NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen Preview

Thus far, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has been wildly unpredictable. Over the course of 96 hours, March Madness has ousted three No. 3 seeds, two No. 2 seeds and the first team to enter the tournament undefeated since UNLV in 1991, No. 1 seed Wichita State. The carnage had rendered all 11 million brackets contending for Warren Buffet’s billon-dollar challenge wrong. More chaos is likely to ensue going into the Sweet 16, and while it’s too late to go back and change all your surefire picks, here is a breakdown of each region going forward in the tournament.

South Region: No. 11 Dayton (25-10) at No. 10 Stanford (23-12); No. 4 UCLA (28-8) at No. 1 Florida (34-2).

Favorite: Florida. As the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, the Gators have won 27 straight games and look to not lose any momentum going forward after a very strong outing against Pittsburgh in the third round. They are loaded at all positions and boast one of the stingiest defenses in the country. The Gators look like the favorite to cut the nets in North Texas, provided they can get by a tough UCLA team.

Darkhorse: Stanford. An afterthought in the round of 64, many thought at-large pick Stanford was primed for an early exit out of the tournament. Then the Cardinal beat New Mexico in what was a relatively quiet 10-7 upset. Heads were finally turned when the Cardinal beat down No. 2 seed Kansas into submission, constituting one of the most surprising early exits of the tournament. Stanford has size down low and boasts veteran players, making them a formidable foe going forward.

East Region: No. 3 Iowa State (28-7) vs. No. 7 Connecticut (28-8); No. 4 Michigan State (28-8) vs. No. 1 Virginia (30-6).

Favorite: Virginia. A No. 1 seed for the first time since 1983, the Cavaliers certainly look like they’ve been here before. After keeping their composure against a scrappy Coastal Carolina team and dominating Memphis in the second round, the ACC Champion Cavaliers are the last remaining team from their conference in a tournament that has ousted traditional ACC powers Duke and North Carolina. Provided that Virginia can continue to shut opponents down with its nation-best scoring defense and play consistent offense, this team should get by popular darkhorse tournament pick Michigan State into the Elite 8.

Darkhorse: UConn. This darkhorse pick goes against popular bracket-buster Michigan State. The Huskies are a gritty No. 7 seed, a team with nothing to lose and led by a gutsy scorer and leader in Shabazz Napier, who is the type of player that makes lots of noise come tournament time. The venue is Madison Square Garden, the host of many thrilling Big East Tournaments and some of UConn’s finest moments as a program. Watch for this team to get by Iowa State and contend with Virginia for a spot in the Final Four.

West Region: No. 2 Wisconsin (26-7) vs. No. 6 Baylor (23-11); No. 1 Arizona (30-4) vs. No. 4 San Diego State (29-4).

Favorite: Arizona. The Wildcats have been the most dominant force in the tournament, cruising into the Sweet 16 with stellar performances over Weber State and Gonzaga. The Wildcats boast the nation’s fourth-best scoring defense and have posted a whopping 76 points per contest in their first two games of the tournament. Nick Johnson has played exceptionally well, and Aaron Gordon looks to have a breakout performance following the exits of fellow freshman superstars Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.

Darkhorse: Baylor. After running by Nebraska and dismantling a formidable Creighton team by 20 in the round of 32, the Bears look like the real deal. Battle tested by a difficult Big 12 schedule, this Baylor team looks as tournament-ready as anyone.

Midwest Region: No. 11 Tennessee (21-12) at No. 2 Michigan (25-8); No. 8 Kentucky (24-10) at No. 4 Louisville (29-5).

Favorite: Louisville. Despite the presence of a higher seed in No. 2 seed Michigan, this Louisville team should be the favorite to come out of a loaded Midwest region by a nose. The defending champion Cardinals arguably should have been seeded much higher in the tournament, and bring with them depth and experience to the Sweet 16.

Darkhorse: Kentucky. Kentucky is growing up right before our eyes and looks to be the darkhorse pick as a national championship contender. The Wildcats are loaded with talent and managed to match undefeated No. 1 seed Witchita State play-for-play in the round of 32. If John Calipari’s squad, led by superstar freshman Julius Randle, can keep progressing as they have of late, this team may live up to the lofty expectations it set as one the greatest recruiting classes of all time.

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