The Sweet Sixteen
The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament was a wild one—filled with historic upsets and late game heroics. Let’s take a look at the Sweet Sixteen and who will advance to the Final Four in San Antonio.
The South Region—Phillips Arena, Atlanta, GA, March 22 & 24
The South is the craziest of the four regionals in this year’s “Big Dance.” For the first time in NCAA Tournament history, none of the top four seeds in a single region advanced to the second weekend. With that being said Virginia, Cincinnati, Tennessee, and Arizona have all been eliminated and the door is open for an underdog to cut down the nets in Atlanta and keep their National Championship dreams intact.
#9 Kansas State vs. #5 Kentucky, Thursday 9:37pm., CBS
Kansas State and Kentucky have weathered the storm and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. Kansas State opened their NCAA Tournament run with a 69-59 victory over Creighton in the first round. The Wildcats figured that they would face the #1 overall seed Virginia in the Round of 32, but UMBC had other plans. The Retrievers took down the Cavaliers and became the first 16-seed to defeat a 1-seed in the history of the Men’s NCAA Tournament. K-State ended UMBC’s Cinderella run and defeated the Retrievers 50-43 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2010. The Wildcats have relied on their defense so far in the Tournament. Kansas State forced Creighton and UMBC to turn the ball over on 23% of their possessions. The Wildcats have struggled offensively without their leading scorer Dean Wade who missed both games last weekend. His status for the Sweet Sixteen is still uncertain.
Kentucky advanced to this point with wins over the 12-seed Davidson in the first round and 13-seed Buffalo, who ended Arizona’s season last Thursday, in the second round. The Wildcats have played their best basketball following a four game losing streak in early February. Kentucky has lost just once since February 15 and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has proven to be one of the best scoring point guards in college basketball down the stretch. If the young Wildcats can withstand the defensive pressure thrown at them by K-State, Kentucky will be well on their way to their second consecutive Elite Eight appearance. Look for Kentucky’s offense to be the difference and for the Wildcats to advance.
Kentucky 75, Kansas State 63
#11 Loyola-Chicago vs. #7 Nevada, Thursday 7:07pm., CBS
Loyola-Chicago has pulled off two of this year’s most impressive upsets, defeating 6-seed Miami on a buzzer beating three by Donte Ingram and then 3-seed Tennessee on a Clayton Custer jumper with 3.6 seconds left, to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. The Ramblers and their 98-year old chaplain turner Internet sensation, Sister Jean, are headed to Atlanta and have no plans of ending their season any time soon. Loyola-Chicago has been impressive defensively so far in the Tournament holding their two opponents to an average of 63.5 points. The Ramblers have yet to have a player foul out of a game all season.
Nevada holds the title of the first weekend’s comeback kids. The Wolfpack trailed the 10-seed Texas by 14 points in the second half and rallied back to win, 87-83, in overtime. Nevada followed up their first round win with an upset of the 2-seed Cincinnati on Sunday. The Wolfpack came back from a 22 point deficit to take down the Bearcats and advance to the second weekend. Of the 85 minutes Nevada has played in the NCAA Tournament, they have led for only one minute and fifty-six seconds of game time. The Wolfpack have a potent offensive attack and averaged 1.18 points per possession in their first two games of the “Big Dance.” If the South Region continues to be the most unpredictable in NCAA Tournament history, I’ll try to stay ahead of the curve and pick the upset. Loyola-Chicago will continue its magical run into an Elite Eight match-up with Kentucky.
Loyola-Chicago 66, Nevada 65
Winner of the South Region: Kentucky
As we’ve seen before, John Calipari has his freshman playing their best when it matters the most. The Wildcats have the easiest route to the Final Four and I expect them to take advantage of it. Big Blue Nation will be headed to San Antonio.