The first three rounds of this year’s NCAA Tournament have been nothing short of spectacular. We’ve seen more than a fair share of nail biters, buzzer beaters, and most importantly, major upsets. After all the smoke cleared from what was a chaotic first weekend, we are left with sixteen teams standing. On Friday, the Midwest and South Region’s Sweet Sixteen matchups will take place. We’ll see the instate battle for Florida bragging rights. We’ll see two power conference tournament champions face off, two mid-major schools trying to prove themselves, and lastly, a coaching matchup between two of the best to ever it. Here’s how I see each game playing out.
#12 Oregon vs. #1 Louisville
Oregon has been arguably the most impressive team so far this tournament. They knocked off a good Oklahoma State team, and then dismantled a very good St. Louis team. Similar to Oregon, Louisville has dominated both of its opponents so far. Louisville’s pressure defense is one of the best in the country. It gave North Carolina A&T and Colorado State fits all game long. This game is going to come down to Oregon’s ability to protect that ball. Oregon’s two main ball handlers are Johnathan Lloyd and Dominic Artis. Artis is a freshman coming off injury who didn’t see the court much in the Ducks’ last game, and Lloyd is about 5’8” in high heels. Louisville’s length should give the Ducks problems, and keep their high potent offense at bay.
Prediction: Louisville 73 Oregon 60
#4 Michigan vs. #1 Kansas
This has all the makings of an ESPN instant classic. Both teams have star power, are veteran led, and understand how to win. Kansas has two potential All Americans in freshman guard Ben McLemore and senior center Jeff Withey. Michigan on the other hand, has the front-runner for the Wooden Award in sophomore point guard Trey Burke. Even though both teams are loaded with star power, one player in particular will be the difference. In Kansas’ two wins so far this tournament, Ben McLemore has scored a combined 13 points on 2-14 shooting. He is yet to make a three. Kansas has been able to squeak by Western Kentucky and UNC without much from McLemore because overall they are a much more talented team, but that’s not the case with Michigan. McLemore is also one of the Jayhawks’ better ball handlers, and will be a vital part of Kansas’ attack on Michigan’s pressure d. If he shows up, Kansas should win. If he doesn’t, this could get ugly.
Prediction: Michigan 64 Kansas 63
#3 Michigan State vs. #2 Duke
When Ryan Kelly has been healthy, Duke has been nearly unbeatable. They are extremely talented across the board. Duke’s biggest weakness is their lack of physicality down low. Michigan State on the other hand, is probably the most physical team left in the tournament. Duke is the more talented team, but the matchups favor Sparty in this one. The bigs actually match up well. Plumlee versus Nix is a wash. Kelly and Payne match up pretty well even though Payne has a huge athleticism advantage. The guard matchups are where it gets tricky for the Blue Devils. Duke will probably want to start Tyler Thornton, their best perimeter defender, on Keith Appling to try and get him out of his rhythm. That means Quinn Cook would have to guard Gary Harris, which isn’t an awful matchup even though Harris has a couple inches on him. That also forces Seth Curry (6’2” 185 lbs) to guard Brandon Dawson (6’6” 230 lbs). Can you say,“mouse in the hosue”? MSU will put Dawson in the post all day long, and continue to take advantage of that mismatch. Duke will be forced to play funky lineups all night long to counter Spartys’ size.
Prediction: Michigan State: 68 Duke 62
#15 Florida Gulf Coast vs. #3 Florida
Had this game been played on Tuesday, I’d give FGCU a real shot at winning. However, Billy Donavan and his Gators have had about a week to prepare for FGCU, find their weaknesses, and develop a plan against their strengths. When you give a great coach like Donavan a chance to study a team, they usually don’t lose. Florida has size and strength advantages in the post, and athleticism on the wings to matchup with Brown and Fieler. Scottie Wilbekin is a very good defensive point guard, and should be able to limit Brett Comer’s vision of the passing lanes. FGCU definitely has the talent to pull off the upset and continue this Cinderella run, but it’s going to take an unbelievable effort and an awful shooting performance from the Gators.
Prediction: Florida 77 Florida Gulf Coast 59
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