Sweet 16 Predictions on Every Game

NCAA Men’s East Region Sweet 16 –Mark Ruelle

No. 4 UCLA vs. No. 8 North Carolina:

In their two games thus far in the tournament, UCLA has outscored the opposition by a combined 20 points. The Bruins struggled through their opening-round matchup with Akron, winning by just four points and only scoring a total of 57. In the second matchup, the Bruins’ defense shut down a potent St. Mary’s offense by holding them to just 40% shooting. North Carolina has been led by its offense in its two wins, averaging a robust 94 points. The Tar Heels were able to take down the defending national champion Baylor Bears in overtime after surrendering a 25-point second-half lead. The key to this game will be rebounding and the availability of Jaime Jaquez Jr for UCLA. Jaquez went down late in the second half after leading the Bruins with 15 points. He has been vital down the stretch of the season, averaging close to 20 points per game. His ankle injury needs to be monitored but he has the benefit of nearly five days to recover. Rebounding is the other major factor in this game. North Carolina has grabbed 99 rebounds in its first two games, out-rebounding the opposition by 26. Of those rebounds, 25 have been on the offensive end. Brady Manek, who was ejected in the Baylor win, has been lights out in the two games averaging 27 points per game. Jaquez Jr.’s availability becomes even more important because he will likely match up with Manek. I’m banking on the health of Jaquez Jr and, if so, I’m going with the more experienced Bruins because they are not prone to mistakes, defend well and will team rebound effectively enough to limit the Tar Heels from dominating the glass. Prediction: UCLA -2

The Bruins defense can be swarming and have been excellent at timing switches and recovering so far in the tournament. They held a strong shooting St. Mary’s team to just 40% and got out on 3pt shooters, particularly in the second half when they held them to just 3-of-12 from long range. UCLA is allowing just 54.5 points per game so far in the tournament. Despite that, however, I do like the over in this game based on the diversity of scorers that the Tar Heels can throw at them and the length UNC possesses. In their two wins, three different players have scored 20+ points while Armando Bacot is averaging 16 points per game. The Tar Heels will get second chances and they will put up a decent number of points, certainly far above the 54 a game the Bruins have given up so far. UCLA is adept at adjusting to its opponents and they will be able to play a faster paced game with the likes of Tyger Campbell and Johnny Juzang. Look for a game played in the 70s by both teams and pushing past the number. Prediction: Over 142

No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 15 St. Peter’s - Mark Ruelle

St. Peter’s has become America’s darling on their road to the Sweet 16, but it turns out they play a sustainable brand of basketball. In the two wins over #2 Kentucky and #7 Murray State, the Peacocks have shot the ball a reasonable 47% overall and 38% from long range. That amounts to 3% higher in both categories from their regular-season numbers. An improvement, but not monumental. They are averaging 33 points in the paint, including an impressive 34 against a lengthy Wildcat team. Unlike most mid to low-level teams, the Peacocks have been able to utilize their bench so far in the tournament. They’ve received 57 bench points in two games. They’ve hit 79% of their free throws while getting to the line 52 times in two games. Lastly, they have out-rebounded the opposition by 6 overall in the two games, keeping right in line with their regular-season statistics. St. Peter’s is clearly not a fluke team but rather, one playing slightly above their season numbers and not being afraid of the moment. Purdue gets here after a fairly easy first-round win over Yale followed by a hard-fought 10pt win over a relentless Texas team. Purdue’s numbers are slightly down from the regular season, shooting 3% less from the floor overall and 6% less from 3pt range. Jaden Ivey could be a real x-factor in this game as the Peacocks have not run into a true wing stud yet in the tournament with his wingspan and speed. Ivey is averaging 20 points per game in the tournament, which is slightly above his season average. And, while Kentucky had a dominant big man in the middle, the Peacocks have never encountered the 1-2 punch that Purdue will throw at them with Zach Edey and Trevion Williams. The bench strength that I referenced earlier will be put to the test against these two low post threats. Finally, Purdue has been getting to the line a TON so far in the tournament, at just under 40 times per game. Their ability to penetrate the interior of the Peacock defense could create serious issues for the smaller underdogs. Purdue was the #1 team in the country earlier this season and the ranking was justified. They have yet to play their best basketball in this tournament and, when they do, someone is going to get run over. I think St Peter’s deserves to be here based on their play and this isn’t a fluke. However, Purdue owns too many superior matchup advantages in this game to overlook. Prediction: Purdue (-12.5)

Purdue can pile up points, particularly with the number of trips they take to the free-throw line. I have a strong suspicion that they’ll get close to 40 free throw attempts in this game as well against the undersized Peacocks. St. Peter’s will not go quietly either and can certainly make things interesting with its own ability to get to the free-throw line and convert at a high percentage. The Peacocks will undoubtedly try and shoot their way into a close game from beyond the arc but don’t forget about Purdue’s ability to shoot from long range. I expect a high number of points from the Boilermakers and a gritty Peacock squad will do their best to keep up for much of the game. Look for a game total much closer to 150 than 130. Prediction: Take the over 135.5

Midwest Region

No. 4 Providence vs No. 1 Kansas - David Hess

The Providence Friars have been a rather underrated team all year, but for this game, they may be a bit overvalued. Four of Providence’s five losses this year have been against teams in the NCAA tournament and they have been outscored by 16.8 ppg in the five games overall. Their last loss was by 27 points to the came Creighton team that Kansas beat by seven points in their last game. Kansas has won their last seven games in a row and they have outscored their last five opponents by 16.0 ppg. Kansas is a team that no one is really talking about right now so they are flying a bit under the radar and for that, I feel this line should be a bit higher. The Jayhawks have gone 8-1 on neutral courts this year and they have outscored their foes by 13.0 ppg in those games. Creighton has an edge on defense but the Jayhawks have allowed just 63.6 ppg over their last five games and they are 101st in defensive FG%, along with 20th in three-point defense, so they can play at that end of the floor. Kansas has also averaged 79.6 ppg over their last five games while Providence has put up just 68.8 ppg in their last five. Take the Jayhawks to win by double-figures. Prediction: Kansas -7.5

Kansas has ranks 168th in the nation in points allowed overall at 67.9 ppg but they have their defense cranked up at the moment, allowing just 63.6 ppg in their last five games. Providence has been a decent offensive team this year, but they have struggled at that end of late, averaging just 68.4 ppg over their last five games. Kansas will run and their last game saw 151 points being scored, but the Friars will slow the pace as they are 284th in the nation in tempo. It is their only chance of winning the game as they can not get into a shooting match with the Jayhawks. Kansas will get their fair share of points but they will not top 75 points, especially since the Friars have allowed just 66.2 ppg on the year. Lastly, the Under is 15-5 in Providence’s last 20 games following an ATS win and 4-0 in Kansas’s last 4 games following an ATS loss. Prediction: Under 141.5

No. 11 Iowa State vs. 10 Miami - David Hess

Defense wins titles and while the Cyclones will not win the national title this year, they still have a big edge on defense in this game and that will carry them to victory. Iowa State has allowed just 103 total points in the tournament so far and just 60.6 ppg in their last five. They are 27th in the nation in points allowed, 142nd in defensive FG%, and 18th in three-point defense. The Cyclones do have a good enough defense to slow down a solid Miami offense. The Canes have pulled upsets against both USC and Auburn and they have allowed just 127 points in those games but Miami is still 220th in the nation in points allowed, 330th in defensive FG%, and 1288th in three-point defense. Miami has an edge on offense but the Cyclones have shown in their last two games that they can win with just their defense and both of those wins for Iowa state have been upset wins as well. Lastly, the Cyclones are 6-1 ATS in their last 7 neutral site games as an underdog while the Hurricanes are 5-15-1 ATS in their last 21 neutral site games as a favorite. Prediction - Iowa State +1.5

Iowa State has been winning with their defense of late and their two tournament games have put up just 113 and 103 ppg. They have averaged just 51.6 ppg in their last five games, but have also allowed just 60.6 ppg on that same stretch. The Canes will look to run and eight of their last nine games have put up at least 140 points, but the Cyclones will slow the pace way down as that is what has worked for them this year. Miami has allowed just 63.5 ppg in their two tournament games while the Cyclones have allowed just 51.5 ppg in their two NCAA tournament games. I can also see this game being a tight game throughout and that means just walking the ball up the court late with both teams looking for the perfect shot. Lastly, the Under is 7-1 in Iowa State’s last 8 games vs. a team with a winning % above .600 and 10-3 in Miami’s last 13 games following an ATS win. Prediction: Under 133

South Region

No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 5 Houston – Ben Hayes

No. 1 Arizona needed overtime to get by TCU 85-80 to reach the Sweet 16. Bennedict Mathurin, a potential lottery pick, stepped up with 30 points, while 7-1 Christian Koloko had a career game with 28 points and 12 rebounds with three blocks. However, the Wildcats shot just 5-of-27 (19%) from long range and they were pushed around by a smaller TCU team. Point guard Kerr Kriisa returned from an ankle injury and shot just 1-of-10 from the field (all three-point shots). He also had two of the team’s 16 turnovers. The Wildcats face an impressive Houston team that is now ranked second overall on KenPom. Houston is even better than TCU defensively, as they hold teams to just 58.9 points and 37.2% shooting. They held a talented Illinois team to just 53 points on 34% shooting to reach the Sweet 16. They are balanced offensively, led by Kyler Edwards (13.6ppg). They also have Josh Carlton (6-11, 245), who is long enough to keep Koloko from dominating. Houston’s outstanding defense and slower pace will allow them to reach the Elite Eight. Arizona doesn’t like physical teams that slow it down. They could have easily lost to TCU had the Horned Frogs got some calls late in the game. Prediction: Houston +2

Both of these teams play solid defense. Arizona ranks sixth in the nation in field goal percentage defense, holding teams to 38.2% from the field. Houston ranks first in the nation in field goal defense at 37.2% and 19th in three-point defense (29.6%). The key here is pace as Houston ranks 333rd in Adjusted Tempo according to KenPom. Arizona is the opposite and wants to run. The Cougars have gone under in six of their last eight games. They are also 14-6 their last 20 as an underdog. Houston will keep their pace and their defense will hold Arizona way under their average of 84.7 points per game. Prediction: Under 145.5

No. 11 Michigan vs. No. 2 Villanova – Ben Hayes

Michigan finally lived up to their billing, by beating up on Colorado State by 12 and then upsetting Tennessee by 10. Villanova has won seven straight overall and their only loss was a two-point road defeat at UConn on Feb. 22. This is a team peaking at the right time. They held Ohio State to 42% shooting from the field and forced 12 Buckeyes’ turnovers. The key for the Wildcats is guard Collin Gillespie, who missed last year’s tournament due to a torn ligament in his knee. He sets the tone on offense and is tough on defense. While they may not be the biggest team in the tournament, they will put a lot of pressure on the shaky Michigan guards, including DeVante’ Jones, who played just 11 minutes against Tennessee and missed the second half. He suffered a concussion in practice on Tuesday and missed the Colorado State game. The pressure on the guards will force turnovers and limit the touches from 7-1 Hunter Dickinson and 6-11 Moussa Diabate. While they didn’t necessarily miss him in those two games, they will miss him (he won’t be 100% if he plays) against a very tough Villanova defense. Michigan’s defense has also been shaky at times this season and they allow 44.7% shooting. Nova will take advantage. Prediction: Villanova -5.5

When it comes to pace, Villanova is basically Virginia. They rank 345th in Adjusted Tempo according to KenPom. They milk the clock with a lot of passing and have players that can go one-on-one when the clock is winding down, if there are no open shots. Michigan is 202nd in Adjusted Tempo, which is pretty fast for the Big 10, a conference known for pounding the ball inside. If you have two bigs in Dickinson and Diabate and that’s your top advantage, Juwan Howard is going to slow the ball down to get inside to his two big men. Villanova is also allowing just 63.6 points per game and 41% shooting. The Wildcats have gone under in four of their last five games. They’ve held their last six opponents to 65 or less points. Prediction: Under 135.5

West Region

No. 1Gonzaga vs. No. 4 Arkansas – Chris King

Let’s be honest, neither side has looked overwhelmingly good in their first two victories in the tournament. Gonzaga earned a 93-72 victory over 16th-seeded Georgia State in the opening round, which looks good at first glance, but remember that it was a two-point game with 11:26 remaining before the Bulldogs ripped off a 24-1 run en route to the win. Against Memphis, Gonzaga was down 10 at the half before Drew Timme exploded in the second half to carry the Bulldogs to a win. One thing that the Bulldogs have to clean up is their free-throw shooting. Gonzaga was only 16 of 30 at the stripe against Georgia State before a 13 of 24 performance in the Memphis contest.

Shooting 53.7% at the line isn’t going to get it done as we get deeper into the tournament. Arkansas, meanwhile, has slogged their way to a pair of wins over double-digit seeds with games that went down to the wire. The Razorbacks got past 13th-seeded Vermont 75-71 in the opening round as JD Notae piled up 17 points in the second half after going scoreless in the opening half of the contest. Against New Mexico State, Arkansas shot only 27.5% from the floor but managed to prevail as they hit 22 of 25 free throws while limiting the Aggies to 34.8% from the field. We’ve seen the Razorbacks shoot 84% at the charity stripe in their first two games. That’s helped offset the fact that they have shot 35.5% from the field in the tournament, including 27% from beyond the arc. Notae, in particular, has struggled, shooting 10 of 34 from the field so far and has to be better. The question remains whether the Razorbacks will have any success against a Gonzaga team that is 2nd in the country in field goal percentage defense (37.9%) on the year. In the end, Gonzaga has experience and depth in spades. The Bulldogs learned from their struggles against Georgia State before burying the Panthers. Gonzaga then showed grit by rallying to take down Memphis in the second round. Arkansas had to scrap and claw in both of their tournament games, winning by four and five points, respectively. The Razorbacks have been cold shooting the ball and it gets no easier here against the Bulldogs. Timme and company prove to be too much for Arkansas to handle. Give the points as the Bulldogs punch their ticket to the Elite Eight. Prediction: Gonzaga -8.5

We’ve seen a fair amount of points from these teams, with the win by the Razorbacks over New Mexico State the outlier. That actually snapped a run of seven straight overs for Arkansas. Gonzaga has seen the over hit in each of their last three games. The number may seem high but look for a lot of tempo here to help this one over the mark. Gonzaga ranks sixth in the nation in Adjusted Temp according to KenPom, while Arkansas is at 28th. These are teams that like to push the ball in transition. Prediction: Over 154.5

No. 2 Duke vs. No. 3 Texas Tech – Chris King

This is the only region in the entire tournament where chalk prevailed through the first two rounds. Each team had easy runs in the opening round with Duke rolling to a 78-61 victory over 15th-seeded CSU Fullerton while Texas Tech bombed 14th-seeded Montana State 97-62. Things were a little more competitive in the second round as the Red Raiders slipped past 11th-seeded Notre Dame 59-53 despite going cold from the floor with only one field goal in the final 7:16 of the game. Meanwhile, Duke kept the Mike Krzyzewski retirement tour going for at least one more stop as the Blue Devils beat seventh-seeded Michigan State 85-76 in the second round. That marked Krzyzewski’s13th win in 16 meetings against Spartans’ coach Tom Izzo.

We’ve got a massive clash of styles between these teams as Duke continues to rely on offensive production while Texas Tech is a defensive-minded program. The Blue Devils are 8th in the league in scoring offense with 80.3 points per game, sixth in FG % (49.2%), 16th in two-point shooting (56.1%) and 35th in three-point shooting (37%) this season. Duke is loaded with McDonald’s All-Americans like Paolo Banchero and Trevor Keels, the next big names from the program who will make the jump to the NBA. What the Blue Devils lack in experience as they are 346th in the country in that factor. Now, they have to deal with a Red Raiders team that is seventh in the nation in scoring defense (60.2 ppg), fourth in FG % defense (38.2%), 13th in two-point shooting (44%) and 67th in three-point shooting (31.4%) this season. Texas Tech is the same team they were with Chris Beard under Mark Adams in regard to style. The Red Raiders are loaded with experience as they are 34th in the country in that department according to KenPom.

This one is going to be the steepest challenge that Duke has faced so far. Sure, CSU Fullerton was a game mid-major program in the opening round, while Michigan State has been a common foe for the Blue Devils in the NCAA Tournament over the years. The thing is, the Spartans aren’t the same team that they have been in previous seasons and lack a go-to guy on the offensive end. Texas Tech has a new bench boss but they still play suffocating defense. The Red Raiders have clamped down defensively, allowing an average of 57.5 ppg in their two tournament games. More importantly, Texas Tech doesn’t get rattled in clutch situations, as we saw in the win over Notre Dame. With Kevin Obanor, Bryson Williams, Kevin McCullar, Davion Warren, Terrence Shannon and Marcus Santos-Silva leading the way, they get the better of Duke’s youth. The Coach K era comes to a close here in the Sweet 16 as the Red Raiders punch their ticket to the Elite Eight. Prediction: Texas Tech -1

In relation to the total, Duke has gone over the number in seven of their last eight games. While Texas Tech has stayed under the mark in four of their last six, it’s probably going to take at least 70 points to get by the Blue Devils. Neither team is a run and gun offense tempo-wise but this total is a little too low. Duke has also gone over in seven of their last eight games. They can run when necessary and defense isn’t always the strongest. They have allowed 76 or more points in five of their last six games. Take the over in this contest. Prediction: Over 136.5

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