We have only witnessed two rounds of playoff basketball, but this year’s NCAA Tournament has already proven to be a classic. Leading into the Sweet Sixteen, last year’s champion has been ousted, with the Baylor Bears losing in the Round of 32, 86-93, in an overtime thriller against North Carolina. Other highly seeded teams have also fallen early. #2 seeded Kentucky was defeated in the first round by #15 seed St. Peter’s. St. Peter’s built on their unexpected momentum and knocked off another Kentucky team, Murray State, in round two. Other bracket busters have included Tennessee’s loss to Michigan in round two, as well as Auburn’s loss to Miami. In both of these games, a #2 seed lost to a #10 or higher seed.
Looking forward to the Sweet Sixteen, we have some intriguing and surprising match ups. I’m going to break down a few of them for you here:
(11) Iowa State v. (10) Miami
This match up pits two Cinderella teams against each other. Most people that made a bracket this year, picked both of these squads to fall in round 1. Instead of a first round exit, these teams knocked off higher seeded opponents in both of their tournament games. Miami is coming off of a dominant performance against #2 seeded Auburn, and Iowa State shut down #3 seeded Wisconsin. Iowa State’s defense has gelled in the tournament and Miami is experienced in close games, but I think the Cyclones will prevail.
Pick: 67-62 Iowa State
(3) Purdue v. (15) St. Peter’s
This game pits David against Goliath. The St. Peter’s Peacocks are an underdog once again. They have a formidable opponent in the high flying Boilermakers. Purdue was ranked AP No. 1 at one point this season and has the scoring ability to back up that ranking. Purdue’s defense is its weak spot. The upstart Peacocks could take advantage of this if they shoot well from the floor. If the Peacocks pull off an upset, it would be the first time in history that a #15 seed has advanced to the Elite Eight. Unfortunately, I think Purdue will coalesce as a unit. Good defense and efficient scoring from the Boilermakers will propel them past the Peacocks.
Pick: 77-70 Purdue
(1) Gonzaga v. (4) Arkansas
This game should be yet another thriller between juggernauts. Arkansas is trying to build off of last year’s success and advance to the Sweet Sixteen yet again, and top-seeded Gonzaga is aiming to cut the nets down in New Orleans. Arkansas is powered by the high scoring J.D. Notae. Even if Notae repeats his round 1, 35-point, performance, it may not be enough to overcome the efficiency and experience of the Bulldogs. Front court star Drew Timme, a junior, has plenty of NCAA tournament experience and has been impressive through two games. While both of these teams are good, the Razorbacks are no match for the Bulldog’s strength and vision.
Pick: 80-70 Gonzaga