By Eli Hearne (Op-Ed Editor) & Alex Lefkowitz (Sports Editor).
Michigan vs. Oregon
With senior Derrick Walton Jr. and junior Moe Wagner peaking at just the right time, the Wolverines are rolling. Oregon, is trending the other direction.
Reeling from the injury to star center Chris Boucher, this exciting Duck team is riding the leadership of guard Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey. However, Michigan is explosive. After hitting 16 3’s in their first round win vs. Oklahoma State, the Maize and Blue countered the aggressive Louisville defense by feeding Wagner and DJ Wilson in the paint. After getting in a plane crash the day before the Big 10 tournament, they have not lost since, and we don’t see Thursday as the end.
Kansas vs. Purdue
Frontcourt vs. Backcourt is the story line in this game. The Jayhawk backcourt featuring Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham is arguably the best duo left in this tournament. The two of them combined with Josh Jackson will be tough for Purdue to match up with. Yet Purdue’s big men, Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas, will be a huge task for Kansas’ Landen Lucas. Swanigan proved to be the difference maker against Iowa State in the second round posting a huge 20 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists. Can Kansas contain Swanigan? No.
Gonzaga vs. West Virginia
Press Virginia babyyy. Huggins and the Mountaineers are tenacious. No other way to put it. In the second round, West Virginia faced a Notre Dame team averaging nine turnovers a game- best in the nation. Yet by halftime the Fighting Irish already had their nine. Yet West Virginia’s Jevon Carter will need have another massive game if the Mountaineers want to keep up with the 34-1 Zags’. Gonzaga comes into this game after ending Northwestern’s dream run. Nigel-Williams Goss is one of the best guards in the nation seeming to have control of the game at all times. Match him with the lumberjack big-man Karnowski as well as guard Jordan Mathews, and Gonzaga should be able to manage Press Virginia relatively well.
Arizona vs. Xavier
Xavier is hot, but so is Arizona. Xavier featuring sharp shooting from Trevon Bluiett, 21 points in the upset over Maryland and 29 points in the win over Florida State University, may be the cinderella story of March that noone is talking about. But they are playing Arizona this round. Both FSU and Maryland had huge flaws. Arizona, not so much. The backcourt of Allonzo Trier and Kadeem Allen will set the pace of the game and Kristaps Porzingis-esque Lauri Markkanen will present issues for Xavier. The Cinderella story ends in the Sweet Sixteen.
UNC vs. Butler
When UNC plays their game, they are the best team in the nation. Joel Berry, Justin Jackson, and Senior Kennedy Meeks have proven themselves to be a reliable core, tested in a battle with Arkansas. Butler on the other hand has demonstrated that they can play with the best. After handling Winthrop in the first round and Middle Tennessee in the second round, Butler looks to upset UNC as they had Villanova twice this season. Yet we feel the well-rounded Tar Heels will be too much for the Bulldogs.
Kentucky vs. UCLA
The most anticipated matchup of the Sweet 16. Both UCLA and Kentucky are coming off electronic games that showed why each team deserves to be in the spotlight. UCLA is led by the freshman phenom Lonzo Ball, who averages nearly 15 points and 7 assists a game. He, along with forward TJ Leaf, have made the Bruins the top ranked offence in the country with an astonishing 90 points a game. The Kentucky Wildcats are also led by a trio of freshman: Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Edrice Adebayo. Together, the led the Wildcats to ranking in the top 10 in points and rebounds per game. In December, UCLA beat the Wildcats in Lexington 97-92. Will UCLA keep rolling or will Calipari take the ‘Cats back to the Elite 8.
Baylor vs. South Carolina
Usually, the Sweet 16 is meant for the big boys of the NCAA. Unfortunately, this game is not that. South Carolina comes in after beating Marquette and Duke, both teams who had very unstable seasons. The Gamecocks are led by Sindarius Thornwell, who busted many peoples brackets after dropping 24 against the Blue Devils. On the other side, Baylor’s jerseys have been more flashy than their play. They breezed past New Mexico State in the first round and eclipsed USC in the second. Although they do not have a high scoring efficiency, the Bears play tough, physical defense. Is it enough to overcome South Carolina’s March fever.
Prediction: South Carolina
Florida vs. Wisconsin
For all the hate the Big 10 has received, they have been playing well this March. Very few expected Wisconsin to beat the number 1 overall seed Villanova, but they did. Led by seniors Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, the Badgers look to pull off another upset against the Florida Gators. If Vanderbilt was not in Florida’s vocabulary, the Gators very easily could have been a 2 seed. Florida has a well rounded balanced attack offensively and defensively. This March, junior forward Devin Robinson has been the Gator’s go to player, scoring an average of 19 points and 9 rebounds. Wisconsin’s offensive attack will be stronger than the Gator’s chomp.