the undersized Villanova front court.
This game is going to come down to tempo. If Miami can push it the way they have, utilizing their unique brand of strength and speed, it could be a long night for Jay Wright’s squad. However, if Villanova, more specifically Ochefu, can crash the boards the way he has been (21 in the two games), Nova can slow down the pace and orchestrate a more balanced attack which suits them better.
The ACC is tough and Miami did come out of it with some big wins. Not to mention, Rodriguez is one of the best guards in the country. Although to be fair, so is Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono and no team is playing better than the Wildcats right now.
- Take Villanova and the points.
(#1) Kansas vs (#5) Maryland
Thursday, March 24th @ 9:40 PM
Bovada favors Kansas -7 (-105)
Prior to the start of the tournament, the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks were favored to take home the trophy. Now, after big victories in the first two rounds, they are still favored, at +400 to North Carolina’s +425, and it is no surprise why.
This is just the first time since 2003 that the Maryland Terrapins have reached the round of 16 compared to Kansas, which is a perennial participant. The Jayhawks have one of the richest postseason tournament histories of the entire field and this year has proved no different.
Kansas is the fourth best team in the nation when it comes to three point shooting percentage and they are 34th overall in field goal percentage. Offensively, there isn’t a better three guard line-up than the one that Kansas boasts of Devonte’ Graham, Wayne Selden Jr. and Frank Mason III, who have scored over 60 points between them thus far. And that doesn’t even account for the team’s best player, Perry Ellis, who has scored 42 points in the postseason and who has scored in double-digits in all but two games this season.
But when it comes to guards, look no further than Maryland’s Melo Trimble to find the best in the nation. Trimble is an all-around, flat-out talent who has been called the most complete point guard in this year’s tournament and one of the best complete ever. He’s just a sophomore but his consistency is incredible. He is the guy you want with the ball in his hands to make a game-winning shot or to take over a game if need be. He’s a difference maker and if Maryland were to win on Thursday, it would no doubt be because his name was all over the stat sheet.
Trimble has dropped 43 points in the two games thus far, adding another 11 rebounds and five assists. Perhaps most underrated of his game though is his ability to shoot free throws, which he has done to the tune of 24-of-25 in the tournament.
But, against a top Kansas team is Trimble alone enough? It’s hard to say but if history or Kansas’ recent unstoppable streak is any indication, the answer is no.
- Take Kansas to win, but take Maryland to best the spread.
(#2) Oklahoma vs (#3) Texas A&M
Thursday, March 24th @ 7:37 PM
Bovada favors Oklahoma -3 (-110)
Ah, the perfect region, or at the very least the most predictable given results. For the first match-up for the West of the night, this means Oklahoma and national player of the year candidate Buddy Hield against an equally talented and sometimes overlooked Texas A&M team.
Let’s start with the fact that Texas A&M really shouldn’t even be here. They defeated Northern Iowa in the second round, coming back from a 12-point deficit in just under 40 seconds to win the right to take on the Sooners. Incredible and perhaps the best spectacle March has ever and maybe will ever see.
But you can’t bank on luck. You can’t argue luck. And you can’t expect luck not to run out.
Against Oklahoma, Texas A&M has a tough match-up. They are just 10-31 against the Sooners all-time with Oklahoma easily winning the last two. Not to mention, those wins came before Buddy Hield became, according to some in the sports world, the best college shooter since Steph Curry.
Hield is hot and that’s not good news for any team currently remaining in the field of 16. The senior guard has been nothing short of brilliant, leading all players with 63 points in his two tournament games, as well as adding 12 rebounds. In the game against VCU, Hield took the team on his back much like he has all season and they won.
Texas A&M is talented and deserves to be here just as much as anyone, but the power of the Hield right now is just too strong for any team to overcome. Unless he cools down, Oklahoma has a great shot to come out of the West and into the Final Four.
- Take Oklahoma to cover the spread and get the win.
(#1) Oregon vs (#4) Duke
Thursday, March 24th @ 9:55 PM
Bovada favors Oregon -3 (-115)
When March Madness began, everyone was counting out Duke, despite the Blue Devils being defending champions. Perhaps it was their recent history aside from last year’s title run that had people in doubt or maybe it was the early one-and-done exit in the ACC tournament at the hands of Notre Dame. Either way, most probably didn’t have Duke in the Sweet 16.
And while they are underdogs, at least according to the books, Duke is still one of the most talented teams in the field and fortunately for them, they’ve got the lowest one-seed. Not that Oregon hasn’t been good, because they have, but the further into the field, the more likely it looks like they are going to be the one-seed that inevitably falls.
Look no further than Thursday and Duke to do the falling.
Duke is led by the talented NBA draft prospect, Grayson Allen, who has come up big thus far in the tournament, scoring 52 points in the first two games. His shooting, which has been as good as it’s been all season, has helped Duke be able to run their offense and manage the clock.
Oregon meanwhile, is another team which is benefiting from another’s late game collapse. Against St. Joe’s, it was far from a shooting clinic, something a better team would have taken advantage of. Oregon looked far from the team which in round one won by a tournament-high 39 points and showed some weaknesses that a team built like Duke and coached like Duke could be primed to exploit.
- Take Duke to emerge with the win.