After a calm week, the Sweet 16 is set for fireworks
The first two rounds of March Madness are in the books, and it is time for the remaining 16 teams to duke it out for a shot at the Final Four.
This tournament has seen very few upsets and a limited amount of close games, so the madness that everyone has come to know and love has been almost nonexistent. While this does take away any Cinderella storylines to watch, it may just give us something better.
The thing is, outside of the game between No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers and No. 12 Oregon Ducks, every single game in the Sweet 16 will be between two teams in the top 25. In fact, no team besides Oregon was ranked outside of the top 16 in the final AP Poll.
That just means there is going to be some high-quality basketball being played from Thursday through Sunday. So, let’s take a look at what to watch for when the games start to tip off.
What’s up with the Zags?
The No. 4 Florida State Seminoles and the No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs have both traversed through the tournament will relative ease so far. The thing to watch for here is to see how Gonzaga responds to playing some top competition.
The Zags have not played a top tier team since a December loss to North Carolina. That’s three months of playing mid-major NIT hopefuls, not exactly ideal for a team hoping to win a national championship. Despite this, Gonzaga is still the only team in the country to beat a full-strength Duke team and has passed every test they’ve faced to this point. Things won’t get any easier for the Zags if they can find a way to advance to the Elite Eight.
Both Michigan and Texas Tech play tough, hard-nosed defense that is capable of slowing down Gonzaga’s high-octane, uber-athletic offensive attack
The hottest team in the tournament vs. the best hair in the tournament
Saying the Auburn Tigers are on a roll would be an understatement. The Auburn Tigers have been hotter than Satan’s armpit since the start of the SEC Tournament.
The Tigers looked unstoppable at times when they put Kansas away within the first 10 minutes of their round of 32 matchup. However, the top-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels are a whole different beast than the Jayhawks. Coby White and his floppy, ridiculous, crazy, amazing hair has made himself into one of the best point guards in the country. White can shoot, finish at the bucket and find open teammates, and he makes it all look easy.
One key in this game is how Auburn will be able to stop UNC on the offensive boards. Winning battles down low is not who the Tigers are, so if UNC can establish the tone early, Auburn will need to shoot themselves out of an early deficit.
The UCF Golden Kni…err Duke Blue Devils vs. Virginia Tech
The Duke Blue Devils are officially on borrowed time. In Coach K’s own words, they were lucky enough to escape UCF and now will face Virginia Tech for the second time this year. Mount Zion and Duke will be favored, but in this game, the familiarity of these two teams is what makes it so intriguing.
The Hokies won’t be in awe of the team with three lottery picks. Sure, Duke was missing Zion the first time the two teams squared off (a Virginia Tech win), but the Hokies were also missing their third-leading scorer, Justin Robinson.
Virginia Tech has no reason not to have all the confidence in the world heading in. If they can somehow, someway limit Zion, they know they can play with and beat this Duke squad.
Houston, do we have a problem?
The question surrounding the matchup between No. 3 Houston Cougars and No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats is the health of Wildcat All-American P.J. Washington.
The Wildcats have been able to get by their first two tournament games without their top scorer and leading rebounder, but how much longer can they survive? Wofford gave Kentucky all it could handle in the round of 32, so another game without him against an even tougher opponent could mean trouble.
As of Tuesday, Washington’s status can best be described as iffy. Naturally, Kentucky head coach John Calipari will want to keep Washington’s status up in the air in an attempt to make the Cougars prepare for Washington just in case.
My bet is Washington plays. But despite that, the Cougars have the defense (best defensive field goal percentage in the country) and guard play to pull off an upset.
Will we see three ACC teams in the Final Four?
Look, it’s probably not going to happen. The odds are slim that even two make it. However, Duke, Virginia and North Carolina are all capable of making runs at the Final Four. It would be so much fun to think about Duke versus Virginia for the third time or the fourth installment of Duke versus North Carolina in the title game.
Three teams from the same conference have made the Final Four just once before when Georgetown, Villanova and St. John’s all made it from the Big East in 1985. History is not on the ACC’s side, but a man can dream, can’t he?
On paper, every game this weekend should be an absolute blast to watch. If your favorite team is still hanging around, enjoy it but do not get comfortable. When the dust settles on Sunday, the four teams left standing will have most definitely earned their way. Anything can happen in March, so buckle in and enjoy the ride.