Some people love it when March Madness is full of upsets and Cinderella stories are prevalent. Those people probably haven’t enjoyed this year’s tourney. None of the top 3 seeds have been eliminated and just one team above a 5 seed (12 seeded Oregon) remains. However, this isn’t a reason for sorrow at all, as this year’s Sweet Sixteen and beyond should be extremely entertaining. Goliaths of different conferences and regions will square off in epic battles from Thursday-Sunday this week. Here’s a preview of all of the excitement lined up for Thursday and Friday.
Thursday, March 28th
1 Gonzaga vs. 4 Florida St., West Region
Time: 7:09 PM ET
The first game of the Sweet Sixteen features a rematch. Last year, FSU upset Gonzaga 75-60 after upsetting 1 seed Xavier the round before. Both teams are much stronger than they were last year. Gonzaga frontcourt features feature lottery projection Rui Hachimura and the player who dropped 36 points on Baylor, Brandon Clarke. The backcourt for the Zags is headlined by double-digit scorers Zach Norvell and Josh Perkins. As for the Seminoles, they have insane depth at every position. However, their main men are Terrance Mann and Mfondu Kabengele. Also, watch who 7’4” Christ Koumadje matches up with. He’ll give a tough time to whichever Gonzaga forward he meets. So, watch these talented teams face off again on Thursday.
2 Tennessee vs. 3 Purdue, South Region
Time: 7:29 PM ET
Next, we have a matchup featuring many players of experience. Tennessee has more talent, but Purdue’s Carsen Edwards, who had 42 points against Villanova, will always give them a chance to win. Purdue hasn’t had a lot of success in recent Sweet Sixteens, and Tennessee is one of the toughest opponents the Boilermakers have faced all season. With players garnering national player of the year attention, the Volunteers are stacked. They have SEC player of the year Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield, who averages 16.4 points per game. However, Purdue could always pull off the upset with Edwards and it’ll be interesting to see if Tennessee point guard Jordan Bone can lock up Edwards. That’ll be the matchup of the night, so enjoy two crafty ball-handlers going at it all night long.
2 Michigan vs. 3 Texas Tech, West Region
Time: 9:39 PM ET
Later, Michigan and Texas Tech will battle at the Honda Center. These two teams are vastly different in my mind. Michigan’s starting 5 of Ignas Brazdeikis, Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske, Jordan Poole, and Charles Matthews is incredible. However, they don’t have a ton of depth. Texas Tech, on the other hand, has one clear-cut star in sophomore guard Jarrett Culver, who will likely be a lottery pick this June. He leads the team in points, assists, and rebounds. Beyond that, the Red Raiders are mostly depth and defense. The stark difference of these powerhouses will be interesting to see on Thursday.
1 Virginia vs. 12 Oregon, South Region
Time: 9:59 ET
The final game of day 1 of the Sweet Sixteen includes the only Cinderella Story left in March Madness. The upset-minded Ducks move on to 31-3 Virginia after beating Wisconsin and UC Irvine. After losing star freshman Bol Bol early in the season, Oregon’s season could’ve been lost. However, they fought for a Pac-12 tournament championship, beating other schools who have been eliminated from March Madness (Washington and Arizona St.). Led by Payton Pritchard, Louis King, and the athletic Kenny Wooten, the Ducks have a mighty challenge on their hands. Virginia is war-tested, skilled, and dominant in every way. They slipped last year in round 1, but now they’re out to avenge that loss. Guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome look to send UVA to its first Final Four since 1984. If you want to see Cinderella in action, stay up to watch Virginia vs. Oregon.
Friday, March 29th
2 Michigan St. vs. 3 LSU, East Region
Time: 7:09 PM ET
After beating Maryland in the final seconds of their second round game on Tremont Waters’ layup, LSU is riding high. Michigan St., however, is heavily favored. The Spartans best player is undoubtedly Cassius Winston. He leads the team with 18.9 points per game and 7.6 assists per game. Waters vs. Winston is certainly the most exciting story of the night. Supporting Winston, the Spartans have shooter Matt McQuaid and forwards Xavier Tillman and Nick Ward. For LSU, guards Javonte Smart and Skylar Mays help out Waters in the backcourt, while Naz Reid headlines the bigs. This game will be fun on many levels, but mostly concerning the two nasty point guards.
1 North Carolina vs. 5 Auburn, Midwest Region
Time: 7:29 PM ET
Expect to see many threes in this game. For Auburn, SEC tourney MVP Bryce Brown and Jared Harper are great shooters. In fact, the whole Auburn team catches fire from beyond the arc regularly, as they run at a meteoric pace. Forward Chuma Okeke leads the team on the boards as well. This will probably be Auburn’s toughest game all year, though. North Carolina is deep, explosive, and experienced. They have youngsters (freshmen Nassir Little and Coby White) and they have veterans (Cameron Johnson, Kenny Williams, and Luke Maye). They have great shooters (White, Johnson, and Williams). They gobble up boards (Maye and Garrison Brooks). What’s not to like about this squad. Both teams get down the court crazily fast, led by point guards Harper and White. If Auburn turns in its best performance, than this game will be incredibly entertaining.
1 Duke vs. 4 Virginia Tech, East Region
Time: 9:39 PM ET
Remember when these two teams faced off during the regular season? If you don’t, it’s fine because both teams were just shells of themselves at that point. The Hokies ended up pulling off the upset, but key players missed the game. For Duke, Zion Williamson was still recovering from the famous injury caused by the infamous shoe. For Tech, point guard Justin Robinson was injured. The first matchup between these teams was entertaining, but this contest will be even better with these two back. Duke is the team so many people have winning it all, and it’s easy to see why. Zion, R.J. Barrett, Cameron Reddish, and Tre Jones make up the most talented team in the tournament. Despite the highly-acclaimed rookies on the other team, Virginia Tech has real upset potential. Besides Robinson, the Hokies also have Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. This rematch is almost guaranteed to be entertaining.
2 Kentucky vs. 3 Houston, Midwest Region
Time: 9:59 PM ET
The status of the last game before the Elite Eight is somewhat unclear right now. That is, P.J. Washington’s injury status is unclear. Yes, he makes that much of a difference. Assuming he doesn’t play, that would make the game all the more interesting. The Wildcats would have to rely more on their perimeter shooting, which is what Houston does all the time. For Kentucky, Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro would have to step into major scoring roles. Also, forward Reid Travis would have to clean up the boards more than he usually does. Corey Davis Jr. and Armoni Brooks are Houston’s leading scorers, with fellow guard Galen Robinson Jr. distributing the rock. If Washington plays, however, the odds will be significantly in Kentucky’s favor. The Cougars will be hoping they won’t have to deal with him, but either way we should be happy because it is bound to be a good game.
So, as you can see, I have eight solid reasons to stay up until about midnight on Thursday and Friday. Hopefully, these games are all they’re cracked up to be. Then, hopefully, the Elite Eight, Final Four, and then the championship are even better. Cheers to March Madness!