What a first weekend for college basketball's championship tournament. We have plenty of powerhouses and Cinderellas left in the tourney, so let's take a look at who's left, how they got there, and what's in store for them.
Louisville (1) - Oregon (12):
Louisville has breezed into the Sweet 16 with easy wins over play-in team North Carolina A&T and over-matched Colorado State. N.C. A&T barely squeaked in with a win over Liberty only to get crushed 79-48 by Louisville. It's the type of result that makes you bemoan these “First 4” games until you get a team that actually makes a run (we'll get there). After dispatching N.C. A&T, Louisville made short work of Colorado State, a tough team that could have gone a little deeper were it not for a tough draw against the overall number 1 seed. Led by Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, Louisville has looked every bit the part of THE number 1 seed thus far.
Louisville now has a match-up against Oregon in the Sweet 16. Oregon has been one of my personal favorites to watch so far in this tourney. They're athletic and explosive and definitely a dangerous team for Louisville. They're led by super-quick guards Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson and incorporate hyper-energy guys such as Arsalan Kazemi. They run the floor and that will match up well with Louisville's frenetic style. Oregon has already beat two very good teams in Oklahoma State and St. Louis - a team that many pundits had predicted would beat Louisville if the teams met in the Sweet 16. I'm going out on a limb and predicting that this upstart Oregon team has what it takes to get past Louisville and book a trip to the Elite 8 against one of the teams from this next match-up.
Michigan State (3) – Duke (2):
This is probably the best coaching match-up in the round of 16. The two head coaches can boast a combined 6 titles and 17 Final 4 appearances. Unfortunately only one of these teams will have a chance to continue that success. Michigan State is has retained its perennial contender status under Coach Tom Izzo with its hard-nosed, defense-minded style of play. MSU is led by a dominant inside game featuring Derrick Nix and some smart wing players. They made short work of both Valparaiso and Memphis en route to the game against Duke.
Duke also looks the part of perennial contender under Coach K. Led by the senior duo of bigs Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee alongside sharpshooter guard Seth Curry, the Blue Devils managed to slip by Albany and Creighton in games that were a bit closer than the final scores suggested. Duke is still trying to integrate a not-one-hundred-percent Ryan Kelly back in to the lineup. It's proven a little difficult so far, but I still have to choose them to advance to the Elite 8 over MSU (and this may have just a little bit of bias as I am a fan of the team). That set up a game against Louisville and perhaps an even better coaching match-up with Rick Pitino. My bias just can't conquer Louisville's great squad though, and I predict a trip to Atlanta for the Cardinals.
Wichita State (9) – La Salle (13):
This is one of the more unlikely round of 16 match-ups. Wichita State had to go through a solid Pitt team and the #1 seed in the region, Gonzaga. Yes, I resisted the urge to make the easy pun given Wichita State's Shockers nickname. Wichita State has the advantage of a strong bench which it is using to outlast opponents over the full 40.
La Salle has played in all three rounds of the tournament so far. They ousted Boise State in a play-in game just to get a shot at 4-seed K-State. They pulled off a surprising upset with a huge first-half and just enough at the end of the game. For that they earned a contest against Ole Miss and the volatile Marshall Henderson. Another close win brought them to this match-up with Wichita State, and I have to believe the run ends here for La Salle. They're a good squad, but Wichita State has the maturity and depth that make teams great in the tourney.
Arizona (6) – Ohio State (2):
These two teams took slightly different routes to this round. Arizona had one of the easier paths to the Sweet 16 via Belmont and Harvard, winning both by double digits. Ohio State, on the other hand, had to beat Iowa State by means of an Aaron Craft shot with .2 seconds remaining in the game. Craft provides the leadership and DeShaun Thomas brings the NBA-level talent and scoring for OSU.
Arizona is led by Mark Lyons and surrounded by a solid group of excellent role players. They're one of the teams that you can consistently bank on to make noise in the tournament, so it's no surprise to see them here again. However, I'm thinking their run ends here with a loss to a very good OSU team. Sorry 'Zona, it's nothing personal. OSU will then continue that run to the Elite 8 with another win over Wichita State and earn a berth in the Final 4.
Kansas (1) – Michigan (4):
This is the premiere contest in the Sweet 16. You have a slightly underrated Michigan team, in my opinion, going up against a well-deserved number 1 seed in Kansas. This game holds a bit more importance as it takes place here in Arlington’s Jerryworld along with the UF-FGCU game. Kansas has survived two somewhat shaky performances to get to this point. They struggled to get their shot going against Western Kentucky, but held on for a 7 point win anyway. Then they needed a huge second half to overcome a terrible first half against the never-easy North Carolina Tarheels. Jeff Withey is playing excellent basketball so far, and Travis Releford is helping to pace the team while lottery-bound freshman Ben McLemore finds his stroke.
Michigan, meanwhile, is led by its own trio featuring stud guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. alongside big Glenn Robinson III. Michigan beat South Dakota State University by shutting down Nate Wolters and then got a hard-earned victory over a very upset-minded VCU. I'm hard-pressed to pick a winner in this game, but in the spirit of the article, I must do so. I think Ben McLemore finally finds his shot in this contest which combines with Withey's excellent interior game to be too much for Michigan to handle. Jayhawks, you’re moving on.
Florida (3) – Florida Gulf Coast University (15):
Now for my most anticipated match-up of the Sweet 16 (and what should be every passive observer's favorite as well). I'm on the FGCU bandwagon 100 percent. Dunk City has captivated me. This team is flat-out fun to watch. They push the ball in transition, make smart, crafty passes, and throw down on anyone. Anyone who's reading this article probably has a good idea of FGCU's storied run so far, but I'll quickly rehash anyway.
They upset Georgetown in the first round to set up a game and a win versus a surprisingly good San Diego State team (if only they had been surprisingly great, right?). They have a legit star with Sherwood Brown, and a ton of creative play-makers around him such as Brett Comer (whose passes have straight-up captivated me), Chase Fieler, and Bernard Thompson. I'm telling you, people, watch this team. It's a blast.
FGCU matches up against Florida in the Sweet 16. Florida's head coach Billy Donovan has put together a rounded line-up that can get points from everyone. The awakening of Mike Rosario last game makes them especially dangerous. If he continues to realize his potential into this game against FGCU, they'll be one formidable opponent. Florida steamrolled the NCAA's highest-scoring team, Northwestern State, in the first round and coasted after a huge first half against Minnesota.
Donovan will certainly make sure his Gators do not underestimate this 15-seed, yet I'm going to ride my bias into a FGCU upset prediction. Yeah, it's probably going more with my heart than my head, but it's my article, and I can do what I want. So now, can my heart convince my brain to pick FGCU over Kansas? I'm going with an emphatic “oh yeah” in my best kool-aid man voice. FGCU was the first 15-seed in the Sweet 16, and they'll continue their historic run to become the first 15-seed in the Elite 8 and Final 4 too. Hop on board the bandwagon people, there's plenty of room!
Indiana (1) – Syracuse (4):
The only section of the bracket that had all top 4 seeds advance to the Sweet 16 is the East. It should make for some pretty compelling hoops. First is this Indiana/Syracuse game. Indiana made short work of play-in game winner James Madison in the first round and then leaned on the late-game Hero-ball stylings of Victor Oladipo to get past Temple and their big-time scorer Khalif Wyatt. Oladipo is joined by Cody Zeller to form a powerful inside-out combo.
Syracuse is handled by one of the better coaches in college hoops, Jim Boeheim, who has had his teams in this position many times before. Like Donovan's Florida squad, Boeheim has a team that can get points from anyone on any given night. Teams like this can be hard to plan for, because you never really know what to take away to limit a team's efficiency. Plus Boeheim's famed 2-3 zone has looked solid in their first two games as well. In those games, Syracuse easily defeated the 13-seed Montana, and then struggled through a tough game, and specifically a tough second half, against California. Of the two teams, Indiana has looked stronger and more consistent thus far in the tourney, and therefore they are my choice to advance beyond this round into the Elite 8.
Miami, FL (2) – Marquette (3):
I'm a Duke fan, and I see Miami as a rival in the ACC, but I like Miami quite a bit as a basketball team. I know when I see talent. Shane Larkin is surrounded by a platoon of very-capable scorers and defenders. The kid hits big shots when the game is on the line -- just ask Illinois. That big shot and win over the Illini and an easy, big win over Pacific paved Miami's way to this point.
Fittingly enough, the Hurricanes go up against a team with a similar make-up. Marquette has play-maker Vander Blue and a core of good role players as well. Vander Blue had to make those big-time plays in very close games against Davidson, a 1-point victory, and Butler, a 2-point victory. I think their luck runs out in this one though. Miami is just too long and too athletic. They'll go on to face Indiana in an interesting match-up between two different styles of basketball. The NCAA has typically favored a more methodical, less turnover-prone style of play, which makes Indiana the pick to come out of the East and into the Final 4.
Phillip Rudd is a Graduate History student at the University of North Texas. He prioritized writing this over an academic paper. He tweets as @SoonerAristotle, where he will talk sports or 90's music with you at any hour of the day. Or night.