While winning the national championship is the goal of every team in the NCAA tournament, reaching the Sweet 16 is an impressive feat. Fifty-two teams have been eliminated and the remaining 16 squads are closing in on the ultimate prize in college basketball.
This year’s tournament hasn’t been short on storylines. Cinderella sleepers, elite coaches and tremendous scorers litter the field, adding to the allure of the Sweet 16. Anything can happen in the final four rounds of the Big Dance.
Let’s take a look at the best Sweet 16 matchup from each region, breaking down key players, storylines and predictions from each contest.
No. 1 Indiana vs. No. 4 Syracuse: Thursday, March 28, at 9:45 p.m. ET on CBS
Players to Watch: Victor Oladipo (Indiana), Cody Zeller (Indiana), C.J. Fair (Syracuse)
Prediction: Indiana 76, Syracuse 62
The Indiana Hoosiers nearly slipped up against Temple in the third round, but that close victory may have been enough to give them the jolt needed to advance past Syracuse in the Sweet 16.
Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo combined for 31 points—none more crucial than Oladipo’s three-pointer to seal the deal for Indiana in the final minutes of the contest—and the pair have proved to be one of the most electric duos in the tournament.
Syracuse has had an easy path to the Sweet 16 after demolishing No. 13 Montana 81-34 in the second round and skating past No. 12 California 66-60 in the round of 32. Indiana will prove to be a much tougher matchup than either of its first two opponents.
Indiana boasts the No. 2 offense in the country (79.5 PPG), and Syracuse’s best chance at taking down the offensive powerhouse will be stout defensive play from a squad that ranks No. 27 in the nation this year (59.4 PPG). Averaging eight fewer points per contest, the Orange have to avoid a shootout in this matchup.
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 4 Michigan: Friday, March 29, at 7:37 p.m. ET on TBS
Players to Watch: Ben McLemore (Kansas), Trey Burke (Michigan), Tim Hardaway, Jr. (Michigan)
Prediction: Kansas 74, Michigan 70
After escaping scares against both Western Kentucky and North Carolina, the Jayhawks face a dynamic Michigan squad in a Sweet 16 matchup that should prove to be one of the most exciting of the round.
Star guards Ben McLemore, Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. highlight a contest that will be decided by stellar perimeter play and high-percentage shooting. Each team boasts some talented big men, but winning this matchup starts and ends in the backcourt.
McLemore is one of the most consistent long-range shooters in college basketball, but he disappeared against North Carolina in the round of 32, tallying just two points on 0-of-9 from the field. If Kansas is to have any chance of knocking off Michigan, it will need McLemore to weather the storm and start knocking down some shots.
The Wolverines counter with Burke, Hardaway and freshman forward Glenn Robinson III, forming arguably the most dynamic scoring trios in the nation. Burke is the team’s leading scorer (18.8 PPG), but Robinson and Hardaway combined for 28 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in its win over VCU in the round of 32.
No. 2 Duke vs. No. 3 Michigan State: Friday, March 29, at 9:45 p.m. ET on CBS
Players to Watch: Seth Curry (Duke), Mason Plumlee (Duke), Gary Harris (Michigan State)
Prediction: Michigan State 62, Duke 60
For Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski, the Sweet 16 is just another round in the tournament they have owned throughout their careers. Expect to see two teams ready to play when Duke and Michigan State square off on Friday.
The Blue Devils earned comfortable wins over Albany and Creighton in the second and third rounds, led by senior guard Seth Curry, who is averaging 21.5 points per game in the tournament. Even with Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly in early foul trouble against Creighton, Duke was able to lock down at the defensive end and shut down an offense that averaged 74.4 points per game this season.
The Spartans boast two of their own guards with exceptional scoring ability in junior Keith Appling and freshman Gary Harris. Appling led the team in scoring during the regular season, and while he scored just two points last round against Memphis, Harris picked up the slack with a 23-point performance on 6-of-9 shooting from the field.
Duke and Michigan State both feature a lot of depth, some tremendous perimeter scorers and superb coaching. Don’t expect this game to be a blowout in favor of either squad.
No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 6 Arizona: Thursday, March 28, at 7:47 p.m. ET on TBS
Players to Watch: Deshaun Thomas (Ohio State), Mark Lyons (Arizona), Aaron Craft (Ohio State)
Prediction: Arizona 72, Ohio State 68
The Ohio State Buckeyes showed weakness in the round of 32, needing a last-second three-pointer from point guard Aaron Craft to seal the deal against No. 10 Iowa State. If they fail to hit the glass hard in this matchup, they won’t stand a chance against Arizona.
With the No. 34 offense in the country (73.5 PPG), the Arizona Wildcats present a difficult matchup for the Buckeyes. Ohio State has gotten big contributions from its supporting cast, but if Craft and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. don’t show up, forward Deshaun Thomas can’t be expected to carry the entire offensive load against Arizona.
The Wildcats posted decisive victories in each of their first two games, and it will take a tremendous defensive performance to slow them down. Senior guard Mark Lyons is averaging 25 points per game in the tournament, leading a team that posted 81 points against Belmont in the second round and 74 points against Harvard in the third round.