Let the Madness resume! After a three-day break—which is an eternity when you’re used to almost 12-hour marathons that begins with the Round of 64 on Thursday until the last Round of 32 game on Sunday—we will finally get back to business on Thursday.
Alas, we are now down to 16 teams (and aren’t they oh so sweet?!). And although the first three rounds of the tournament offered us a whole load of excitement (who can forget the Hunters of Georgia State?), this weekend could take it to a new level as we will have our Final Four set after Sunday’s games.
So with the intensity of getting to Indianapolis about to hit a fever pitch, let’s take a look at each one of Thursday’s Sweet 16 games with one key thing to watch in each contest.
No. 10-seed Wichita State vs. No. 3-seed Notre Dame 7:15 CBS Cleveland, Ohio Quicken Loans Arena
What will win out, Notre Dame’s high-octane offense or Wichita State’s stifling defense?
This is clearly a game of contrasting styles, as Notre Dame likes to play at a fast pace and tries to run to let its star Jerian Grant improvise on the spot. Meanwhile, Wichita State would like to play a deliberate and methodical half-court game.
Notre Dame averages 78.2 points per game (12th in the nation) on .510 shooting (second in the nation) and not only gets great contributions from Grant, but they also get double-digit scoring production from Zach Auguste (12.6), Pat Connaughton (12.5) and Demetrius Jackson (12.4). So, they are more than a one-man show, and slowing them down will not be easy.
That said, if there is a team that is capable of slowing down the Fighting Irish, it is Wichita State. One of coach Greg Marshall’s calling cards is that his teams get at it defensively. The Shockers are disciplined, yet relentless on defense, and they do a good job of being aggressive without fouling.
They say defense wins championships, so we’ll see if that credo will hold up on Thursday. And despite being the lower seed, the Shockers are the ones who are favored. Hmm.
No. 4-seed North Carolina vs. No.1-seed Wisconsin 7:46 TBS Los Angeles, California Staples Center
Can North Carolina bully its way inside and make this a battle won in the frontcourt?
The Tar Heels rely on good ball movement, as the top option is to get the ball inside to one their talented bigs (Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson). Outside of Kentucky, this may be perhaps the biggest team in the tournament, and they are second in the country in rebounding (averaging 41 rebounds per game). However, it wont be easy with Kennedy Meeks sidelined. His likely absence will prove to be large when it is all said and done.
Outside of Marcus Paige, this is not a great shooting team. On the other hand, we know Wisconsin can shoot. Suffice to say, the Tar Heels don’t want to wage a war from outside.
So if the Tar Heels have ideas of upsetting the Badgers, they will try to make this a half-court game that is won in the paint regardless of whether Meeks plays or not. Paige will no doubt have to bring his onions in this game.
No. 5-seed West Virginia vs. No. 1 seed Kentucky 9:45 CBS Cleveland, Ohio Quicken Loans Arena
Can West Virginia’s full-court press rattle Kentucky?
First off, the chances of the Mountaineers pulling off the shocker and beating the undefeated Wildcats are very slim.
However, West Virginia does have a chaotic full-court press that can definitely irritate Kentucky. To what end, who knows? Plus, the the Mountaineers are a physical, scrappy team, and they will probably try to replicate what Cincinnati did Saturday in their Round of 32 game against Kentucky. Cincinnati got pushy with Kentucky and tried to slow the game down by getting psychical with the Wildcats.
This could be yet another drag-down, knock-out fight. Kentucky should ultimately have too much strength and depth to fall. If I was a betting man, I’d take the under in this game.
No.6-seed Xavier vs. No. 2-seed Arizona 9:47 TBS Los Angeles, California Staples Center
Will Xavier be able to get physical with Arizona and get them off their game?
Continuing with the physical theme, Xavier will no doubt try to bring some of their east-coast bravado and swag by trying to get under the skin of Arizona.
Arizona is as versatile as they come, as they can go big or small, and they have the athletes to run. The Musketeers will try to make this a half-court game, and if Jalen Reynolds, an emerging brute in the paint, can get going, the chances for an upset will escalate. Reynolds and senior center Matt Stainbrook could definitely cause some havoc in the paint in this affair. But, if this becomes a shootout and track meet, the Wildcats will likely come away victors.