MADISON SQUARE GARDEN
FRIDAY MARCH 24
BAYLOR VS. SOUTH CAROLINA
FLORIDA VS. WISCONSIN
If your bracket has already been busted, it’s most likely because of this year’s east region — more specifically because of the survival of Wisconsin (27-9), an 8 seed, and South Carolina (24-10), a 7 seed.
Wisconsin, led by senior veteran forward Nigel Hayes (6’8”) with 19 points and the tenacious defense of Sophomore Forward Ethan Happ (6’10”), squeezed out a win (65-62) in the second round against last year’s national champions and highest seed in the east, the Villanova Wildcats (32-4).With the most tournament wins out of any NCAA team in the past 4 seasons, Wisconsin is looking like they will continue to be a force to be reckoned with down the line.
However, Wisconsin isn’t the only team giving March Madness maniacs some grey hairs. After
losing 5 of their last 7 before the tournament, most were counting on the South Carolina
Gamecocks (24-10) to be a bust.
Although, the Gamecocks made some noise when they knocked
off postseason regulars, the Duke Blue Devils (28-9). However, the Gamecocks were plagued by
inconsistency then as well, missing 20 of their 22 shots in the first half against Duke, which could be an issue for them later in the tournament.
Although, there is some order in the east. The 4 seed, Florida Gators (26-8) as well as the 3 seed, Baylor Bears (27-7) are right where they belong, despite losing their last 7 games before the tournament. The Gators, coming off a 80-65 win against the East Tennessee State Buccaneers (27-8), crushed the Virginia Cavaliers (23-11) 65-39, proving that they are a powerhouse in this region. Baylor pulled out wins against 14th seed New Mexico State (28-6) and 11th seed University of Southern California (26-10).
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA
THURSDAY, MARCH 23
GONZAGA VS. WEST VIRGINIA
XAVIER VS. ARIZONA
When it comes No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Arizona two of the West region’s Sweet 16 teams it’s no surprise that these two powerhouses are still dancing. The real shock in this region comes from the No. 11 Cinderella story, Xavier.
Xavier is set to take on the Pac 12 Champions, Arizona on Thursday night in what could be their toughest contest of the season. These two teams met in the 2015 Sweet 16, with the Wildcats winning 68-60 in a hard-fought game in Los Angeles.
However, this year Xavier narrowly escaped their first round matchup with No. 6 Maryland, but they put the rest of the country on notice when they crushed No. 3 Florida State 91-66 in the round of 32.
Gonzaga finished with just one loss on the season and won their 5th straight West Coast Conference Championship this year. They snuck out a win against a crowd favorite, first time NCAA tournament participant, No. 8 Northwestern, in the round of 32 for a chance to take on West Virginia Thursday night.
No. 4 West Virginia took a heartbreaking loss in the Big 12 Championship game to Iowa State but have rebounded nicely in the NCAA tournament by beating No. 13 Bucknell 86-80 and upsetting No. 4 Notre Dame 83-71 in the round of 32.
Could Xavier get revenge against Arizona for their loss in the 2015 Sweet 16? We’ll find out Thursday night.
THURSDAY MARCH 23
KANSAS CITY, MO
KANSAS VS PURDUE
OREGON VS MICHIGAN
So far in the Midwest region, things have been going according to plan. A 1 seed, the Kansas Jayhawks (30-4), a 4 seed, the Purdue Boilermakers (27-7), and a 3 seed, the Oregon Ducks (31-5) are all in the Sweet Sixteen. However, there is one team that might surprise some — the Michigan Wolverines (26-11), a 7 seed in the Sweet 16, but how?
Michigan began their run after a near disaster when their plane ran off the runway, with a win against the 10 seed, Oklahoma State Cowboys (10-13). Sure, it was a good win, but nothing to write home about. The magic happened when the Wolverines took down Rick Pitino’s 2 seed
Louisville Cardinals (25-9) 73-69. Giving up the fewest turnovers in the country, Michigan could be a team to go farther than most thought.
With all the talk in the Big 10 about Wisconsin after their big upset, people are forgetting, Purdue is still the best team in the Big 10. They are 14-4 in conference play, led by Sophomore Forward Caleb Swanigan, who averages 18.5 points a game.
Oregon extinguished the flame for possible sleeper team, University of Rhode Island (25-10), however it wasn’t easy for them. The ducks only won by 3 points. However, the Ducks have depth. With 5 players averaging a score of double digits this season, they have an arsenal of scorers to face off against Michigan.
Lastly, Bill Self’s 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks. A team that always shows up in full force to the big dance. Senior Guard Frank Mason III (5’11) has led the Jayhawks averaging 20.8 points a game this year. Although, the Hawks have yet to face a threatening challenge. They have won their past 2 games by a total margin of 58 points. With a backcourt as strong as theirs, Kansas will be a tough team to beat.
FRIDAY, MARCH 24
BUTLER VS. NORTH CAROLINA
UCLA VS. KENTUCKY
In the Sweet 16 in the South region, the top four seeds have all advanced to Memphis, setting up two high-profie matchups on Friday..
North Carolina (29-7), the No. 1 seed in the region, looks to play a more complete game than they did in their previous contest against No. 8 Arkansas in the round of 32. In that game, Arkansas shot the ball much better (43.5 percent) than North Carolina (38.1 percent), but it was the Tar Heels huge advantage in rebounding (45-32) that proved to be the difference. The Tar Heels will need to control the boards again but won’t have it easy against a very scrappy but fundamentally sound No. 4 Butler (25-8).
The Tar Heels are in the Sweet 16 as expected, but their scare against No. 8 seed Arkansas in the second round, before winning 72-65, even had coach Roy Williams saying, “We were really lucky.” Junior forward Justin Jackson, the seventh Tar Heel to score at least 600 points in a season under Williams, will look to get North Carolina rolling again.
The most interesting game in the region is the No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats (31-5) and the No. 3 UCLA Bruins (31-4). Kentucky won the SEC Tournament Championship.
John Calipari’s young team is gathering steam, with a 13-game winning streak, its longest of the season. Freshman Bam Adebayo had his eighth double-double — 13 points, 10 rebounds — in a hard-fought, second-round win over Wichita State. Freshman guard Malik Monk passed Jamal Murray, who set the school’s freshman scoring record, has 721 points. How about Monk, Adebayo and freshman point guard De’Aaron Fox against UCLA freshmen Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf in the Sweet 16. A real treat for fans is on hand.
UCLA is led by their star freshman point guard, Lonzo Ball (6’6”) and their high-octane offense which is looking to snap Kentucky’s 13 game winning streak. The Bruins handled business in the
first round beating No. 14 Kent St. by 17 points but in the round of 32, No. 6 Cincinnati held UCLA to their 5th lowest point total of the season (79 points).
These two teams met on Dec. 3, and played in arguably the best regular season game college basketball saw this season. In that game UCLA pulled out a 97-92 victory and snapped Kentucky’s 42 game home winning streak at the time.
Both games in this region should prove to be close matchups that will come down to the wire.
These analyses of the four regional Sweet 16 which are to be played Thursday and Friday were reported and compiled by University of Connecticut students Curt Field, Garrett Spahn and Annika Schmidt.