Tonight marks the beginning of the Sweet 16 series of the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. This year’s Sweet 16 features a mix of favorites (Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Duke) along with a few surprise teams (Xavier and UCLA).
Here are the breakdowns (and predictions) from each of the region’s matchups.
Louisville (4 seed) vs. NC State (8 seed): These two teams are pretty familiar with each other because they’re both in the ACC. NC State defeated Louisville in their only matchup this year on Louisville’s home court. Both the Wolfpack’s and the Cardinals’ strengths lie in their willingness to bully the opposing teams with their frontcourt. However, it has been the teams’ guard play that has impressed during the tournament.
Key Matchup: Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber vs. Terry Rozier, Jr.: Both guards are very vital to their teams. Similar to his nickname, Cat Barber from NC State is a super quick point guard who loves to penetrate and dish to two of NC State’s three point specialists, Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner, for three pointers. Rozier, Jr. from Louisville is also a slasher, but his trademark―other than his determined checking gum smacking― is his NBA-ready jump shot. Once Rozier Jr. gets into a groove, Louisville is very hard to stop.
Prediction: While Louisville is the higher seed here, NC State’s wins have come against the more impressive teams (Villanova and LSU). NC State’s overall team balance and variety of big men should fluster the Cardinals. NC STATE
Oklahoma (3 seed) vs. Michigan State (7 seed): Similar to the NC State/Louisville matchup, you can disregard the seedings. Michigan State comes into this game as possibly the favorite in the East Region after knocking off 2 Seed Virginia. Michigan State comes in battle tested with a roster full of upperclassmen, while Oklahoma battled its way out of the tough Big 12 conference.
Key Matchup: Ryan Spangler vs. Denzel Valentine: These two forwards should make for an interesting battle in the paint. Both are forwards who rebound well for their teams. While Valentines’ role is to score for the Spartans, Spangler leads the Sooners team in rebounds. Neither team is great at shooting, so the rebounding war will be a key stat for the winner.
Prediction: The NCAA tournament is the Michigan State coach Tom Izzo’s favorite time of year. The deeper his team makes it, the better they get. Look for the Spartans to possibly throw something (a new offensive set or a zone defense) at the Sooners who they haven’t tried all year and surprise Oklahoma. MICHIGAN STATE
Duke (1 seed) vs. Utah (5 seed): Duke’s had a forgettable last few NCAA Tournaments. With early round losses to Lehigh in 2012 and Mercer in 2014, the Blue Devils look to have a team that can erase the bad memories of those years. Coach K and company will try to rattle a steady, well coached Utah team.
Key Matchup: Jahlil Okafor vs. Utah’s big men: Defending Jahlil Okafor from Duke along with just one player usually doesn’t work well for the opponent. Teams have needed all of their bigs to show up and help with him in the post. Only a few teams had success keeping Okafor off his game. The good news for Utah is that they have a few veteran big men who should fare pretty well.
Prediction: While Utah may have some big bodies to throw at Okafor, they do not have an answer for freshmen Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow. They are too quick and athletic for the Utes to keep up with. Add in Quinn Cook’s three point ability and Duke is basically unbeatable. DUKE
Gonzaga (2 seed) vs. UCLA (11 seed): As a West Coast team, Gonzaga has flown slightly under the radar. But this team has shown over and over again during the year that they should be in the championship conversation. Historically, Gonzaga usually comes into the tournament with a high seed, only to be knocked out in the first weekend. This year, however, the Bulldog team is built to make a run. UCLA has lady luck on their side during this tournament. They advanced over SMU with a fluky goal tend call and then faced a 14 Seed UAB after the Blazers upset 2 Seed Iowa State.
Key Matchup: Kyle Wiltjer vs. Kevon Looney: Kyle Wiltjer already has a NCAA Tournament championship under his belt after playing with Kentucky. His experience has helped guide the Zag team along this year. While he’s known for his outside shooting, he has to be able to put the ball on the floor to drive to the hole more this year. Look for UCLA to try and slow him down by putting freshman Kevon Looney on him. This matchup heavily favors Wiltjer and the Zags.
Prediction: With UCLA barely making its way into the tournament and needing some help to get to the Sweet 16, Gonzaga looks too tough for the Bruins. GONZAGA
Kentucky (1 seed) vs. West Virginia (5 seed): We all know how good Kentucky is. With their size, depth, and athleticism, they are basically a NBA team playing against other college teams. West Virginia will have to play their best game of the year to pull off the upset.
Key Matchup: Willie Cauley-Stein vs. Devin Williams: On paper, this matchup looks like a mismatch, but Williams has carried the Mountaineers in their first two tournament games with his rough and gritty play. This could frustrate Cauley-Stein into getting into early foul trouble.
Prediction: No surprise here. KENTUCKY
Notre Dame (3 seed) vs. Wichita State (7 seed): With Wichita State coming off an impressive win against intra-state rival Kansas, the Shockers look to keep it rolling against the Irish. The teams are two of the best shooting teams left in the tournament. It should be a fun up and down game to watch.
Key Matchup: Jerian Grant vs. Fred VanVleet: Both of these guards play a big part in maintaining what each team tries to accomplish. Grant, an ultra-athletic guard makes his plays by slashing and finishing the play usually with an eye opening dunk. VanVleet is the steadier, “get everyone else involved” type point guard. This should make for an interesting guard matchup.
Prediction: Along with NC State and Michigan State, Wichita State was probably a little under seeded and come into the tournament playing their best ball of the season. Notre Dame comes in after winning the ACC tournament title and two close victories in the NCAA tournament. This is a very good match up. WICHITA STATE
Wisconsin (1 seed) vs. North Carolina (4 seed): These two teams are complete opposites. The Badgers are a methodical, defense oriented type team that makes team beat themselves with turnovers and bad shots. The Tar Heels, typical of a Roy Williams coached squad, like to get up and down and run to try and score as much as possible.
Key Matchup: Frank Kaminsky vs. Bryce Johnson: Bryce Johnson is the typical power forward for UNC. He’s long, lanky and super athletic. However, Johnson and UNC haven’t seen a player quite like Kamisky for the Badgers. Along with banging inside, the 7 footer can take his game to the perimeter and completely take out the opposing big man from the middle. Everyone will also keep an eye on whether Kennedy Meeks will suit up and play for the Tar Heels, and if Treavon Jackson does the same for Wisconsin.
Prediction: You could make a case for both teams to win depending on the flow of the game. If Wisconsin can keep UNC off the offensive boards and stop the fast break, they will win. But if the Tar Heels can get their confidence early by knocking down some shots, they will win. WISCONSIN
Arizona (2 seed) vs. Xavier (6 seed): Arizona has maybe the second deepest team in the tournament behind the Kentucky Wildcats. If you try and shut down one of their options, another usually steps up in his play. The Arizona Wildcats have been consistently good all year and look to continue their strong play. Xavier, coming into the game a winner over feel-good story Georgia State, has to play their best game defensive wise to knock off Arizona.
Key Matchup: Kaleb Tarczewski vs. Matt Stainbrook: Matt Stainbrook, standing at 7’0, is the Musketeers big man in the middle. He is their leading scorer and rebounder, so he will need to force his will on Tarczweski, the starting Arizona center. Tarczweski is a prototype hard nose banger enforcer type in the middle, so this should be a good matchup.
Prediction: The Arizona Wildcats are too deep, too athletic and have better guard play than Xavier. ARIZONA
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