NCAA Tournament 2019: One Reason to Root Against Every Sweet 16 Team
With such a chalky Sweet 16, rife with blue bloods, it's not hard to find reasons to root against different teams.
We don't want to foment hate for the sake of hate, but we also must keep our eyes open, mustn't we? If something is bad, or just irritating, it should be labeled as such, lest we place ourselves in a world free of consequence. And that, my friends, is true March Madness, am I right?
Great. What we're going to do right now is look at all eight Sweet 16 matchups with a reason to root against each team. Never forget: Hating things for no immediate reason is what separates us from the animals. That and indoor plumbing. Please enjoy.
No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 12 Oregon (South Semifinal)
Thursday, 9:57 p.m. Eastern (TBS)
No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers
With several of these slides, there may be more than one reason, and those reasons may depend on the matchup. For example, Oregon is easily the biggest underdog remaining. After the No. 12 Ducks, the next-lowest seed is No. 5 Auburn. This Sweet 16 is so chalky it cures dyspepsia.
So if you like underdogs, Virginia is your enemy. Plus, the Cavs still have the stink of defeat on them after losing to No. 16 UMBC last year and threatening to do it again this year against Gardner-Webb. That was all quite awful. So if you're someone who enjoys schadenfreude or just wants to see No. 1 seeds get taken down, this is your whipping boy.
No. 12 Oregon Ducks
Conversely, Oregon is standing in the way of a great redemption story. If you like to watch a phoenix rise from the ashes, Oregon is just another obstacle for UVA.
If you value consistency and believe the best tournament cases are built over the course of an entire season, you may feel Oregon is the least-deserving team still dancing. Before they won four straight to end the regular season, the Ducks were 15-12. They probably weren't dance-bound at all until they won the Pac-12 tourney. The 24-11 N.C. State Wolfpack might be particularly excited to see this at-large bid thief get some comeuppance.
No. 2 Tennessee vs. No. 3 Purdue (South Semifinal)
Thursday, 7:29 p.m. Eastern (TBS)
No. 2 Tennessee Volunteers
Tennessee spent several weeks atop the AP poll but swooned to a 6-4 record down the stretch, including a loss to Auburn in the SEC tournament final. In the national tourney they had trouble with No. 15 Colgate and were pushed to overtime by No. 10 Iowa. Both times they survived, but neither should have been that close for a team with so much talent.
Despite their three NBA prospects in Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bone—not to mention their clear ability to play with any team in the country—the Volunteers always seem to shrink when the lights are brightest.
No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers
The Boilermakers are quintessentially Big Ten. They are slooooow. Plenty of people glorify the conference's rock-fight style. To use a scientific term, those people are lying.
Purdue sits 267th in KenPom's adjusted tempo rankings. In all seriousness, they are very effective (fourth nationally in KenPom for adjusted offense), but it's just not all that awesome to watch. The coup de grace is leading scorer Carsen Edwards. To use still more jargon, Edwards is a chucker. He finished fifth in the country this season with 656 field goal attempts. In the first two tourney games, he's averaged 22 shots per game.
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 4 Florida State (West Semifinal)
Thursday, 7:09 p.m. Eastern (CBS)
No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs
If you're still holding out hope for a solid upset, Gonzaga might be your target. The Bulldogs are deep, and their offense is incredibly fun to watch, not to mention elite in its effectiveness. But Florida State, which made the Elite Eight last season, could gum up the works and slow the Bulldogs down.
That sort of approach can be effective, as demonstrated by Gonzaga's shocking and syrupy-slow loss to Saint Mary's in the final game of the West Coast Conference tournament.
No. 4 Florida State Seminoles
Take the words above and flip them. If you like good offense, Florida State is the enemy. The Seminoles sit 10th in KenPom's defensive rankings. Behind the 6'10" Mfiondu Kabengele and 7'4" Christ Koumadje, their frontcourt is incredibly tough to deal with.
But that doesn't mean they're fun to watch. If fun is what you're after when you watch sports—I know, it's a strange concept—then Florida State is not the team you want dictating the pace and tone of this contest.
No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 Texas Tech (West Semifinal)
Thursday, 9:39 p.m. Eastern (CBS)
No. 2 Michigan Wolverines
Michigan has arguably the bluest blood in college athletics. Rooting for the Wolverines is like rooting for Microsoft. Don't they have enough already?
Michigan has the second-best defense in the country behind a certain team from Texas (see below) and only scores 70.5 points per game, good for 238th in the country. Plus, guard Zavier Simpson scores 9.1 of those in part with his wacky running hook shots, which become less charming every time you see one.
No. 3 Texas Tech Red Raiders
Giving props to the nation's top defensive team is one thing. Enjoying the product when you watch it is another. Texas Tech held opponents below 60 points on 18 occasions this season, including Sunday against Buffalo. If you like points, you don't like the Red Raiders, who are third in the nation with 59.2 points allowed per game. At the same time, they don't have the general offensive dynamism on the other side, at least in comparison to Michigan.
If you need another reason, just check out this postgame celebration with Red Raider coaches and players. It's exquisitely awkward, even by postgame celebration standards. Try to unsee that when the coaching staff takes the floor Thursday.
No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 3 LSU (East Semifinal)
Friday, 7:09 p.m. Eastern (CBS)
No. 2 Michigan State Spartans
Season after season, Tom Izzo gets Michigan State past where it seems the Spartans have any right to get. This season encapsulates that as well as any. And you know what? It's really annoying.
No one on this roster, not even star guard Cassius Winston, appears on the average NBA mock draft. They've had injuries, including to team leader Joshua Langford. The Spartans play that way, too: a scrappy underdog, bu they're not actually an underdog, or maybe they are? Bottom line: Why are they still here?
No. 3 LSU Tigers
I'm loath to get too far into off-the-court things. So if you like things like wiretapped conversations containing alleged recruiting violations and ensuing institutional turf fights, you enjoy rooting for LSU.
As most fans know, suspended coach Will Wade is at the center of the controversy, and now the team, through no fault of its own, is playing under his shadow. Credit to the Tigers for playing to this point, including with a stirring last-second win over Maryland in the last round. But if you want a reason to root against this team, the current state of the larger program gives you one.
No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 3 Houston (Midwest Semifinal)
Friday, 9:59 p.m. Eastern (TBS)
No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats
Like Michigan vs. Texas Tech, this one's an unmitigated defensive battle. Kentucky and Houston are ranked ninth and 12th, respectively, in KenPom's defensive ratings.
As always, Kentucky gets better as the season goes on. That's because these players are all, or almost all, freshmen. Five of the eight players logging at least 15 minutes per game are freshmen, to be exact. That continues to be coach John Calipari's controversial approach to college basketball. Don't like it? Root against them.
No. 3 Houston Cougars
The Cougars are a bunch of hard-nosed fighters. When your guard-heavy lineup finishes seventh nationally in rebounds per game (40.9), something cool is happening.
But don't expect an up-tempo game to go with the guard play. Houston is a rock fight in a sword fight's clothing, sitting at 247th in the KenPom tempo rankings. Sure, Kentucky sits at 274th, but at least from the Wildcats you'd expect it. After all, they are a bunch of freshmen.
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 5 Auburn (Midwest Semifinal)
Friday, 7:19 p.m. Eastern (TBS)
No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels
Everywhere you look, it's a program that has been there time and again. And again. And again. The cream rose to the top this season, but it gets old, you know? It's like if the same two teams made the Super Bowl or the NBA Finals every...wait, never mind.
It's hard not to like Carolina on both ends of the floor. Its resume is pretty impeccable, including beating Duke in two of three this season—granted, without Duke star Zion Williamson, but nevertheless. In fact, that might be a reason to root against them right there if you're a Duke fan. You'd probably rather see someone else than the Tar Heels.
No. 5 Auburn Tigers
It's been 16 years since Auburn made it this far, and the Tigers did it most recently with a takedown of blue-blood Kansas. Their offense is a sight to behold (and ranks sixth in KenPom), but it relies heavily on one tool and two players. That doesn't exactly make them a great team in the traditional sense.
Put another way: This is a team of chuckers. Remember the science vocabulary term we introduced a little earlier? Right. Chuckers.
Only Savannah State tops Auburn when it comes to three-point attempts in the nation; the Tigers put up 1,083 of those this season. Guards Jared Harper and Bryce Brown combined to shoot 569 (52.5 percent) of those. So if you feel like this might be a bunch of frenetic play that invariably ends at a certain point, well, you're not alone.
No. 1 Duke vs. No. 4 Virginia Tech (East Semifinal)
Friday, 9:39 p.m. Eastern (CBS)
No. 1 Duke Blue Devils
You don't need a reason to root against the Duke Blue Devils, do you?
The smugness comes off the team in waves. Fun fact: Did you know there was no such thing as smugness until Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski descended to the earth from a cloud of his own making? That's right; he made the cloud, then descended on it and then distributed the smugness over the land.
Did you see his smarmy expression as he embraced protege and UCF coach Johnny Dawkins after Duke (again) escaped another upset bid by a team that had every right to think it had the game won?
If you need to be given a reason to root against this team, you're likely a recovering Duke fan. Welcome!
No. 4 Virginia Tech
This is Virginia Tech's first visit to the Sweet 16 in 52 years. As unlikable as Duke can be for various reasons, equally likable is this Hokies squad.
Still, as much as I kid about Duke, that is a truly great team. Behind Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and the rest, this team has all the makings of a group that will be remembered for decades in college basketball lore. Why would anyone want anyone to stand in the way of greatness being recognized? Especially when that opponent is 332nd in tempo per KenPom. Yikes.