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The first weekend of the NCAA tournament is full of buzzer beaters, upsets and unpredictable outcomes. Now that the tournament is slimmed down to just 16 teams the games become even more intense because every remaining team now feels they have a legitimate shot at cutting down the nets in Indianapolis come April 6th. Now with the Sweet 16 just around the corner it is time to preview the matchups and see who has a real chance of making it to the Final Four.
1 Kentucky vs. 5 West Virginia
Anyone paying any attention to college basketball this year agrees that this tournament is Kentucky’s to lose, they come into this matchup undefeated and have not really been tested in either of their first two tournament games. The coach for West Virginia, Bob Huggins, knows this and will have to really get his team ready to play the perfect game to compete with Kentucky’s size depth and just pure overall talent. The Mountaineers won both their first two matchups against Buffalo and Maryland by 10 points or less and they will have to really step up their game to try to upset the undefeated Wildcats. For Kentucky coach John Calipari knows his only real hurdle is keeping his players as motivated as possible when they know deep down that they can beat nearly anyone in the country without even playing their best game. Predicted Winner: Kentucky.
3 Notre Dame vs. 7 Wichita State
Both of these teams are coming off extremely emotional wins in the round of 32. Notre Dame had to fight back against Butler to get a win in overtime, while the Shockers got a big win over in state rivals Kansas. Both teams get great play from their guards and will look to build from their defense trying to earn a bid in the Elite 8 for a possible matchup with Kentucky. Predicted winner: Wichita State.
8 North Carolina State vs. 4 Louisville
Louisville coach Rick Pitino will like where his team currently sits and will be hoping to make another Final Four with a team that is not one of his most talented but definitely one of his hardest playing. They will face an NC State team who won their first two games by only a total of four points including a hard-fought victory over 1 seed Villanova. The Wolfpack’s very thick frontcourt will have their hands full with Montrezl Harrell who is one of the highest motor players in the nation. Predicted winner: Louisville.
7 Michigan State vs. 3 Oklahoma
Oklahoma has had a slightly easy road to the this point and has yet to play their best game, but they will need to in order to knock off Tom Izzo’s Spartans who may be playing their best basketball at the perfect time of the season. The Spartans got a big win over 2 seed Virginia and will hope to carry that momentum into this matchup against the Sooners who have yet to be truly tested so far. Predicted winner: Michigan State.
1 Wisconsin vs. 4 North Carolina
North Carolina have had a very up and down season but have looked good in the tournament, the problem for them in this matchup is that they want to score and that will play right into the hands of Frank Kaminsky and the Wisconsin offense. The Badgers have yet to really dominate in the tournament so far but anyone who has seen them explode offensively this season knows its only a matter of time. North Carolina will likely need to play their best defensive game to beat the Badgers and even then it might not be enough. Predicted winner: Wisconsin.
2 Arizona vs. 6 Xavier
Baylor getting knocked off by Georgia State helped Xavier in the round of 32 but they still played well against the Cinderella team, but to beat Arizona they will need to take it to another level. The Musketeers will face their former coach Sean Miller who has his Arizona Wildcats rolling making easy work of their opponents in their first two matchups. Arizona’s defense has long been the strength of their team but lately they have looked much better on offense and Xavier will have to find a way to deal with their size and athleticism if they want to move onto the Elite 8. Predicted winner: Arizona.
1 Duke vs. 5 Utah
Just as expected Duke made easy work of their first two opponents and will now look to do the same against Utah. Utah can look stagnant on offense at times and that will definitely need to change if they want to knock off the juggernaut of Duke. What will work in the Utes favor is their size down low and having Delon Wright who can lock down nearly any perimeter player on defense, and that will come in handy against the likes of Tyus Jones, Justice Winslow and Quinn Cook for Duke. For Duke their goal will just be to keep dominating in all facets and pounding it down low to their incredible low post weapon Jahlil Okafor. Predicted winner: Duke.
2 Gonzaga vs. 11 UCLA
A lot has been made of how UCLA did not deserve to even be in the tournament and how they got lucky with a controversial goaltending call that helped them knock of SMU in the first round, but now they are in the sweet 16 and will have to put that behind them and get ready to face a very talented Gonzaga team. Gonzaga has had trouble in the past making deep tournament runs but this may be Mark Few’s most talented roster and if there is a year they are ready to make a run it has to be this year. The Bulldogs size and depth will make it very hard for a not very deep UCLA team to compete and the experience of a point guard like Kevin Pangos will only trouble the Bruins even more. Predicted winner: Gonzaga.
Commentary By Max Petkevicius
Photo Courtesy of Tennessee Journalist – Creativecommons Flickr License