Sweet 16 Predictions, And Beyond
Three quarters of the tournament has been eliminated from postseason play already, and now we are down to just the Sweet 16. According to seed numbers, 11 of those 16 teams belong there (meaning they are a 1-4 seed) so the madness hasn't been too crazy this season. It's actually been a predictable tournament, which helps make victories by mid-major schools that much sweeter in other years. If mid-majors always made the Final Four, it wouldn't be as special, right? That does not mean there haven't been upsets or amazing moments, but the power conferences (outside the ACC) have really shown up this season, and with that, here are my Sweet 16 and beyond predictions.
(8) Wisconsin vs. (4) Florida and (3) Baylor vs. (7) South Carolina
This is the only region that is "blown up" at this point, since every other bracket has at least three top four seeds remaining. With the one and two seeds, Villanova and Duke respectively, out, and many of them being title favorites, this region is up for grabs. I will admit that I have underestimated all four of these teams, as I had all but one of them (Wisconsin) being eliminated in the first round and none of them in the Sweet 16. Yeah, about that.
At this point, I'm going with one of my dark horse Final Four contenders from day one, the veteran-led Wisconsin Badgers who have made the last four Sweet 16 appearances. They finally got that win over a team that was considered to be truly better than them, and now they have the "easiest" bracket left to make the Final Four. I like what South Carolina did to Duke, but a part of me says that is where the run ends for the Gamecocks, and Baylor has shown they are not a one-and-done every season. They have played teams like South Carolina and beaten them, and they are gaining steam again. I think Wisconsin will top Baylor purely due to experience and it seeming like it may be the wrong place and wrong time for Baylor.
(1) Gonzaga vs. (4) West Virginia and (11) Xavier vs. (2) Arizona
This is a really deep Sweet 16, with so many teams that could conceivably win it all. I picked Gonzaga and Arizona to have a rematch in the Elite 8, and at this point I have no real reason to not believe in my prediction. Sure, West Virginia and Xavier are playing well, but Gonzaga and Arizona both won their conference tournaments and made it to the same point as those two teams. West Virginia and Xavier have both been in the top 10 this season, but Arizona and Gonzaga might be the two best remaining teams.
I'm sticking to my gut with this region, and that includes my prediction that Arizona will win the national championship. Xavier and Gonzaga are both good teams, but Arizona is filled with experienced four stars and underclassmen lottery picks, including F Lauri Markkanen who is a mismatch for everybody in this tournament. Gonzaga's best win this season is over the Wildcats, but that is when they didn't have star G Allonzo Trier, and it was only by single digits. Trier is the difference here, and Arizona will get the best of Gonzaga this time.
(1) North Carolina vs. (4) Butler and (2) Kentucky vs. (3) UCLA
This bracket shaped up "perfectly" from a bracket alignment standpoint, and arguably the best Sweet 16 matchup is in this bracket. Kentucky vs. UCLA is a rematch of their early season matchup that UCLA won, but Kentucky has been pretty hot since then. Kentucky and UCLA are both loaded with NBA talent, and it should be exciting. I have Kentucky beating UCLA in the rematch, because this is where I believe freshman guards Malik Monk and De'Aaron Fox will showcase their talents on a national scale when all the talk is about UCLA freshman Lonzo Ball.
As far as North Carolina and Butler, Carolina struggled against Arkansas where Butler really hasn't shown vulnerability to this point. North Carolina is the most inconsistent one seed in recent memory, and Butler has the second most top 50 wins of any team in this tournament. They can beat anybody and lose to anybody, in other words, they play to their competition. I have Butler advancing to the Final Four over North Carolina and then Kentucky, due to them showing up in a big way against quality competition.
(1) Kansas vs. (4) Purdue and (3) Oregon vs. (7) Michigan
The four seeds are the only seed to have all teams make the Sweet 16, and I don't even remember the last time that has happened since they are always with 5, 12 and 13 seeds and usually one of them makes it. Anyways, I had Kansas playing Iowa State, which favors Kansas, and this Purdue game could be tough for them. Stopping Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas is much tougher than stopping Nick Ward, but the overall talent on Kansas' roster should be enough for them to get past Purdue. I had Oregon vs. Michigan in the Sweet 16, and with the injury to Chris Boucher and the run that Michigan has been on, I have no reason yet to pick against the Wolverines.
And, this is one of my three Elite 8 matchups that is still intact, with Kansas facing Michigan. I have Kansas advancing to the national championship game as they have consistently proven to be a top four team in the country throughout the regular and postseason, and have looked like the best team so far in the tournament. They have the firepower on offense that Louisville doesn't to be able to match the runs Michigan will make, and they also have the three best players on the floor (sorry Derrick Walton) in guards Frank Mason and Devonte Graham along with superstar freshman Josh Jackson.
My Final Four predictions remain as they were last week at this time, with Wisconsin taking the place of Villanova. Arizona, Kansas and Butler are all still alive, and my national championship game of Arizona defeating Kansas is now probably favored to happen. I will go into more detail on the Final Four when the time comes.