Oregon Sports News 2017 NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen Preview

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After a ho-hum first round that saw all the top sixteen seeds advance for the first time in a decade, the NCAA Tournament got interesting in a hurry over the weekend.

Defending champ Villanova was upended by Wisconsin, Duke was sent packing by South Carolina, and Michigan’s magical post-plane accident run continued with an upset of Louisville.

Tonight starts the second weekend of a tournament that feels wide open. Here’s a look at the sixteen teams still playing, and who will make the Final Four in Phoenix.

EAST

Wisconsin has been maybe the country’s single most reliable team in the tournament over the last decade, and they delivered again in the first two rounds – riding a sensational Bronson Koenig shooting performance to beat Virginia Tech, and then playing a familiarly tight, tough, unwavering game to knock out Villanova in the second round.

Florida, after a shaky opening half, found their groove against East Tennessee State and then walked past a Virginia team that scored a breathtaking 39 points in their second round game.

Baylor was similarly poor in their opening half, but broke away from New Mexico State late and then got 11-seed USC in the second round. That game was close all the way, but credit to the Bears for bearing down after being knocked out by Georgia State and Yale the last two years.

South Carolina hadn’t won a tournament game since 1973 going into Friday, when they rode a huge home-court advantage in Greenville to a shootout win over Marquette. That home crowd added plenty of North Carolina fans on Sunday night, when the Gamecocks’ sheer athleticism overwhelmed Duke. This team plays extremely fast, and when they’re on, they can be a lot to handle.

Who Will Win? This region is wide open. You could make a good case for any of these teams. But Wisconsin has the most tournament experience, the oldest team, and the best scorer in Koenig. We’ll see if the Gamecocks can keep up their clip from the first weekend outside of their home state.

SOUTH

Who’s Left

North Carolina was pushed by Arkansas on Sunday, but the Tar Heels held on – keeping Roy Williams’ outstanding tournament record as a multiple-seed favorite intact. Carolina’s best this March is still to come.

Butler was, as usual, clinical in a first round win over Winthrop. They then dispatched tournament darlings Middle Tennessee in the second round with relative ease, in an extremely impressive performance. Somehow, the DNA of this team is still the same as when Brad Stevens had it – and the last two times the Bulldogs have made it to the Sixteen, they’ve advanced all the way to the championship game.

UCLA breezed through their first weekend, with Cincinnati lacking the offense to give the Bruins a real run for their money in the second round. It’s now onto Kentucky, and a rematch of a December game that finished 97-92. There are still questions about how UCLA’s defense and how they’ll respond to their first real taste of tournament adversity, but they have the firepower to make it to Phoenix. Lonzo Ball – whatever you think of his father – is phenomenal.

Kentucky was dealt a blow when Wichita State was given the ten-seed in their regional, and, considering the history between the two teams, it would have been no surprise had the Shockers won on Sunday. Kentucky survived, but of the Wildcats don’t play better offense than they did during the first weekend, they’ll be in trouble against UCLA. They need Aaron Harrison-esque performances from here on in from Malik Monk.

Who Will Win? There isn’t a pretender in this quartet. Don’t sleep on Butler, but I think the winner of the Kentucky-UCLA game goes to the Final Four.

MIDWEST

Who’s Left

Kansas fans should have been scared out of their minds by the prospect of facing an unfancied 20-14 Michigan State team in the second round, and, for about 32 minutes, the Spartans were right there. But Kansas – thanks in large part to Josh Jackson, whose participation in this tournament is controversial at best – locked in and pulled away. For all of his tournament struggles, Bill Self is 6-3 in his career in the Sweet Sixteen.

Purdue, without a tournament win since 2012, had a fairly tough draw – a Vermont team that possessed the nation’s longest winning streak, and an Iowa State team that was coming off another thunderous victory at the Big XII tournament. But the Boilermakers took care of business, and they’re now two steps away from their first Final Four since Lee Rose’s team made it in 1980. Caleb Swanigan has been unplayable so far.

Oregon showed all kinds of grit to get past Rhode Island and back into the Sweet Sixteen after trailing in that game for almost the entire second half. Chris Boucher has been missed, but the Ducks can still outscore 98% of teams if they’re on. This upcoming game against Michigan easily might be the most entertaining game of the next two days.

Michigan is the story of the tournament right now. Since their plane was blown off the runway en route to the B1G tournament, the Wolverines are 6-0 – having won their conference tournament and sent Rick Pitino packing. John Beilein is probably the Coach of the Year in the country, and what is so impressive about Michigan is that they’re equally comfortable in high and low-scoring games as we saw in their first two tournament contests. It’s been quite the ride, and it might not end any time soon.

Who Will Win? Both of the Sweet Sixteen games feel like tossups, but it’s Michigan who comes into Kansas City playing the best basketball. We’ll see if they still have their legs tonight.

WEST

Who’s Left

Gonzaga never makes it easy in the tournament, and the game against Northwestern was a good demonstration of why Mark Few has never made a Final Four. The Zags looked a little bit nervous last weekend, and if they have the same look tonight, West Virginia will eat them alive. If they settle in and get some consistent offense, there’s no reason they shouldn’t get to Phoenix.

West Virginia has had a torrid time of it in the tournament recently, but they were impressive in beating Bucknell and then Notre Dame last week. Now the Mountaineers are playing with house money – and that should scare Gonzaga: Bob Huggins reached his only Final Four with the school by knocking off a heavily favored Kentucky team led by John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. That said, play better defense than the Irish did, and the Mountaineers’ pressing game falls apart.

Xavier had a very nice draw – two highly overrated power conferences teams in Maryland and Florida State – and they took full advantage. The trip to the Sweet Sixteen marks an impressive turnaround for Chris Mack’s team, which lost six in a row at the end of February and was on the verge of falling out of the tournament completely.

Arizona let St. Mary’s hang around for a while on Saturday night, but they slammed the door late. The game against Xavier will pit Sean Miller against his former school – and former assistant in Mack – and while that game could very well be competitive, it’s the Elite Eight where Miller is 0-4 in his career and Arizona has fallen three times in their last six tournament appearances.

Who Will Win? It still feels like one of the great droughts in the sport – Miller’s and Arizona’s or Few’s and Gonzaga’s – will end with a Final Four berth. Of the Zags and Wildcats, Arizona has more weapons.

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