The Sweet 16 round in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is usually when March Madness becomes less mad and the true title contenders move on to the Final Four. But will that be the case this year?
If Sunday repeats Saturday’s action, it is looking that way. Oregon State, a 12-seed, was the only team able to pull off an upset Saturday, knocking off No. 8 Loyola Chicago. No. 3 Arkansas slipped past No. 15 Oral Roberts 72-70, while the other favorit won by double digits.
In a season and a tournament setup like none we have seen previously, it seems logical that we should continue to expect the unexpected. But if things actually do go according to seed from this point forward, would that be just as unexpected? Sorry, didn’t mean to get into mental gymnastics. This is a basketball tournament.
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One of the benefits of this year’s amended schedule is that all eight games in the round of 16 have their own time window, so no channel flipping will be necessary. Here’s a look at each game, in order of appearance.
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 5 Creighton
Time/TV: 2:10 p.m. ET, CBS
Heading into the Big Dance, conventional wisdom had it that Gonzaga would at some point encounter a team with enough size and athleticism to challenge its ultra-efficient offense. Creighton, however, is not that team. The Bluejays have regained their scoring punch to get to this point, but they will have a hard time matching up with the Bulldogs’ Drew Timme when the ball enters the post. Creighton does average 9.6 made three-pointers but will need more than that to outscore the ‘Zags.
Prediction: Gonzaga, 88-71.
No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 4 Florida State
Time/TV: 5 p.m., CBS
We come now to the lone meeting in the round of 16 in which both participants lived up to their respective seeds. It could also be among the best matchups on the slate. Florida State has plenty of depth and can score in a lot of ways. But the Seminoles must cut down on their recent spate of turnovers, and Balsa Koprivica must avoid early foul issues as he contends with the Wolverines’ strong frontcourt. Some key minutes from Wake Forest transfer Chaundee Brown helped Michigan overcome the loss of injured forward Isaiah Livers, and the Wolverines’ solid 78.0 free-throw percentage should serve them well if/when things get tight in the closing minutes.
Prediction: Michigan, 82-80.
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No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 11 UCLA
Time/TV: 7:15 p.m., TBS
The Bruins needed three wins to get here and have seemingly snapped out of the late-season slump that pushed them into the First Four round. The Crimson Tide, however, will be their toughest challenge thus far in the tournament. Alabama hits 10.7 three-pointers a game, more than any team left in the field. UCLA is capable of keeping up if Johnny Juzang can continue his recent hot streak, though the Bruins would prefer a less frenetic pace. Both teams have maintained a positive rebounding margin over the course of the season despite lacking a true post presence, and that category will go a long way toward determining which team can impose its tempo on the game. The efforts of Herbert Jones could give the edge there to the Tide.
Prediction: Alabama, 88-82.
No. 6 Southern California vs. No. 7 Oregon
Time/TV: 9:45 p.m., TBS
The round concludes with the second rematch, an all-conference affair from the surprising Pac-12. Thanks to the stop-start nature of this most unusual of seasons the teams only met once, with USC prevailing 72-58 on Feb. 22. Of note from that encounter, it had been hastily rescheduled after an earlier postponement, and the Trojans were without Isaiah Mobley but still jumped out to a 23-point lead in the first half. The Ducks probably won’t get out of the gate so slowly again, and USC is unlikely to replicate the three-point barrage it rained on Kansas in its most recent outing. Even so, the Trojans should still enjoy a significant advantage in the paint thanks to the Mobley brothers, and their perimeter defense figures to offer more resistance to the Ducks than Iowa did in Oregon’s lone tourney game to date. This one should be a lot closer, but the outcome should be the same.
Prediction: USC, 76-69.
Follow colleges reporter Eddie Timanus on Twitter @EddieTimanus