Bracket Breakdown: Sweet 16 Preview


Jake Morgan and Anthony Marsicano

What started as 68 teams has now been whittled down to a sweet 16. The third round of the NCAA tournament starts Saturday March 26. The average seed among Sweet 16 teams is 5.88, the highest it’s been in over a decade. This year’s tournament has already had an abundance of upsets, and Sports editor Jake Morgan and Opinion editor Anthony Marsicano have examined each team to see how that could continue.


No. 4 Florida State v. No. 1 Michigan 

(Anthony) Florida State can win if: they gain and maintain an early lead. In Michigan’s four losses, they have been outscored in 7/8 halves. They entered halftime trailing in three of those losses and had just a one-point lead in the other one. FSU cannot afford to keep a close game with many lead changes, Michigan is equipped with too many guys who can hit big shots and pull away. The Wolverines have seven players each shooting above 36% from three on the season. FSU needs momentum heading through the first half, to accomplish this they’ll need multiple defensive stops and transition points. Luckily for them, coach Leonard Hamilton specializes in defense. It was defense that led the Seminoles to a win over 5-seeded Colorado in the round of 32, they’ll need to tap into that again for a shot at knocking off Michigan.

(Jake) Michigan can win if: they can shoot the three-ball as well as they’ve been doing. In Michigan’s win against LSU on Monday, the Wolverines went 10/25 from distance, a large part in why they were able to pull away late. Unfortunately for Michigan, the Seminoles are the best defensive team they’ve seen. FSU ranks 10 in defensive effective field goal percentage, as well as rank 10 in defensive two-point percentage according to KenPom. Fortunately for the Wolverines, the Seminoles aren’t amazing at defending the three. They rank 108 in three-point percentage, which I believe is the key to a Michigan victory. This game is basically a coin-flip, but if the Wolverines are able to stay hot from behind the arc I think they have a good chance of advancing. 

No. 11 UCLA v. No. 2 Alabama 

(Anthony) UCLA can win if: they play a nearly flawless game. Despite playing one more tournament game than every other team not yet eliminated, UCLA has still had one of the easier paths to the Sweet 16. Their wins have come against Michigan State in a play-in game, BYU, who was only a 6 seed because they boosted their record in their awful conference all year, and most recently Abilene Christian, a 13 seed who seemingly just caught Texas on an off night to move on. But we have to give credit where credit is due. UCLA has won three games so far to get to this point; They have six total players averaging 10 or more points. four of those guys also average at least 4 rebounds and 1 assist. Alabama does have some bad losses this year, losing earlier to teams like Western Kentucky and Stanford. It isn’t impossible, but the Bruins have their work cut out for them; it will take nearly a perfect game to defeat the SEC champions.

(Jake) Alabama can win if: They continue to play their game. UCLA doesn’t really pose much of a threat to the Crimson Tide, as they got a lucky draw in the round of 32 with Abilene Christian. UCLA’s main point of attack is from deep, as they rank 28 in the country from behind the arc. The good thing for Alabama is they are elite at defending the three. They rank eighth in college basketball in opponent three-point percentage and held both Maryland and Iona to under 40 percent. The Crimson Tide are better on paper, and I think they breeze past a UCLA squad that just doesn’t have the weapons. 


No. 7 Oregon v. No. 6 USC

(Jake) Oregon can win if: They can control the size of USC. The Trojans are the second biggest team in college basketball and have six guys over 6’8. Oregon breezed by Iowa Monday but weren’t able to contain National Player of the Year Luka Garza, as he scored 36 points along with nine rebounds. Oregon is one of the best three-point shooting teams in the nation, with six players averaging 35% or better from deep. Fortunately for them, Iowa played a zone in the first half and Oregon exposed that. The key to this game is if they can handle man-to-man defense by USC. With the extreme length that the Trojans bring, it could be tough to get a shot off. But I think it will be hard for USC to guard all the shooters that Oregon has. I like the Ducks, but it’s going to be close. 

(Anthony) USC can win if: Evan Mobley continues to show out. USC is coming off of an impressive 34 point win over 3-seeded Kansas. Mobley only put up 10 of the team’s 85 points but affected the game in just about every other way. In just 27 minutes, he grabbed 13 rebounds and recorded 5 assists. He also had three blocks and a steal. At 7’0 feet tall, Mobley is an elite shot-blocker averaging 3.0 per game; the rest of the Trojans average just 2.3. His early defensive dominance against Kansas allowed for four other players, including Evan’s older brother Isaiah, to score in double digits. He can score just as well as he can guide others to, he dropped 26 against a very good Colorado team just three games ago in the PAC-12 Tournament. USC has done the dirty work by taking care of Kansas, I think they’ll be able to get it done against a lesser Oregon team with no real counter for Mobley.

No. 5 Creighton v. No. 1 Gonzaga 

(Jake) Creighton can win if: They play the best game they’ve had all year. Gonzaga is the clear frontrunner for the national championship and the Bluejays don’t pose much of a threat. Recent racist comments from head coach Greg McDermott led to a one-game suspension, and since then, Creighton hasn’t really found their stride. After losing badly in the Big East tournament, they earned a five seed in the big dance. After a lucky win against UCSB and another over 13 seed Ohio, they haven’t seen a team like Gonzaga. The only way Creighton can put a scare into the Zags is with a three and D approach. 37 percent of the Blue Jays points come from the long ball, and they play solid two-point defense. Not to mention this team is one of the more experienced teams in the country. Overall I think Creighton needs to get hot early (and I mean REALLY hot) and shut down Drew Timme on the defensive end, if they can do that then they may be able to keep it close, who knows.

(Anthony) Gonzaga can win if: they do what they’ve been doing all year. Creighton has limped into this round after barely getting past their 12 and 13 seed. It’s arguable that the Bluejays have had an easier path than Gonzaga, the average opponent seed for Creighton has been 12.5 so far to Gonzaga’s 12. The Bulldogs have the best margin of victory in the country, they’re winning games by 23.5 on average during their undefeated season. That margin has risen to 30 across their two tournament games so far, but that is thanks mostly to their 44 point blowout of 16 seed Norfolk State. The Zags are the best team in the country by most metrics, they have so much talent surrounding them, especially in guard Jalen Suggs and forward Drew Timme. I can’t imagine them losing this early, and the majority of brackets in America don’t have them losing at all. If they stay calm, stay consistent, and play their game, this matchup shouldn’t be a problem for Gonzaga.


No. 5 Villanova v. No. 1 Baylor 

(Jake) Villanova can win if: They are able to win the turnover battle and stop Baylor’s deadly three-point attack. Villanova comes into the sweet sixteen after beating Winthrop in the first round and then 13 seeded North Texas in the round of 32. After losing star point guard Connor Gillespie, they were a popular upset pick heading into the tournament. People somehow forgot that you don’t ever bet against Jay Wright. The Wildcats won both games with ease, but now play the second-best team remaining (in my opinion) in Baylor. The Bears come in with a plethora of shooters and will light anyone up from deep if you’re not careful, so it’s imperative that Villanova stops that. Unfortunately, that’s the worst part of the Wildcats’ game, they rank in the bottom half of the country in opponent three-point field goal percentage. Where I think they can thrive however is the turnover margin. The Wildcats are the best team in college basketball at not turning the ball over, unfortunately, Baylor is the third-best team at forcing them. However, if they can hang onto the ball, get good shots, and play the methodical, slow-paced basketball that Jay Wright loves to play, the Wildcats can definitely give Baylor a run for their money. 

(Anthony) Baylor wins if: They don’t play down to the competition. Baylor finds themselves in the exact same situation as Gonzaga; A dominant one seed set to match up against a five seed who has had the easiest possible path to the sweet sixteen, beating 12 and 13 seeds. The Bears trail only Gonzaga in average margin of victory, beating opponents by 18 points per game this year. Baylor runs a three-guard backcourt which includes Marcio Teague, Davion Mitchell, and star player Jared Butler. Butler is a first-team All-American and Mitchell is one of four Naismith Defensive Player of the Year finalists. Baylor needs to treat this injured Nova team as if they were full-strength. If the Bears exploit weaknesses and play overbearing defense and they should be fine.

No. 15 Oral Roberts v. No. 3 Arkansas 

(Anthony) Oral Roberts wins if: their dynamic duo stays hot. A few weeks ago, it’s safe to say barely anyone in America had heard of Oral Roberts University, but now they’ve made history as only the second school in NCAA Tournament history to make the Sweet 16 as a 15 seed, joining Florida Gulf Coast in 2013. The Golden Eagles will continue to go as far as Max Abmas and Kevin Obanor will take them. Abmas leads all D1 players in scoring averaging 24.6 points per game this year. He’s kept it up in the tournament, dropping 29 against Ohio State and 26 against Florida. Obanor averages 19 ppg as well as 9.6 rebounds, and he’s dropped consecutive double-doubles while shooting just under 50 percent in both field goal and three-point percentage. The pair each averages over 40 minutes per game during the tournament, so if they stay energized and consistent, ORU won’t go down without a fight. It’s definitely a long shot, the longest of the entire round, but the Golden Eagles have defied the odds twice in a row now, and in this year filled with upsets, they might just do it again.

(Jake) Arkansas wins if: They play fast, and hard on defense. We saw them go down early to Colgate in the round of 64, and they looked a bit sluggish. Once the second half hit, they ramped up their play. The Razorbacks are extremely pesky on defense and will out-muscle anyone for the ball. In fact, point guard Davonte Davis gets in foul trouble quite a bit due to his on-ball defense. If Arkansas can defend the top scorer in the country in Max Abmas and the high ball screen that has caused so much success for Oral Roberts, they should have a great chance at ending the Golden Eagles cinderella run. 


No. 11 Syracuse v. No. 2 Houston 

(Jake) Syracuse wins if: Buddy Boeheim stays hot. A recurring theme in this article is three-point shooting, but for this Syracuse team, they live and die from deep. Buddy Boeheim (son of coach Boeheim) is looking like this year’s Jimmer Freddette. Syracuse got into the tournament by the skin of their teeth, but Boeheim is carrying this team to new heights. He was tremendous in their game against West Virginia, scoring 25 points and hitting 47% of his threes. The good thing about this matchup for Syracuse is that Houston plays zone defense, and triples are how you beat them. The Cougars barely escaped Rutgers, but allowed them to shoot 43% from beyond the arc. Overall, this team can go as far as Boeheim takes them, and if he shoots the way he has the last two games they’re going to be a problem for this Houston defense. 

(Anthony) Houston wins if: they play lockdown, containing defense. Everyone knows that one of the best ways to dismantle zone defenses is by barrages of three-pointers. Unfortunately for Houston, they find themselves tasked with stopping the hottest shooter in the nation in Buddy Boeheim, a job that no team has yet to find success at so far in this tournament. But out of all the opponents, ‘Cuse has faced on their run so far, the Cougars have the best chance to do just that. According to KenPom, Houston is 7th in the nation in Adjusted Offensive efficiency and 11th in adjusted defensive efficiency. They’re one of the better defensive teams in the entire tournament, and they play a zone defense similar to Syracuse. They can’t really afford to double Boeheim the entire time, so the Cougars will need to convert some transition points off of forced turnovers to snap ‘Cuse’s rhythm. Houston averages 8.2 steals and 4.7 blocks per game, with four of their starters each recording 1.3 steals per game. If they are able to limit Boeheim as much as they can and keep up their outstanding defensive play, Houston should be able to end Syracuse’s tournament run.

No. 12 Oregon State v. No. 8 Loyola Chicago

(Jake) Oregon State wins if: They are able to somehow crack Loyola’s defense. Oregon State was projected dead last in the PAC-12 preseason polls but then won the conference tournament. What’s surprising to me is how. They don’t do anything exceptionally well and don’t have any specific go-to guy. In fact, they rank 216th in effective field-goal percentage, and 275th in two-point percentage according to KenPom. One thing Oregon State has over Loyola is height. The Beavers are nearly two inches taller than Loyola in average height, so that could be where the Beavers could exploit the Ramblers. The only problem with that is Loyola’s center Cameron Krutwig. Krutwig is a third-team All-American and is the keystone to Loyola’s success. If Oregon can put some bigger lineups on the floor to double Krutwig in the post, I could see the Beavers eeking out a win. 

(Anthony) Loyola Chicago wins if: Cam Krutwig continues to show out. Loyola Chicago is sneakily the most dangerous 8-seeded team we’ve seen in a while. I was baffled to see them seeded that low, they’re the ninth-ranked team in Kenpom, the tenth in NET, and have arguably have been playing the best defense in college basketball this year. Loyola has handled this perfectly so far, it’s just another chip on their shoulder. In just two games, the Ramblers have upset the Big Ten and ACC Champions in Illinois and Georgia Tech, respectively. Maybe it really is that Sister Jean magic, but most of the credit should go to Cameron Krutwig, the self-dubbed ‘point center. Krutwig does it all, he leads his team in points, rebounds, and blocks per game, and is second in steals and assists. He reminds me of current NBA MVP candidate Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets in that his extremely well-rounded and versatile game is initially overshadowed by his appearance. Though he may not look like your typical center, he can certainly play just as well as the best of them; this was evident in his domination of Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn during the round of 32 upset this past week. Both Loyola’s offense and defense run through Krutwig, and if he plays well, it’s nearly impossible to counter.