The Sweet 16 is the time when the stakes are raised, when you would expect for the “big” programs to separate themselves from the other contenders, but most years we have a “Cinderella” team or two that comes out of nowhere to crash the party. This year will be no different. Don’t expect all the 1s and 2s to survive past this stage because more often than not you’d be wrong. It’s truly rare that the 1s and 2s all meet each other in the Elite 8, so don’t count on that. Instead, focus on what teams match up well with the top dogs and pick one or two upsets you’re comfortable with.
For me it comes down to experience and offensive accuracy. Yes, defense is extremely important, but if your offense is suited to make comeback runs late in games, that’s how games are won in the tournament. So, yes, we will have some surprises, and a glass slipper, but it might not be the team you would expect. As usual, I’ll start with the South and finish in the Midwest.
Duke (1) vs. S.F. Austin (12) – Does this glass slipper fit? Probably not. While S.F. Austin has one of those great offenses I talked about, Duke can hang with them, and both teams lack really solid defense. This game will be a close one, and I can’t rule out S.F. Austin pulling it out late, but I just don’t think so. By this point Duke will be able to smell the Elite 8 and Coach K is hard to beat from this vantage point. Pick: DUKE.
Iowa State (3) vs. Gonzaga (2) – It doesn’t get much better than this matchup between two powerful teams playing great basketball at the right time. I’m counting on another close contest, even though the Zags have played lights out basketball for most of the season, because it’s tourney time, and Iowa State will be confident coming in as well. Field goal percentage will be a big decider in this game, and I see Gonzaga taking care of business here to set up a showdown with the Blue Devils. Pick: GONZAGA.
Villanova (1) vs. Louisville (4) – While Louisville and Rick Pitino might have gotten this far based on resume and hard play, this will be the end of the road. They just haven’t stepped up this year when playing teams that are superior to them, and Nova classifies as a superior team. Jay Wright has the pedigree, the team has the ability, and they’re playing like it. They excel at every position, and they will move on to the Elite 8. Pick: VILLANOVA.
Dayton (11) vs. Virginia (2) – Remember when I said you won’t see all 1s and 2s making it past this round, but Virginia has done nothing this year to prove they don’t have the chops to take care of business here against Dayton. The Flyers are a good team, but Virginia is a great one, and if they play like they’re capable this one won’t even be close. I predict a double-digit win. Pick: VIRGINIA.
Wisconsin (1) vs. Arkansas (5) – Wisconsin is the third best team in this tournament, behind only Kentucky and Villanova. They have amazing balance, a great offense, a solid defense, and the experience to go all the way. In order to do that, though, they have to get through their side of the bracket, which includes this tilt with an overmatched Arkansas team. Pick: WISCONSIN.
Ole Miss (11) vs. Arizona (2) – In order to set up that showdown with Wisconsin and try to prove that their earlier win against the Badgers wasn’t a fluke Arizona has to shut down the upstart Ole Miss first. Maybe they will be looking ahead and it will throw off their game, but I think Arizona is too poised to allow that to happen, especially against a fast running offense like Ole Miss. No glass slippers here. Pick: ARIZONA.
Kentucky (1) vs. Valparaiso (13) – Talk about glass slippers and Cinderellas, and here we go with Valpo, the biggest underdog against the number one school in the nation. But after having dispatched Maryland earlier, they will come into this contest prepared and full of confidence. They have absolutely nothing to lose, so they will play loose, which will be key in taking on the Wildcats. I still don’t think it will be enough, though. Pick: KENTUCKY.
Notre Dame (3) vs. Wichita State (7) – The Shockers have admittedly not had much success past the first weekend in the tournament, even though they came into last year’s dance undefeated for the season. But they have a better team this time around, a more well-rounded squad that won’t wilt under the pressure. After taking out Kansas in the previous round, that confidence will carry over here against a sharp shooting Notre Dame unit. Pick: WICHITA STATE.
The Fantasy Ace