NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview: A Night of Revenge
Let’s get right to it.
South Region: #2 Gonzaga vs. #11 UCLA – 7:15 p.m.
UCLA is living large in the Sweet 16 after being projected to miss the NCAA Tournament completely. They are playing with house money and only got this far based on a comical goaltending situation (rightly called, but shot was clearly not going in) and beating a poor UAB squad. But they’re here regardless and they certainly have enough quality players to make this a game. The question with Gonzaga is clearly how good are they given that they’re from a mid-major conference? Beating up on Iowa isn’t impressive because the Hawkeyes haven’t played defense for years, but Gonzaga did dispose of UCLA back in December in Los Angeles. UCLA’s advantage so far in the tournament has been in the frontcourt, but Gonzaga can match their talented size with some of their own. Comparatively, Gonzaga does a lot of things on offense very well and UCLA’s defense shouldn’t be able to stop it. UCLA can probably keep this game closer than the number, but Gonzaga won’t have too much trouble winning this one.
South Region: #1 Duke vs. #5 Utah – Approx. 9:45 p.m.
The most high-end game from the night contains the team who’d present the most entertainment value against Kentucky in the final. Duke has looked strong in their first two games of the tournament, specifically as they dismantled San Diego State in the second half of their last game. After struggling through the end of their regular season and postseason tournament, Utah has returned their focus to interior scoring rather than being reliant on shooting from distance.
On paper this matchup doesn’t look good for Duke. Utah has the size inside to battle Okafor and the general defensive presence to limit Duke’s offensive potential. The one area in which Duke could excel is on the offensive glass. Utah isn’t great at limiting other teams’ ability to grab offensive boards and Duke shined in that area, specifically recently in conference play. It will be interesting to see if Duke puts Justise Winslow on dynamic Utah guard Delon Wright at any point in this game. Wright runs the offense for Utah and matching Winslow on him would take Duke slightly away from what they do defensively. I still can’t get past how ugly Utah’s offense has been at times this year and in a close game, as I expect this to be, offensive execution is key. I still see Duke surviving in a close one.
East Region: #4 Louisville vs. #8 North Carolina State – 7:37 p.m.
Revenge is a dish best served cold and Louisville’s coach Rick Pitino is one of the best chefs in that area. Pitino is 20-5 against the spread in revenge games with 17 of those games taking place on the road or on a neutral floor. (h/t to @Nropp on Twitter for that stat.) Louisville has found their feet in the tournament and was impressive in how poor they made Northern Iowa’s great offense looked in the last round. When in doubt, one must remember that great defense can always shut down great offense and bad offense can always score against bad defense. Louisville shouldn’t have a problem scoring against North Carolina State’s 85th-ranked defense according to KenPom. Their turnover issues won’t be a factor as NC State doesn’t limit that or defend the three-point line well. Louisville likely won’t shoot it as well as they did in the last round, nor will they have great success in the paint against NC State’s size. But Terry Rozier and Quentin Snider should be able to get wherever they want on the court and Louisville will move on to the Regional Final.
South Region: #3 Oklahoma vs. #7 Michigan State– Approx 10:07 p.m.
Oklahoma has been ignored in the first two games of the tournament because they’ve beaten Albany and Dayton. The Dayton win is more impressive on second glance because of how well the Flyers shot the ball in the first half and how the game took place in Columbus, Ohio. Tom Izzo has worked his magic again with his Michigan State gang. They beat Virginia at their own game, so it’ll be interesting to see if they get caught up in Oklahoma’s pace because they play a faster style. The two biggest factors in this game will be coaching and defense. The latter favors Oklahoma, who is 6th in the country in defensive efficiency. The former favors Michigan State because Tom Izzo is god. (I kid, but look at the man’s record in the tournament. At the last he’s a demigod.) Lon Kruger is generally good at recruiting (just look at his success wherever he’s been in college) but he’s an average Xs and Os coach. I have faith that Tom Izzo will figure out how to score in this one. Maybe it’s blind faith, but with so little between these two, that’s the faith I have pushing me to a Michigan State win.
Vegas Best Bets:
Louisville -2.5 over NC State – Never mess with Chef Pitino when he’s serving up revenge dishes.
Louisville and NC State Under 129.5 – Pitino will make this an ugly game. They’re certainly not going to push the pace and NC State will struggle to score.
UCLA +9 over Gonzaga – There’s no better time than the present to be playing well and that’s what UCLA is doing. Gonzaga’s defense has been average at best recently, so that will help the Bruins’ cause.