NCAA’s Sweet 16 matchups have a difficult act to follow
The NCAA Tournament didn’t disappoint opening weekend.
Nobody is going to soon forget Texas A&M’s miraculous comeback over Northern Iowa to get to the Sweet 16.
Or Middle Tennessee’s shocking upset of Michigan State in the Round of 64, only the eighth time a 15-seed has beaten a 2-seed.
That’s the beauty of March Madness, and it is sure to deliver more memorable moments this weekend when the field gets narrowed to the Final Four.
Maybe we’ll see a double-digit seed such as No. 11 Gonzaga and its formidable frontcourt reach the Final Four. Or maybe it’s time for an offensive juggernaut such as Indiana or Iowa State to blaze a trail to Houston.
Anything can happen in this tournament, after all, as last weekend proved once again.
Team to beat: Kansas.
The Jayhawks are the top overall seed for a reason. They might not have a superstar, but they have a deep roster with plenty of stars who play a selfless brand of basketball. They’re good enough to overcome if one of their starters has an off night. That being said, the committee did them no favors with tough matchups in each round to the Final Four.
Next best: Villanova.
Villanova is a well-balanced team with a top 10 offense and defense, and it’s coming off a 19-point victgory over Iowa. Kris Jenkins has turned it up a notch, and Villanova is one of the most dangerous teams in the country when it makes 3-pointers.
See ya later: Miami
The Hurricanes face a tall order to reach the Final Four. Even if Miami gets past Villanova, it will have to turn around and face No. 1 Kansas or a confident Maryland team. It’s hard to see the Hurricanes winning two consecutive games like that.
Player to watch: Melo Trimble, Maryland
At this point, every region is loaded with talent, but Trimble ranks among the most exciting. He has the ability to attack the basket, shoot from the outside and get teammates involved. His pro ceiling might not be too high, but he’s a heck of a college player who has scored 43 the first two games of the Tournament.
Team to beat: Oregon
Yes, the Pac 12 has had a miserable Tournament with Arizona, California, Oregon State and USC suffering first-round upsets. But the Ducks have played well, and Dana Altman is one of the better coaches in the country. Plus, sophomore Dillon Brooks is peaking at the right time.
Next best: Texas A&M
The Aggies should just be happy to be here, which makes them dangerous. Everyone thought Texas A&M was toast in the second round before pulling off an unthinkable comeback against Northern Iowa, so the Aggies should be pretty loose.
See ya later: Oklahoma
This is the toughest region to pick a “loser” but the Sooners don’t look like a Final Four team. Buddy Hield is one of the best players in the country, but he can be streaky. The bigger question is senior forward Ryan Spangler, who combined for 11 points in the first two games.
Player to watch: Grayson Allen, Duke
Yes, Hield is the best player in the country and a must-see. But so is Allen, the typical Duke player. He’s loved by his school’s fans and hated by everyone else. But there’s no debate that he’s playing a high level, along with teammate Brandon Ingram.
Team to beat: North Carolina
The Tar Heels cruised in the first two rounds, winning by an average of 17.5 points. North Carolina has a dynamic frontcourt with Brice Johnson, Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks.
Next best: Indiana
Arguably the best 3-point shooting team left in the Tournament, which makes the Hoosiers a real threat. Most important, the Hoosiers have a veteran backcourt leader in Yogi Ferrell, an essential piece for any team making a deep run.
See ya later: Notre Dame
Notre Dame was fortunate to get past Stephen F. Austin, and a questionable defense ultimately will end its season before Houston. Even if it gets past Wisconsin in the Sweet 16, Notre Dame will be greeted by a more talented North Carolina team.
Player to watch: Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin
This region is loaded with future NBA players, but Koenig has shown the clutch gene so far. He hit two clutch 3-pointers, including the game-winner, to help Wisconsin upset 2-seed Xavier. Does he have more magic left in him?
Team to beat: Virginia
Defense wins championships, right? Nobody plays better defense than the Cavaliers, which will make it hard for any team to pull away from them. That includes a high-scoring team such as Iowa State. Virginia coach Tony Bennett isn’t a household name ... yet.
Next best: Iowa State
Offense isn’t an issue for the Cyclones, and they are playing well at the right time. Georges Niang remains a matchup nightmare for opponents, Jameel McKay is back and Matt Thomas is heating up from the outside.
See ya later: Syracuse
Syracuse was lucky to make the Tournament, and found more fortune when it got Middle Tennessee instead of Michigan State in the Sweet 16. But the road ends here even though Syracuse faces another double-digit seed in Gonzaga.
Player to watch: Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga
The son of former basketball star Arvydas Sabonis, Domantas is a double-double machine. He averages 17.5 points and 11.7 rebounds to form one of the best offensive frontcourts in the country with senior Kyle Wiltjer.