By: CBB Staff
There are blue bloods aplenty in our Sweet 16, but with so many good teams, half have to go. There aren’t any easy games left for any team, that was indicated by no team earning even 80% of the votes from our staff, and we even came out with a few ties. The Midwest has a chance at a few historic combinations; the Kentucky vs Wisconsin possibility being the most recent while Duke/Kentucky is a rivalry ready to boil over. The East has newcomers Dayton against powerhouse Maryland while two historic coaches face off in the lower half of the bracket. Out west two perennial contenders face off in Gonzaga and Oregon while the Aztecs look to sacrifice BYU to the basketball gods. And finally in the South, Houston hosts rising stars Baylor and Louisville’s redemption shot while the Izzone heats up while taking on a Creighton juggernaut. This would stack up to any Sweet 16 in recent history, so see how our experts think it would play out.
#1 Kansas vs #4 Wisconsin
The top team in the country continues to roll through the field with big wins in the first and second round. Kansas now heads into the second weekend preparing for a red-hot Wisconsin team. These two squads are relatively similar as far as play styles go, with one glaring difference. Both teams pride themselves on stellar defense and offensive efficiency. The only problem for Wisconsin in this one is Big 12 POTY Udoka Azubuike. Aside from Iowa’s Luka Garza, Azubuike is arguably the best big man in the nation, and certainly the best big man left in the field at this point. While Wisconsin’s Nate Reuvers has had himself a solid season, I still see him getting bullied in the post by Azubuike much like many centers in the Big 12 did this season. Kansas would have a clear advantage in the paint against Wisconsin and they probably would against anyone in the country. On the perimeter, Kansas holds the advantage as well. Wisconsin’s solid guard duo of Brad Davidson and Kobe King would likely struggle to keep up with Kansas’ three-headed backcourt monster of Devon Dotson, Marcus Garrett, Isaiah Moss and Ochai Agbaji. Dotson is the Big 12 scoring champion, Garrett is the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, and Moss and Agbaji both shoot over 33% from beyond the arch. I don’t consider myself an expert but I think that’s all pretty good. Needless to say, there’s a reason this Kansas team is number one. Aside from individual players, the most important team stat comes on the defensive side of the ball. Kansas ranks 41st in the nation in steal percentage (rate of steals per opponent possession). Where does Wisconsin rank? 334th. Kansas also ranks 18th in the land in rebound percentage. Wisconsin? 212th.
Any basketball fan knows that numbers aren’t everything, but judging by the eye test all season and the stats on paper, this matchup reeks of a Badger blowout. Kansas’ defensive onslaught coupled with their offensive depth would simply be too much for Wisconsin to handle. The Jayhawks rock, chalk and walk to the Elite 8.
– Nick Stavas (@nickstavas)
#2 Kentucky vs #3 Duke
We’ve got a matchup between two blue blood programs here that has CBS salivating and the NCAA Tournament selection committee patting itself on the back. These two teams produced one of the most legendary NCAA Tournament moments back in the 1992 East Regional Finals—now referred to only as “The Shot” in college basketball circles—when Duke’s Christian Laettner caught a pass from Grant Hill with 2.1 seconds left and Duke trailing UK by 1. We all know how that ended up. And while Kentucky owns the series lead between these two teams by a tally of 12-10, the Cats have lost 4 of 6 to Duke since “The Shot.” We predict Kentucky’s record falls to 2-5, as the Blue Devils sneak past the Wildcats to secure their 23rd Elite Eight berth in program history, as well as their 6th since 2010.
Kentucky’s strong frontcourt, led by junior Nick Richards, does a good job of containing Duke freshman Vernon Carey Jr. and gets him into a bit of foul trouble in the second half, but Duke sophomore Tre Jones taps into that Jones-family clutch gene once again in crunch time. Jones disrupts the Wildcats on the defensive end and forces multiple turnovers from UK sophomore guard Ashton Hagans as the Blue Devils put the clamps on Kentucky down the stretch. Duke’s impressive free throw shooting during the last 1.5 months of the regular season continues in this game as they hold off Kentucky despite a couple of late threes from sophomore marksman and SEC Player of the Year Immanuel Quickley. Jones locks up his spot on the All-Region team for the Midwest Region with the performance.
– Mac O’Brien (@kmacobrien)
East (New York)
#1 Dayton vs #4 Maryland
This game could be one of the closest we get to experience in all of the madness. Dayton runs a top 5 offense in terms of adjusted efficiency per KenPom with the best field goal shooting percentage in the nation. The Flyers have made a name for themselves inside the perimeter with Obi Toppin’s spectacular dunk montages but their 3-point shooting has slipped under the radar (27th in the nation per KenPom). The argument against this team is their strength of schedule being middle of the row and their lack of wins over top teams. The weaker competition inflates stats around the glass as they embarrass A10 teams. The Flyers’ 3-point shooting is a skill that is overlooked and will be the key to knocking off good teams especially with the saturation of big men in the league. There is no doubt that teams will be looking to lock down Obi’s greatness around the rim so it’s a good thing that Jalen Crutcher and Ibi Watson drain the 3 on a ~40% clip.
Maryland also has a power duo in Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith like Dayton’s Obi Toppin and Jalen Crutcher. Jalen Smith will be tasked with trying not to be dunked on by Mr Toppin (a task he’s prepared for after the Big Ten). Mark Turgeon’s Terps are one of the more well-rounded teams in the field with the combined shooting of 42% from the field and the 22nd best defense in the nation per KenPom. Both of these teams’ give a little when it comes to defending the 3 and both are not intimidated by the distance. These two teams are very evenly matched statistically so it will come down to intangibles. Maryland has had a struggle with road games and closing out wins in the Big Ten while Dayton has stayed consistent. Their maturity shows here in a potential overtime game where our CBB team believes that Dayton moves to the Elite Eight.
– Quin Pezoldt (@QuintenEveret16)
#2 Florida State vs #3 Villanova
This game is easily one of the top three coaching matchups left in the tournament as Leonard Hamilton and Jay Wright’s squads face off in an intense battle. Both teams are perennial contenders with Villanova winning the title twice in the past four years. Villanova is clearly the more talented team in terms of recruiting as they have seven top 100 recruits since 2017 on the team, but Florida State has played better basketball in terms of numbers. Even at the most base level, they’ve scored more and allowed less, 75.4 and 65.7 points per game compared to Villanova’s 73.2 and 66.4. Florida State plays incredible defense and shoots the 3 well, a strategy that Hamilton has enjoyed employing whenever possible. It was an especially viable strategy this season as his 7-footers were both getting fringe minutes, allowing Devin Vassell and Trent Forrest to work for better outside shots.
But what about Villanova? They’re not an exceptionally good defensive team and their shooting isn’t going to blow anyone away. So what makes them so great? Well it stems from the aforementioned Jay Wright. His strategic planning for every team is incredible and his players are good enough to make it happen. Saddiq Bey and Collin Gillespie are always one step ahead of their opponents, beating them to the spot and just overwhelming them mentally. Villanova is one of the smartest teams in basketball, so in this matchup of nearly even teams, Nova’s intelligence and experience get the nod.
– Zack Lambert (@bigbird8224)
West (Los Angeles)
#1 Gonzaga vs #4 Oregon
It’s a matchup between a couple of West Coast juggernauts in the Sweet Sixteen! When we were presenting arguments in the Slack channel for who we wanted to push through, I said I don’t know who wins this one but I know it’s going over the point total. The Zags were first in scoring in the nation during the ‘19-’20 campaign, scoring 87.4 points per game and shooting 38.6% from downtown (8th) while the Ducks weren’t afraid to light up the scoreboard either. They averaged 75.9 ppg (50th) and shot 39.6% from deep (4th). Look for a lot of points to be scored in this game. I can see Payton Pritchard going for 35+ points on the big stage in his final act as an Oregon Duck. On the flip side, I see the big Serbian forward, Filip Petrusev having a big game as well for the West Coast Conference Champs. When our 8-man team voted, we were at a tie, 4-4. I was eager to defend the Ducks and send them through to the Elite 8 since they are from a better conference. Sure, Gonzaga was 31-2 on the year but they don’t play very many good teams. And the Zags did beat the Ducks in an OT thriller, 73-72 back in November in the Bahamas but this time will be different. It’ll be an instant classic – Oregon moves on to the Elite 8, winning this game by 1-3 points.
– Trent Pruitt (@the_real_pruitt)
#2 San Diego State vs #6 BYU
The two former Mountain West Conference rivals squared off earlier this season in November, but we are expecting a slightly different outcome than the previous time the Aztecs and Cougars played one another. San Diego State edged the BYU Cougars by a score of 76-71. With 4:18 remaining on the scoreboard, the Cougars had a slender 65-60 advantage over the Aztecs. A late rally by San Diego State though pushed them over the top. Has this not been a recurring theme though for the Aztecs this season as of late? Yeah, the Aztecs were able to rally back and beat teams like Boise State and Nevada, but the BYU Cougars are substantially better than the aforementioned Broncos and Wolfpack (no disrespect to either program). In that matchup in November, the Cougars shot 33% from beyond the arc. For a team that leads the nation in three-point percentage (42.3%), the Aztecs dodged a sizable bullet. The Aztecs themselves are not too shabby at three-pointers as well, cashing in on 38% of them as a team this season (18th in Division-I). The Aztecs were well above that mark though in November’s contest, as the team shot a robust 45% from downtown. Thanks to some hot three-point shooting from Jake Toolson and TJ Haws, combining for nine made three-pointers, the Cougars will be moving on to the Regional Final. The Aztecs historic season ends, where they fall to the Cougars 81-74.
– Jack O’Keefe (@jpokeefe1s)
#1 Baylor vs #4 Louisville
Great matchup for 2 teams who spent a lot of time in the top 5 this season and we get this treat of a game in the Sweet Sixteen. Our team had Baylor cruising through the first two rounds while Louisville battled through Vermont and Ohio State in their first two games. Baylor also gets a virtual home game in this one only playing less than 3 hours from Waco. However, our team likes Louisville to still win this matchup. To this point, Baylor will not be battle tested in the tournament while Louisville would have had two tough matchups. Baylor does have a much better defense (ranked 4th overall to Louisville’s 30th), however Louisville is a better rebounding team and is a better offensive team than Baylor. The Cards are going to use their top 20 3 point shooting percentage to beat the Bears defense and do just enough to pull the upset. Take Louisville.
– Matthew Vale (@Matthewvale15)
#2 Creighton vs #3 Michigan State
I’ve said it time and time again- March is Tom Izzo’s month. Our college hoops experts voted to push Michigan State through to the Elite 8 and I 100% agree with that call. Michigan State finished the regular season on a tear, going 5-0 and four of those games were against ranked opponents. While Creighton had a fantastic season, going 24-7 and earning a share of the Big East Title, their run comes to an end here. When I’m breaking down this game I think it’s won on the glass, where Sparty has a big advantage. The B1G Champs are 10th overall in the nation in rebounding, averaging 40.6 while the grabs just 34.1 (247th). One area that the Bluejays excel is shooting from downtown. They hit 38.4% (9th) of their threes but Michigan State isn’t too far behind with 34.8% (98th). Creighton will hit their shots but so will Michigan State. I see MSU dominating in the paint and grabbing more boards and ultimately winning this game by 6 points in what will likely be a higher scoring affair.
– Trent Pruitt (@the_real_pruitt)