The sports talk radio airwaves and ESPN daily college basketball broadcasts the past month were all about how wide open this 2016 Big Dance tournament was, that any school could win, and upsets were inevitable. There was even conversation that this March could well be the first time a No #16 seedling would oust a No #1. When all of the vapor cleared this past Sunday and the real smoke diminished to the point that there was visibility in the Mens College Basketball National Championship picture the power conferences restored order sending 15 teams to the Sweet Sixteen, which begins in the neighborhood of Happy Hour on Thursday, March 24, The first four contests from the round-of-16 will be showcased on CBS and TBS tomorrow night and take place on the Yum and Honda Center hardwood, in Louisville, Kentucky and Anaheim, California, respectively.
All of the bubble popping and brackets busting took part in the round-of-64 this past weekend but to the dismay of the basketball paupers and Cinderella look-a-likes the cream has risen to the top of the 2016 NCAA men’s basketball tournament urn. Granted, there were some surprises in the second round but all things being equal the power conference teams reasserting themselves over the mid-major upstarts to punch their tickets to the Sweet 16.
A few of this year’s “Cinderella” want-to-be schools turned from glass slipper to pumpkins last Saturday and Sunday including guard-heavy and 11th-seeded Wichita State. The Shocker faithful were given hope in the second half of the test against the Miami Hurricanes. The Wheat Shockers rallied from a 13 point half time deficit against the Hurricanes to take a lead late in the second half, but lost to the No #3 seed ACC troupe 65-57. Soon thereafter the surprise Ivy League entry, 12th-seeded Yale, who trailed by as many as 27 points in the first half of their game against the Duke Blue Devils whopping mustered up a second half rally but ultimately fell short at the hands of Atlantic Coast Conference No #4 seeded ‘Canes, 71-64.
South Regional Matchups
No. 1 overall seed Kansas face former player and now Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon. The Terrapins sport the services of Melo Trimble and take their No #5 seed into Louisville on Thursday while No. 2 Villanova face off against the No #3 Miami Hurricanes and Angel Rodriguez. Kansas is the overwhelming favorite to advance to the Final Four in Houston next weekend and are led by All Conference big Perry Ellis.
Both Villanova and Miami have been inconsistent at times this season but both have found their way to the Sweet Sixteen on their ability to score from the perimeter. It isn’t going out on a limb by projecting that the team, Nova or Miami, that shoots for the highest percentage from beyond the arc on Thursday night will advance to Saturday’s contest against either the Jayhawks or the Terrapins. The team with the most balance, inside and out, from this region will find their way to Houston for a chance to cut down the nets on Monday, April 4th.
West Regional Matchups
One of the more intriguing and high scoring contests from this year’s Sweet Sixteen is expected to take place on Thursday night when No #1 Oregon takes on No. 4 Duke in Anaheim. The Blue Devils placement in the West forced them to travel three time zones but most basketball pundits consider Duke’s draw favorable. The Devils advanced to the final sixteen by taking out No. 13 seed North Carolina-Wilmington and No #12 seeded Yale. For all intent and purpose it was believed that the Ducks were gifted their No #1 seed in the West by default and their road to Anaheim has come via wins over Holy Cross and St Joseph’s with the latter finding Oregon equaled by the Hawks in field goal percentage and shooting from beyond the arc. St Joe outrebounded the Ducks, both offensively and defensively, but were not able to get easy looks in the paint as the Ducks registering 7 block shots to the Hawks zero.
The other matchup out west features Player of the Year candidate Buddy Hield and the No #2 seeded Oklahoma Sooners against the No #3 seed Texas A&M Aggies. If the Aggies are to remain as the SEC’s final team in this year’s Dance they will have to win the battle of the paint. A&M’s offensive rebounding tailed in the second stage of conference play but the Aggies have the size and need to take advantage of such giving them every chance to keep the Oklahoma’s bigs off-balance. This handicapper would enjoy a Buddy Hield versus Grayson Allen matchup in the Elite Eight.
Midwest Regional Matchups
The top seed in the Midwest – the Virginia Cavaliers — have put their best offensive foot forward for head coach Tony Bennett in the first two games of this year’s Dance. The Cavs defeated No #16 seed Hampton and then the No #9 seeded Butler Bulldogs. The Cavaliers aim to advance to the round-of-8 with a win over Big 12 and No #4 seed Iowa State.
The two double-digit seeds left in the tournament take the hardwood on Friday night in Chicago with the goal of facing the winner of the Cavs vs. ‘Clones matchup. One of these double-digit seeds will end up in the Elite Eight and both were considered bubble teams before entering their respective conference tournaments. Gonzaga secured their berth in the biggest March event with by earning the West Coast Tournament championship. This Friday night hard-court contest will have as much to do with how coaches Mark Few and Jim Boeheim use their benches as it will be about the two team’s five starters.
East Regional Matchups
No. 1 North Carolina will face off against No. 5 Indiana in a battle between the Tar Heels Marcus Paige and IU’s Yogi Ferrell. Big 10 Indiana got past SEC stalwart No. 4 Kentucky in the round-of-32 while North Carolina cruised past First-Four entry, No. 16 Florida Gulf Coast, in the opening round and then rolled No. 8 Providence late in the round-of-32. The Tar Heels are one of the top two oddsmakers favorites to find victory in this season’s Sweet Sixteen opening as minus-6.5 point chalk over the Hoosiers.
The other Sweet 16 matchup in the East is between Wisconsin and Notre Dame. The Badgers are the surprise team in this region. Wisconsin lost key player personnel from last year’s Final Four squad and then experienced the departure of longtime head coach Bo Ryan at mid-season. The Badgers scored a victory over No. 10 Pittsburgh and followed that with a win against Xavier in round two. The Badgers square off against one of the most offensive efficient teams in Division I in Notre Dame. The Irish are making their second straight trip to the final sixteen, this on the heels of losing to No. 1 overall seed Kentucky in the Elite Eight in 2015. The Irish’s Zach Auguste, Steve Vasturia, and Demetrius Jackson are expected to be a handful for the gritty blue-collar bunch from Madison.
The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has updated their Big Dance Propositions from each Region