With the tournament field whittled down to 16 teams, the national championship is up for grabs. Every remaining squad has a chance to take home college basketball’s biggest prize with a little luck and a lot of focus.
While teams like La Salle, Wichita State and Oregon have a tough row to hoe, just four wins separate them from a title.
Still, highly seeded teams are in this position for a reason. Florida, Louisville and Indiana face welcoming matchups in the Sweet 16, and expecting all three to make an Elite Eight appearance isn’t unreasonable.
Those three teams are the odds-on favorites to complete their tournament runs with a championship, and we’ll break down the matchups each team will face in the Sweet 16.
No. 1 Louisville Cardinals (3/1)
Sweet 16 matchup: No. 12 Oregon
The No. 1 overall seed, Louisville has had an easy path to the Sweet 16, and it won’t get much tougher against No. 12 Oregon.
The Cardinals have won their first two matchups by an average margin of 28.5 points, drubbing North Carolina A&T 79-48 in the second round and cruising past Colorado State 82-56 in a game featuring junior guard Russ Smith and his 27 points.
Oregon may have been underseeded, but the Ducks don’t stand much of a chance of upending the Cardinals on Friday. Louisville is listed as a 10-point favorite, and it might not even be that close.
Still, besting No. 4 Saint Louis in the third round was an impressive feat, especially in the manner in which Oregon did it. The Ducks held the Billikens to just 37.7 percent shooting from the field, but Louisville shot 45.2 percent in the regular season and hit better than 56 percent of its shots in the last two rounds. Saint Louis doesn’t compare to the No. 1 seed and its hot hand.
At 3/1, Louisville has the best odds of winning a championship this year, and this matchup with Oregon is one of the biggest reasons. As long as the Cardinals can hold freshman guard Damyean Dotson under 20 points, this shouldn’t be much of a contest.
No. 3 Florida Gators (19/4)
Sweet 16 matchup: No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast
Tournament darling Florida Gulf Coast is the best story of the Big Dance. Their “Dunk City” moniker doesn’t do justice to the Eagles' high-flying style and up-tempo full-court offense.
Despite being the first No. 15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16, Florida Gulf Coast is a 12.5-point underdog against the No. 3 Florida Gators. With 19/4 odds of winning it all, Florida is one of the top three favorites to do so.
Paced by senior guard Mike Rosario and his 25 points, the Gators skated past No. 11 Minnesota 78-64 in the third round of action, setting up a showdown that should be, at the very least, an extremely entertaining game to watch.
The key to a Florida victory in this game will be at the defensive end. The Eagles pinned 78 points on Georgetown’s No. 9 defense and another 81 points on San Diego State in the third round. Florida Gulf Coast can score a lot of points in a short period of time.
The Gators boast the No. 2 scoring defense in the nation (53.8 PPG), and after allowing an average of 57 points in the tournament, Florida has the best chance of any remaining squad at shutting down Dunk City.
As magical a run as it has been, the Eagles’ Cinderella season will likely end at the hands of their in-state opponent.
No. 1 Indiana Hoosiers (19/4)
Sweet 16 matchup: No. 4 Syracuse
Syracuse experienced a late-season collapse leading up to the tournament, but two strong showings have moved the Orange within striking distance of a national title. Unfortunately, a matchup with arguably the best team in the nation awaits in the Sweet 16.
Indiana is a 5.5-point favorite in this matchup after narrowly avoiding a slip-up against No. 9 Temple in the third round. While the Hoosiers certainly didn’t play their best basketball against the Owls, a six-point victory may have been enough to give Indiana the jolt it needs to make a championship run.
With the No. 2 scoring offense (79.5 PPG) and No. 55 scoring defense (62.1 PPG) in the nation, Indiana is a dangerous squad to face this postseason. Syracuse has gotten sizeable contributions from several players in the last two rounds, but it will need every player to step up against the Hoosiers.
Indiana’s key to victory is simple: Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller must rise to the occasion. The duo combined for 22 points in the second round of action and 31 points against Temple, but Oladipo didn’t come on strong until late in the contest.
Indiana’s two best scorers are unrivaled by any players in the nation when they get hot. If both are firing on all cylinders on Thursday, Syracuse will be lucky to cover the spread.
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