By Ryan McKinney
The time has come and madness here for us all, bringing many new matchups and many teams awaiting the big dance. The tournament contains 68 teams total including four buy-in games to create a bracket of 64 total teams.
Through the first weekend of games nothing has changed as the tournament featured a total of seven upsets in the round of 64, and five upsets in the Round of 32. This is nothing usual though as anything can happen in March. Highlighting the biggest upset this past week comes from the 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson (FDU…a school in New Jersey) beating Number 1 seed Purdue in a wire-to-wire game in the first round. FDU coach Tobin Anderson spoke in the locker room after winning their buy-in game saying, “The more I watch Purdue, the more I think we can beat them.” This revealed the true underdogs confidence and how they can compete with any team in the tournament despite losing in a close game in the second round of the tournament. Other big moments in the tournament so far come from the Ivy League school Princeton as they shocked the world beating Number 2 seed Arizona in the first round, then went on to beat Missouri to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Besides these big upsets, many top ranked teams still remain as the Houston Cougars and Alabama Crimson Tide pose as big threats moving on in this tournament. Furthermore, there are also what I like to call “Dark Horse” teams in which the players are very talented, but the team itself isn’t ranked amongst the best. These teams consist of Miami, Kansas State, Creighton, and UCLA.
Other big games consisted of Arkansas pulling off the upset against 1 Seed Kansas in the second round propelling them to the Sweet Sixteen. Along with this big win from Arkansas, Miami routed a very talented Indiana team who many thought could get to the Final Four. Miami showed last year that they could make a run and I see it happening again this year as they are led by young star Isaiah Wong.
The matchups of the teams remaining in the Sweet Sixteen are listed below:
#1 Alabama vs. #5 San Diego State @ 6:30pm
#6 Creighton vs. #15 Princeton @ 9:00pm
#9 Florida Atlantic vs. #4 Tennessee @ 9:00pm
#3 Kansas State vs. #7 Michigan State @ 6:30pm
#1 Houston vs. #5 Miami @ 7:15pm
#3 Xavier vs. #2 Texas @ 9:45pm
#8 Arkansas vs. #4 UConn @ 7:15pm
#3 Gonzaga vs. #2 UCLA @ 9:45
Although everybody’s bracket is broken, ESPN still offers a challenge to predict the Sweet Sixteen and I’d like to share who I believe is going to win and why. Coming out of the South Region games, I have Alabama cruising past the Aztecs as the Tide are just too efficient on offense; and then Creighton ending the Cinderella run in a close match though against Princeton. Between these two teams, I believe Alabama will barely edge out Creighton to advance to the Final Four. Moving on to the East Region, I have Florida Atlantic (FAU) continuing their hot streak and advancing to the Elite Eight in a matchup against Kansas State. Kansas State will beat Michigan State easily as they just perform at a way faster pace and score too many points for the Spartans to keep up. Anyways, I have Kansas State led by Florida Gator alumni Keyontae Johnson ending the streak of FAU and advancing to the Final Four. Next, is the Midwest Region which contains, in my opinion, the toughest pair of games to predict. Both games have teams that have displayed a series of proficient basketball in the past, and I don’t expect anything to change. I believe Houston will slightly edge out the Canes due to their big size in the paint containing two seven footers in the starting line up. Facing up against Houston in the Elite Eight will be Texas as they’ve been hot since beating Kansas twice by more than 20 points during the end of the regular season. This will be the game of the tournament likely either ending on a buzzer beater or going to overtime, but with my winner comes size so I’m taking the Cougars. Lastly, the games in the West Region have one of my personal favorites to win the tournament in UCLA. I’ve watched this team the past three years and not only do they have athleticism and size, but also tournament experience as this is their third Sweet Sixteen in three years. So, I will be taking UConn in a very close game against Arkansas who just beat Kansas, but then UConn losing to UCLA in the Elite Eight by at least double digits.
This brings me to my Final Four in which I believe will be some of the greatest college basketball games in a few years. To start off, I have Alabama standing their ground and barely skipping by a tough Kansas State team to advance to the championship. In this next game come my two favorite teams coming into the tournament, where Houston has the advantage because the entire Final Four is hosted in Houston. Nevertheless, I still believe UCLA can outscore the Cougars in their hometown so I’m taking the Tyger Campbell-led Bruins. Finally comes the championship where the two most talented teams sacrifice their season in engaging their last-ditch effort to win the title. Without a doubt, I’m taking the team I’ve been riding with all month long and that’s the UCLA Bruins. This is because of their offensive efficiency as well as their way to play such good defense while still putting up a bunch of points.