The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tourney is down to Eight
The first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament were definitely wild, but the Sweet Sixteen did not let us down. Arkansas shocked the country by beating Gonzaga in the opener. Villanova handled their business against Michigan. Duke overcame a slow first half to beat Texas Tech. Houston was too much defensively for Arizona. UNC took control of UCLA, and St Peters became the first 15 seed to make the Elite Eight.
We went 5-3 on our Sweet Sixteen picks and have now gone 14-10 since the start of the round of 32. With just seven total games left in the Tourney, we’ll be giving out picks for every game for the remainder of March Madness.
Houston -2.5 vs Villanova
Houston has had the most impressive three-win stretch of the Tournament thus far. Opponents aside, Houston has appeared to control both the tempo and rhythm of each game, forcing their opponents to play their preferred style. Houston opened the Tourney with a big win over UAB, following that with another big win over Illinois, and then cruised to a 12-point victory over one seeded Arizona. They appear very comfortable at the moment.
Villanova kicked-off March Madness by winning the Big East Tourney, then carried that momentum into the Tourney. The Wildcats beat Delaware by 20 in the opener, suffocated Ohio State by 10 in the second round, and held-off the Michigan Wolverines by eight in the Sweet Sixteen. They play smart basketball and feature a wise and talented guard trio, unmatched by any team in the country. In many ways, this team is similar to Houston.
We’ve loved watching both these teams throughout the tournament, but all good things must come to an end. Only one of these two well-trained squads will reach the Final Four (unfortunately). As much as I like Villanova, teams like Houston have given Nova issues all year. Nova thrives off turnovers and close games (best FT shooters in the nation) but Houston isn’t going to give Nova easy buckets. I expect Houston will break down this Nova defense and put the Wildcats in the uncomfortable position of playing catchup.
Arkansas vs Duke -4
After narrowly beating Vermont and then scraping-by New Mexico State, Arkansas’ first real test came on Thursday against the overall top seed, Gonzaga Bulldogs. Arkansas really surprised us in their game against Gonzaga. They managed to keep a lid on Drew Timme, while putting Chet Holmgren into difficult positions, thus resulting in his foul troubles.
The big differential in the game was the turnovers. Arkansas had just eight, while Gonzaga had a whopping 15. Sure, you can point to the shooting advantage (only slightly) for Arkansas, but those multitude of turnovers are what cost Gonzaga a spot in the Elite Eight.
Duke just keeps winning, despite everyone’s hopes for Coach K’s last season to end without a national championship. Following an easy opener against Cal State Fullerton and a difficult second round matchup against Michigan State, Duke had to face the red-hot Texas Tech Red Raiders in the Sweet Sixteen. Despite the fact they were slight dogs, Duke came out and fought hard in the second half, erasing deficit after deficit to eventually overcome the Red Raiders.
I like Duke this round, because they’re playing with a high level of effort. Whenever it’s looked like this team could slip in the second half of a game this tournament, Duke seems to just find ways to get easier buckets. All the talent helps, but the effort and talent make this Duke team the most difficult out remaining in the Tourney.
Miami +6 vs Kansas
Miami has proved the doubters wrong since the opening round of the tournament. With the ACC considered a weak conference for the majority of the season, most brackets had USC beating Miami in the first round. After narrowly escaping the Trojans in the opener, Miami then blew the doors off Auburn in the second round, and cruised in the second half against Iowa State in the Sweet 16. Now, Miami is just a win away from the Final Four and it will have to come against their toughest opponent to date.
Kansas has had as much of a chalk road as one could have in this year’s tournament. After an easy opener, Kansas struggled to pull away from Creighton in the second round and struggled offensively against Providence. Kansas has played sound basketball defensively to this point, averaging just 64 PPG. If this team is shooting well, there’s not many teams who can keep-up. They absolutely need to stay disciplined against Miami on Sunday.
I think Kansas will win, but this game may come down to the final minute. Miami protects the ball very well, as we’ve pointed out at every stage of this. Kansas isn’t going to get easy buckets in this game. For this game, I expect Miami will continue to play a very controlled approach, and I’m not sure Kansas will get the breathing room they expect in this game.
St Peter’s +8.5 vs North Carolina
St Peter’s has done the unthinkable. A 15 seed has only made the Sweet Sixteen three times, ever. St Peters is now the only 15 seed to ever make the Elite Eight. What’s been impressive about their run is the teams they’ve beaten. Nobody said Murray St was an overrated program, as they were 30-2 coming into their game against the Peacocks. Kentucky was a dark horse title pick for many experts, and Purdue had one of the best guard/big combos in college basketball.
North Carolina has been extremely impressive thus far. They got hot at the end of the season and seem to have carried that into March. The Heels opened the Tourney with a massive win over a decent Marquette team (32 points) and stayed hot well-into their game against Baylor. Leading by 25, Carolina blew the lead, only to take over again in OT. In the Sweet 16, Carolina came out and make some key big shots late to take down the UCLA Bruins.
I just keep doubting this St Peters team and there’s no good reason for it other than, “A 15 seed has never made it to the Elite Eight.” That seemed like a good enough reason, but sometimes it’s best to just embrace the outliers. After taking down a 2,7, and 3 seed, St Peters now faces an 8 seed and is an 8.5 point underdog. Anomalies aside, St Peters has excelled through strong ball movement, good shooting, and forcing bad shots from opponents. Expect more chaos here.