Previewing the Sweet 16 (Part Two)
By: Dylan Elder – Editor-in-Chief.
11. Tennessee vs 2. Michigan
After being one of the last teams to enter the tournament, the Volunteers have certainly made their mark on March by winning each of their first three games.
However, opponents Iowa, UMASS, and Mercer aren’t striking fear into anyone. The Wolverines most definitely are.
Michigan’s offense is playing at an insane pace right now, and one might wonder if it’s to their detriment. Their shot selection is so poor that it looks like a 6th grade AAU team. So while everything is falling for the Wolverines right now, their unpredictable choices on the offensive side of the ball may come back to bite them later in the tournament. The Verdict: Michigan wins by double digits.
7. Uconn vs 3. Iowa State
After a hard-fought round one win over St. Joe’s, the Huskies made a mockery of 2 seed Villanova in the round of 32. Shabazz Napier has rivaled Xavier Thames for player of the tournament thus far, and it’s no coincidence that both teams are still playing.
Napier has averaged 24.5 ppg during this tournament, but that doesn’t even come close to telling the whole story. His tenacious defense, clutch shooting, and overall control of his team has Connecticut in prime position to advance to the elite 8.
There’s one problem though, the Cyclones are standing in the way. Even though Iowa State struggled to defeat the Tar Heels, they still have a much deeper team than Uconn which should ultimately prevail in this game.
The foot injury to forward Georges Niang certainly hurts their cause, but if coach Fred Hoiberg puts together a game plan to contain Napier (which I believe he will do) then the Cyclones stand a fantastic chance to win. Kane and fellow top scorer Melvin Ejim will ultimately be too much for Uconn’s defense to stop. The Verdict: Iowa State wins by single digits.
8. Kentucky vs 4. Louisville
This is the game that everyone was hoping for before the tournament began, and it’s the one we will now get to witness.
The battle of these two Kentucky powerhouses is always memorable and this game will be no different. Right now, the Wildcats are playing their best basketball of the season, and if they can keep that up, they have a real shot to knock off Rick Pitino’s club.
Julius Randle is a double-double machine, the Harrison twins (particularly Andrew) are finally putting all their tools together, and James Young is making clutch shots when it matters most. If big blue plays as well as they did against Wichita State, then I could easily envision them getting a win over the Cardinals.
On the other hand, we cant discount what Louisville has done so far this season either. Their insane press causes trouble for almost every team they face, and I expect similar problems to arise from a wildly inexperienced Kentucky team.
Russ Smith is playing his usual fantastic brand of basketball, Luke Hancock is always reliable, and Montrezl Harrell has taken a huge step forward in recent weeks. With these three players and the experience throughout the rest of their roster, I expect Louisville to win a close one. The Verdict: Louisville wins by single digits.
4. Michigan State vs 1. Virginia
The Cavaliers struggled to get going in their first two tournament games, but once they caught fire, they never looked back. Virginia has a litany of players that can score, defend, and play in transition which makes them such a hard team to face.
Forward Joe Harris leads the way (16 points against Memphis) and the rest of the team follows his lead. Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes are also integral parts of the team, and if all three can get hot at the same time then watch out.
The problem doesn’t lie within their own team, rather, it lies within their opponent. Michigan State is finally healthy and consequently are firing on all cylinders at just the right time.
Gary Harris and Adrien Payne are an unstoppable tandem, and even though Keith Appling hasn’t played well in the tournament, he can still get hot at any time. Perhaps most surprisingly is the evolvement from guard Travis Trice who has turned into a prolific scoring threat for the Spartans.
This will be an intense battle between two teams that both deserve spots in the elite 8, but there can only be one winner. The Verdict: Michigan State wins by single digits.