Michigan Wolverines (7) vs. Oregon Ducks (3)
Harris Ahmadzai’s prediction: The Wolverines have been sizzling from the outside in the last month, and Mo Wagner is coming off a dominant 26-point performance which served as an NBA audition. Oregon will miss Chris Boucher dearly in this game, lacking the shot blocking and floor spacing needed to put out Michigan’s fire. Derrick Walton Jr. rebounds from a mediocre performance against Louisville and leads his Wolverines to the Elite Eight.
Michigan wins 79-78.
Jason Fray’s prediction: Michigan enters as one of the hottest teams in the country. Oregon narrowly defeated a feisty Rhode Island squad to enter. Both teams possess oodles of positional versatility. The absence of Chris Boucher will hurt the Ducks in this contest versus a tall frontcourt of D.J. Wilson and Moritz Wagner. Additionally, senior PG Derrick Walton Jr. has an advantage over UO freshman PG Payton Pritchard.
Michigan wins 84-79.
Blake Hoffman’s prediction: After taking down the offensively gifted Oklahoma State Cowboys and defensively stout Louisville Cardinals in their first two games, Michigan is set to face an entirely new beast in the well-balanced Oregon Ducks. Oregon hasn’t missed a beat with shot blocker Chris Boucher out for the season. The Ducks play physical defense, crash the offensive and defensive boards effectively, and have a knack for knocking down big shots. With Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey and Jordan Bell leading the way, Dana Altman’s squad will march to a second straight Elite Eight.
Oregon wins 81-77.
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West Virginia Mountaineers (4) vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs (1)
Harris Ahmadzai’s prediction: The Zags haven’t played their best ball thus far in the tournament, but they’re well-equipped to deal with West Virginia’s strengths. With a plethora of passers and ball handlers, the Bulldogs should theoretically be able to break the press and get out in transition for easy buckets.
Gonzaga wins 73-66.
Jason Fray’s prediction: This has the potential to be the best game of the Sweet 16 round. West Virginia looked awfully good in dismantling Notre Dame. While Gonzaga didn’t look great versus Northwestern, the Bulldogs will be the biggest team West Virginia has faced to date. A huge aspect in this contest will be pace. Which team can control the rhythm of play? The Mountaineers are a deeper and more athletic team, and will harass the likes of Nigel Williams-Goss, Zach Collins, and company.
West Virginia wins 71-67.
Blake Hoffman’s prediction: This fascinating match-up poses issues for both squads. For Gonzaga, they have never faced a press as effective as West Virginia’s, and like any Mountaineer opponent, will need to protect the ball to come out on top. For West Virginia – a team so dependent on winning the rebounding battle – it’s rare for them to go against a team capable of outmuscling them. Both teams play suffocating defense, so I don’t expect either team to shoot above 40-percent. In this slugfest, I give the advantage to the team who has been in tight contests all season.
West Virginia wins 68-66.
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Purdue Boilermakers (4) vs. Kansas Jayhawks (1)
Harris Ahmadzai’s prediction: A classic match-up of big versus small, the game will be decided by whichever team is able to supplant their style early in the contest. Caleb Swanigan is an early candidate for MVP of the tourney, with Kansas’ Josh Jackson not too far behind. This will be the game Frank Mason reminds everybody he’s still the best player in college basketball with an electrifying performance.
Kansas wins 84-80.
Jason Fray’s prediction: Purdue will be facing one of the most offensively gifted teams in the country. The Jayhawks want to up the tempo and push the ball constantly. Can Purdue hit enough shots from the perimeter to take pressure off of Caleb Swanigan in the post? The answer to this question is “no.”
Kansas wins 79-71.
Blake Hoffman’s prediction: Caleb Swanigan and the Purdue Boilermakers have been one of the feel-good stories in college basketball this season. However, the Big Ten regular season champs haven’t faced anyone on the Jayhawks’ level this year. I expect the Frank Mason-Devonte’ Graham-Josh Jackson trio to simply overwhelm the Boilermakers in what ends up being the most lopsided game of the Thursday/Friday slate.
Kansas wins 79-62.
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Xavier Musketeers (11) vs. Arizona Wildcats (2)
Harris Ahmadzai’s prediction: Xavier has done well for themselves, with quality wins over Maryland and Florida State thus far. But it’ll be tough to get through an Arizona team that has been rolling over the latter half of the season. Atypical of an Arizona team, the Wildcats actually sport a better offense than defense (17th in the nation in offensive rating, 55th in defensive). Lauri Markkanen and Allonzo Trier will be too much for the Musketeers.
Arizona wins 86-75.
Jason Fray’s prediction: This contest pits the master (Arizona head coach Sean Miller) versus his former protégé (Xavier head coach Chris Mack). Xavier’s win over Florida State was very impressive, and swingman Trevon Bluiett is one of the more underrated players in the country. Arizona will be relying on 7-footer Lauri Markkanen to get them to another Elite Eight appearance. The big question persists: Can Arizona get offensive balance in this contest? Look for the likes of Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins to step up.
Arizona wins 61-53.
Blake Hoffman’s prediction: Beyond the intrigue of Sean Miller squaring off against Chris Mack, the Musketeers and Wildcats also match up quite nicely on the court. Both basketball powerhouses play physical defense and specialize at taking opposing offenses out of their rhythm. Arizona will have a clear length advantage, but Xavier has the best player on either team in Trevon Bluiett. Xavier should give Arizona all they can handle, but the Wildcats’ depth will ultimately prove to be too much for the Musketeers.
Arizona wins 71-66.
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Butler Bulldogs (4) vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (1)
Harris Ahmadzai’s prediction: Having struggled mightily against Arkansas in the Round of 32, Roy Williams’ team will come out firing on all cylinders against a tough Butler squad. Justin Jackson and Joel Berry were abysmal from the field against the Razorbacks. They’re too good to have that happen again.
North Carolina wins 81-71.
Jason Fray’s prediction: Butler is an enigmatic team. It ranks No. 21 nationally in offensive efficiency…but also No. 116 in defensive efficiency. The Bulldogs will try to grind-it-out against the fast-paced Tar Heels. North Carolina has a big advantage in size and athleticism. Will the Bulldogs put on their Cinderella shoes one more time?
North Carolina wins 71-64.
Blake Hoffman’s prediction: As has been the case with the Tar Heels all season, their advantage in this one hinges on their ability to collect offensive rebounds. Despite collecting 18 of them against Arkansas, the Tar Heels still trailed by five with less than four minutes remaining. I expect Butler to do a better job on the glass than the Razorbacks did, and continue their hot-shooting ways en route to eliminating the final ACC team from the tourney.
Butler wins 84-81.
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South Carolina Gamecocks (7) vs. Baylor Bears (3)
Harris Ahmadzai’s prediction: In a year short on Cinderella stories, we will make do with the shoe fitting on South Carolina for now. The Gamecocks’ sudden surge on offense has been nothing short of magical, but their defense has been sorely lacking. Their stinginess will be on full display against a Baylor team that doesn’t have any consistent scorers. The run continues for the Gamecocks.
South Carolina wins 71-65.
Jason Fray’s prediction: USC looked very good against Duke. Not only did the Gamecocks shoot the lights out, but they completely took out the ACC’s top scorer in Luke Kennard. Baylor earned a hard-fought victory against a feisty USC team. While Baylor is the higher profile team of the two, there’s some special juju surrounding South Carolina at the moment.
South Carolina wins 66-64.
Blake Hoffman’s prediction: It’s safe to say not many people expected this game to take place in the East region. With Duke and SMU both eliminated, we are left with two of the best defenses in college basketball set to square off. South Carolina’s offensive explosion the past two games coupled with their stifling defense has been extremely impressive, but a season’s worth of games suggests it’s not sustainable. Baylor has been the better team all season, and with four days to prep for the Gamecocks, Scott Drew’s squad will advance.
Baylor wins 65-61.
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UCLA Bruins (3) vs. Kentucky Wildcats (2)
Harris Ahmadzai’s prediction: Kentucky will give UCLA their best knowing they’re already down 1-0 in the season series. Coming off a big win against Wichita State, the Wildcats are riding a high wave of momentum and are certainly better than the team UCLA beat in Lexington earlier in the year. UCLA is just flat out better across the board though, and barring a Malik Monk three-point barrage, the Bruins should be punching their ticket to the Elite Eight.
UCLA wins 93-88.
Jason Fray’s prediction: Malik Monk has to break a recent shooting slump. If he can, the Wildcats have a great chance to advance. Look for UCLA to potentially employ a box-and-one as a means to prevent Monk from going off. T.J. Leaf has a big advantage over Derek Willis in the post, and Lonzo Ball is the best player in this tournament. UCLA will beat UK for the third-straight time.
UCLA wins 87-83.
Blake Hoffman’s prediction: The two most storied programs in college basketball history are set to compete for a spot in the Elite Eight. It’s difficult to figure out how this one won’t be the game of the tournament. UCLA and Kentucky boast rosters littered with NBA prospects, and both like to fly up and down the court. In this evenly matched game, I give the edge to UCLA simply because their best is slightly better than Kentucky’s.
UCLA wins 88-85.
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Wisconsin Badgers (8) vs. Florida Gators (4)
Harris Ahmadzai’s prediction: Florida’s going to need more contributors other than Devin Robinson if they want to beat a veteran squad like Wisconsin. The Gators showed they can lock in defensively, but haven’t gotten anything thus far from KeVaughn Allen or Kasey Hill. I’ll roll with Big-Shot Bronson and the Badgers here – experience reigns king at this point in the tournament.
Wisconsin wins 77-74.
Jason Fray’s prediction: Both teams enter with a ton of confidence. Florida looked dominant in its first two games. Wisconsin had the upset of the tournament thus far – as it took out No. 1 Villanova. Florida’s ability to defend Nigel Hayes will be the key in this contest. Duly, Wisconsin is a far more experienced team than the Gators. They start four seniors, and the core of the squad has already been to two Final Fours.
Wisconsin wins 64-59.
Blake Hoffman’s prediction: Much like the other game in the East region, few would’ve predicted Wisconsin and Florida to be facing each other. But thanks to a brilliant Wisconsin comeback over Villanova and a defensive performance by Florida for the ages, the two are set to battle for a hard-fought trip to the Elite Eight. Both teams pride themselves on the defensive end of the floor as baskets will be at a premium. In what should be an extremely tight affair, Wisconsin’s postseason experience should help them eke out the victory.
Wisconsin wins 66-63.
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