After 3 days off we dove back into college hoops last night with Sweet 16 action getting underway across the country. Chalk certainly held, as all the higher seeds won their games last night in convincing fashion. Here is a stat on just how wide the margin of victory was for higher seeds:
Thursday was the first day in which every Sweet 16 game was decided by at least 10 points since March 28, 2008
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 25, 2016
Oregon passed their first real test by taking down traditional powerhouse and defending national champion, the Duke Blue Devils. The Ducks bothered the Blue Devils with their length and speed so much that they made the game a lot less of a game than people thought. I had the Ducks advancing to the Final Four in Houston and they look poised to do so on Saturday as they take on the 2 seed, the Oklahoma Sooners. Oklahoma looked very impressive as well in the West region by downing Texas A&M in convincing fashion. The Aggies started off hot and rattled the Sooners early on but it was too hot too fast. Oklahoma rebounded and routed the Aggies the rest of the way thanks to Buddy Hield. Hield has had his struggles toward the end of the season but this tournament has brought the best of him so far.
The other Sweet 16 action that took place last night was in the Midwest region with Kansas and Villanova both hoping to hold chalk. Kansas took care of a dangerous Maryland team that did not make things easy for the Jayhawks in the slightest. Melo Tremble and Diamond Stone gave the Jayhawks their first obstacle of the tournament with some incredible athletic plays. Tremble will be a high draft pick and he certainly tried his best to get the Terrapins to the Elite Eight for the first time in a while but ultimately lost to the depth and teamwork of the Jayhawks. Kansas has not held up since they caught fire towards the end of the season and should continue to be favored on their way to the championship game in Houston in my opinion. Perry Ellis and Mason III have used their years of experience to fuel this journey. The veteran leadership at Kansas allows them to handle all sorts of waves of attacks that other teams in this tournament will throw at them.
The next group of Sweet 16 games will tip-off soon tonight and you should expect some closer games than last night.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) March 25, 2016
We have one matchup of double-digit seeds with Syracuse taking on Gonzaga tonight. The Orange, despite the suspension of their coach and inconsistent play, have a chance to make the Elite Eight and certainly the Final Four with a region thrown into chaos. Gonzaga is an 11 seed and still might be better than some of the higher squads they have rolled out there in previous years. It will be incredible to watch Syracuse’s Mike Gbinije versus Kyle Wiltjer of Gonzaga. Both left traditional powerhouses in Duke and Kentucky for other schools and now look at a legit shot at a Final Four. Syracuse and Gonzaga certainly have a great history in basketball, however, they come into this tournament with all the pressure off of them in a bracket where almost everybody had Michigan State advancing to the championship game. I cannot wait to see how this game shapes up and I think it will be the game of the night.
Speaking of traditional powers, we have a matchup between Indiana and North Carolina tonight. The Hoosiers continue to prove themselves as they dispatched the Wildcats of Kentucky last week as underdogs. The Big 10 regular season champions are still doubted as they go one to face the Tarheels. Yogi Ferrell leads the Indiana attack and will look to get around the size of North Carolina with his ability to penetrate and create for his teammates. North Carolina started the season as #1 and hopes to advance to yet another Final Four appearance. The Tarheels already have the most Final Four appearances out of every school in the nation. I think North Carolina has regained some of that early hype and I think they will take down Indiana tonight and advance to the Elite Eight.
If I told you Wisconsin would be in the Sweet 16 after the first couple weeks of the season, would you have believed me? What if I also told you that Kaminsky and Dekker are both in the NBA and no longer on the Badger roster? I think it has been an incredible job by Greg Gard after taking over for Bo Ryan. Ryan intentionally left the Badgers during the season so that the administration would be forced to give Greg Gard a legitimate shot at the head coaching job. Bronson Koenig hit two 3’s to end the game in the round of 32, including the buzzer beater against Xavier and the Badgers find themselves in the Sweet 16 once again. Badger fans have been so close to winning it all, including last year, and still thirst for that national title in basketball. Wisconsin takes on the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame in some great Sweet 16 action tonight and I think it is a great matchup. Notre Dame faces off with yet another former Big 10 opponent and they have a lot of momentum coming into this game just like Wisconsin. The Fighting Irish came back from a 12 point halftime deficit against the Michigan Wolverines to punch their ticket to the Sweet 16 thanks to a suffocating defense and all sorts of buckets falling. I think this game could go either way so tune in to see who advances.
Virginia has to be loving this right now because they sit two games away from the Final Four and Michigan State is no longer in their path. The Cavaliers faced a tough challenge in the round of 32 against the Butler Bulldogs but passed the test and moved on. Iowa State also finds themselves in a great position after having to deal with traditional powerhouses in recent tournaments. UVA has certainly built themselves into a great program under Tony Bennett but for Iowa State they no longer have to also face the history behind the program. It will be a clash of styles with Iowa State wanting to push the tempo and UVA wanting to grind it to a slow battle in the mud. I think Virginia moves on because this might finally be their moment to break through.
In what has been the craziest tournament since 2001, there is no doubt in my mind we will continue to be surprised as the tournament continues into its second weekend.