Sweet Sixteen Predictions
Who Will Make It Out of the First Weekend of the NCAA Tournament?
The 2018 NCAA men’s basketball tournament field is set and gets underway with a pair of play-in games on Tuesday and two more on Wednesday. The four winners then advance to compete in the first round of the tournament which is set to begin on Thursday afternoon. Here’s a look at the favorites to advance to this year’s Sweet Sixteen.
No. 1-ranked Virginia is the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed and will play in the South Region where they will face the winner of Creighton and Kansas State. Neither team has faced the likes of a defense like the Cavaliers which led the country by giving opponents just 53.4 points per game. No. 8 and No. 9 seeds do not fare very well in second round games. Between the two, they have won just 18 second round games in the history of the NCAA tournament. Kyle Guy (14.1 ppg) and Devon Hall (12.0) should lead Virginia to the Sweet Sixteen, unlike last year when the Cavs were eliminated in the second round.
The rest of the South could be a dogfight. A potential second round Arizona-Kentucky matchup looms. Both teams enter having won their respective conference tournaments. Kentucky struggled most of the season but is playing its best basketball. Arizona has possibly the best player in the nation in 7-1 freshman Deandre Ayton who scores 20.3 points and averages 11.5 rebounds a game. Kentucky’s roster is full of 5-star recruits again who are just starting to gel. With the game in Boise, give the edge to Arizona.
No. 2 seed Cincinnati should have an easy time advancing to the Sweet 16. The Bearcats would face either Nevada or Texas in Round 2. Tennessee, the No. 3 seed, should get past Wright State in the opener, but could struggle against Miami. That is if the Hurricanes can get by Loyola-Chicago. Miami struggles offensively and are ripe for an upset. Tennessee should move on to the Sweet 16 though.
The East is typically the toughest region in the tournament and this year is no exception. Villanova takes the No. 1 seed and with the momentum of a Big East tournament title should run through both the No. 16 seed and then Virginia Tech or Alabama. A Jalen Brunson-Collin Sexton matchup in the second round would be interesting. Brunson and Mikal Bridges averaged 23.0 and 22.7 points per game, respectively, in the Big East tournament. The Wildcats are hot at the right time.
In the bottom half of the bracket, No. 2 Purdue should use its size and defense to advance past Cal-State Fullerton and the winner of Arkansas- Butler and make it to the Sweet 16. No. 6 Florida will likely have trouble with either St. Bonaventure or UCLA, who meet in one of the four play-in games to determine who becomes the East’s 11th seed. Third-seeded Texas Tech will face a challenge from Stephen F. Austin, a team that loves to push the tempo. Remember, just a few years ago, the Lumberjacks advanced as a No. 14 seed. Expect an upset in this part of the bracket with No. 11 UCLA riding Aaron Holiday all the way to the Sweet 16.
No. 4 Wichita State and No. 5 West Virginia would be an intriguing second-round matchup, but first both must fend off the upset. The Shockers face Marshall, a team with one of the shortest possession times in all of college basketball. The Mountaineers take on Ohio Valley Conference tourney champ Murray State. Expect the experience of West Virginia, as well as their pressure defense, to propel the Mountaineers to the Sweet 16 for the second straight year.
For the eighth time in the past 12 years, Kansas will play in the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed. The Jayhawks won both the regular season and conference tournament in the Big 12 and is playing its best basketball. Bill Self’s team should have no trouble with Penn in the first round or the winner of Seton Hall-N.C. State in Round 2. The Jayhawks’ Sweet 16 opponent could be a surprise though No. 4 Auburn and No. 5 Clemson should play for the opportunity to take on Kansas. Clemson will have to get past No. 12 New Mexico State, one of the best defensive teams in the nation. The Aggies are 10th in the country giving up just 63.8 points per game. Should the Tigers get past the Aggies, expect them to beat Auburn and face Kansas in the Sweet 16.
The rest of the Midwest bracket could be very interesting. No. 2 Duke and No.3 Michigan State are both Final Four-worthy teams, but the entire bracket could be turned upside down by Oklahoma. The Sooners (18-13) were probably lucky to get into the tourney, but with the nation’s leading scorer Trae Young (27.4 ppg) Oklahoma could get hot and make some noise. The Sooners should beat Rhode Island in Round 1, but taking on Duke in the second round will be a challenge. Michigan State faces Bucknell and then the winner of the No. 6-No. 11 game. Sixth-seeded TCU will face the winner of the Arizona State-Syracuse play-in game. Either way, look for a Duke-Michigan State matchup in the Sweet 16.
Big East regular season champion Xavier gets the No. 1 seed in the West and may have the easiest path to the Sweet 16 of any top seed. The Musketeers get the winner of North Carolina-Central and Texas Southern in Round 1 and then face either No. 8 Missouri or No. 9 Florida State. Both the Tigers and Seminoles are lucky to have even made the tournament. With Trevon Bluiett (19.5 ppg) and an offense that scores 84.3 points a game, Xavier will find its way to the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season.
The Musketeers likely Sweet 16 opponent is No. 4 Gonzaga. The Bulldogs take on UNC-Greensboro in Round 1. Their second round opponent could be an upset-minded South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits have one of the best-kept secrets in college basketball in 6-8 Mike Daum who averages 23.8 points and 10.4 rebounds for the nation’s sixth-highest scoring team. South Dakota State will face No. 5 Ohio State in the first round.
In the bottom of the bracket, No. 2 North Carolina should advance to the Sweet 16 after facing No. 15 Lipscomb and the winner of Texas A&M-Providence. Neither the Aggies nor the Friars have the talent to matchup against the Tar Heels, who did make it to the ACC tournament final after dropping a pair of late regular season games. North Carolina’s Sweet 16 opponent offers a bit of intrigue. San Diego State won its final nine games, including the Mountain West tournament final, to earn a No. 11 seed. The Aztecs will face a very pesky Houston team that lost by one to Cincinnati in the AAC tournament championship. The winner gets Michigan, likely the hottest team in the nation after rolling through the Big Ten tournament beating Michigan State and Purdue on its way to the title. Look for North Carolina to have to face the Wolverines in the Sweet 16.
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