The NCAA tournament is fully underway now and we are in for a fun Sweet 16. Each matchup has intrigue and you can’t point a game and clearly see a team being blown out. Even 12 seeded Oregon has played really well and stands a chance. The midwest and west regions are no different. There will be a showdown between North Carolina and Auburn which is sure to have offensive fireworks, while Texas Tech and Michigan will be a defensive slugfest. The tournament to this point has not had a true signature upset yet or a true moment of madness, but each game should be close and exciting. Here are previews of the games in the midwest and west regions.
1 North Carolina vs 5 Auburn
Pick: North Carolina
This will be a fun matchup. Both teams love to run and get up the floor quick with their guards. Coby White leading the break for North Carolina and Bryce Brown getting the ball up the court for Auburn. Both teams put on dominant performances on the way to clinching a spot in the Sweet 16, with the Tar Heels beating Washington by 22 and Auburn beating Kansas by 14. The final score between score between Kansas and Auburn is not a good indicator of how the game played out as Auburn went into halftime with a 26 point lead running Kansas off the floor with Auburn hitting nine of their thirteen three in the first half. This game should be an incredible back and forth with tons of quick jump shots and crafty guard play. The Tar Heels should be able to come away with the win through more key play off the bench from Nassir Little, and Luke Maye who have been lights out in tournament play while Cam Johnson and Coby White have kept their steady play getting up the court quick and coming up with open transition threes. Both teams like to play fast but North Carolina is better at their style of play and should pull away in the second half.
2 Kentucky vs 3 Houston
Kentucky will most likely be without sophomore big man PJ Washington who is their leading scorer and rebounder on the season, averaging 14.8 PPG and 7.5 RPG on the year. The loss of Washington is clearly big but the team has managed to make it to this point by dismantling Abilene Christian in the first round and getting by Wofford with the help of a terrible performance from Fletcher Magee. Houston has got themselves a date with the Wildcats in convincing fashion over Georgia State and Ohio State. Houston has made it this far led by their guard play in Corey Davis Jr. and Galen Robinson who have led the charge in the tournament. Though Kentucky seems to down Washington for another game, they should be able to get by Houston who rely to a greater degree on their perimeter play. Reid Travis and Nick Richards will play a big role in filling the absence of Washington but should be able to as seen in the past two games. Reid Travis has been the star and should once again have a good game against Houston. Guards Tyler Herro and Ashtan Hagans will play a key role on the defensive side guarding Corey Davis Jr and have already shown the ability to do so having completely shut down Magee of Wofford. Kentucky should win by a comfortable margin but Houston will keep it close throughout.
1 Gonzaga vs 4 Florida State
This is an intriguing matchup as well. Florida State has the potential to play spoiler and knock the first of the one or two seeds. The Zags are the third most picked team to win the whole tournament in ESPN brackets behind UNC and Duke, and their elimination would shock most to say the least. Florida State has also looked great to this point in the tournament squeaking by Vermont by seven in the first round and shutting down the Ja Morant show beating Murray State by 28. Florida State also has a ton of length and depth with Terrance Mann, Trent Forrest, PJ Savoy, and Raiquan Gray in the rotation among others. All that being said, it is hard to see Gonzaga losing this game. Gonzaga had a big blemish to their record coming into the tournament with a loss to Saint Mary’s in the WCC tournament final, but their body of work speaks for itself. Aside from the loss to the Gaels their only other two losses were to Tennessee and North Carolina who are both one seeds in the tournament. The Zags also beat a fully healthy Duke squad early in the year. There is no other way to put it, the team is stacked. They are led by the core of Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke, Zach Norvell and Josh Perkins. The Zags lead the nation in scoring at 88.8 PPG and an average margin of victory of 23.9 points. This game should go down to the wire but Gonzaga ultimately has too much fire power and should get a berth into the elite 8 but do not be surprised if Florida State shocks the world.
2 Michigan vs 3 Texas Tech
Wow, will the Sweet 16 be a treat. The game in the West region between Michigan and Texas Tech should be a treat as well. Both teams are stout on the defensive end of the floor with stars on offense. The Wolverines and Red Raiders, are second and third in defensive efficiency, respectively. The two teams are led on the offensive end by their stars in Jarrett Culver for Tech and Brazdeikis who isn’t shy to let people know when he nets a bucket. The game will be a game that old heads will love who always complain about the lack of defense in today’s game. Teske is a dominant force in the middle for Michigan while Simpson and Matthews have properly cemented themselves as tough defenders on the perimeter. Tech is not far behind, with a rim protector in Tariq Owens and three guys that net over a steal a game. The Red Raiders managed to hold a offensive juggernaut in Buffalo to only 58 points. The matchup to watch will be Charles Matthews on Jarrett Culver. The matchup should leave a huge footprint on the game as Culver is the star of the show for Tech averaging nearly 19 a game. Ultimately, Michigan should be able to come away with this in a relatively low scoring hard fought game. Michigan has a better cast of players that can get the ball in the bucket whether it be Brazdeikis, Matthews, Livers with a reliable three point stroke, Poole who has developed nicely or Simpson who has brought back the hook shot.
No.1 Duke vs No.4 Virginia Tech
Duke flew past North Dakota State in the first round and struggled against UCF in the round of 32. Zion has played extremely well throughout the tournament so far and I believe he will continue to play lights out. On the other hand, Virginia Tech defeated St. Louis with ease and then took down Liberty. Although Virginia Tech is in the Sweet Sixteen I don’t know how sweet it will be after the game against Duke on Friday. Pick: Duke
No.2 Michigan State vs No.3 LSU
Michigan State advanced to the Sweet Sixteen with no problem while LSU defeated Maryland in the round of 32 on a last second layup. Without Coach Will Wade I don’t see LSU winning this tough matchup against a really well coached Michigan State team. I am very confident in Michigan State to win this matchup. Pick: Michigan State
No.1 Virginia vs No.12 Oregon
Virginia might have given people a scare when trailing for most of the first half to a 16 seed but they regrouped and took command. From then on, Virginia looked like number one seed and hopes to continue dominating on Thursday. Oregon is a great team but I don’t think they have what it takes to outplay Virginia. They have played well but they can’t afford to make mistakes while playing against an elite Virginia team. Pick: Virginia
No.2 Tennessee vs No.3 Purdue
Tennessee has struggled in the first two rounds of the tournament. They defeated Colgate by 7 and then beat Iowa by 6 in overtime. Meanwhile, Purdue has been on fire lately. Purdue took down both opponents convincingly and they hope to continue dominating opponents on the court against a struggling Tennessee team. Pick: Purdue