The Sweet 16 has been set. Some surprises are in the Sweet 16 such as Notre Dame and Wisconsin in the East Region. Another pair of Sweet 16 surprise teams are Gonzaga and Syracuse. As to be expected, I found it difficult to pick winners in the Notre Dame versus Wisconsin game and the Gonzaga versus Syracuse matchup.
Where I did find winners was in the Sweet 16 games with lower seeds. #3 Miami battles #2 Villanova in a huge contest in the South Region. Also in that region is a giant game between Maryland and Kansas. Keep reading for my top Sweet 16 picks for both March 24 and March 25!
#3 Miami Hurricanes vs #2 Villanova
When: March 24 - 7:10 pm ET
Where: KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, Kentucky
Betting Odds: Villanova -4, Total 141
Analysis: After having trouble with Buffalo in the first round, the Hurricanes only won 79 to 72. Miami beat a highly-regarded Wichita State Shockers team 65 to 57 as a +2 point underdog. The Canes' defense was terrific in that battle. Miami held Wichita State to 33.9% from the field and 27.3% from three. But, Miami had a huge lead over the Shockers, being up 25-6 at one point. The fact that they let Wichita State back into the game in the second half is worrisome.
If Miami pulls the same shenanigans versus Villanova on Friday, the game could be over by halftime. That's what the Wildcats did to Iowa this past Sunday. As a -6 point favorite, Nova jumped on the Hawkeyes to an early 54-29 lead by halftime. They beat Iowa 87 to 68.
Although Miami is a good team, they're up against it versus a Villanova team that is peaking at the right time. Josh Hart, Ryan Arcidiacono and Kris Jenkins are focused. Miami should be in some trouble in this battle.
Pick: Villanova Wildcats
#5 Maryland Terrapins vs #1 Kansas
When: 9:40 pm ET
Where: KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, Kentucky
Betting Odds: Kansas -6.5, Total 146
Analysis: Let me make the case for Maryland in this game. Before moving on to the next game and saying that I'm nuts, allow me to plead my case. To me, Kansas is a deserving number one seed, but I'm not crazy impressed with the way that the Big 12 has performed in this tournament. I know what you're thinking. Maryland has played against Hawaii and South Dakota State so far in this tournament. I assure you, there is a method to my madness.
Against Hawaii, Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon were horrible from the three-point line. In fact, Maryland made only 1 of 18 three-point shots. But Trimble and Sulaimon, knowing this, got to the rim on more than one occasion. Trimble made 13 of his 14 free throws. Sulaimon made 8 of his 9 from the charity strike.
Kansas gave up 7 free throw shots to Sterling Gibbs in the win over UConn and 4 to Rodney Purvis. Gibb and Purvis are good players but they aren't Trimble and Sulaimon. I just think that Kansas is up against the best guard duo in the NCAA Tournament. If the Jayhawks have trouble containing Trimble and Sulaimon, things could open up in the paint for talented Terps' freshman Diamond Stone as well as Rob Carter. Also, Jake Layman isn't going to go 0 for 4 from three again the way that he did against Hawaii.
I'm calling the moneyline upset. Go Maryland!
#4 Iowa State Cyclones vs #1 Virginia
When: 7:10 pm ET
Where: United Center, Chicago, Illinois
Betting Odds: Virginia -5, Total 141
Analysis: Iowa State has been awfully lucky during this tournament. They played against Iona in Round 1. Iona is a run-and-gun squad just like the Cyclones are. They took on Arkansas-Little-Rock in Round 2. Arkansas-Little Rock was too tired to run with an Iowa State team after beating Purdue in double overtime in their first game of the NCAA Tournament.
Iowa State now takes on the number 1 seeded Virginia Cavaliers and Naismith Award Player of the Year Contender Malcolm Brogdon. Brogdon can take over a game on both sides of the court. Plus, Virginia's defense is one of the best in the nation. But, here's the thing: the Cavaliers can run when they want to. Virginia shot 55.8% from the field versus Butler. Since the Bulldogs wanted to run, Virginia only shot 10 three pointers. Instead, they took 52 shots from the field and scored 77 points in a 77 to 69 win over the Bulldogs.
With Brogdon leading the break, the Cavaliers are likely to outwork Iowa State around the rim. Virginia is excellent at getting back, meaning that they'll force the Cyclones into a half-court game, where the Cyclones usually implode. Any way I look at it, this is a bad matchup for the run and gun Iowa State Cyclones. Virginia could win this one by over 10 points.