Sweet Sixteen Bracket Breakdown: Survival of the Fittest
[lead align=”default”]Three number one seeds escaped from the first weekend, though a few were under duress. The good news is that they made it to the Sweet Sixteen, but the road to a title will only get harder.[/lead]
A bracket that didn’t see a lot of true upsets in the first round saw some big names depart in the second. This has thrown the race to the Final Four open in several regions.
Sweet Sixteen: East
Thanks to the Wisconsin Badgers’ upset over the defending champion Villanova Wildcats, some thought Duke had a cakewalk to the Final Four. That line of thinking lasted about thirty hours, until Duke themselves got the boot by South Carolina. The East Region is now up in the air.
Baylor has been a mostly consistent, highly-ranked team all season, though they’re not impervious to picking up a loss. What does Wisconsin have to prove that they didn’t do on Saturday? Florida has a smothering defense and they know how to use it. Finally, South Carolina rode a wave to get to where they are, and if the momentum continues, they can give Baylor a game. One of those four will be in the Final Four.
Florida has the edge over Wisconsin to make the Elite Eight, but Villanova had the edge, too, and we know how that went. Baylor vs. South Carolina looks a little more even, but with a slight tilt towards the Bears.
Sweet Sixteen: Midwest
Kansas did away with Michigan State to get to the Sweet Sixteen, and draw Purdue. The Boilermakers are a good team, and may have been the best in the Big Ten during the regular season. What helps Purdue is that they’re battle-tested, needing two close wins to advance. Yet, Kansas is the toughest team they’ve faced so far, and Caleb Swanigan will need to have an extraordinary game.
Rhode Island was nearly in this game, but it’s Oregon against Michigan. The Wolverines sent Louisville home on Sunday to get to this round. With the roll Michigan is on, they’re not a team you want to play, and Oregon might find that out. Sure, the Ducks have a lot of statistical advantages, but Michigan is playing with a steely determination. Don’t be surprised if Michigan is in the Elite Eight.
Sweet Sixteen: South
North Carolina had to put the pedal down in the final three minutes to beat Arkansas and avoid begin the second 1-seed to leave. They will draw Butler, and on paper, North Carolina is better in a variety of ways. The good news for the Bulldogs is that games aren’t played on paper.
The Tar Heels will be favored to take down Butler, but expect the Bulldogs to hang in there for a while before UNC pulls away.
Kentucky just barely got to the Sweet Sixteen against UCLA, and it could be the Bruins moving on here. UCLA has one of the hottest offenses in the country, and by the way, they’ve already beaten UK this season. Kentucky will be thinking payback, while UCLA will be thinking do whatever they did right last time. The Wildcats have great players, though, like Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo that might will them to the Elite Eight.
Sweet Sixteen: West
Gonzaga received a late scare from Northwestern, but advanced to the Sweet Sixteen against West Virginia. The Mountaineers are a tough team that can go toe to toe with the Zags. In fact, WVU might even beat the Bulldogs. West Virginia has a great defense that will throw some looks at Gonzaga which they haven’t seen yet. (Gonzaga’s defense is highly rated as well, much of which could be due to their conference schedule.) If the Zags want to prove that they deserve their one seed and a spot in the Elite Eight, they will have to earn it.
Xavier and Arizona meet in the Sean Miller Special. Miller left Xavier in 2009 to take over at Arizona, and he meets his former team for a chance at the Elite Eight. It’s not the first time, as his Wildcats beat the Musketeers in 2015 Sweet Sixteen. This is just as good a matchup for Arizona now as it was two years ago. The seven-foot Finn Lauri Markkanen might have his way with Xavier.