#2 Villanova v #3 Miami
The sweet 16 gets underway in the early hours of Friday with games live on ESPN.
Villanova are in the Sweet 16 phase of the Tourney for the first time since 2009 and are one of the only teams who’ve cruised through both games so far. They’ve used their superior athleticism and speed to get comfortably ahead early and ride the lead to a comprehensive win but that won’t be possible against Miami’s suffocating defense.
Miami have a pair of guards in Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan who, when they are on their game, can rack up the points. They are both athletic players who are comfortable going inside or out who can force their opposites to defend much deeper and much more often than they are used to so stamina could come in to play late on.
This one is going to be a real battle of styles with the speed Miami possesses in their backcourt proving pivotal, if they can play their game and stop Villanova reducing the tempo to suit then the Hurricanes should impose themselves enough to make them a dog worth taking a chance on. The ACC has sent a record number of teams to this stage and there’s no reason to think they can’t go further.
#1 Oregon v #4 Duke
The Oregon Ducks on the other hand come into this hot and a riding a 10 game streak, which included a PAC-12 Championship, and have gone 6-4 against the spread over the course. While the form of the PAC-12 shows up as a negative on Oregon they handed a beatdown on Holy Cross in the opening round before rallying to avoid being another high seed to fall against St Joseph’s, the bit of adversity should serve as a decent wakeup call to the top seed. The Ducks struggled a little from the field against St Joseph’s but when their offense dipped the defense stepped up and they will more than fancy their chances against Duke.
This clash is likely to come down to ball control and while Duke struggled to rebound against Yale they will have even more trouble against the pressing defense of the Ducks and their athletic diversity without the ball. Duke have looked vulnerable and have the second worst defense in the Sweet 16, which is no surprise given the amount of talent they sent to the NBA last year, and are lucky to reach this stage, the Ducks have to be fancied to cover.
#11 Gonzaga v #10 Syracuse
Gonzaga are playing their best basketball at exactly the right time after winning the West Coast Conference elevated them from a bubble team to a Tournament certainty. They have looked as solid and as confident as anyone left as showed by their demolition of the much higher ranked Utah. They have a well-rounded roster who can wear opponents down on both sides of the ball and will have no problems handling the atmosphere after going 8-1 in neutral venue games over the course of the year.
Syracuse is well renowned for its zone defense, which has been a hallmark of the program for decades; it always creates match-up problems and can be difficult to score on. That said Syracuse can certainly count themselves lucky to be here after rounding out the year in terrible form and have been one of the most inconsistent teams in the entire NCAA. They have snatched the chance so far but against a disciplined team like Gonzaga, who have huge stars in Wiltjer and Sabonis, they are likely to fall short. Gonzaga look primed for a second consecutive Elite Eight and should cover in the process.