Sweet 16 Preview

Written by: William Petersen

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After another memorable first weekend of NCAA March Madness, the stage has now been set for the remaining 16 teams that have survived the first two rounds. All four one seeds; Purdue, Houston, UConn, and North Carolina, managed to make it out of the first two rounds without much worry. UConn continues to show why they are the number one overall seed in the tournament as they won both of their first two games by double digits. The AP Men’s Player of the Year Zach Edey continued to show why he is the most dominant big man in college basketball after recording a 30 point and 21 rebound double-double against 16 seed Grambling State in the first round, preceding another double-double performance against Utah State in the second round, 23 points and 14 rebounds. Houston seemed to have the most trouble in the first weekend of the Big Dance after rolling Longwood by 40 and then finding themselves in overtime with 9 seed Texas A&M on Sunday. UNC has represented the ACC well by beating 16 seed Wagner by 28 in the first round and then handling Michigan State by 16 thanks to RJ Davis’s 20 point night. These four one seeds have lived up to their top seed accolade but as the tournament progresses, so does the parody.

1 UConn v. 5 San Diego State

The marquee matchup of the East region surrounds a National Championship game rematch from last year’s final between the 1 seed UConn Huskies and 5 seed San Diego State Aztecs. UConn has been arguably the most dominant college basketball team in the past two seasons and the Aztecs are all too familiar with their physical brand of basketball that has been curated by head coach Dan Hurley. The Aztecs have shown that their Cinderella run last year was not a fluke as they are the only Mountain West team to make it out of the first weekend of the tournament after six teams made the tournament from that conference. The Aztecs will need another solid performance from Jaedon LeDee who finished with 26 points and 9 rebounds on 75% field goal shooting in their second round victory over Yale. LeDee has been carrying this Aztec squad, accumulating 56 points and 17 rebounds in his first two games of the tournament. LeDee will have his hands full in this matchup with the Huskies due to Donovan Clingan. UConn’s size looks like it will be the x-factor as SDSU does not match up well to the 7’2” sophomore center who missed over a month in the regular season due to a foot injury but now looks better than he did during UConn’s title run just a year ago. Senior guard Tristen Newton continues to be the engine of the Huskies offense averaging just over 15 points per game on over 53% shooting. SDSU will need to contain Clingan and Newton if they are going to have any chance of preventing UConn from going to back-to-back Elite 8s.

3 Illinois v. 2 Iowa State

The other matchup in the East could very well be the game of the tournament is between the offensive juggernaut Illinois Fighting Illini and the defensive savvy Iowa State Cyclones. The Fighting Illini have been one of the most potent offensive teams in the country all season, averaging 84.6 points per game thanks to their complete guard Terrence Shannon Jr. Shannon Jr. is a pure hooper, finishing third in the nation in points per game, as well as scoring 56 points in his first two tournament games combined. Shannon Jr. will have to dig deep into his bag as he comes up against an Iowa State Cyclone squad that clamps down defensively and is adept at forcing you to turn the ball over. The Cyclones rank third in the country in turnovers forced with 17.1 per game and only allow a fourth best 61.3 points per game. The Cyclones love to run in transition and push the pace off of turnovers and could make Illinois uncomfortable early, limiting their offensive flow. Iowa State has held both of its first two opponents to less than 70 points in the tournament and would be surprised to see them do it against an explosive Illini offense. This will be a classic defensive versus offensive matchup as these two programs will probably see this game come down to the last possession in a game that will be remembered in tournament history for years to come.

1 UNC v. 4 Alabama

North Carolina has seemed to the form the college basketball world was used to with Roy Williams as the Tar Heels have shown why the committee seeded them as a top team after rolling in their first two games. RJ Davis has continued to be one of if not the best point guards in the country, averaging over 20 points per game in the tournament and continuing to show his senior connection

with star center Armando Bacot. Bacot is still an absolute force in the paint, averaging close to a double-double so far and continues to be a rebounding menace for the Tar Heels. North Carolina will have their hands full defensively as they face an Alabama Crimson Tide squad that leads the nation in scoring, averaging 90.7 points per game on 47.7% field goal and 36.7% three point shooting. The Crimson Tide are catalyzed by senior guard Mark Sears who has amassed 56 points, 16 rebounds, and 11 assists in his first two games of the Big Dance. Sears is an electric offensive weapon who went for 30 points in their first round game against Charleston shooting 69.2% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc. North Carolina ranks 20th in the nation offensively but only 114th defensively. If UNC wants to get back to the Elite 8 they will have to play the best defensive game of their season if they want any chance of slowing down a Crimson Tide offense that only knows how to score.

6 Clemson v. 2 Arizona

Clemson seemed to be prematurely written off by many before the tournament even started after receiving a 6 seed after losing in the second round of the ACC tournament to Boston College. The Tigers came out swinging in the first round, throttling 11 seed New Mexico 77-56, which then carried into their upset win over 3 seed Baylor in the second round. The Tigers have been fueled by senior guard Chase Hunter who put in an efficient 20 points in their win over the Bears shooting 50% from the field and 60% from three. Clemson seems to have some Cinderella luck as they are now in their fifth Sweet 16 in program history. The team looking to end their unexpected run are the Blue Blood Arizona Wildcats who are led by former UNC star guard Caleb Love. Love has continued his steady senior season, averaging 18.5 points per game in the tournament and continues to show why he could be a lottery pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. Arizona, much like Alabama, scores the rock efficiently and effectively averaging 87.6 points per game. If Clemson will have any chance of moving onto their first Elite 8 since 1980, the Tigers will have to control the glass against senior center Oumar Ballo who averaged 10 rebounds on the year. If Clemson can force Love to make tough shots and keep the rebound differential close, the Tigers could very well upset an Arizona team who has had their eyes on the Final Four since Love transferred from UNC at the end of last season.

1 Houston v. 4 Duke

The Houston Cougars found themselves in a much closer game than they would have liked in the second round after edging out Texas A&M in overtime by five. The Cougars imposing defense has fueled their program all season, allowing 57.7 points per game, which leads the country. While Houston excels defensively, the Cougars lack offensive production at times. Averaging 74.1 points per game, 156th in the nation, the Cougars offense mainly comes from senior guard Jamal Shead who can create off the dribble and get to the rim at a blistering pace. Houston will need to be at their best defensively as they face one of the best big men in the country, Kyle Filipowski. Filipowski has been efficient all season averaging 16.6 points and 8.2 rebounds per game on 51.5% shooting, but has not had the best start to Duke’s tournament run. Filipowski only has 17 points in his first two tournament games and will need to ramp up the offensive production in order to get past a buzzsaw Cougar defense. The Blue Devils have thankfully found offensive production from other members of their lineup, mainly freshman Tik Tok star Jared McCain. McCain seemed to be unfazed by the cameras during their second round rout of James Madison, dropping 30 points on 66.7% shooting and 72.7% from three. McCain will need to stay hot if Filipowski struggles against a strong Cougar interior, otherwise it could be a long night for Jon Scheyer’s Blue Devils.

11 NC State v. 2 Marquette

The last remaining and arguably original Cinderella before the tournament even started in North Carolina State, who won five games in five days to win the ACC tournament and secure a bid, have continued their electric run of now seven straight games into a Sweet 16 matchup against a Marquette team who looks poised as ever to go to the Final Four. The Wolfpack is led by the people’s champ DJ Burns Jr who has fueled their offense through his dominant inside game and soft touch around the rim. Burns Jr knocked in 16 points in the first round against 6 seed Texas Tech and 24 in their overtime win over 14 seed Oakland. Burns Jr dominant ACC and NCAA tournament performances have the Wolfpack in their first Sweet 16 since 2015 and faithful believing that they could make their first Elite 8 since 1986. The team standing in their way of program history is that of powerhouse Marquette led by legendary March Madness coach Shaka Smart. Marquette is led by senior guard Tyler Kolek who has averaged a double-double with points and assists so far this tournament after recording 18 points and 11 rebounds against Colorado on 50% shooting. If Kolek can find a way to his left hand it is nearly impossible to stop that man from finishing a layup at the rim or finding an open man in the corner. Marquette loves to share the ball, averaging nearly 16 assists per game, and NC State will need to force turnovers early if they do not want the clock to strike midnight and have their run end this weekend.

1 Purdue v. 5 Gonzaga

The Purdue Boilermakers finally got the monkey off of their back after losing in the first two rounds in the past two tournaments after dismantling an undersized Utah State squad. Zach Edey continues to show the country why he was voted player of the year as he has scored 53 points and secured 35 rebounds in his first two tournament games. Purdue feasted on Utah State inside early, which allowed for the role players in the Boilermakers lineup to find success and ultimately blow out the Aggies. Purdue will have a much tougher matchup in the Gonzaga Bulldogs who are led by junior forward Graham Ike who averaged 16.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Ike is an imposing presence in the paint and will need to grind Edey down quickly if the Zags are going to make it to the Elite 8. The Zags seemed to have been misseeded at the 5 after Mark Few’s squad has gotten hot at the right time and are poised to upset a Purdue squad that is at their last chance to make a Final Four berth with their historic center. I have no doubt this game will be a close affair and will be determined on who can control the glass, especially on the offensive end.

3 Creighton v. 2 Tennessee

The Creighton Bluejays have found themselves in the Sweet 16 for the third time in four years after an eye popping double overtime win over 11 seed Oregon. The Bluejays have been led all season by senior guard Baylor Scheierman who averaged 18.3 points on 44% shooting. Scheierman has continued to be the heartbeat of the Creighton offense after dropping 18 points on 44.4% shooting from three in their nail-biting win over the Ducks. Creighton averaged 80.6 points per game and will need to hit at this clip if they want to beat a Volunteers squad that allows 67 points per game. Tennessee is led by senior guard Dalton Knecht who has one of the best shooting strokes in the country. Knecht averaged 21 points per game on the year and has shown no signs of slowing down after dropping 23 in the first round and 18 in their four point win over Texas last weekend. Tennessee needs to stay out of foul trouble against a Bluejay squad that likes to get to the line, and if Knecht can continue to shoot the ball well, Creighton might be on their way back to Kansas on Monday morning.