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The first two rounds of the NCAA’s men’s March Madness are in the books, and with them came plenty of upsets, comebacks, head-scratchers, and of course, Drew Timme. With just 16 of the 68-team field remaining, let’s look ahead to this week’s Sweet Sixteen matchups, ranked from least to most intriguing.
8. (10) Miami Hurricanes vs. (11) Iowa State Cyclones
A pair of double-digit seeds have snuck their way into the Sweet Sixteen in the Midwest region. Though upsets are the reason many watch March Madness to begin with, they can sometimes lead to some pretty unappealing matchups after the first weekend, this being a prime example.
Miami dominated the glass and controlled the ball against the No. 2 seeded Auburn Tigers, and Iowa State locked down national player of the year candidate Johnny Davis and his Wisconsin Badgers last round. Miami realistically has the edge here because they’ll have the two best players in the game in Isaiah Wong and Kameron McGusty, but this game is about as close to a coin flip as you can get.
7. (1) Arizona Wildcats vs. (5) Houston Cougars
Houston held on to dispatch of an undisciplined Illinois team in the second round, but they’ll face a much smarter Arizona team in the Sweet Sixteen. Arizona is wildly athletic, and they fly up and down the court. The engine that makes them go is Montreal’s Bennedict Mathurin, but watch out for Christian Koloko locking down the middle as well.
Houston plays a similar brand of basketball with multiple shot creators penetrating from the outside, but they don’t quite have the shooting or the depth that the Wildcats boast. They do however crash the offensive glass with reckless abandon, something that Arizona struggled with in their last matchup with TCU. With Houston playing in the mostly terrible American Athletic Conference, this will be by far the toughest test they’ve faced since last year’s Final Four matchup with Baylor.
6. (3) Purdue Boilermakers vs. (15) Saint Peter’s Peacocks
Saint Peter’s is this year’s requisite Cinderella story, stunning Kentucky and Murray State en route to becoming just the third No. 15 seed to ever make the Sweet Sixteen. Their red-hot momentum will be quelled a bit with the long break between rounds, but you can be sure that they’ll play like their lives depend on it against Purdue.
The Boilermakers may have the best player remaining in the tournament in Jaden Ivey, as well as a two-headed monster platooning the centre position with 7’4 Toronto native Zach Edey and Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year Trevion Williams. Purdue went on an endless parade to the free throw line against Texas, but they can shoot from the perimeter as well, making them a very balanced team. The Peacocks will need some more magic on their side to upset a very strong Purdue team.
5. (1) Kansas Jayhawks vs. (4) Providence Friars
Providence had one of the more impressive wins of the second round, a 28-point thrashing of the Richmond Spiders. The Friars get it done with a balanced attack; five of their players scored in double figures last game. Providence also has a ton of experience working in their favour, their entire starting five are seniors, and their super-sub Jared Bynum is a third-year player.
Bill Self’s Kansas teams have had a knack for losing in the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight rounds in recent years, so they’ll look to avoid another early exit after a scare against Creighton last round. Backup guard Remy Martin had perhaps his best game of the season with a 20-point output last round, so that matchup with Bynum will be key to this game.
4. (1) Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. (4) Arkansas Razorbacks
This Gonzaga team isn’t as dominant as last year’s team that went undefeated all the way up until the title game, but there is one big difference maker that sets them apart from the competition. His name is Chet Holmgren, the human beanpole who put up a ridiculous 19-17-5-7-2 statline in the first round against Georgia State. Holmgren struggled against the size of fellow freshman Jalen Duren of Memphis in the second round, but Gonzaga countered by feeding third-year centre Drew Timme. Timme is averaging 28.5 points per game over the first two rounds, and the one-two punch in the frontcourt is a nightmare matchup for almost any team.
Conversely, Arkansas is mainly propelled by their lightning quick guards. Five of the seven regular rotation players for Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks are 6’6 and under, so they’ll need to find some size to neutralize Timme and Holmgren. Arkansas won’t be afraid to run on the Bulldogs, a game plan that Memphis used last round to give Gonzaga a lot of trouble.
3. (2) Duke Blue Devils vs. (3) Texas Tech Red Raiders
Coach K’s final act as the head coach of the Blue Devils is headlined by an uber-talented team loaded with five-star freshman and sophomores. After surviving a scare from Michigan State, Duke will aim to overwhelm the defensive-minded Red Raiders with the shot creation abilities of Paolo Banchero, Wendell Moore and Trevor Keels, while shutting down the middle with Mark Williams.
Texas Tech’s brand of basketball this season has been to muck up the game and make teams uncomfortable. Though they may not win a ton of games in blowout fashions, you can always expect a close battle to the end. The Red Raiders have experience on their side, and Duke has the exact makeup of a team that they could make squirm with their physicality. We’ll just have to see if Duke’s talent proves to be too overwhelming.
2. (2) Villanova Wildcats vs. (11) Michigan Wolverines
In a rematch of the 2018 national championship game, Nova and Michigan will face off after the Wolverines’ upset of Tennessee on Saturday. Michigan will look to feed Hunter Dickinson even more against Villanova’s undersized bigs. The seven-foot sophomore posted 27 and 11 in Michigan’s last win, and Villanova will have a tough time matching up with their string of 6’6-6’9 forwards.
Villanova’s greatest advantage is their ability to pound the paint with their wings and their guards. Their backcourt of Collin Gillespie and Justin Moore frequently post up against smaller guards, and there will be some mismatches against Michigan’s smaller backcourt of Eli Brooks and Devante Jones. I’d expect Villanova’s sound decision making, crisp ball movement, and excellent free throw shooting to vault them to a win here.
1. (4) UCLA Bruins vs. (8) North Carolina Tar Heels
The tournament’s east region officially became this year’s chaos quadrant of the bracket after Saint Peter’s’ first round stunner over Kentucky, and was even further solidified when the Tar Heels dethroned the defending champion and No. 1 seeded Baylor Bears in round two. Ironically, two of the NCAA’s most historic blue blood programs will square off on Thursday after all the chaos.
This game will feature a clash of the rocksteady starting five of Carolina vs. the impressive depth of the Bruins. The five-man unit of Davis-Love-Black-Manek-Bacot will play almost the entire game, but they may have difficulties against the size and different looks that Mick Cronin’s UCLA team can offer. Aside from starting point guard Tyger Campbell, the Bruins don’t play anyone listed under 6’4. The triple J punch of Johnny Juzang, Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Jules Bernard will be a tough matchup for the Heels as well. Leaky Black will get the assignment on Juzang, but that leaves Love and Manek to guard the bigger or the quicker Jaquez and Bernard on the perimeter. Look for Cronin to bring the 6’10 Myles Johnson off the bench a lot to try to match the size of Bacot up front.