NCAA Sweet 16 Picks and Predictions

Of the 4.8 million people who filled out brackets on ESPN’s NCAA Tournament Challenge, zero were perfect after the first round. It’s really a testament to the balance in this year’s tournament.

There are no truly great teams in the field, but plenty of really good ones and even more that have flown under the radar on the way to setting up a Sweet 16 that could be a classic.

Midwest:

Tennessee vs. Ohio St. – In Tennessee’s third Sweet 16 appearance in four years, the Volunteers will meet Ohio State in a rematch of a 2007 Sweet 16 game won by the Buckeyes. Ohio State guard Jon Diebler, who has scored at least 20 points in both tournament games, has given the team another viable scoring threat to go along with star player Evan Turner. Tennessee will have to contain the Buckeye duo to have any shot at victory, but keep in mind that Tennessee beat Kentucky and Kansas this year. This game will stay close.

The Pick: Ohio State

Northern Iowa vs. Michigan St. – This could be the most exciting Sweet 16 Matchup with bracket buster Northern Iowa taking on tournament mainstay Michigan State. Three victories on late three-pointers, including a buzzer beater, between these two teams shows that that they don’t fold under pressure. Panthers guard Ali Farokhmanesh might be the tournament’s most exciting player and Spartans’ coach Tim Izzo is one of the best tournament coaches in all of college basketball.

The Pick: Michigan State
West:

Syracuse vs. Butler – Syracuse’s Wes Johnson and Andy Rautin combined for 55 against Gonzaga in a round 2 game against Gonzaga that was over by halftime. Butler is shooting over 40 percent from three-point range, led by guard Shelvin Mack, who is 9 of 12 from downtown. Butler is looking to make it to the Final Four in Indianapolis – where the school is located – and will certainly be motivated, but outside of Kentucky, Syracuse has looked like the most dominant squad in this year’s field.

The Pick: Syracuse

Xavier vs. Kansas State – This matchup will come down to guard play. Xavier’s Jordan Crawford and Kansas State’s Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen are three of the best scoring guards left in the tournament. Crawford – a.k.a. the guy who dunked on LeBron in a summer camp game — doesn’t get much scoring help from his fellow Musketeers as he scored 28 of the team’s 65 points in the team’s first round game with no other players in double figures. Kansas State’s dynamic duo will likely be too much for this team to overcome.

The Pick: Kansas St.
East:

Kentucky vs. Cornell – Cornell’s Ryan Wittman and Louis Dale are both averaging over 20 points per game in the tournament. Cornell’s upsets over Temple and Wisconsin pit them against Kentucky, which has won their first two games by 29 and 30 points respectively. The freshmen trio of John Wall, Eric Bledsoe and DeMarcus Cousins has looked nearly unstoppable and Kentucky’s lack of experience hasn’t showed yet. This will be the toughest game for the Wildcats, however, who face a Cornell team playing in its third straight tournament.

The Pick: Kentucky

Washington vs. West Virginia – Winners of nine straight, Washington is one of the country’s hottest teams. The Huskies trio – Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Quincy Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas – will square off with West Virginia’s three stars – Da’Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones. Washington plays a very quick, up-tempo style while WVU relies on a methodical half-court game and zone defense. If the Mountaineers can slow the Huskies down and get good outings from two of its big three, Washington’s unlikely Sweet 16 appearance could be over quickly.

The Pick: West Virginia
South:

Duke vs. Purdue – No. 1 seed Duke strolled into the Sweet 16 with easy victories over Arkansas-Pine Bluff and California thanks to the play of Nolan Smith, John Scheyer and Kyle Singler. The Blue Devils haven’t really been tested yet and get one of the easier Sweet 16 draws in Purdue. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has now led the Blue Devils to 19 Sweet 16 appearances, advancing to 10 Final Fours in the previous 18. An undermanned Purdue squad shouldn’t change that.

The Pick: Duke

Saint Mary’s vs. Baylor – Saint Mary’s center Omar Samhan has been arguably the most impressive player in the tournament, scoring 29 and 32 points in two upsets over Richmond and Villanova. Baylor spreads the ball around pretty well, but shooting guard LaceDarius Dunn leads the team with 19.5 points per game in the tournament. Baylor hasn’t looked bad, but hasn’t looked great either, beating Sam Houston State and Old Dominion in games that were closer than expected. If the Bears can’t control “Wild Man” Samhan down low, it could be a long day.

The Pick: Saint Mary’s

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