Thursday Sweet Sixteen Preview and Predictions
We have reached the second weekend in the NCAA Tournament and are down to the Sweet Sixteen, starting with four games tonight that feature two SEC teams in Arkansas and Tennessee. Alabama does not play until tomorrow night against San Diego State, but Arkansas will take on UCONN tonight as the underdog, and Tennessee is favored to defeat Florida Atlantic. Let’s dive into every game and review each team’s road to the second weekend and give a prediction all four matchups:
East Region: #7 Michigan State vs. #3 Kansas State:
If there’s one constant in March, it’s Tom Izzo’s Spartan teams being overlooked and then proceeding to exceed expectations. Michigan State defeated 10 seeded USC in the first round then took down Shaka Smart’s #2 seeded Marquette Golden Eagles to reach the Sweet Sixteen. Kansas State has also overachieved this season, with first-year head coach Jerome Tang and the Wildcats having a phenomenal year in the toughest conference in college basketball. KSU took down 14 seed Montana State as well as 6 seed Kentucky in a second round thriller to make it here. This all being said, I have learned my lesson and am not picking against Tom Izzo in March.
Michigan State 78
Kansas State 73
West Region: #8 Arkansas vs. #4 UCONN
These are two teams that are both better than their seeding reflects. Arkansas, who has all the talent in the world but struggled with injuries and chemistry for much of the season, seems to finally be putting it together. And while UCONN had some not great stretches during the season, there were also periods where they looked to be the best team in college basketball. Arkansas has all the confidence fresh off a win over the defending national champions, and UCONN just smoked a quality St. Mary’s team as well. I’m gonna pick the upset here and Arkansas to reach their third straight Elite Eight in a thriller tonight.
East Region: #9 Florida Atlantic vs. #4 Tennessee
FAU has had a phenomenal season, winning 30+ games in the C-USA and both the regular season title and conference tournament. They defeated AAC Tournament champs Memphis in a first round slightly controversial barn burner, then took down Cinderella FDU in the second round. Tennessee escaped Louisiana Lafayette in the first round then dominated Duke in the Round of 32 in what was an incredibly impressive performance. I am going with Tennessee in this one rather easily, who seems to have found their stride.
West Region: #3 Gonzaga vs. #2 UCLA:
The marquee matchup of the night. Two legitimate national championship contenders full of stars on each. Gonzaga had a bit of a scare against TCU, but were able to close them out, and UCLA handled Northwestern as well. For me, this is the toughest game to predict of the tournament so far. UCLA has been without their best defender, Jaylen Clark, and this could finally catch up to them tonight, although it does seem they have weathered this storm nicely. Both teams have Final Four experience on their rosters, but I’m gonna go with UCLA in this one in what should be another thriller: