Before the games begin, check out a preview of the matchups.
9. Kansas State vs 5. Kentucky
Kansas State has been treading water all year. They held on to a .500 record within Big 12 play, which is a very understated accomplishment, and are truly battle tested. Coach Bruce Weber’s vision is finally coming into fruition. Guard Barry Brown is playing at an all-league level right now and has put the team on his back. He is showcasing why he’s one of the premiere perimeter defenders in the nation. With star forward Dean Wade (injury) probable to make his tournament debut for the Sweet 16 game, the Wildcats feel even better. In their entirety, Kansas State is an experienced group working within a defined system. They defend the heck out of the ball and have a relentless nature about them on the offensive end.
Kentucky is the only team in the South region who many aren’t shocked made it this far. Despite being the youngest team in the country, John Calipari makes a living off of that. He always finds a way to get the most out of his youngsters when it counts most. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is hitting his stride right now running the point. He causes so many problems on defense with his length and then capitalizes on the other end. Potential lottery pick Kevin Knox is also there along with fellow highly touted freshmen P.J. Washington, Hamidou Diallo, Quade Green, and Nick Richards. This Wildcats squad may be the most athletic and versatile in the nation. It is just about putting all the pieces together to make a run at the Final Four.
11. Loyola-Chicago vs 7. Nevada
The Ramblers are rolling right now, and it might not be the Ramblers you’re thinking of. Loyola-Chicago was a popular upset pick coming into the tournament after drawing a first round matchup with a talented but inexperienced Miami team missing arguably its best player (Bruce Brown Jr.) due to injury. Already being ranked inside the top 25 nationally in defensive efficiency, the Ramblers also boast nearly a 40% 3-point stroke as a team. Lacking a true go-to superstar can be detrimental this deep into the game, but this is easily one of the most well-balanced teams remaining. They also have been perfect in crunch time, showing poise as both their NCAA Tourney victories have been by a combined 3 points.
Another mid-major standout, Nevada, has also caught fire. After completing a ridiculous 22-point comeback against 2-seed Cincinnati, the Wolf Pack look unstoppable on the offensive end. They are led by a pair of NC State transfers (Caleb and Cody Martin) and MWC Player-of-the-Year candidate Jordan Caroline. They are also surrounded by multiple top end shooters, including Kendall Stephens and Hallice Cooke. With a tendency to undergo defensive lapses, they rely heavily on the athleticism of their talented wings. Nevada has now knocked off two power conference teams and look primed for an even deeper run in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
9. Florida State vs 4. Gonzaga
The Seminoles feature one of the deepest rotations in college basketball. The team is largely made up of athletic wings and defensive-oriented bigs. Leonard Hamilton always has Florida State ready to play defense, and with the offensive emergence of Phil Cofer and others, this is a very dangerous squad. There is a whole slew of talented guards that make up the backcourt while the defense is anchored by 7’4” Christ Koumadje. There is enough talent here to make an extended run in the tourney. They just need one key player to emerge from the backcourt and really be a difference a maker on the offensive end.
Mark Few is one of the best coaches in the nation and continues to validate himself every year. It is hard to find a hole anywhere on the Bulldogs’ roster. Redshirt freshman Zach Norvell Jr. is playing at an all-time high and has showed up in the clutch throughout the tournament. Gonzaga is one of the most consistent programs year in and year out, and this season is no different. The front court is still the strength of this club, despite losing three high impact contributors from last year. Johnathan Williams, Killian Tillie, and Rue Hachimura all offer unique skill sets and serve different, but very valuable, roles. Josh Perkins spearheads the Zags’ attack at point guard. Look for Gonzaga to be a very tough out through the rest of the tournament.
3. Michigan vs 7. Texas A&M
The Michigan Wolverines exceeded all expectations this year. After losing three starters to both graduation and the NBA Draft, many were anticipating a drop off. But here the Wolverines are again, in the Sweet 16 for the second straight year. John Beilein has his best defensive team ever through his time in Ann Arbor. That has catapulted the Wolverines to a surprising number three seed in the NCAA Tournament. Moritz Wagner has been dominant all season long and will continue to stretch out opposing defenses. Michigan is going to be as tough an out as they come this year.
Texas A&M may very well be the most polarizing team in the nation. After running the defending national champs off the floor in the Round of 32, A&M looks better than ever right now. They are led by arguably the most dominant front court in all of college basketball. Robert Williams may be the best (and most athletic) defensive big in the nation, while Tyler Davis offers great size and offensive rebounding ability. Admon Gilder and DJ Hogg are both tremendous complimentary scoring options. If this team can avoid consistent lapses of focus they have displayed all year long, they could have a nice, long stay in the NCAA Tournament this year.
1. Villanova vs. 5. West Virginia
The Villanova Wildcats could be the best remaining team left. After dominating their competition up to this point, there are no doubts remaining about Villanova. Jalen Brunson is a Naismith Player of the Year candidate and Mikal Bridges is a lottery NBA prospect. Both are insanely efficient and run the table on opponents. Donte DiVincenzo, Omari Spellman, Eric Paschall, and Phil Booth make up the rest of the rotation, and it’s not hard to see why Nova has been a top 3 team all year long. Jay Wright has the scariest offensive team in the country, so with a little defense, there is no stopping the Wildcats on their way to their 2nd national championship in 3 years.
The Mountaineers are so much fun to watch. Everything from the energy and competitiveness their star guards (Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr.) bring to the game, to the lost art of the full court press, brings fans to their feet. Carter looks like one of the best guards in the country, and everyone already knows how lethal that press can be. West Virginia needs to find more consistency and ride the momentum they currently are holding. If enough complimentary players step up, this is a team that could be Final Four bound. It’s all going to come down to the offensive end for this group.
3. Texas Tech vs 2. Purdue
Keenan Evans continues to make his case for All-America honors. He is almost singlehandedly responsible for taking the Red Raiders this deep into the postseason. If Texas Tech is to make a Final Four appearance, they need more production from all the others. Zhaire Smith is arguably the most athletic freshman in all of college basketball. Zach Smith is another who has NBA potential, but he still needs to fully recover from injury. With the athleticism on hand, they have been a very strong defensive team all season long. However, Chris Beard is in dire need of another playmaker on offense and needs a secondary contributor to really step up.
After losing big man Isaac Haas, people started scribbling out the Boilermakers on their Final Four selections. But many forget that Purdue is a very complete and reliable team. Carsen Edwards is having a tremendous year, and Vince Edwards looks to close out a stellar collegiate career. Purdue is the best 3-point shooting team in the country, but also is able to put 7’3”’freshman Matt Haarms out on the floor with them. Dakota Mathias leads an exceptional defense as well. Purdue does not lack offensive stars, but if the 3-point shot isn’t falling and without Haas to dump it into during cold stretches, Purdue is going to truly live and die by the 3 ball.
1. Kansas vs 5. Clemson
The Jayhawks are a very intriguing team. Kansas features a four-guard lineup, topped off with 7’0” 280-pound Udoka Azubuike. Big 12 Player Of The Year Devonté Graham, spearheads this potent attack. Malik Newman is scorching it right now scoring the basketball, and Svi Mykhailiuk is arguably the best shooter in all of college basketball. They also have athletes all over the place in Lagerald Vick, Mitch Lightfoot, Marcus Garrett, and Silvio De Sousa. They are another team that relies heavily on the 3 pointer. However, talent is not lacking, and they have the makeup to ride their guard play all the way to San Antonio.
Brad Brownell came into this season on arguably the hottest seat in the country. After losing Jeron Blossomgame to the draft, many expected the Clemson Tigers to go tumbling down the standings. However, this deep rotation of role players has completely bought into Brownell’s defense-first culture and can’t stop winning. Shelton Mitchell, Marcquise Reed, Elijah Thomas, and Gabe DeVoe are the most notable players. Clemson does lack a true go-to scorer, however, and will need to produce offense in more ways to remain competitive, especially against Kansas. The Tigers have the heart, but do they have the raw talent to compete with upper level teams?
11. Syracuse vs 2. Duke
The last time the Orange were the last team to be included in the Field of 68, they made a stunning Final Four run. Syracuse resembles themselves from years past. The zone is still there, and it is still working. Nobody has had an answer for it yet. Led by Tyus Battle on offense, the Orange have plenty of firepower. Oshae Brissett has been the X-factor though. He is an athletic swing man who can also knock down jump shots. Frank Howard is still in the backcourt as well and causes problems on defense. Syracuse looks extremely dangerous right now, and until someone can figure out how to penetrate that zone, good luck advancing past Syracuse.
Duke is hands down the most talented team in the nation. There isn’t much to argue on that end. However, that doesn’t make them the best. Plagued by early season defensive struggles, the Blue Devils have also turned to the 2-3 zone on defense. It has worked out very well for them on that end. On offense, how do you stop them? If even just one of Marvin Bagley, Grayson Allen, Wendell Carter, Gary Trent, or Trevon Duvall show up to play, they have just as good a chance to beat anyone…let alone if they ALL show up. No one will be able to stop them on offense. You just have to try to contain the Dukies. The key will be defensive efficiency and how well they can continue to execute the zone.