NCAA Sweet 16 Team Profiles
THE NCAA TOURNAMENT: HERE'S YOUR SWEET 16 TEAM PROFILES
So, here's the proverbial lay-of-the-land when it comes to this year's Sweet 16 teams in the NCAA Tournament: There's three #1 seeds remaining, there's a pair of #2 seeds (and a region without a single #1 or #2 seed for the first time in 11 years) - and than there's the undying question of who out there is gonna beat 36-and-oh Kentucky?
Now, here's what is straight ahead on the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 menu with our team-by-team profiles below:
On Thursday, it's ...
MIDWEST (at Cleveland) - West Virginia vs. Kentucky; Wichita State vs. Notre Dame
WEST (at Los Angeles) - Xavier vs. Arizona; North Carolina vs. Wisconsin
On Friday, it's ...
EAST (at Syracuse) - N.C. State vs. Louisville; Michigan State vs. Oklahoma
SOUTH (at Houston) - UCLA vs. Gonzaga; Utah vs. Duke
Note: For you handicapping folks, take note that through the first week of this year's NCAA Tournament, betting favorites are just 21-30-0 ATS (against the spread) with one pick 'em game for a .411 winning rate and among the Sweet 16 teams that have copped pointspread wins in both of their games let us present to you the rather short list containing West Virginia, Xavier, Michigan State, Utah, Duke and UCLA.
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers have been steamrolling their way through the month of March with loads of College Basketball winners and it ain't gonna stop anytime soon! There's time to still get with America's #1 Handicapper for The Network March Madness Package that features all of the remaining NCAA Tournament Games beginning with the Sweet 16 tilts and keep in mind the Jim Hurley Network also gets you the other post-season tournaments such as the NIT, CBI and CIT Tournies too. Get it either right here online or at our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 - plus don't forget we're banging out lots of NBA Winners too these days and so go ahead and join the fun and profits.
MIDWEST REGION - At Cleveland, OH - Thurs & Sat
#1 KENTUCKY (36-0) - The pursuit of perfection rolls on but just as we suspected (see pre-NCAA Tournament column here at Jim Sez) the UK Wildcats have had problems covering these over-cooked Las Vegas prices as the 79-56 win against 35-point dog Hampton was followed up last weekend by a 64-51 triumph against gritty 16-point pup Cincinnati. Imagine if John Calipari's club wins it all and doesn't cover a single spread throughout this "Big Dance" - ha, ha! No doubt Kentucky's spirited defensive play keyed the Round of 32 win against Cincy as the Bearcats shot a woeful 20-of-63 from the floor but if the SEC champs are gonna fly high this week/weekend then we want to see more success from three-land as 'Cats shot just 4-of-15 from downtown and that included G Devin Booker's 0-for-5 nightmare.
#3 NOTRE DAME (31-5) - There was plenty of after-midnight magic for the ND Fighting Irish last Saturday night when Mike Brey's club snagged that emotionally draining 67-64 non-cover win versus 4-point dog Butler ... the win occurred just hours after the passing of Brey's 84-year-old mom in Florida and so maybe she had a hand in that G Jerian Grant game-clinching lay-up with 18 seconds left or the fact that relative unknown Steve Vasturia poured in a team-best 20 points. If the Irish wish to march on to Saturday's Elite game against the Kentucky v. Maryland/West winner then Grant must be an assassin on his drives to the hoop and energetic PG Demetrius Jackson (just one turnover in the team's first two NCAA Tourney games thus far) must play near-flawless ball.
#5 WEST VIRGINIA (25-9) - Maybe you wish to pity the WVU Mountaineers who now have to hear it all week long regarding how they have "no chance" to beat two-TD betting favorite Kentucky but "hats off" to the Big 12 team for just getting here after proving doubters wrong with 6- and 10-point wins/covers against Buffalo and Maryland in Week One of this NCAA Tournament. The 'Neers used their come-at-'em-in-waves defense to slug the 1.5-point underdog Terrapins 69-59 last Sunday night and the key stat there again was turnovers as Maryland committed 21 of 'em with Dez Wells (8 turnovers) a major liability for the Maryland guys. If West Virginia's guards can gum up the Kentucky ball-handlers here and if Devin Williams (16 points and 10 rebs versus Maryland) can be a stat-sheet stuffer than usually-cranky head coach Bob Huggins may have his club close in the final minutes.
#7 WICHITA STATE (30-4) - Who's gonna forget that last year's unbeaten Shockers bunch lost in the round of 32 to Kentucky and so it's a tad ironic that this 2014-15 team that didn't even win the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament is the one headed to the Sweet 16 ... and better yet Gregg Marshall's club gets there by virtue of a most satisfying 78-65 win against "big brother" Kansas! The Shockers canned half of their 20 triples in last Sunday's win with X-factor Evan Wessel draining four trifectas but if this club is gonna survive-and-advance past Notre Dame in a real pick 'em type affair than both G Fred Van Vleet (44 total points in the two NCAA Tourney wins so far) and reborn Ron Baker (12 points versus Kansas but a couple of keep-'em-in-the-game treys) must be offensive whizzes.
WEST REGION -At Los Angeles, CA - Thurs & Sat
#1 WISCONSIN (33-3) - Here's what the West's top seed didn't do well last week in Omaha: The Wisky Badgers failed to cover either of their tourney games against Coastal Carolina and Oregon and they didn't shoot free throws particularly well until late in last Sunday's 72-65 non-cover win against the 12.5-point underdog Ducks (see 21-of-29 overall after a sluggish start) but Bo Ryan's crew showed major toughness once the Ducks had knotted up the game at 52-all with five-plus minutes remaining. Now, let's see if Player of the Year frontrunner Frank Kaminsky (a quiet 16 points and 7 boards against Oregon) raises the level of his play and we'll be interested to see if the Badgers' guards seek 'em out more at crunch time ... this is Wisconsin's fourth appearance in the Sweet 16 in the past five years but you're getting the sense this team is feeling the pressure of getting back to the Final Four.
#2 ARIZONA (33-3) - The U of A Wildcats won their first-week NCAA Tourney games by a composite score of 36 points and hope you gave Sean Miller's club the credit deserved in the 73-58 win/cover against 10-point pup as Buckeyes' mega-star D'Angelo Russell shot a putrid 3-of-19 from the floor. Overall, it's the oft-overlooked Arizona "D" that really steals the show - the Buckeyes went just 20-of-52 from the field after Texas Southern shot a respectable 24-of-51 - and if that defense shows up here and PG J.J. McConnell (19 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists against Ohio State) is a veritable stat-sheet stuffer, then this Pac-12 team will be a writing a script with the Final Four in mind.
#4 NORTH CAROLINA (26-11) - Yes, there were plenty of Tar Heel doubters at the very start of this NCAA Tournament but gut-check wins against Harvard and Arkansas has propelled Roy Williams' squad into the Sweet 16 stratosphere and here's what we really loved about last Saturday's 87-78 win/cover against 5-point underdog Arkansas ... G Marcus Paige and F J.P. Tokoto committed just three turnovers between 'em even though they handled the rock plenty against a Razorbacks crew not happy with all the second-half whistles in that game. Paige (22 points, 6 rebs and 5 steals) and Tokoto (13 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds) might well be playing their best ball of the year ... could UNC be peaking at just the right time?
#6 XAVIER (23-13) - Don't mean to rain on Georgia State's parade but if we saw one more camera shot of head coach Ron Hunter sobbing we might have gotten ill! So, this Xavier team - which topped the 6-point underdog G-Staters 75-67 last Saturday - moves on to a their third Sweet 16 berth in the past six years and this won't be the last stop if reserves Jalen Reynolds and Myles Davis (a combined 38 points last weekend) thrive in SoCal. One key factor with this Big East bunch is they must not quit at getting the ball in the paint to goggled C Matt Stainbrook who attempted just five FGs against Georgia State ... no doubt Chris Mack's disciplined team needs off-the-bench scoring here but Stainbrook must get his points, must draw a batch of enemy fouls and must be on the floor without foul woes in the final few minutes against twin-figure fav Arizona.
EAST REGION - At Syracuse, NY - Fri & Sun
#3 OKLAHOMA (24-10) - Goodbye Columbus! It's okay to admit we liked to see the gut-check win by the OU Sooners last Sunday in that come-from-behind 72-66 win/cover against 4-point "host" Dayton in the round of 32 game. If truth be told the combo of Oklahoma's stingy defense and the mere fact the Flyers ran out of gas (they were playing their sixth game in 10 days) conspired to trip up a Dayton team that never - ever - should have been playing at the Ohio site twice against higher-seeded teams and so justice was served as Buddy Hield (15 points and a key block at the rim late) and mates marched onto this next round that just so happens to mark another Sweet 16 berth for head coach Lon Kruger who's now taken Kansas State, Florida, UNLV and now Oklahoma this far .... yes, he's still one of the country's 10 sideline bosses!
#4 LOUISVILLE (26-8) - Still can't believe the Cardinals' fourth straight Sweet 16 appearance is a school record (wow, it never happened in the Denny Crum Era?) and to a lesser degree can't believe the 'Ville was such a potent offensive team in Sunday night's wire-to-wire 66-53 win against 2.5-point fav Northern Iowa. The Cards came out slinging it - head coach Rick Pitino admitted his club practiced more offense than defense in the 48-or-so hours leading up to this Round of 32 game versus the Panthers - and it showed as G Terry Rozier (25 points and 7 assists) was brilliant and how about the fact Louisville committed just 7 turnovers and only got sloppy late. The Cards never did jell this whole 2014-15 between player unrest, suspensions, etc. but maybe Pitino has 'em right where he wants 'em heading into the Sweet 16.
#7 MICHIGAN STATE (25-11) - Amazing stat that Spartans head coach Tom Izzo is now 20-4 SU (straight-up) when playing for the right to get to the Sweet 16 but the $64,000 question here is can this Big 10 team continue to survive-and-advance with such lousy free-throw shooting? In last Sunday's skin-under-the-fingernails 60-54 win against 4.5-point fav Virginia, there was Izzo's gang nailing a mere 20-of-33 FTs (that's just 60.6 percent) and somehow escaping the foul woes of star Denzell Valentine (just one made FG against Virginia). No doubt classy G Travis Trice (23 points versus the Cavs) is really the lone triple threat here but will he struggle inside the Carrier Dome? Hmmm.
#8 N.C. STATE (22-13) - The one-and-only upset winner in last Saturday's Round of 32 games was this Wolfpack crew that did the following en route to its 71-68 triumph against 10-point fav and numero uno seed Villanova: N.C. State bottled up the Wildcats' perimeter game that produced just 9-of-28 makes from beyond the three-point line; it spread the wealth on offense where four different starters posted double-digit scoring totals; and it didn't back down from 'Nova at any point with G Trevor Lacey (just 6-of-14 FG shooting for a team-high 17 points) unafraid to fail. If Mark Gottfried's crew wants to be playing Sunday then it may need an over-the-top scoring game by G Cat Barber here against fellow ACC playmate Louisville. P.S., third time since 2005 that N.C. State's in the Sweet 16.
SOUTH REGION - At Houston, TX - Fri & Sun
#1 DUKE (31-4) - How dominant have the here-and-now Blue Devils been so far in this year's tourney? Well, as CBS play-by-play ace Jim Nantz said at the end of last Sunday's 68-49 win/cover against 9.5-point dog San Diego State this Duke team has owned a double-digit lead in 61 of the first 80 minutes of this year's "Big Dance" and now we'll see if frosh C Jahlil Okafor (26 points on 12-of-16 FGs against the SDSU Aztecs) can get to the hoop as freely as he did in the first two rounds. Hey, we want to see freshman PG Tyus Jones (see 6 points and 6 assists last Sunday) be a bit more pro-active in this Friday night blast versus Utah because he was quiet in that round of 32 win, don't 'ya think? Note this is Duke's 14th appearance in the Sweet 16 since 1998 - now that's so good it's downright laughable.
#2 GONZAGA (34-2) - The 'Zags bagged a couple of rather ho-hum tourney victories last week with 10- and 19-point wins against North Dakota State and Iowa, respectively, and take your pick as to whom were the best players in these "Big Dance" games as F Kyle Wiltjer scored 24 points (made 10-of-12 FGs), veteran PG Kevin Pangos (12 points and 3 assists and great leadership) was great and key sub F Domantas Sabonis kicked in 18 points and 9 boards in just 26 minutes in last Sunday's win and it's gotta be an all-hands-on-deck mode here against a UCLA team that's operating with some major "mojo" right now. Hey, the Zags shot 61.5 percent against Iowa (32-of-52 FGs) and nobody's gonna beat 'em if they continue to share the ball (see 20 assists) and get off high-percentage shots, got it?
#5 UTAH (26-8) - The Utes' first trip to the tourney in six years already has been a blast with first-week wins against Stephen F. Austin and Georgetown but now Larry Krystowiak's gang clearly is under the national microscope with this hyped game versus Duke ... maybe that's a good thing for a Utah team that shot 22-of-38 (that's 57.9 percent) against the Hoyas and played with great energy in the game's final few minutes when Georgetown hung tough until a key triple make by Utah's Brandon Taylor with just under three minutes left in the contest. Just in case everyone wants to discuss Duke's rich hoops history, keep in mind the Utes won a national championship back in 1944 - so there!
#11 UCLA (22-13) - Surprise, surprise. Plenty of critics thought the Uclans didn't belong in this man's tourney in the first place but the bogus goaltending call against SMU and then the commanding 92-75 win/cover last Saturday against 5.5-point dog UAB has catapulted Steve Alford's gang into a second consecutive Sweet 16 (lost to Florida last year at this stage) and how 'bout a shout-out to Bruins' big man Tony Parker who registered 28-point, 12-rebound performance against the Blazers on a day when UCLA shot a blistering 60.3 percent from the field (that's 35-of-58 made FGs) and included three more triples by coach's son Bryce.
NOTE: Catch our NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Game Previews in the next couple of editions of Jim Sez and don't forget we'll also include our NCAA Tournament Pointspread Breakdown Chart in Wednesday's column, so don't miss out!
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