#1 Gonzaga vs #4 Florida State
This could potentially be the matchup of the Sweet Sixteen. Florida State has a ton of athletes that they can throw at you and it feels like they are playing with seven defenders on the floor at times, while Gonzaga has maybe the best frontcourt in all of college basketball between Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura and they have a dangerous backcourt between decorated point guard Josh Perkins and the dangerous perimeter weapon that is Zach Norvell Jr.
The Seminoles can tend to a little streaky on offense, but the one thing you can count on them for is their defense, and if there’s one team that I think can match up really well with this potent Gonzaga offense, it’s Florida State, and that is because they have so much length and so much depth that they can throw at other teams. I could easily see this Florida State defense giving Brandon Clarke and Hachimura some problems and not allowing them to finish around the rim as easily as they’re used to.
On the other side, Gonzaga is also a really good defensive team, despite most of the attention for them going towards their offense. They have been one of the more dominant teams in the tournament so far and a good chunk of that is credit to their defense, which a lot like Florida State, can throw a lot of length at you.
Gonzaga doesn’t go quite as deep as Florida State goes, but this should be a game that features more depth than you are used to when you get this far into the NCAA Tournament.
This is going to be a really fun matchup, and the ultimate key in my opinion is going to be how well Florida State can score. I expect Gonzaga to be able to put up a decent amount of points despite how good Florida State is on defense, but Florida State has been up and down at times this year offensively, but they have been shooting the ball really well so far in their first two tournament games.
Players to watch:
Florida State: #25 Mfiondu Kabengele, #14 Terance Mann, #21 Christ Koumadje
Gonzaga: #21 Rui Hachimura, #15 Brandon Clarke, #23 Zach Norvell Jr.
Winner plays the winner of Michigan vs Texas Tech
#2 Michigan vs #3 Texas Tech
The name of this game is going to be defense. These teams are ranked number one and number two respectively in all of college basketball in defensive rating, and it shows when you watch them. Nothing comes easy to their opponents.
On top of both teams being so highly and closely-ranked in defensive rating, theses two teams are also only one spot apart in offensive rating, although that rating is number 86th and 87th respectively.
Who wins this game is likely going to come down to the stars. Ignas Brazdeikis, Jordan Poole and Charles Matthews carry a lot of the scoring for the Wolverines, while Zavier Simpson is the guy that does most of the distributing on offense (6.8 assists per game).
On the other side, Texas Tech relies even more on stars and the main star is Jarrett Culver, who is averaging 18.8 points per game. Davide Morretti and Matt Mooney are also averaging double-figures for the Red Raiders, who are coming off of an impressive beat down of Buffalo in the Round of 32.
Despite the similarities of these two teams, Michigan does have some distinct advantages. Those advantages come in assists, which good ball movement will help drastically against a defense ranked so highly, and they have also rebounded the ball much better this season.
Those two stats, even more so rebounding, will be huge in a game that is likely going to come down to the wire.
Players to watch:
Michigan: #13 Ignas Brazdeikis, #2 Jordan Poole, #1 Charles Matthews
Texas Tech: #23 Jarrett Culver, #25 Davide Morretti, #11 Tariq Owens
Winner plays the winner of Gonzaga vs Florida State
#2 Tennessee vs #3 Purdue
This game is going to be a battle of depth versus the player who might be playing the best in the tournament so far, at least in terms of scoring.
Tennessee has a lot of depth, while Purdue has been put on their backs by Carsen Edwards.
These are also two teams that have some of the most experience left in the tournament, which should lead to some high-level basketball, especially on the offensive side of things, where both teams are among the top-12 in all of college basketball in offensive rating.
While both of these teams are experienced, the biggest key to the game in my opinion is actually pretty simple. It’ll come down to how well Tennessee can defend Carsen Edwards, who is averaging 34 points per game in his two tournament games so far, and is coming off of a 42 point performance in the Round of 32 against Villanova.
Now while Tennessee does have more depth and more scoring options to turn to, Purdue does have a lot of length in the front court, which could be an issue to Tennessee and guys like Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield.
Overall this matchup has a lot of interesting little nuances to it that could push the game in either direction and you should expect a game that comes down to the wire.
Players to watch:
Tennessee: #2 Grant Williams, #5 Admiral Schofield, #0 Jordan Bone
Purdue: #3 Carsen Edwards, #14 Ryan Cline, #32 Matt Haarms
Winner plays the winner of Virginia vs Oregon
#1 Virginia vs #12 Oregon
If you’re going to be watching this game you should expect a pretty low-scoring game in which nothing will come easy for either team on offense.
Virginia is of course one of, if not the top defensive team in all of college basketball, and while Oregon has been on a 10-game winning streak that involved them winning the Pac-12 Tournament title and then winning their first two games here in the NCAA Tournament, they have statistically been the best defensive team in college basketball during that stretch.
Of course we all remember Virginia being the first one seed to lose to a 16 seed last season when they were upset by UMBC, but this season they have De’Andre Hunter in uniform and last season he was injured for that UMBC game and while there’s no excuse to lose to a 16 seed, Hunter is a game-changer for the Cavaliers because he is their best offensive player and he’s the most equipped player on their roster to be able to get his own shot when things bog down on the offensive end of the floor.
For Oregon, they will need to keep contesting threes like they have been and then trying to funnel everything into the paint where they can take advantage of their length. The Ducks start four players that are at least 6’9″ and they are anchored by Kenny Wooten, who is one of the top shot blockers in the country and has been blocking everything in sight lately.
This game feels like a game where Virginia will have the advantage on the perimeter, while Oregon could have the advantage in the paint because of their athleticism and the number of bodies on the inside they can throw at Virginia.
I expect a close game in this one and I think the winner will come down to which team knocks down open threes when they get the chance. Kyle guy hasn’t been shooting well as of late for Virginia, but he is a 44% three-point shooter and could be due and then for Oregon it’ll be Paul White and Louis King needing to knock down open threes when they are there. Both of those guys are stretch forwards and can open up the packline defense if they are hitting, but if they are missing it will allow Virginia to pack it in even more and make it even tougher to penetrate.
I mention those guys for each team because we know Payton Pritchard for Oregon and De’Andre Hunter are each teams best players and if they aren’t hitting their team could be in big trouble, so it will come down to the other players who aren’t their teams best players.
Players to watch:
Virginia: #12 De’Andre Hunter, #5 Kyle Guy, #11 Ty Jerome
Oregon: #3 Payton Pritchard, #2 Louis King, #14 Kenny Wooten
Winner plays the winner of Tennessee vs Purdue
Top Photo: Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review