NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview: Monster Matchups Bring March Madness Back
I hope everyone survived the three days without March Madness. It was hard for all of us. Next year we’ll set up some support groups. But that’s over, so let’s focus on the here and now. We’ve got four pretty good games on schedule for tonight, so hopefully you’ve got two TVs set up in your living room or are heading to the local bar with multiple screens. It’s go time!
South Region: #3 Notre Dame vs. #7 Wichita State– 7:15 p.m.
This will be be the most exciting game of the day. (We’ll get to why it’s not Wisconsin-North Carolina in a bit.) We have the nation’s #3 offense (Notre Dame) going up against the nation’s #16 offense (Wichita State) according to KenPom. Both teams even improved their offenses as the season went on; each finished #1 and #2 in conference play. (Wichita State was #1.) Both teams have great coaches who are exceptional at making mid-game improvements. Both teams have great guard play and we know guard play wins in the tournament. The difference in this game to me is the emotional letdown coming for Wichita State. They just thumped Kansas in a statement in-state rival game that they werebeen looking forward to for years. Notre Dame won in overtime, which is obviously emotional, but it’s not as emotional as what Wichita State went through. It will be interesting to see how Tekele Cotton, an exceptional defender, holds down Jerian Grant, who is likely a first team All-American. There’s just something about Notre Dame’s game that I witnessed in its ACC Tournament run that’s too good to pass on here.
South Region: #1 Kentucky vs. #4 West Virginia – Approx. 9:45 p.m.
If Kentucky thought playing Cincinnati was annoying then they’ll be even more frustrated in this game against West Virginia. As great as West Virginia is at pressuring the ball, I think the Cincinnati game will prepare Kentucky well for the defensive intensity they see tonight. West Virginia isn’t a good shooting team, ranking 275th in the country in effective FG%. Their advantage is usually on the offensive boards, where they rank 4th in the country at offensive rebounding percentage, that will be completely neutralized by Kentucky’s size. Add that to Kentucky’s top-rated defense and this could be a really ugly offensive performance from West Virginia. Kentucky has enough offensive ball-handlers to handle West Virginia’s pressure and should walk through this game easily.
West Region: #1 Wisconsin vs. #4 North Carolina – 7:47 p.m.
This game has the two best teams competing against each other on paper, but Wisconsin’s style of play will make this game look uglier than we want it to be. North Carolina likes to run offensively, ranking 12th in the country in offensive tempo. You know where Wisconsin is? Three hundred and forty-sixth. They play as slow of a game as anyone and they make you play their way as opposed to the other way around. North Carolina is another team that lives on the offensive glass, ranking 5th in the country, but Wisconsin’s size will neutralize that advantage as well. They’re fifth in the country in limiting offensive rebound percentage. The one flaw for Wisconsin usually comes against athletic teams, which we saw against both Duke and Maryland this year. With both offenses possibly struggling, it will come down to coaching. Bo Ryan wins that matchup vs. Roy Williams every time.
West Region: #2 Arizona vs. #6 Xavier – Approx 10:17 p.m.
It’s kind of funny when the least exciting game of the day matches up a coach against his former team. Arizona is somehow quietly making their way through the bracket. It’s possible because they’re a West Coast team and not a #1 seed, but they’ve played as well as anyone so far. Xavier is on the uptick themselves having reached the final of the Big East Tournament and winning their first two NCAA Tournament games. But the Big East flamed out badly in in the first few rounds of the tournament and Xavier didn’t have to play anyone higher than a #11 seed to make the second weekend. Xavier excels with its frontcourt and Arizona will completely take that advantage away with their size. (Notice a theme today? Size is winning a lot of these battles.) Arizona has the extra hunger after coming up short of the Final Four last year and point guard T.J. McConnell will help lead them past Xavier with ease.
Vegas Best Bets:
Notre Dame +105 over Wichita State – The obvious letdown from Wichita State is coming here. Notre Dame has everything firing at the right time.
Kentucky -13 over West Virginia – The Wildcats will not be put off by West Virginia’s pressure, while West Virginia will have a problem scoring.
Wisconsin and North Carolina Under 144.5 – Expect this game to be incredibly ugly. Bo Ryan wouldn’t have it any other way.
Arizona to make the Final Four (-120) –Compare what Vegas is willing to give you against what the expected outcome is on FiveThirtyEight.com and you have yourself some slight value.