Sweet 16 Friday Games Preview: Madness in March

Associated Press

The NCAA tournament is always a great time of the season. Nobody ever truly knows what is going to happen, but this year has been even more crazy. The underdogs went 3-1 yesterday, with 11th seeded Loyola beating 7th seeded Nevada, 9th seeded Kansas State beating 5th seeded Kentucky, and 9th seeded Florida State upending 4th seeded Gonzaga. 3rd seeded Michigan was the only favorite to win beating 10th seeded Texas A&M. There are a few more predictable, better seeded teams facing each other on Friday, but it should still bring us just as much madness that Thursday brought us.

(5) Clemson vs (1) Kansas

How they got here

Clemson: The Tigers beat upset minded New Mexico State 79-68 in the first round before torching Auburn in the 2nd round to the tune of 84-53.

Kansas: The Jayhawks were not the first #1 seed to ever lose to a 16 beating Penn 76-60 before holding off the pesky Seton Hall Pirates 83-79

What to watch for

Guard Play. We have learned through the years that guard play wins and March, and these two teams are the epitome of guard play. Kansas is lead by Devonte Graham and Malik Newman, while Clemson is controlled by Marcquise Reed, Gabe DeVoe, and Shelton Mitchell. Whichever group of guards plays better and can take control of this game, could be the team that comes out on top.

X-Factor

Svi Mykhailiuk. Graham and Newman have been the leaders of this Jayhawks team for the past couple months, but when Svi is hitting shots this team goes to a new level. A 45% three point shooter could be the different down the stretch if he is hitting shots and is able to make this tough, hard-nosed Clemson defense defend him at the three point line.

Prediction

Kansas 74-67. Many people thought Clemson was primed for a first round upset after they lost then top scorer Donte Grantham, but they have rallied for two huge wins, but the road ends here as Devonte Graham leads Kansas back to the elite eight.

Coach Bill Self gives Kansas Guard Devonte Graham (4) instructions (AP Photo)

(5) West Virginia vs (1) Villanova

How they got here

West Virginia: The Mountaineers used their hounding defense to beat Murray State 85-68 and then upend upset minded and 13th seeded Marshall 94-71.

Villanova: The Wildcats ran by Radford 87-61 in round one before beating up on Alabama 81-58 to get to the Sweet 16.

What to watch for

Turnovers. West Virginia is going to do whatever they can to speed Villanova up and make them turn the ball over, but Villanova has the guards to handle the pressure that the Mountaineers are going to throw at them. Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth, and Donte DiVincenzo are going to have their hands full against Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles, and this West Virginia pressure, but Villanova looks primed to handle it and use it to their advantage.

X-Factor

Lamont West. Villanova is a great three point shooting team, living and dying by the three, but West Virginia likes to get to the rim and get layups. In a game where Villanova is going to hit some three, West Virginia is going to have the keep up, in steps Lamont West. Lamont West is just a 35% three point shooter, but West has had games this year where he has hit 4+ threes. West Virginia is going to need West to hit some threes if they are going to keep up with Villanova’s three point shooting.

Prediction

Villanova 85-78. West Virginia will turn Villanova over, but the Wildcats have enough ball handlers to limit the turnovers and should get open threes after breaking the press.

(11) Syracuse vs (2) Duke

How they got here

Syracuse: The Orange won their first four game over Arizona State 60-56, then upset 6th seeded TCU 57-52, and then beat one of the tournament favorites and 3rd seeded Michigan State 55-53.

Duke: The Blee Devils beat up on Iona 89-67, before handling 7th seeded Rhode Island 87-62.

What to watch for

Zone Defense. If you enjoy man to man defense, then this is not the game for you, but if you enjoy zone defense and three point shooting then you will enjoy this game. Both of these teams play zone defense the whole game and both teams should be taking their fair share of three point shots. If both teams are on this game could get high scoring, but both teams are long and athletic and scoring could be tough to come by.

X-Factor

Gary Trent Jr. Gary Trent is the best all around shooter on the Blue Devils offense and Duke will need him to knock down shots against the Syracuse zone. If Trent can get hot from the outside, it will open up the paint area even more for Marvin Bagley.

Prediction

Duke 68-61. The Syracuse zone will have the ability to keep the game close, but Duke has too many shooters and they have Bagley on the inside who should eat up offensive rebounds on the inside.

(3) Texas Tech vs (2) Purdue

How they got here

Texas Tech: The Red Raiders got past 14th seeded and tough Stephen F. Austin 70-60 before holding off 6th seeded Florida 69-66.

Purdue: The Boilermakers beat up 15th seeded Cal St. Fullerton 74-48 and then held off a late Butler run 76-73.

What to watch for

Haarms vs. Athleticism. Losing Isaac Haas would have been a bigger lose for Purdue if they didn’t have Haarms, but he will be tested in this game. Texas Tech isn’t abnormally tall, as they don’t have one player who averages more than 5 rebounds a game, but they have athleticism down low that could be a problem for Purdue. Texas Tech has two 6-5 guard/forwards combos in Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver who can jump out of the building. Neither of them will wow you with their shooting, but they will be a handful for Purdue in the paint and could lead to problems for the Boilermakers.

X-Factor

Dakota Mathias. Mathias averaged just over 12 ppg during the regular season, but has not been a huge factor so far in the NCAA tournament. Purdue may need him to hit some threes in this game if they are going to advance. Playing shorthanded, Purdue will need other to step up, and Mathias is a clear threat from anywhere on the court. Purdue may need Mathias to have his best game of the season in order to beat Texas Tech.

Prediction

Texas Tech 78-73. The Red Raiders have the guard play of Culver, Smith, and Evans to get past Haas-less Purdue. Keenan Evans is playing on another level, even on a broken toe, and nobody can slow him down right now.

Texas Tech’s Zach Smith (11), Zhaire Smith (2) and Keenan Evans (12), celebrate in the closing seconds of the second half of a second-round game against Florida at the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament in Dallas, Saturday, March 17, 2018. Texas Tech won 69-66. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)