The second weekend of the NCAA Tournament is a very underappreciated set of games. Yes, having the small schools knock off the top seeds is always fun to follow. Having as many top seeds reach the second weekend however sets up a very entertaining slate of games. While this year’s Sweet 16 features more lower-seeded teams than in past years, there are still some very intriguing matchups. Read up on those games here:
SATURDAY, MARCH 27
8 Loyola Chicago vs. 12 Oregon State (2:40 PM, CBS)
The Ramblers put the country on notice in the second round, as they looked dominant against Illinois, one of the best teams in the nation. Loyola is very, very good, and should be seeded much higher than eight. In any case, they controlled almost every aspect of that game against the Illini, essentially neutralizing some of their biggest threats through their stifling defense. The Ramblers have statistically the best defense in the country. Offensively, they can beat you in a number of ways, and play very smoothly on both sides of the ball. Oregon State went from last in the Pac-12 preseason poll to Pac-12 Tournament champions, and have added two NCAA Tournament wins to that run since. In order to keep their run going, they will need to put together a complete performance. After seeing what the Ramblers did to Illinois, it does not seem likely the Beavers can pull it off.
The pick: Loyola Chicago
1 Baylor vs. 5 Villanova (5:15 PM, CBS)
This game would have looked a lot different if Collin Gillespie was able to play. Despite his absence, the Wildcats have started to come back into form, knocking off two quality mid-major programs last weekend. There were a lot of question marks with Baylor coming into the tournament, but they looked sharp in the second half of the Hartford game as well as the entire clash with Wisconsin. Never count out Jay Wright. His coaching and Villanova’s shooting will always keep them in games. The Bears might just have too much to counter with, however, and their depth and skill might be overwhelming to a Wildcats’ squad without their point guard.
The pick: Baylor
3 Arkansas vs. 15 Oral Roberts (7:25, TBS)
The Golden Eagles were one of the top stories of the first two rounds, as they dispatched Ohio State and Florida in the span of three days. They are just the second-ever 15 seed to make it this far, and their run will most likely come to an end here. Arkansas is a very good team, and they can hit you in a lot of different ways. Moses Moody is their headline player, but Justin Smith, JD Notae, and Jalen Tate all provide an extra offensive punch to a squad that averages over 80 points a night. They don’t turn the ball over much, either, which will be a challenge for an Oral Roberts team that forced a combined 36 during the first two rounds.
The pick: Arkansas
2 Houston vs. 11 Syracuse (9:55 PM, TBS)
The Cougars put a scare into many last weekend when Rutgers almost pulled out a win against them. The Scarlet Knights were a very good team, but Houston is a team many have high expectations for. The road doesn’t get any easier for them as they go up against a Syracuse team that doesn’t seem like they can miss a shot. They converted 55 percent of their threes against San Diego State and 45 percent against West Virginia. Houston’s nationally-acclaimed defense will be put to the test, but they will also need to score more than 63 points (their total against Rutgers) if they want to advance. This will probably be the most competitive game of the night, and it could go either way. The Orange, however, are red-hot and always poised for deep runs this time of year.
The pick: Syracuse
SUNDAY, MARCH 28
1 Gonzaga vs. 5 Creighton (2:10 PM, CBS)
The Bluejays have what it takes to possibly put a scare into the Bulldogs, but that obvious is a big question given how dominant Gonzaga has been this season. Creighton was one of the better shooting teams this season among power conference squads, and if they are hitting shots, they can keep up with Gonzaga. Their season scoring average was 77 points per game, and they have a plethora of players who can score. The Bulldogs just have too much unfortunately. It seems like a broken record, but it seems like this team is destined for at least the Final Four.
The pick: Gonzaga
1 Michigan vs. 4 Florida State (5:00 PM, CBS)
Michigan and LSU played a high-quality basketball game in the second round, and we should see another one between these two teams. The talk all season long has been the efficiency in which the Wolverines can score the ball. Even without Isaiah Livers, they still are a formidable offensive machine. Florida State, and I have been saying this all season, has what it takes to beat any team on any given night. They present a unique look to opposing teams with their length and ability to switch and guard any position. Leonard Hamilton has built one of the better teams in the nation, and a win over Michigan will put them in a very good position to make a Final Four.
The pick: Florida State
2 Alabama vs. 11 UCLA (7:15 PM, TBS)
If you like exciting offenses, this is the game for you. The Crimson Tide were able to take down a very tough Maryland team in the second round, and will face another challenge in the Sweet 16. UCLA has continued the almost annual success of the First Four teams, and they have a lot of momentum coming into this game. The way they came into the tournament put a lot of doubts in peoples’ minds, but they have been able to rattle off three really solid wins in Indianapolis. Their defense, which was the question mark, has been able to tighten up when needed, and it will be tested like it never has before against an Alabama team that can light it up from beyond the arc and get to the basket with ease. To be honest, this could very well be an upset. Alabama might have just enough to fend off this UCLA team.
The pick: Alabama
6 USC vs. 7 Oregon (9:45 PM, TBS)
The Conference of Champions! The Pac-12 is guaranteed at least one Elite 8 team with this game, which is something that seemed unlikely early on in the season. There is a lot of talent that will be showcased in this game. Evan Mobley is the biggest name, but both rosters are filled with players that can pour in points. Oregon didn’t play in the first round due to VCU’s withdrawal, but came out against Iowa and absolutely torched one of the better teams in the country. Just like Pac-12 football games, this game should feature a lot of points and highlights. You can’t go wrong picking either team, and whoever wins will pose the toughest test Gonzaga has faced all season long.
The pick: Oregon
(Cover Photo: Paul Sancya/AP)