March Madness 2018: Sweet 16 Bracket and Final Four Predictions

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistMarch 19, 2018

NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 18:  Caleb Martin #10 celebrates with Cody Martin #11 of the Nevada Wolf Pack after defeating the Cincinnati Bearcats in the second round of the 2018 Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 18, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The 2018 NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament lived up to the March Madness hype. The Sweet 16 will showcase intriguing matchups as programs look toward the second week of competition.

This year's tournament spoiled spectators. We all witnessed Maryland-Baltimore County make history as the only No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed (Virginia) in one of the biggest upsets across all sports.

The college basketball world has embraced 98-year-old Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, Chicago-Loyola's team chaplain who welcomes everyone on the Ramblers bandwagon, including Tennessee alumna Candace Parker:

Society loves underdogs and that crowd can place their support behind No. 11 seeds Chicago-Loyola or Syracuse, who needed to play in a First Four game just to reach the field of the 64.

Head coach Jim Boeheim's illustrious coaching career takes away from the Orange's label as a Cinderella story from obscurity, but this program didn't qualify for the tournament in the previous year. 

Perhaps you enjoy parity. Well, only two No. 1-ranked programs reached the Sweet 16. In the South Regional, No. 5 Kentucky lists as the highest seed left in that bracket. The defending champions, No. 2 North Carolina, lost to No. 7 Texas A&M in the second round. 

With San Antonio, Texas, in close sight, let's go through each region and project a winner to reach the Final Four.

                   

South Regional Winner: No. 7 Nevada

Nevada fell behind twice and mounted double-digit comebacks in both tournament victories.

As a higher seed, skeptics may not have been impressed with an 87-83 overtime win over No. 10 Texas. However, days later, the Wolf Pack erased a 22-point deficit to beat the No. 2 scoring defense in the nation, per ESPN Stats & Info:

We can view the Wolf Pack in two ways. They're a shaky pick due to slow starts, or it's a squad that plays with the relentlessness of a champion with the tools to knock off the remaining programs in their immediate path. 

Without the top-four seeds in the South Regional, there's a wide-open route to San Antonio. The Wolf Pack will face the Ramblers, who deserves respect, but they don't strike anyone as an unbeatable opponent.

The Martin twins along with Jordan Caroline have enough to carry a No. 7 seed to the Final Four in consecutive years.

                      

West Regional Winner: No. 4 Gonzaga

BOISE, ID - MARCH 15:  Zach Norvell Jr. #23 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs reacts after being fouled in the second half against the UNC-Greensboro Spartans during the first round of the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Taco Bell Arena on March 15, 2018 i
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

As a team, Gonzaga didn't look sharp in their opening-round triumph against North Carolina-Greensboro. The Bulldogs made just 52 percent of their free-throw attempts and lost the battle on the glass (41-37) but managed to escape an elimination scare in a 68-64 finish.

Freshman guard Zach Norvell Jr. has turned the dial forward on his play as a prolific scorer. He dropped a career-high 28 points, which included hitting 6-of-11 from beyond the arc. We're witnessing a young dynamic player grow in big moments. 

Norvell's outside shooting paired with Rui Hachimura's domination on the interior put too much on No. 5 Ohio State's plate in the second round. Offensively, Gonzaga seemingly woke up with some fury.

Despite Florida State's impressive victory over No. 1 Xavier, the Bulldogs have enough firepower to outscore the Seminoles. The same goes for Texas A&M after they knocked off the defending champions.

           

East Regional Winner: No. 1 Villanova

After watching the Golden State Warriors win two titles in three years with multiple three-point shooters, it's still difficult for analysts to embrace No. 1 Villanova because they can go ice-cold at any minute. Well, the Wildcats have entered the tournament blazing hot. There's proof, per ESPN.com's Andrea Adelson:

You read that correctly, two three-point records set in back-to-back tournament contests. By now, you should know the Wildcats have five guys, not the fast food restaurant, who can light up an opponent from downtown on game day. 

More importantly, head coach Jay Wright's group put their tenacious defense on display against No. 7 Alabama Saturday. Sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo's 5-of-11 shooting from three-point land caught headlines, but he also provided a defensive spark off the bench.

A squad that can pile up points in triples and defends on all three levels should reach the Final Four. Villanova will overload No. 5 West Virginia and beat No. 2 Purdue without their big man, Isaac Haas, in the East Regional Final.

             

Midwest Regional Winner: No. 1 Kansas

WICHITA, KS - MARCH 17:  Malik Newman #14 of the Kansas Jayhawks reacts against the Seton Hall Pirates in the second half during the second round of the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at INTRUST Bank Arena on March 17, 2018 in Wichita, Kansas. The
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

In the second round against No. 8 Seton Hall, Kansas pulled through a hard-fought matchup in which two senior Pirates put their best efforts on display. Angel Delgado played the game of his career, logging 24 points and 23 rebounds. Khadeen Carrington shot 9-of-13 from the field for 28 points.

The Jayhawks met the challenge and raised their level of play even higher vs. Seton Hall's senior duo. Still recovering from a knee injury, center Udoka Azubuike established an interior presence with 10 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in 22 minutes off the bench.

Senior guard Devonte' Graham made one bucket throughout the contest, but he found his teammates with nine assists. Sophomore guard Malik Newman led Kansas with 28 points in a game that went down to the wire.

What does it all mean?

The Jayhawks have enough tools, especially with Azubuike able to log meaningful minutes, to overwhelm No. 5 Clemson and likely No. 2 Duke whose offense went through scoring droughts during the regular season. 

The Blue Devils barely broke a sweat in the first two rounds with a pair of 20-plus-point victories. Assuming we see Duke vs. Kansas in the Midwest Regional Final, give the edge to the Jayhawks with all their offensive weapons. 

            

Stats provided by Sports Reference, unless otherwise noted.

Click here for B/R's Printable Bracket.

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