2016 NCAA Tournament: Sweet Sixteen Preview

March 23, 2016

We said it was going to be a crazy tournament, and we were not disappointed.

Ten double-digit seeds advanced to the second round. Three buzzer beaters ensued. The closest thing to a No. 1 seed going down happened when one of the tournament favorites, Michigan State, was shocked in the first round by Middle Tennessee State.

And the great thing about all of it? We’ve still got 15 games remaining.

All of the No. 1 seeds survived and only two double-digit seeds remain, but this tournament has lived up to its billing of being one of the hardest ever to predict. If not for some late game heroics by Texas A&M and Oregon, we may have had another 11 seed left and one of the top seeds gone. It’s difficult to say that we’ve learned anything yet (we’ll take a stab at that when the tournament is over), but it’s always fun to look at the Sweet 16 as a “second beginning” of the NCAA Tournament.

Here’s a quick rundown of what to watch for and predictions now that the picture has become slightly more clear.

Best Sweet 16 Games to Watch

#1 Oregon vs. #5 Duke (Thursday, 9:55 PM ET on TBS)

I work with a couple of Duke fans, and they were pretty surprised that the Blue Devils have made it as far as they have. But in my opinion, Coach K’s squad has the best chance of being the first team to knock off a No. 1 seed in this tournament. The inside out game between Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram has exceeded even what it was during the regular season. Allen could not be stopped in the Yale game, but Oregon is athletic enough to guard him on the perimeter and contain Ingram in the post. For Duke to continue on, someone else will need to step up as well. I’m looking at you, Luke Kennard.

In my opinion, the Ducks were the weakest of the one seeds heading into the tournament and confirmed that assumption last weekend. Oregon had a lot of trouble with Saint Joseph’s, a team with a versatile player that could play inside as well as shoot from outside. While Duke doesn’t have one player who can do it all, they do have perimeter shooting and an inside game that is picking up steam. To combat that, Oregon will need another strong performance from Tyler Dorsey. The way he responded in the second half of the Saint Joseph’s game essentially saved the Ducks from losing that one. Also, keep this in mind: Duke is 0-4 in the tournament when playing in the Pacific time zone. I have been known to put too much emphasis on statistics like that, but it is at least worth noting in this case since the Ducks are a West Coast team.

#1 North Carolina vs. #5 Indiana (Friday, 9:57 PM on TBS)

Last Thursday I hung out with a buddy that said he picked the Hoosiers to go to the Final Four, and I was a bit skeptical at the time since I had Indiana losing to Chattanooga in the first round. But a big win over the Mocs followed by a gutsy victory over Kentucky, a team that many experts thought could beat North Carolina in this game, has Indiana looking like the Big Ten’s best team once again. Yogi Ferrell will go toe-to-toe with North Carolina’s guards in this one, which will be fun for anyone watching without a dog in the fight. Ferrell has the ability to put teams away, although that probably won’t happen considering how well the Tar Heels have shot the ball from outside as of late. Indiana will benefit from strong inside play by Thomas Bryant as well. The Hoosiers are the first team North Carolina will face this tournament with an inside presence that can match its own.

This game has the potential to go into the 90s, which should keep people interested despite the fact that it will likely extend into the early hours of Saturday morning. While the Duke/Oregon game is my pick for the most likely to see a No. 1 seed go down, this one isn’t far behind. Indiana has rebounded from its loss to Michigan in the Big Ten tournament nicely and is playing with a lot of confidence offensively. North Carolina is doing the same, so there’s really not much to separate these two teams. In reality, since both teams play a similar style of basketball, it will simply come down to which one plays better. Those games are almost always exciting and very close.

Best Chance to Continue Crashing the Party


One of the two double-digit seeds remaining, the Bulldogs have a chance to make it to the Elite 8 if they can beat the other double-digit seed, Syracuse. Gonzaga was my Cinderella pick, so I’m not surprised in the least that Mark Few’s squad has made it this far. What I am surprised about is that the Bulldogs have about as good a chance to make it to the Final Four as they did last season. Strong post play has been Gonzaga’s calling card this season and they surprised a Utah team with good post play in the second round. First round opponent Seton Hall was guard oriented, so the proof is in the pudding that the Bulldogs can handle multiple styles.

If Gonzaga can make it past the Orange, either Virginia or Iowa State awaits. The Bulldogs would definitely be the underdog in that one, but between Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer they have a frontcourt that really cannot be matched by any of the other three teams remaining in the Midwest Region. If Coach Few can get enough out of his guards and clamp down defensively as they did in the first two rounds, this is a team that is finally able to give the coach his first Final Four appearance. Who would have guessed that it would be this year’s team, with as hard as they had to work just to get into the tournament?

My Picks

Sweet 16

South Region

#1 Kansas over #5 Maryland

#3 Miami over #2 Villanova

West Region

#4 Duke over #1 Oregon (upset alert)

#2 Oklahoma over #3 Texas A&M

East Region

#5 Indiana over #1 North Carolina

#7 Wisconsin over #6 Notre Dame

Midwest Region

#1 Virginia over #4 Iowa State

#11 Gonzaga over #10 Syracuse

Elite 8

#1 Kansas over #3 Miami

#2 Oklahoma over #4 Duke

#5 Indiana over #7 Wisconsin

#1 Virginia over #11 Gonzaga

Final Four

#1 Kansas over #2 Oklahoma

#1 Virginia over #5 Indiana

National Championship

#1 Kansas over #1 Virginia

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