2014 NCAA Tournament: Sweet 16 Preview

March 27, 2014
By K. Becks

Hang tight, everyone. The three and a half day wait between the final third round game and the first Sweet 16 game is almost over.

The first two rounds of the tournament brought a high amount of excitement, and those rooting for chaos were not left pining for more. When all was said and done last Sunday night, two No. 2 seeds and a No. 1 seed had been eliminated, three double-digit seeds reached the Sweet 16 and all three of the big name freshmen (Ennis, Parker and Wiggins) had been dispatched by teams with upperclassmen leadership.

But most importantly, some delectable matchups presented themselves for this coming weekend. We get to see perhaps the hottest team in the country take on perhaps the best one, two Cinderellas square off for a chance to play in a regional final and an in-state rivalry.

Can’t wait? You’re not alone.

Here is a preview for the Sweet 16 looking forward.

Matchups to Watch

#1 Florida vs. #4 UCLA (Thursday, 9:45 PM on CBS)

Florida shut down a Pittsburgh offense that looked downright nasty in the second round against Colorado, but the Gators aren’t done facing that style of basketball quite yet. UCLA stormed through the Pac-12 tournament two weeks ago en route to a title clinching victory over Arizona in which the Bruins shot 45.9 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from behind the arc. That shooting success has continued in the tournament, where UCLA has shot ninth best amongst NCAA Tournament squads.

In order for the Gators to make it back to the Elite 8 for the fourth consecutive season, the perimeter defense will have to do a magnificent job against UCLA’s guards. The perimeter play of Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams in particular has been terrific, and those two know how to get the big men in foul trouble as well. Look for this game to swing in the direction of the team that can assert its style best. If UCLA can’t force the Florida post players to sit on the bench with foul trouble, the Gators have the advantage. But if Florida is compromised in size, the Bruins have the better shooting team.

#2 Michigan vs. #11 Tennessee (Friday, 7:15 PM on CBS)

Look what a difference a couple of tournament victories can make! About a month ago, Tennessee head man Cuonzo Harris was fighting for his job. Now, Harris has his team playing its best basketball when it matters most and had a legitimate shot at surviving yet another weekend of tournament play. The Volunteers have simply been wider in the block than the teams they have faced thus far, but that won’t change when Tennessee takes on the Wolverines. Michigan will be a tough out because of its quick trigger shooters, but the size advantage is still strongly in favor of the Volunteers.

In addition to the big men, Tennessee has a go-to scorer in Jordan McRae. The guard will be called upon for big shots in this game, because chances are the Volunteers won’t be coasting to the finish line in this one. Michigan’s plan has been and will continue to be to shoot lights out from behind the arc, and that has worked pretty well so far this tournament. Michigan is hitting 46.7 percent of its shots from behind the arc in the Big Dance, and if it hits at least 40 percent of them in this game the Wolverines will move on. But anything under that mark and this is either team’s game.

How’d You Get Here? (Biggest Surprises)

Dayton

The Flyers were an interesting inclusion into the Big Dance on Selection Sunday, but Archie Miller’s team has definitely proven that it belongs. Dayton is getting things done on the defensive end (holding both Ohio State and Syracuse under 60 points) and by hitting timely shots from behind the arc. Led by Jordan Sibert, the Flyers have been the kings of the dagger shot in this year’s tournament.

Unfortunately, the Cinderella story could come to an end fairly soon. Stanford has been playing similarly well on defense and also has size down low. If the Cardinal can find a way to feed the ball into Josh Huestis and Stefan Nastic, the Flyers could have a difficult time stopping them on offense. However, Dayton has already made a habit out of shocking the big boys and Stanford is no giant as a No. 10 seed.

Tennessee

The other No. 11 seed to make the Sweet 16, Tennessee was a sleeping giant that seemed to be awakened by the bright lights of the tournament stage. With Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes shooting the ball well, Tennessee’s offense has found a spark that wasn’t really present during the regular season. The defense has always been strong, though, and the Volunteers have been using that strength to build insurmountable leads on opponents.

Michigan probably won’t fall behind by 20 at any point during its Sweet 16 matchup against Tennessee, but the Volunteers are still the best Cinderella candidate to make it to the Final Four. As teams fall around them, the SEC continues to look like a conference that was severely underrated during the regular season. Who would have guessed that two SEC squads (Tennessee and Kentucky) might have the chance to square off with a trip to Dallas on the line?

Predictions

My bracket is still fairly well-intact, but if I had a chance to start over, here is how I would pick the games.

South Region

Sweet 16

#1 Florida over #4 UCLA

#10 Stanford over #11 Dayton

Elite 8

#1 Florida over #10 Stanford

East Region

Sweet 16

#4 Michigan State over #1 Virginia

#7 Connecticut over #3 Iowa State

Elite 8

#4 Michigan State over #7 Connecticut

West Region

Sweet 16

#1 Arizona over #4 San Diego State

#6 Baylor over #2 Wisconsin

Elite 8

#1 Arizona over #6 Baylor

Midwest Region

Sweet 16

#8 Kentucky over #4 Louisville

#11 Tennessee over #2 Michigan

Elite 8

#8 Kentucky over #11 Tennessee

Final Four

National Semifinals

#1 Florida over #4 Michigan State

#1 Arizona over #8 Kentucky

National Championship

#1 Florida over #1 Arizona

- K. Becks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*