Sure, your bracket may already be busted (with the exits of Villanova, Virginia, Iowa State, and Kansas), but you can still look forward to the coming games because so many others have also gone bust after a wild opening four days of the 2015 tournament. That’s the glory of having popular choices go down, because they’re popular. In fact, I still have a chance to win my pool even though Villanova was my pick for champion. All I need is for Kentucky to go down before the Final 4, which I believe is a good possibility considering the way the teams are playing that it will have to go through to get there.
With that being said, I still think that Wisconsin and Gonzaga are the two most likely teams to beat Kentucky if they don’t go down to West Virginia or Wichita State/Notre Dame. But before we get to all of that, here are my updated predictions for the Sweet 16 outcomes…
Notre Dame (3) vs. Wichita State (7) – We all know by now that Notre Dame has an all-world offense, but that offense wasn’t clicking on all cylinders against a Butler defense that can get to the loose balls. Did anyone check out that Wichita State / Kansas game? Anyone see Wichita State get to all the loose balls? How about the way they picked apart that Kansas defense? And Kansas has a better defense than Notre Dame. This one might not even be close. Pick: WICHITA STATE.
Wisconsin (1) vs. North Carolina (4) – Not to get on the theme of lower seeds playing above their station, but North Carolina doesn’t qualify… yet. The highest they’ve beaten to this point was a 5-seed that was probably really a 6-seed. Let’s not split thread here, but Wisconsin is a couple of pegs above that Arkansas team. That’s why I think the fantasy run for the Tar Heels will come to a screeching halt in this one. Pick: WISCONSIN.
Kentucky (1) vs. West Virginia (5) – West Virginia forces turnovers, and uses those to its advantage. They totally got Maryland off their game by forcing the issue, and turned them over a ridiculous 20+ times in the game. If they can get to the Wildcats the same way they have a legitimate shot at this game. Do I think it will happen, though? No. I think Kentucky can limit the turnovers because they’re larger and more physical than Maryland. But it will be a good game to watch regardless, a game of opposites. Pick: KENTUCKY.
Arizona (2) vs. Xavier (6) – Xavier is getting absolutely no love in this game. All the experts are giving Arizona double digit lines against the 6-seed, but don’t sleep on Xavier. Remember, they weren’t supposed to make it this far, but they’ve defied the odds so far, they’ve avoided the upset and beaten the underdog. Now they go up against one of the big dogs, and wouldn’t it be wonderful to see them come out ahead? I just don’t see it. Arizona is too tough, and they play well in crunch time. Pick: ARIZONA.
Gonzaga (2) vs. UCLA (11) – UCLA has bucked the odds before and run the table, so why shouldn’t they do it again? Well, because so far they’ve had the easiest path, barely beating an SMU team that was robbed with a goaltend call, and then facing a 14-seed that had already expended all of its magic. Now they go up against the best team in their side of the bracket in Gonzaga (and yes, I know Duke is the 1-seed) and this just isn’t a fair fight. The Zags are playing the best ball of the tournament, and they will exploit the mismatch that this game is. Pick: GONZAGA.
Louisville (4) vs. NC State (8) – While I’d like to say it’s just like old days with Louisville, it just isn’t. They were scrappy enough and thrived in matchups that favored their style, but NC State just isn’t that kind of team. They are a patient squad that doesn’t turn the ball over much. There’s a reason they beat Villanova, and that’s because they’re hungry and they’re talented. Rick Pitino has done much with little, but not even Harrell and Rozier will be able to carry this team to the Elite 8. Pick: NC STATE.
Duke (1) vs. Utah (5) – Yes, Duke looked strong in dominating the two teams it was supposed to dominate to advance to the Sweet 16, but here’s where the road gets a bit dicey. Utah has looked every bit as tough as they did earlier in the season when they were a top 10 overall team, not weak like the team that meekly entered this tournament in a bit of a funk. They’ve hit their stride at the right time, and yet not many are picking them to upset the Blue Devils… but I am. I think it will be the game of the week, but I think Utah has answers for Okafor and company and will be Elite after Friday. Pick: UTAH.
Oklahoma (3) vs. Michigan State (7) – Tom Izzo said in his interview after MSU’s emotional win over Virginia that this team is special, that he thinks they’re on the way to making a good run in this tournament, but beating a team that was limping (Virginia) isn’t the same as taking down a team that is playing as well as anyone else in the region and is the highest seed left on that side. Just as with Rick Pitino, Izzo has done a lot with a little, proving his coaching gravitas once again, but this is a tall mountain to scale, and I don’t see him doing it. Pick: OKLAHOMA.