The Sweet 16 begins tomorrow night at 6:07 with the Nevada Wolfpack squaring off with the Cinderella Loyola (Chicago) Ramblers, and it continues on with 3 more games tomorrow night and 4 more Friday Night. The Elite 8 is Saturday and Sunday as all 16 teams set their sights on a trip to San Antonio and the Final Four the following weekend. The quest begins tomorrow night. Here's a look at the matchups and predictions for this classic and wild NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 round.
All times Central. Numbers are for seedings per region
No. 11 Loyola (Chicago) 30-5 vs No. 7 Nevada (29-7)
Philips Arena, Atlanta, 19,445
Nevada by 1 1/2
Both teams are improbable stories, moreso on Loyola's part. The ultimate Cinderella, the Ramblers defeated Miami, 64-62, on a buzzer beating 29 foot, 3 pointer by Dante Ingram last Thursday, and then defeated Tennessee last Saturday, 63-62, on a 7 foot leaner by Clayton Custer with 7 seconds left that hit the side of the rim, bounced off the backboard and dropped through the net. With 98 year old inspirational leader Sister Jean, the team chaplain and a nun, in attendance, Custer got some divine intervention and the Vols last second 3 pointer by Jordan Bone bounced off the backboard and the rim to seal the victory for the Ramblers. It's a terrific story. This team is talented and trustable. But this Wolfpack squad of Nevada came back from a 22 deficit in the last 11 minutes last Sunday to defeat No.2 Cincinnati, 75-73.
I really like this Ramblers squad, but even Sister Jean predicted them to go out in the Sweet 16. It doesn't take away from the magic of this season for the Ramblers, and the future is bright in Windy City. But I like 6'7", 235 Jordan Caroline, who averages 17.7 points and 8.7 rebounds, to just outlast this scrappy, inspirational Ramblers team.
Nevada 77, Loyola 75
No. 7 Texas A&M (22-12) vs. No.3 Michigan (30-7)
Staples Center, Los Angeles, 21,000
Michigan by 2 1/2
I liked the Wolverines to advance all the way to San Antonio in my bracket. Texas A&M is extremely imposing with their front wall of 6'9", 215 power forward DJ. Hogg, 6'10" 241 power forward Robert Williams, and 6'10", 266 pound center Tyler Davis. It's a massive task for the Wolverines. The Aggies dominated defending national champion North Carolina last Sunday, 86-65, but Michigan's stunning last second victory over an outstanding Houston team last Saturday Night was just as impressive. Houston held a 63-61 lead with 3.9 seconds left and had a chance to ice the game at the line on a double bonus. but center Devin Davis missed both free throws, Michigan grabbed the rebound, called timeout and set up a play. They inbounded the ball to super shooter Muhammad-Ali Abdur- Rahkman, who caught the ball, raced over the half court line, and as 2 Houston defenders were closing in on him, passed it to freshman shooting guard Jordan Poole. Poole without hesitation let it fly from 28 feet. The ball found the bottom of the net and the Wolverines lived to make the Sweet 16. It was phenomenal. I like these Wolverines to get the job done again in a hard fought contest with this physical, talented Aggies squad. Looking for some more last second heroics to determine this outcome from these 2 highly talented teams.
Michigan 70, A&M 68
No.5 Kentucky (26-10) vs. No.9 Kansas State (24-11)
Philips Arena, Atlanta
Kentucky by 5 1/2
I've never heard so much whining as John Calipari exhibited on Selection Show Sunday when he said how his team got the royal shaft by being sent to Boise to play the first 2 rounds. Then Calipari, as usual, said his team is the youngest team in NCAA history. I've got a solution to that, Cal, do like Villanova does and get players who are going to stay. Talented 4 stars and high 3 stars who will make up a terrific team and will stick around. But if you're going to keep recruiting these one and dones, stop complaining. Still, despite Calipari's crying, Kentucky has had the easiest road to the Sweet 16 of any team left in the tournament. They faced Davidson in the first round and Buffalo in the second round. No disrespect to either of these teams, Buffalo did upset Arizona on Thursday Night as Arizona Coach Sean MIller proved again he's a hack in the NCAA Tournament, so that's pretty strong, but they weren't a stern test for the Wildcats on Saturday. So Kentucky has had a pretty good deal. I see it continuing this Thursday Night as they play a Kansas State team that is physical and rugged, but offensively challenged. Kentucky is playing well right now, but their competition so far isn't a super gauge on their talent.
Kentucky 65, Kansas State 55
No.9 Florida State (22-11) vs. No.4 Gonzaga (32-4)
Staples Center, LA
Zags by 5 1/2
FSU looked sunk against No.1 seed Xavier with just over 10 minutes left last Sunday. But they stepped up the defense and came back from a 12 point deficit and iced it from the free throw line in the last 30 seconds going 4 for 4 as they defeated Xavier improbably, 75-70, to advance to the Sweet 16. Now they face the No.4 seed Gonzaga Bulldogs who are playing super basketball right now. I like Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie to lead the Zags to the Elite 8 with a close victory over a scrappy FSU team.
Gonzaga 71, Florida State 67
No. Clemson (25-9) vs. No.1 Kansas (29-7)
CenturyLInk Center, Omaha, Neb. (17,560)
Kansas by 4 1/2
Clemson is coming off a blasting of Auburn last Sunday, 84-53. Ouch. They are an excellent team, but I'll take the Jayhawks and their super offensive group led by sensational senior Devonte' Graham, who averages 17 points and 7 1/2 assists. This is a terrifically talented group.
Kansas 78, Clemson 74
No. 5 West Virginia (26-10) vs. No.1 Villanova (32-4)
TD Garden, Boston 19,580
Nova by 5 1/2
Press Virginia is a very tough, hard-nosed team led by super senior Jevon Carter, who averages 17 points and 6 assists. The Mountaineers will press, press and press some more to try to get the offense to turn it over. But there is also a lot to like about this Nova squad led by juniors Jalen Brunson (19 points, 4.7 assists) and Mikal Bridges (18 points, 5.4 rebounds). And I really like Nova's coach, Jay Wright. He had come close many times before and finally got over the hump by winning it all 2 years ago on a last second 3 to defeat North Carolina. I see Nova surviving Press Virginia and moving on.
Villanova 68, West Virginia 64
No.2 Duke (28-7) vs. No. 11 Syracuse (23-13)
CenturyLink Center, Omaha
Duke by 11
The Orange have had an improbable and impressive run through the tournament winning a play in game and 2 more, including a pretty surprising upset of No.3 Michigan State last Sunday, 55-53. Michigan State was picked to win by several experts. But Duke can shoot it a lot better than Michigan State can. I like the talented but controversial Grayson Allen (15.6 points, hope he doesn't trip anybody) and 6'11", 234 super freshman Marvin Bagley III to lead the Blue Devils to the Elite 8.
Duke 70, Syracuse 58
No.3 Texas Tech (26-9) vs. No.2 Purdue (30-6)
TD Garden, Boston
Purdue by 1 1/2
The Red Raiders play tremendous defense, but I like the Boilermakers, led by the Edwards boys who are not related, Carsen, 18.2 ppg, and Vince, 14.7 ppg, 7.2 rbg, to carry the night and lead Purdue to the next round and a shot at the Final Four.
Purdue 68, Texas Tech 66