2019 March Madness Sweet Sixteen Preview

Pictured: Corey Davis Jr, Zion Williamson and Carsen Edwards
Source: Getty Images North America

Here’s a look at all matchups set for the Sweet Sixteen.

Pick your Fantasy Sports Sweet 16 Winners Here

ACC foes meet for the second time this season with a spot in the Elite Eight on the line

A month ago, the Virginia Tech Hokies pulled off a 77-72 upset of the Duke Blue Devils. A lot has changed since the two teams met on Feb. 26 as they will play one another in the NCAA Tournament East Region semifinals on Friday night at Capital One Arena in Washington D.C.

Of course, Duke fans will be quick to mention freshman forward Zion Williamson, the ACC”s Freshman and Player of the Year, did not play in that loss in Blacksburg. However, Virginia Tech senior guard Justin Robinson also missed the game. Both Williamson and Robinson are expected to play on Friday.

The Blue Devils (31-5), who are the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed, barely escaped their second-round matchup against UCF 77-76. Williamson scored 32 points and collected a game-high 11 rebounds in the victory.

The Hokies (26-8), are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1962 and just the second time in program history. On Sunday, No. 4 seed Virginia Tech defeated No. 12 Liberty 67-58 out in San Jose, California, to advance to the regional semifinals. Robinson had 13 points in the victory, one of four Hokies in double figures, as Virginia Tech outscored the Flames by 12 in the second half to overcome a three-point halftime deficit.

Streaking Ducks look to knock off top-seeded Cavaliers in Louisville

Virginia is finally living up to expectations in the postseason. Can the Cavaliers keep it going while facing an Oregon team that is embracing a rare underdog role? That’s a question that doesn’t offer an easy answer.

The Ducks aren’t your typical No. 12 seed. Injuries dropped Oregon from a preseason Top 25 ranking. Now healthy again, the Ducks have ripped off 10 straight wins and dominated Wisconsin and UC Irvine to get to the Sweet 16. They have won their first two NCAA Tournament games by an average of 18.5 points while holding their opponents below 40 percent shooting from the field.

Virginia seems capable of taking the next step forward after reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2016. The Cavaliers overcame a shaky first half to dispatch Gardner-Webb and were never really threatened by Oklahoma in the second round. They are winning with trademark smothering defense and patient offense.

Virginia and Oregon played a home-and-home series in 2010 and ’11. The Cavaliers won both games by an average margin of 14 points.

Seminoles, Bulldogs meet in Sweet 16 in West Regional for second straight year

The unofficial theme of the 2019 West Regional at Honda Center in Anaheim? Goin’ Back to Cali.

A year ago, Sweet 16 participants Florida State, Gonzaga and Michigan played in Los Angeles for the right to advance to the Final Four. The same three are back in Southern California, not far down the freeway in Anaheim. For Florida State and Gonzaga in particular, Thursday’s matchup is a case of deja vu. The two played in last year’s Sweet 16, with Florida State surprisingly dominant in a 75-60 win.

After coming one possession short of its first Final Four in almost a half-century, Florida State will look to rectify last year’s near-miss, starting with a redux of the 2018 Regional semifinal. For Gonzaga, the dream of a second Final Four this decade is still attainable.

A stark contrast in styles highlights this Sweet 16 rematch. Florida State comes in ranked No. 10 in adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom.com. Gonzaga, on the other hand, is No. 1 in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency.

Tigers, Tar Heels meet in a matchup of two explosive offenses that like to pick up the pace

Auburn has proved its run through the SEC Tournament was no fluke. North Carolina has lived up to its billing and dominated as a No. 1 seed. Now the two clash in what could be one of the best Sweet 16 games we see on either Thursday or Friday.

The fifth-seeded Tigers have ripped off 10 straight wins to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003. Auburn hasn’t reached the Elite Eight since 1986. The Tigers have never reached a Final Four in their history.

The Tar Heels are looking to reach the Final Four for the third time in four years. North Carolina has had a great track record in Sweet 16 games under head coach Roy Williams. The Tar Heels have advanced to the Elite Eight eight times under Williams and have lost just once in the Sweet 16, falling to Wisconsin in 2015.

This is the second time these two teams have met in the NCAA Tournament. Auburn and North Carolina also clashed in the Sweet 16 in 1985. The Tar Heels won 62-56.

Tigers and Spartans clash in Washington D.C. with Elite Eight berth on the line

Four teams enter the nation’s capital fresh off a pair of NCAA Tournament wins. They haven’t all been pretty, they haven’t all been blowouts. But they’ve been wins, and in a time appropriately dubbed as “madness,” wins are simply the most important commodity to collect.

LSU makes its 10th appearance in the Sweet 16 and first since 2006. It has been a topsy-turvy ride for the third-seeded Tigers — who lost in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament to Florida — and have squeaked by in their first two NCAA Tournament wins by a combined seven points. Despite nearly blowing a double-digit lead to No. 6 Maryland, LSU pulled out the 69-67 win thanks to four players scoring in double figures, led by Skylar Mays’ 16 and Naz Reid’s 13.

In order to reach their first Elite Eight since 2006, the Tigers will have to contend with Michigan State, the Big Ten’s regular-season and tournament champion. The Spartans received a scare from No. 15 Bradley in the opening round, but they dispatched fellow Big Ten foe (and No. 10) Minnesota by 20 points in the Round of 32. The Spartans dominated the Gophers in most areas — including shooting 57 percent from the field (compared to Minnesota’s 30.5) and outrebounding them 45-19.

However, MSU committed 22 turnovers, its second-highest single-game total and just the third game this season with at least 20. If the Spartans want to make the most of their first Sweet 16 trip since 2015 (when the program also reached the Final Four), they will need to clean up that part of their game.

The two point guards squaring off might be some of the smallest players on the court, but they carry the biggest impact into this game. LSU’s Tremont Waters (5-11) led the SEC (and is third in Division I) with 2.97 steals per game, as the Tigers are a top-10 team in that category. On the other side, Michigan State’s Cassius Winston (6-1) is one of the best distributors in the sport. He’s dished out 7.5 assists per game — which tops the Big Ten and ranks third in Division I — and only Murray State standout Ja Morant (331 total assists this season) has more than Winston’s 271.

Boilermakers, Volunteers meet for the second straight season, this time for a spot in the Elite Eight

Purdue vs. Tennessee is not just one of the few Sweet 16 matchups that I correctly picked in my bracket this year. It also one could set the tone for the remainder of the NCAA Tournament.

Both the Boilermakers (25-9) and Volunteers (31-5) have more than held their own in one of the more competitive Tournament fields in recent memory. Purdue made short work of Old Dominion in the first round, then the Big Ten regular-season champs put the hammer down on defending national champion Villanova in the second round, beating the Wildcats by 26 points.

Tennessee, on the other hand, had to surge past a pesky Colgate team in the first round, then needed overtime to put away the Iowa Hawkeyes and not end up on the wrong end of a historic comeback. The Volunteers led by 25 with a little more than four minutes remaining in the first half and were up by 21 at halftime before Iowa stormed back. But Tennessee did what teams are supposed to do — survive and advance.

So now the question is can Purdue continue its Tournament domination, or will Tennessee find a way to outshoot and outscore another tough opponent? After facing Iowa, the Volunteers have an idea of what to expect against another Big Ten squad. This is UT’s first Sweet 16 appearance since 2014 and they don’t want to waste it. This is the third straight Sweet 16 berth for the Boilermakers but they haven’t been able to make it past this round. These two teams faced each other last season in late November, a game the Volunteers won in overtime (78-75) on the road.

Two of the nation’s best defensive teams collide in Orange County

Michigan’s run to the national championship game a season ago went through Southern California. The Wolverines return, this time opening the West Regional against an opponent that fell short of its Final Four dreams a year ago, Texas Tech.

This clash of Big Ten and Big 12 teams features two of the very best defensive squads college basketball has to offer, with two of the game’s premier coaches on the sideline. For Michigan’s John Beilein, 2019 marks the seventh Sweet 16 appearance of his illustrious coaching career and fifth such trip at Michigan. The well-tenured Beilein has implemented a fluid brand of unselfish offensive basketball that complements the Wolverines’ No. 2-ranked adjusted defensive efficiency.

Beard’s overall track record is much shorter, but the 2019 Tournament is the third in four years in which Beard has coached a team winning at least one game. He led Arkansas-Little Rock to an upset of Purdue in 2016, and now in just his third season at Texas Tech has led the Red Raiders to consecutive Sweet 16s.

The next step for Texas Tech is to advance to the Final Four, while Michigan pursues its third appearance in the last six years.

Teams’ first-ever meeting on the court is for a spot in the Elite Eight

The NCAA Tournament has brought about many first-time matchups through the years, and we’ll get another one on Friday night when the Houston Cougars take on the Kentucky Wildcats with an Elite Eight berth on the line. The Cougars under Kelvin Sampson are enjoying their first 30-win campaign since the “Phi Slama Jama” era of the early 1980s, while the Wildcats have been constant championship contenders under head coach John Calipari. And when these two forces collide it could be a historic occasion.

Houston (33-3) took out both Georgia State and Ohio State in the previous two rounds, winning by a total of 44 points. Kentucky (29-6) made short work of Abilene Christian in the first round, then survived a close game with Wofford last Saturday. This is the eighth Sweet 16 appearance for UK in the Calipari era, while the Cougars are playing in this round for the first time since 1984 when the team led by Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler went on to lose to Georgetown in the national championship game.

This will be the second SEC team that Houston has played this season. The Cougars beat fellow Sweet 16 participant LSU at home back in December. As for Kentucky, this will be the Wildcats’ first matchup with a team from the American Athletic Conference (AAC) since defeating Cincinnati in the second round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament. This also will be the schools’ first-ever meeting.

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