Sweet 16 Thursday Games Preview: Cinderella’s Day

Associated Press

This college basketball season has been anything but predictable, and this season has put the Madness in March Madness. The Sweet 16 kicks off on Thursday with 4 games on Thursday and Friday and the winners meeting on Saturday and Sunday in the Elite 8 with a chance to advance to the Final Four in San Antonio. The biggest difference between the two days of the Sweet 16 is that Thursday features most of our cinderella teams. All 4 of the games on Thursday have a team ranked 9 or lower while just one game (Syracuse vs Duke) on Friday features a team ranked 9th or lower. With all of these teams there is a good chance at least one team we did not expect to get to the Final Four will get there, but who will it be? It’s time to preview Thursday’s games.

(11) Loyola-Chicago vs (7) Nevada

How they got here

Loyola: 2 gut wrenching, last second wins. Donte Ingram hit a game winning three with just .3 seconds left to drop 6th seeded Miami 64-62 and then Clayton Custer his a game winner with just over 5 seconds left to upset 3rd seeded Tennessee 63-62.

Nevada: The comeback kids! Nevada came back from a 14 point second half deficit to take 10th seeded Texas to overtime to beat them 87-83. If you thought that was good, Nevada used a 32-8 run to overcome a 22 point deficit in the final 10 minutes to shock 2nd seeded Cincinnati 75-73.

What to watch for

Defense. I don’t expect Nevada to fall behind by double digits like they have in the first two games, but I do expect them to struggle a bit in the first half to score. Loyola plays much of the same defense that Virginia plays, the pack line defense that takes a passing lanes and makes you frustrated. Nevada is going to need to stay calm and stay the course as they have the players in the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline to get inside the defense and score when the shot clock is getting low.

X-Factor

Josh Hall. Hall has been a difference maker this tournament. He is Nevada’s basically only bench player they use going just 6 deep, but he has played over 25 minutes in each of the first two games and has scored in double figures in each game including the game winner against Cincinnati. Expect him to come off the bench and give Nevada a lift not only in scoring, but also on the boards.

Prediction

Nevada 68-63. The magical run for Loyola ends as Nevada scores enough and the Martin twins take control down the stretch with clutch buckets.

Nevada guard Hallice Cooke (13) and forward Elijah Foster (12) celebrate at the end end of the second half of a second-round game against Cincinnati, in the NCAA college basketball tournament in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday, March 18, 2018. Nevada defeated Cincinnati 75-73. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

(7) Texas A&M vs (3) Michigan

How they got here

Texas A&M: A team with as much talent as anyone else has finally seemed to put it together. They out-muscled and out-manned 10th seeded Providence in the first round 73-69 and then beat up 2nd seeded North Carolina on the inside on their way to a 86-65 win.

Michigan: A team that won the Big Ten Championship has seemed to struggle after the week long layoff. They got by 14th seeded Montana in an ugly 61-47 win and then needed a last second game winning three from freshman Jordan Poole to beat 6th seeded Houston 64-63.

What to watch for

Inside Game. How does Michigan handle Robert Williams and Tyler Davis? That will be the question of the day. Williams and Davis have all the talent in the world, but they haven’t always been engaged, well in the first two games they have been. We saw them beat up on North Carolina and Luke Maye in their last game. Michigan is going to need Mo Wagner to be a presence down low and they will need Joe Teske off the bench to hold his own in what should be a physical affair.

X-Factor

T.J. Starks. The Aggies starting point guard took over when starter Duane Wilson was lost for the rest of the season and he has shown up in the NCAA Tournament. He scored 15 in the first round followed up by 21 against the UNC. If Starks can continue giving them that scoring punch this team has a chance to shock the basketball world.

Prediction

Michigan 75-68. Michigan has struggled the first two games while Texas A&M has looked like world beaters, but I think Michigan begins to turn the corner on Thursday. This team is too good and too talented to continue to struggle and I believe we see the best of Mo Wagner stretching this defense and making the A&M bigs play defense on the perimeter.

(9) Kansas State vs (5) Kentucky

How they got here

Kansas State: The Wildcats have used a team effort so far in the tournament. They played a solid game in beating 10th seeded Creighton 69-59 and then followed that up with a defense performance in beating 16th seeded UMBC 50-43.

Kentucky: In what looked like a pitiful draw for Kentucky has opened up for them. They got past a pesky and tough 12 seeded Davidson team 78-73 in the first round and them beat up on 13th seeded Buffalo 95-75.

What to watch for

Athleticism vs Strength. Kentucky has won their first two games because of their athleticism and length. They made it tough for Davidson to shoot the three and they forced Buffalo into turnovers with their speed. For Kansas State, they beat teams because of their strength and veteran presence; something will have to give in this one. If Kentucky can force Kansas State into turnovers and get out and run they should take care of business, but if Kansas State can slow it down and keep it low scoring they can hang around and make Kentucky play a full 40 in the half court.

X-Factor

Kam Stokes. Stokes missed 7 games earlier this season, but he controls this Kansas State offense. He will need to be calm, cool, and collected if Kansas State is going to hang around with Kentucky and eventually upset them.

Prediction

Kentucky 77-65. Kentucky’s athleticism is real and I believe they are able to open this game up by taking a lead early the second half and forcing Kansas State to play up-tempo with them.

(9) Florida State vs (4) Gonzaga

How they got here

Florida State: They have used their athleticism and speed to upend 8th seeded Missouri 67-54 and then upset number 1 seeded Xavier 75-70.

Gonzaga: They have had two tough games as they beat 13th seeded UNC-Greensboro 68-64 and then pulled away late to beat 5th seeded Ohio State 90-84.

What to watch for

Ball Security. Gonzaga has seniors who take care of the ball, but Florida State wants to take the ball away and get running. In Florida State’s upset win over Xavier, Xavier’s two senior guards Trevon Blueitt and J.P. Macura turned it over 18 times, allowing Florida State to use their speed and athleticism in the open court. Gonzaga will need guys like Josh Perkins and Jonathan Williams to take care of the ball in order to avoid the same upset that Xavier couldn’t. Expect Gonzaga to use Killian Tillie to help relieve some pressure and to spread out the size and length of the Florida State defense.

X-Factor

Rui Hachimura. This kid is going to be a star and he showed it against the Buckeyes. Hachimura scored 25 points and added 4 blocks in the 6 point win over Ohio State. The Bulldogs will need his presence inside off the bench to match-up with the Seminoles athletic and rangy bigs.

Prediction

Gonzaga 82-75. I believe that Florida State hangs around, hitting some big shots, but I think Killian Tillie gets hot and helps spread the bigs of Florida State to the tune of 20+ points and 4 threes.

Gonzaga guard Josh Perkins drives against UNC-Greensboro during the teams’ first-round game. (AP Photo)