March Madness: Sweet Sixteen Preview and Predictions
The first two rounds of the 2019 NCAA Tournament are in the books, with many games going chalk. The top three seeds from every region are going to the Sweet Sixteen for just the second time ever, leaving many to wonder when or if Cinderella will make it to the big dance this year.
Despite a lack of major upsets, there have been some exciting moments. Top-seeded Duke faced elimination when No. 9 UCF’s last-second floater flirted with the rim before rolling out. Potential lottery pick Ja Morant and No. 12 Murray State went off against No. 5 Marquette and became one of three 12-seeds to make the round of 32 (Oregon, Liberty). Reigning champion Villanova suffered its worst tournament loss in history when Carsen Edwards dropped 42 points for Purdue.
The action continues this weekend with the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight. Here, we dive into these matchups and let you know who to expect in Minneapolis for the Final Four.
Final Four: Duke Blue Devils
Contender: Michigan State Spartans
The close win against UCF was exactly what Duke needed to continue their run: a challenge. This Duke team is exposable. When Zion Williamson went down to injury, they lost three games. Gaining experience in close games will only help this team as they continue their run.
One of those three losses was Virginia Tech, who Duke will face in the Sweet Sixteen. Lightning will not strike twice for the Hokies this season, as a Zion-led Duke team will continue to surge into the Elite Eight. They are getting better by the game and may be too tough to stop in this region.
In the other matchup, No. 2 Michigan State will face off against No. 3 LSU. If at full health, Michigan State would be the favorite in this region, however, they will continue to play shorthanded without Kyle Ahrens and Joshua Langford. Nick Ward and Cassius Winston have both been banged up for the Spartans as well. Regardless, expect them to sneak by LSU and give Duke a challenging game in the Elite Eight.
Final Four: Purdue Boilermakers
Contender: Virginia Cavaliers
Purdue is arguably the Big Ten’s best chance at a Final Four team, but they will have to go through No. 2 Tennessee first. Tennessee held off Iowa’s comeback in a close second-round game. They are one of the best teams in the country.
Purdue, however, has a game changer in Carsen Edwards. Coming off of his career high in scoring, expect Edwards to lead the Boilermakers to the Elite Eight, where a tough matchup versus Virginia will meet them.
No. 1 Virginia will face the only double-digit seed remaining, No. 12 Oregon. Oregon had dominant wins against No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 13 UC Irvine. They are a skilled defensive team that will look to give Virginia trouble. However, the ACC regular season champions have been dominant this season and will likely be too much of a test for the Ducks.
Purdue versus Virginia will be a fun game to watch, but it is safe to say that Edwards and the Boilermakers are moving on in the South.
Final Four: North Carolina Tar Heels
Contender: Kentucky Wildcats
The Tar Heels will face their toughest test thus far in the tournament against Auburn on Friday. North Carolina picked up two large wins that were largely impacted by second-half play. They are one of the fastest teams in the nation and will beat teams in transition scoring. They will be too much for Auburn to handle, and the Tar Heels will step into the Elite Eight.
The Kentucky Wildcats barely snuck by No. 7 Wofford, partially due to Fletcher Magee’s 0-12 night from behind the arc. Houston is no easy opponent, but the Wildcats could get P.J. Washington back from injury. Washington missed the first two rounds due to an injury sustained in the SEC tournament. If Kentucky gets him back, they have the firepower to be a final four team and should find the Elite Eight.
UNC versus Kentucky is a rematch from earlier this season, where the Wildcats defeated the Tar Heels. Both teams have improved since then, however, expect North Carolina to get the win and their third Final Four in the last four years.
Final Four: Texas Tech Red Raiders
Contenders: Gonzaga Bulldogs
Gonzaga has been the favorite in this region but faces a red-hot Florida State team. The Bulldogs will win this game with their forward duo of Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke, assuming they have strong nights. Do not be surprised, however, if Florida State makes it exciting
Texas Tech has had a strong showing in the tournament thus far, defeating a talented Buffalo team by 20 in the second round. It doesn’t get easier for the Red Raiders, who will have to go through No. 2 Michigan.
Texas Tech has one of the toughest defenses in the country and they will make it difficult for Michigan to score. The Red Raiders have the skill to make it to Minneapolis, and so expect them to get through the Elite Eight because of that.
Sweet Sixteen action kicks off on Thursday night on CBS.
Preston Shoemaker is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact, email firstname.lastname@example.org.