NCAA Bracket Predictions 2013: Teams Destined for Sweet 16 After Strong Showings

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistMarch 21, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MARCH 21:  Kelly Olynyk #13 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs with the ball against Javan Mitchell #44 of the Southern University Jaguars in the second half during the second round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at EnergySolutions Arena on March 21, 2013 in Salt Lake City, Utah.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

You can lock the Gonzaga Bulldogs into the Sweet 16.

Mark Few will be breathing a sigh of relief after his team almost became the first No. 1 seed to lose its first game. Gonzaga only managed to slip past the Southern Jaguars by six points. Southern was left to try to shoot its way into the lead late into the game, and it just proved too big a task.

Truth be told, the Zags didn't play all that badly. The Bulldogs shot the ball fairly well, out-rebounded the Jaguars by 16 and had the same amount of turnovers.

The problem was that it wasn't a convincing performance for a team that needs to convince a lot of people. Many of Gonzaga's critics will point to the Bulldogs' weak schedule and decide the team doesn't have enough to make the Final Four.

A win like Thursday's could be the best thing for Gonzaga, though. You can bet that Few won't let his players take their foot off the gas against the Wichita State Shockers, who looked very good in a win over the Pittsburgh Panthers. Getting the second win might prove much easier than the first.

Here are three other teams poised for the Sweet 16 on the back of Thursday's action.


Saint Louis Billikens

The only team that might have looked better than the Saint Louis Billikens might be the Oregon Ducks. Coincidentally, that's who the Billikens must play on Saturday.

Saint Louis held the New Mexico State Aggies to just 17-of-61 shooting. It's just a continuation of the suffocating defense Jim Crews has had this team playing all season. The Billikens have had a defensive rating of 89.3, third in the country and are only surrendering 58.1 points a game.

They don't really have that one dead-eye scorer who you can see taking the game over. That can work in the Billikens' favor, because it will make Oregon's job on defense that much harder. Saint Louis won't be over-reliant on one player.

If this team continues to play like it did Thursday, there's no reason the Final Four is out of reach.


Michigan State Spartans

The Michigan State Spartans have always had plenty of talent; it was a matter of the players actually playing up to their potential.

Keith Appling has been the biggest offender.

However, it's all about getting hot at the right time, so should Appling and co. find their form, the Spartans are a very strong contender.

Michigan State made easy work of what wasn't a terrible Valparaiso Crusaders squad.

The Spartans were up 17 points by halftime. Appling went for 15, but it was Derrick Nix who stole the show with his 23 points and 15 rebounds. Michigan State out-rebounded Valpo by 24. It's incredible the Spartans won by 11 despite committing 17 turnovers.


Marquette Golden Eagles

The Marquette Golden Eagles narrowly avoided an upset at the hands of the Davidson Wildcats. Vander Blue's last-second layup was the difference in the Golden Eagles' 59-58 win. It wasn't a strong performance, but something has to be said for a team that makes up a seven-point difference with only one minute, 33 seconds left in the game.

Marquette survived despite putting out what will likely be the team's worst performance this tournament. Much like Gonzaga, there's plenty of opportunity to let Buzz Williams remind his team exactly how poorly it performed.

The Golden Eagles averaged 46.7 percent from the floor for the season, so having them shoot only 20 of 58 will be hard for the Butler Bulldogs to duplicate.


Don't forget to download your printable NCAA tournament bracket and follow the results with Bleacher Report's live bracket.

Follow all the exciting NCAA tournament action with March Madness Live.