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 Midwest Region—CenturyLink Center Omaha, Omaha, NE, March 23 & 25
The Midwest Region has its top two seeds, Kansas and Duke, still alive. The 5-seed Clemson and the 11-seed Syracuse will join them in Omaha after they knocked off the 4-seed Auburn and the 3-seed Michigan State, respectively. All four teams will be vying to punch their ticket to the Final Four in San Antonio.
#5 Clemson vs. #1 Kansas, Friday, 7:07pm., CBS
Clemson avoided the famed 5-12 upset in their first round win over New Mexico State and followed that up with a drubbing of the 4-seed Auburn, 84-53, in the second round. The Tigers arrive in Omaha for their first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 1997. Despite having lost their second leading scorer, Donte Grantham, to a knee injury in January, Clemson has continued to be one of the best surprises in college basketball this season. Brad Brwonell was on the hot seat, but following this season it looks like he is safe. The Tigers have been elite defensively, especially in the Tournament. Clemson has held their opponents to 35% shooting inside the arc throughout the first weekend. Big men Elijah Thomas and Aamir Sims blocked three shots apiece in their win over Auburn on Sunday. On the offensive end, the Tigers have struggled to score inside, but have been lifted by their guard play since Grantham went down. Marcquise Reed, Gabe DeVoe, and Shelton Mitchell are all averaging double figures in scoring and shoot better than 35% from behind the arc. This is a good match-up for Clemson to pull off an upset in hopes of making the Elite Eight for only the second time in school history. Kansas, too, relies heavily on their guards to make threes and has a limited interior presence. Expect a high scoring game in this one.
Kansas is in the Sweet Sixteen for the third year in a row and hopes to make it to the Final Four for the first time since 2012 when they lost to Anthony Davis and Kentucky in the National Championship game. Senior Devonte’ Graham and Svi Myhailiuk will look to use their sharp-shooting to avoid the disappointment of coming up just short again in March. Graham and Myhailiuk both average more than 15 points per contest and shoot better than 40% from three. Kansas will rely on their shooting to get them to the Elite Eight as they are weak on the inside. Starting center Udoka Azubuike suffered a sprained MCL prior to the Big 12 Tournament and played at total of 25 minutes over the course of the opening weekend. Azubuike scored 10 points in the top-seed’s win over Seton Hall in the Round of 32 and expected to start against Clemson. If he can play well, the Jayhawks should be in good shape against the Tigers. Expect the trio of Graham, Mykhailiuk, and Azubuike to be too much for Clemson and for the Jayhawks to advance in a close one.
Kansas 81, Clemson 76
#11 Syracuse vs. #2 Duke, Friday, 9:37pm., CBS
Syracuse enters the Sweet Sixteen after barely even making the “Big Dance.” The Orange took down Arizona State in the First Four in Dayton before traveling to Detroit where they disposed of TCU and Michigan State. Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone stifled opponents. Syracuse limited three teams that averaged 80+ points a game to 56 points or less. The Orange have lured their opponents into playing a style they need to win games, as the offense has been lackluster all season long. Syracuse has hot just 37.8% from the field throughout their NCAA Tournament run. The Orange rely heavily on their “Big-Three” of Tyus Battle, Frank Howard, and Oshae Brissett, who score 72.8% of the team’s points. If Syracuse has any chance of upsetting Duke, the Orange will need to rebound and Marek Dolezaj will need to make plays in the middle of the Blue Devils’ 2-3 zone. Coach K is familiar with Boeheim’s zone as he runs it himself. With that being said, Syracuse’s run may be coming to an end on Friday.
Duke is the most talented team in the country and the Blue Devils romped through the first weekend of the Tournament without a scare from either Iona or Rhode Island. Since losing to North Carolina in February, Coach K switched to 2-3 zone and his team’s defensive performance improved drastically and now ranks 24th in defensive efficiency. Offensively, Duke’s big men, Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr., have dominated in the paint, making 62% of their 2-point field goals in the Dance. When the two teams met in late February, the Blue Devils shot just 2-of-28 from three-point range. If Grayson Allen, Gary Trent Jr., and Trevon Duval get hot from distance it will be lights out for the Orange. Expect Duke to handle Syracuse’s zone and pull away in the second half.
Duke 62, Syracuse 51
Winner of the Midwest Region: Duke
Coach K adapts to his team’s strength and is a proven winner in March. Their NBA-ready talent on the interior combined with their elite guard play will lead them past Syracuse and Kansas in Omaha. The Blue Devils, along with Villanova, are the clear cut favorites to hear “One Shining Moment” played in San Antonio.