College Basketball: NCAA Tournament March Madness Sweet 16 Preview

Oregon v Michigan | Friday, March 24, 10.09am (AEDT), Sprint Center, Kansas City, Missouri

No team in college basketball is on a bigger roll than the Michigan Wolverines and momentum is everything if you want to tango in the closing stages of the big dance.

The Wolverines are riding an incredible wave of success after winning the Big 10 tournament leading into back-to-back wins over Oklahoma State (92-91) and Louisville (73-69) in the opening two rounds.

Senior guard Derrick Walton Jr is averaging 15.4 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 4.9 APG and continues to play at a high level. 

The Ducks defeated Iona (93-77) in the first round but struggled against Rhode Island (75-72) in the second round and without injured senior forward Chris Boucher, the Ducks will need Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey to shoulder the scoring load.

The Verdict

The Wolverwines are on a roll and playing with a gritty determination and self-belief.

Unibet Odds: Oregon 2.02 Michigan 1.81

Tip: Michigan 

Line tip: Michigan -1.5 (1.90)

West Virginia v Gonzaga | Friday, March 24, 10.39am (AEDT), SAP Center at San Jose, San Jose, California

Big 12 tournament finalists West Virginia have a chance to knock off the no.1 seeded Gonzaga and they’ll do it with their defensive press and perimeter shooting.

The Mountaineers lead the NCAA Tournament from downtown, shooting at 52.0 percent and the Bulldogs will need to be sharp when defending at the perimeter.

The Verdict

Gonzaga were tipped by many to make a deep run in the tourney but they struggled late against Northwestern in the second round and were lucky the Wildcats ran out of time.

West Virginia’s press will pose problems for the Bulldogs and if they can shoot the three-ball well, an upset could be on the cards. 

Unibet Odds: West Virginia 2.38 Gonzaga 1.59

Tip: West Virginia 

Line tip: West Virginia +3.5 (1.89)

Kansas v Purdue | Friday, March 24, 12.39pm (AEDT), Sprint Center, Kansas City, Missouri

Some outstanding talent will be on show when no.1 Kansas takes on no.4 Purdue for a place in the Elite Eight.

Purdue is paced by sophomore guard Caleb Swanigan (18.5 PPG) while the Jayhawks boast multiple threats in standout freshman Josh Jackson and experienced guard Frank Mason III (pictured above).

The Boilermakers downed Vermont 80-70 in the opening round before a narrow 80-76 victory over Iowa State in the second round.

The Jayhawks have been playing with a lot of energy, thumping UC Davis 100-62 in the first round and Michigan State 90-70 in the second round.

The Verdict

A shock early round casualty in the Big 12 tournament has proven to be a blessing in disguise for the Jayhawks and the extra rest has done them wonders.

They're refreshed and rejuvenated and that extra energy is showing in their performances.

Unibet Odds: Kansas 1.42 Purdue 2.90

Tip: Kansas 

Line tip: Purdue +5.5 (1.88) 

Xavier v Arizona | Friday, March 24, 1.09pm (AEDT), SAP Center at San Jose, San Jose, California 

Giant-killers Xavier remain the only double-digit seed left in the tournament and the Musketeers are gunning for another big scalp.

Xavier have notched wins over no.6 Maryland (76-65) and no.3 Florida State (91-66) and have done so on the back of pinpoint three-point shooting where they are second in the NCAA Tournament at 50.0 percent. 

Arizona can also score heavily and the Pac-12 heavyweights proved that when they hit 100 in the first round against North Dakota.

It was a much tougher game in the second round with the Wildcats getting home 69-60 against Saint Mary's but their scoring threat cannot be underestimated. 

The Verdict 

Without doubt, this will be Xavier’s toughest test to date and they’ll have to find a way of slowing down the Wildcats’ dual threat of sophomore guard Allonzo Trier (pictured above) and freshman forward Lauri Markkanen.

If the Arizona pair catch fire, this could be the end of Xavier’s golden run.

Unibet Odds: Xavier 3.90 Arizona 1.27

Tip: Arizona 

Line tip: Xavier +7.5 (1.94) 

North Carolina v Butler | Saturday, March 25, 10.09am (AEDT), FedExForum, Memphis, Tennessee

As one of three remaining no.1 seeds, the North Carolina Tar Heels are on track for another deep run into the back end of March.

Paced by talented forward Justin Jackson (18.1 PPG) (pictured above), the Tar Heels have a realistic shot at redemption after last year’s finals defeat to Villanova, but the Tar Heels are embedded in a tough section of the draw.

The ACC regular season champs have a date with the dangerous Butler before a possible showdown against either UCLA or Kentucky.

Butler are no strangers to the backend of the NCAA tournament and were finalists in both years (2010, 2011) they made it through to the Elite Eight.

The Verdict

North Carolina have a point to prove and if the basketball gods want an Elite Eight showdown between the Tar Heels and Kentucky Wildcats, then the Tar Heels will get the W.

Unibet Odds: North Carolina 1.33 Butler 3.40

Tip: North Carolina 

Line tip: Butler +6.5 (1.92) 

Baylor v South Carolina | Saturday, March 25, 10.29am (AEDT), Madison Square Garden, New York

Along with Xavier, the South Carolina Gamecocks have been one of the tournament’s surprise packets.

On the back of prolific scoring guard Sindarius Thornwell (21.4 PPG) (pictured above), the Gamecocks have picked up the scalps of Marquette (97-73) and ACC tournament champions Duke 88-81.

Thornwell is also one of the premier rebounding guards in college basketball averaging 7.2 RPG. 

The Verdict 

The Bears will rely on forward Jonathan Motley (17.3 PPG) for both their scoring and rebounding (9.9 RPG) and it will be an intriguing battle between Baylor’s interior offence and South Carolina’s interior defence.

The Gamecocks are playing as well as anyone in the tournament and they could spring a surprise here. 

Unibet Odds: Baylor 1.63 South Carolina 2.30

Tip: South Carolina

Line tip: South Carolina +3.5 (1.84) 

Kentucky v UCLA | Saturday, March 25 12.30 (AEDT), FedExForum, Memphis, Tennessee

It’s not often you get a shot at beating Kentucky twice in one season, but that’s the rare opportunity which UCLA have against the SEC powerhouse.

The Bruins head into this sweet 16 blockbuster knowing they can handle the Wildcats and they did it in emphatic style at Kentucky with a 97-92 triumph.

NBA prospect Lonzo Ball (pictured above) will be a key for the Bruins with the star guard averaging 15.6 PG and a team-high 7.6 APG.

The Wildcats are just relieved to be in the sweet 16 after squeaking by Wichita State 65-62 in a second round game, which could have gone either way.

Kentucky boast an enviable record (20-4) in the sweet 16 and their .833 percentage is the fourth highest in college basketball. 

The Verdict

UCLA will feel quietly confident about downing the Wildcats for the second time but Kentucky has been on a giant roll since a 22-point defeat to Florida.

The Wildcats have won 13 straight and in what could be another high-scoring contest, they might sneak home and set up an enticing Elite Eight showdown with North Carolina.

Unibet Odds: Kentucky 1.95 UCLA 1.87

Tip: Kentucky 

Florida v Wisconsin | Saturday, March 25, 12.59pm (AEDT), Madison Square Garden, New York

One of the standout performances in the second round was Florida’s emphatic 26-point victory over Virginia, a match most people thought would be a lot closer.

The Gators have been the tournament’s quiet achievers but they’ll be well and truly in the spotlight against the rejuvenated Wisconsin Badgers.

With senior forward Nigel Hayes (13.8 PPG) (pictured above) leading the way, the Badgers won five of their last six with their only loss coming at the hands of Michigan in the Big 10 tournament final. 

The Verdict

Buoyed by their 26-point rout of the Cavaliers, the Gators will be full of confidence but the Badgers are back to their best after emphatically erasing a late-season slump, which saw them drop five of six.

On the back of a 65-62 upset of the no.1 seeds and defending champions Villanova, the Badgers will roll into the Elite Eight again. 

Unibet Odds: Florida 1.81 Wisconsin 2.02

Tip: Wisconsin 

Line tip: Wisconsin +1.5 (1.90) 

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