Nick Popio| March 28th, 2019
March Madness resumes tonight, with the Sweet 16 taking place across the country as the NCAA tournament hurtles toward its business end. Here’s a brief outlook for all eight encounters, as teams look to secure their place in this weekend’s Elite Eight.
The four number one seeds are all sizable favorites to advance, not just in the Sweet 16, but all the way to the Final Four. Prior to wagering it’s useful to know these betting site rankings at my top sportsbooks, that rank them in accordance with user experience and variety which is essential for March Madness. The big favorites are as follows; Duke (-165), Virginia (-125), and Gonzaga (-110) are all odds-on favorites. UNC (+125) is the only top seed with plus-odds to reach the Final Four. The Tar Heels face the narrowest spread in the Sweet 16, sitting as -5 favorites against Auburn, and they would potentially have to face a Kentucky team that already handed them a pretty decisive neutral-court loss earlier this season.
1 Duke vs. 4 Virginia Tech
This is going to be the second outing of the season for fellow ACC foes. The Hokies vanquished the almighty Blue Devils on February 26 (77-72) in Blacksburg. Of course, Zion Williamson sat out due to his ankle injury suffered two games prior. The Blue Devils are extremely lucky to still be alive at this point after escaping Central Florida by inches in the round of 32. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech fought through some pressure to get past St. Louis and Cinderella story Liberty to survive.
The Hokies will attempt to recreate the magic of February 26, but this time it will include the near impossible task of guarding the future top pick of the NBA Draft. Classmate and likely top 5 selection R.J. Barrett had 21 in the lone meeting as he intends to help overpower Virginia Tech for a birth in the Elite 8. VT wants to counter with a defense that has allowed an average of a mere 55 points in the first two contests. Scorching hot head coaching candidate, Buzz Williams, must focus on piecing together a triumphant gameplan to pull off what many consider a near-impossible feat.
2 Michigan State vs. 3 LSU
The Spartans are streaking at the peak time. Point guard extraordinaire Cassius Winston knows when to flip the switch to catapult his squad to victory. They did turn the ball over 21 times in the Minnesota triumph which could be a cause for concern when suiting up for LSU though. The Tigers are well-tested even without coach Will Wade, so they won’t just lay down for this high-quality tilt.
Both schools won their regular season conference which makes this seem like an Elite Eight or Final Four showdown. In a common opponent of Florida, Sparty took the Gators down narrowly, while LSU lost two out of three to its SEC brethren. Nonetheless, it seems as if a Michigan State and Duke contest is what many expect and want to witness for a ticket to the Final Four in Minneapolis.
1 Gonzaga vs. 4 Florida State
A rematch of the Sweet 16 clash last year in which saw the Seminoles eliminate the fourth-seeded Bulldogs in the same region. Unfortunately this time the ‘Noles will be without Senior Phil Cofer, whose father passed away after the Vermont victory. That means Terance Mann will continue to be the focal point of Florida State’s offense. He willed his club to the win by managing 18 points and is on the exact pace through two contests in this year’s tournament. Mfiondu Kabengele, who stands at 6’10”, is also finding his stride to assist Florida State to where they are currently.
As far as the ‘Zags go, they are scoring 85 points per tourney outing offensively. Besides the St. Mary’s head-scratching performance, Gonzaga has at least 67 points in every matchup and that’s the number Florida State has been allowing all season defensively. Leonard Hamilton‘s boys must do what they did nearly 365 days ago if they wish to move on to the West Regional final once again.
2 Michigan vs. 3 Texas Tech
As the old saying goes: Defense wins championships. This battle will prove just that statement. For Texas Tech, NBA-ready Jarrett Culver has been all but a double-double machine. He’s the key to a deep run and Michigan will have all eyes on him Thursday night. Senior Charles Matthews gets the duty to stop Culver’s path which should be a sneaky good one-on-one for NBA scouts to salivate over.
Chris Beard is in rarefied air, meaning he’s got to be another hot coaching candidate if he chooses to leave Texas Tech. Beard has taken his programs to new levels at each stop and now has his sights set on ending Michigan’s venture towards back-to-back Final Four appearances. The over/under for this defensive struggle should probably be set at 100, the way that these two are going.
Dana Altman‘s got the Ducks still alive in the NCAA tournament once again. Altman doesn’t get talked about a lot, but just goes about his business and routinely has Oregon in the tourney conversation almost yearly. Tony Bennett, on the other hand, is still searching for the big one. Bennett has built a defensive powerhouse in Virginia but doesn’t have much to show for it outside of the ACC.
Something has to give as both defenses have been outstanding thus far. It’s not a typical one-twelve meeting by any means. Oregon may be wearing a glass slipper, but they’re just as dangerous as a top-four seed in any bracket. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers are endlessly working to put behind them the historic humiliation that happened in 2018 by trying to take home the trophy in 2019.
The Boilermakers are in their third straight Sweet 16. Carsen Edwards is the main man in West Lafayette that stirs the drink for Purdue. Edwards garnered roughly 24 points a game but has shot the lights out in two impressive showings over ODU and reigning champion, Villanova. He’ll have to get more help when going up with Tennessee’s experienced lineup.
Tennessee is continuing to make a name for itself under Rick Barnes and has done so all season, as their 31-5 record shows. Its been tested in the first two tournament games and Purdue will be no different, as the ‘Vols seek to eradicate it second consecutive Big Ten foe. In search of its inaugural Final Four appearance in program history, Barnes’ group wants to earn the respect that the legendary Pat Summit achieved within the women’s basketball program.
1 North Carolina vs. 5 Auburn
Since battering through the SEC, Auburn barely escaped New Mexico State, then pounded Kansas to be where they are today. Bruce Pearl has completely turned Auburn into a serious threat in basketball. However, this obstacle screams of an offensive shootout. If Pearl’s group can re-channel the Kansas blowout, then Auburn’s got a legitimate shot.
UNC is getting balanced results from all of its stars. Luke Maye, transfer Cameron Johnson, Nassir Little, and Coby White are proving to be unguardable to this moment. That spells trouble for anyone, especially a mediocre defense like Auburn’s. Regardless, this one is going to be a fun watch for those who love to see the scoreboard light up.
Kentucky’s best baller, PJ Washington is the standout to keep an eye on if he plays. He tweeted out a picture with a cast off of his foot hoping to suit up versus Houston on Friday night. If Washington is unable to go, then the Wildcats have to rely on the nasty defense it has shown in the two successful performances so far. They limited all-time three-point scoring leader Fletcher Magee to eight points and 0-12 from deep in their victory over Wofford. That speaks volumes no matter the outcome.
For Houston, Kelvin Sampson is one of the top coaches in Division 1 that no-one talks about. The Cougars were seconds away from a Sweet 16 berth in 2018, if not for Jordan Poole‘s unforgettable buzzer-beater for the ages. He’s been through a lot when it comes to the NCAA but is bouncing back in a strong way at Houston, that may take him to another stop on his coaching tour. For now, though, his tough defense needs to tighten up again in order to secure a bid to the Elite 8 by slaying a Goliath in Kentucky.
Sweet 16 Schedule
Thursday, March 28 Friday, March 29
1 Gonzaga vs 4 Florida State 7:09 ET on CBS 2 Michigan State vs 3 LSU 7:09 ET on CBS
2 Tennessee vs 3 Purdue 7:29 ET on TBS 1 North Carolina vs 5 Auburn 7:29 ET on TBS
2 Michigan vs Florida State 9:39 ET on CBS 1 Duke vs 4 Virginia Tech 9:39 ET on CBS
1 Virginia vs 12 Oregon 9:57 ET on TBS 2 Kentucky vs 3 Houston 9:59 ET on TBS
Questions and comments?
Follow Nick Popio on Twitter @nick_popio21
Main Credit Image:Embed from Getty Images