NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen: Sunday Preview



This years’ NCAA tournament has been coined “The Year of Upsets”. So far, we have had 15 upsets, leaving six teams who were seeded at 6 or lower still alive. This makes for some extremely intriguing matchups as we enter the second weekend of the tournament.


Jalen Suggs puts up a shot in Gonzaga’s second-round NCAA Tournament game against Oklahoma.


#1 Gonzaga vs. # 5 Creighton

So far this tournament it has been Gonzaga’s world and we’re just living in it. In contrast to other undefeated teams of the 21st century, this Gonzaga team has no veritable weaknesses. 2014-2015 Kentucky had a host of talented and future NBA players but had an issue with shooting. 2013-2014 Wichita State did not face a ranked team their regular season, and this lack of competition showed its effects when they faced Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Gonzaga, as they enter the second week of the tournament, shows no types of weaknesses.

They shoot the ball at a good clip, 36.5% as a team. Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert, and Drew Timme form a formidable college “Big Three”. They can beat any other group in America. They even play a brand of defense that is previously unseen in Spokane. Overall, this Gonzaga team can outscore you and prevent you from scoring better than anyone else to this point. This is a large reason why they’re still undefeated 28 games into their season.

Creighton is led by sharpshooter Marcus Zegarowski (42.1% from three on 6.1 three-point attempts per game). Accompanying Zegarowski in major scoring are forward Christian Bishop and guard Denzel Mahoney. This threesome has powered Creighton to wins over UC Santa Barbara and Ohio so far in the NCAA tournament. The Bluejays have only one “big” who plays considerable minutes in Ryan Kalkbrenner. Primarily, they rely on a tried and true offensive system developed by Greg McDermott. Despite his off-court issues during the season, has been able to keep this team together and playing high-level basketball throughout the tournament.

Keys To Winning

The key to this game is all about pace. If Gonzaga is able to dictate their preferred level of pace (4th in pace according to KenPom), they will be able to win this game comfortably. If Creighton is able to slow down Gonzaga, they have the three-point shooting to be able to stick with the Zags. However, being able to dictate the pace to Gonzaga has been a challenge for even the stiffest of competition this year.


#1 Michigan vs. #4 Florida State

This matchup could not be more of a contrast of styles. Florida State ranks in the top 100 in pace (89th according to KenPom) while Michigan ranks amongst the slowest in America at 246th in KenPom. In the second round of the NCAA tournament, Michigan faced the ultra offensively talented LSU Tigers led by Cameron Thomas and Javonte Smart. The key to the game was Michigan’s ability to regulate the pace at key times of the game, slowing down LSU when they had the opportunity to and making them operate exclusively in the half-court.

Against another high pace opponent in Florida State, this will once again be a key to the game, as well as managing the size advantage Florida State has at the guard position. Against LSU, point guard Mike Smith was virtually neutralized, held to 2-8 shooting with 5 points and 6 assists. Michigan’s ability to adjust in-game and manage their matchups will help them stay with Florida State through the course of the game.

Florida State is classic Florida State: Long, athletic, and defensively inclined. Florida State has big guards who score at an efficient rate (all three lead guards shot over 44% from the field). All three of their starting guards are above 6’5″, which is a major mismatch as far as Michigan is concerned.

The size isn’t limited to just the backcourt. Balsa Koprivica is a seven-footer who is a presence around the rim and could cause problems for Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson. As is traditional with Florida State teams, the Seminoles thrive in the open court. The key for Florida State will lie in speeding Michigan up off of both missed and made baskets and making the Wolverines uncomfortable in the half-court with their length and athleticism.

Keys To Winning

This game, once again, comes all down to pace. Whoever can control the pace of the game will ultimately control the flow of the game. If Michigan is able to make this a half-court game, the flow of the game lies in their favor. If Florida State is able to operate freely in transition and show off their athleticism in the open court, the Seminoles will be heavy favorites.

#2 Alabama vs. #11 UCLA

UCLA has turned into one of the Cinderella stories of this year’s NCAA tournament. Beginning with a play-in game against Michigan State, they have advanced to one of their more unlikely Sweet Sixteens on the back of Johnny Juzang’s scoring along with contributions from guards Jaime Jazquez Jr, Jules Bernard, and Tyger Campbell. Entering the tournament, UCLA’s main concern was being able to generate efficient offense against quality teams.

However, they’ve managed to dispel those concerns, shooting over 45% in each of their three tournament games thus far. UCLA also still plays the tough-nosed defense that is characteristic of a Mick Cronin team. Continuing to maintain this offensive efficiency is paramount against this super-talented Alabama team.

Alabama Has What It Takes

Alabama has all of the tools to be the last team standing in the NCAA tournament. They have a talented group of scorers in Jaden Shackleford, John Petty Jr., Herbert Jones, and Jahvon Quinerly who can pop off at any given moment and help Bama score 90 points through the course of the game. They have all of this offense, and yet the secret sauce to Bama’s success has been their stingy defense. Ranked 3rd according to KenPom in defensive efficiency, Alabama has the ability to score in bunches while holding teams in the ’60s-’70s.

Keys To Winning

This game is all about who is able to exert their will more. If UCLA is able to keep Alabama in a low-scoring game, they stand a chance of hitting the timely shots they need in order to give themselves a chance to win. However, if the Crimson Tide are able to exert their will and score with ease, UCLA is in for a really long day.


#6 USC vs. #7 Oregon

This is a game that features 2 teams with possibly the 2 most impressive wins of the second round. In their dismantling of Kansas, USC handed the Jayhawks the 3rd worst defeat in program history. They did this with the length and versatility of the Mobley brothers, Isaiah and Evan. For the Trojans, the frontcourt is where it all starts. Between the Mobley brothers, Chevez Goodwin, and Max Agbonkpolo, USC has the length and defense to disrupt any offensive game plan.

Evan Mobley is a 7′ center who can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim extremely efficiently. Isaiah Mobley has stepped up his shooting too, only having missed 2 of his last 11 threes in his last 3 games. USC’s hallmark has been their ability to be stingy on defense, and to get past the Ducks, that will have to continue to be the theme.

Oregon also had an extremely impressive win against Iowa. Allowing Garza to do what he wanted, the Ducks shut down the guards for Iowa. The three starters, Bohanan, McCaffrey, and Frederick were held to a grand total of 0 points. This method of defense compensated for the fact that Oregon is heavily undersized and undermanned in the frontcourt.

Offensively, the Ducks feature do-it-all guard Chris Duarte, who is as important to his team as any player in America. Against Iowa, Duarte and LJ Figueroa combined for 44 points on 17-26 shooting to pace the Ducks. Oregon has been an extremely high-scoring team late in the season, scoring 80 or more points in 5 of their last 6 games.

Keys To Winning

The winner of this game is the team that manages the mismatch better. If the Ducks are able to limit USC to their frontcourt scoring, they may be able to replicate their success against Iowa. If USC is able to use the front-court advantage to open up scoring for the guards, USC’s shooting could vault the Trojans to a win.


Check out our Saturday breakdown:

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