Round of 64
#1 Kansas vs. #16 NC Central/UC Davis: A 16-seed will eventually upset a top-seed, but this isn’t the year. The Jayhawks are too talented, too athletic and too well-coached to drop a game like this.
#8 Miami vs. #9 Michigan State: Both teams enter the tournament not playing their best basketball, each losing three of their last four games. Michigan State still has the bitter taste of Middle Tennessee from last year, and returning players will do everything in their power to not have a similar showing.
The Canes have a bit better guard play with Davon Reed and Ja’Quan Newton giving them the slight edge in tournament play.
#5 Iowa State vs. #12 Nevada: Since 1985, there have only been four years (’88, ’00, ’07, ’15) in which no 12-seed advanced to the round of 32. 5-seeds have been upset fodder for a number of years, making them a trendy pick to lose early on in the tourney.
However, the Cyclones aren’t a typical 5-seed as winners of nine of their last 10, with huge victories over Kansas, Baylor and West Virginia. Nevada has had a great year in the Mountain West, and are on a nine-game winning streak of their own, but are too overmatched in this game.
Winner: Iowa State
#4 Purdue vs. #13 Vermont: Having lost in the Round of 64 in consecutive years, the Boilermakers hope to change their recent history of early tournament exits. National Player of the Year candidate, Caleb Swanigan, is far too good to allow this team to be sent home early again, and Purdue moves on to the Round of 32 for the first time since 2012.
#6 Creighton vs. #11 Rhode Island: Maurice Watson’s injury has been a cloud over Creighton’s impressive season, and finally catches up to them when the Blue Jays open up tournament play. Rhode Island is riding an Atlantic 10 conference tournament win and are winners of their last eight games, including four victories over VCU and Davidson. Guard E.C. Matthews is a legitimate NBA talent and will be the best player on the court in this one.
In the first big upset of the South region, the Rams advance in a tightly-contested game.
Winner: Rhode Island
#3 Oregon vs. #14 Iona: Oregon’s stout defense faces off against one of the most explosive offenses in college basketball in the Gaels of Iona. Iona enters the game having scored 90 or more points in eight games this season and have been a perennial threat to upset a major school in the Round of 64 over the last few years.
Although the Ducks will be without Chris Boucher (torn ACL), the Gaels will have to wait another year for their Cinderella story.
#7 Michigan vs. #10 Oklahoma State: There might not be a team entering the tournament riding a bigger wave of momentum than the Michigan Wolverines. After a mishap on the runway of their team flight, the Wolverines had a miraculous Big Ten tournament run defeating Purdue, Minnesota and Wisconsin along the way.
The breakthrough of junior D.J. Wilson gives Michigan another dynamic player that has the ability to take over games in a multitude of ways. The Wolverines continue their great play and take out an Oklahoma State team that hasn’t won a game since February 25th.
#2 Louisville vs. #15 Jacksonville State: Louisville’s aggressive style of defense make them a tough team to be the victim of an upset. Rick Pitino’s team has another National Championship in their sights.
Round of 32
#1 Kansas vs. #8 Miami: Miami is no stranger to major victories with key wins over North Carolina, Duke and Virginia. Their ability to play the best of the best in the ACC gives them an advantage over any team they might face throughout the tournament. Their run to the Sweet 16 last year gave them a solid amount of experience as well, as they are no longer a team that is unfamiliar with deeper tournament runs.
The Canes will put up a fight and keep it close, but Kansas’ experience and the greatness of likely National Player of the Year, Frank Mason, will be enough for the Jayhawks to advance.
#4 Purdue vs. #5 Iowa State: Purdue has one of their best teams in recent memory, and will certainly have the advantage down low with Swanigan matching up against an undersized Iowa State front line. But the tourney will always favor guard play, and not many teams in the nation boast as many quality backcourt players as the Cyclones do.
Winner: Iowa State
#3 Oregon vs. #11 Rhode Island: There is a massive amount of temptation to select an underdog Rhode Island team to upset a Chris Boucher-less Oregon squad. The Rams entered the season with top-25 expectations and are a scorching 14-3 since January 15th.
Their stingy defensive style matches up well with the Ducks, and the battle between E.C. Matthews and Dillon Brooks will be a treat to watch. The Ducks prove to be the more experienced and talented team though, squeaking out a victory to punch their ticket to a second consecutive Sweet 16.
#2 Louisville vs. #7 Michigan: The hottest team in the nation gets extinguished. Donovan Mitchell and Quintin Snider can’t possibly shoot as poorly as they did against Duke in the ACC semifinal when the Blue Devils stymied the Cardinals with their zone defense. Michigan’s magnificent run comes to an end.
#1 Kansas vs. #5 Iowa State: The Jayhawks showed some clear weaknesses in their upset loss at the hands of TCU. Playing without Josh Jackson (serving a one-game suspension), Kansas looked completely out of sorts without their star wing. Frank Mason can’t do it all, and the fact that the Jayhawks looked that beatable simply down one player is a cause for concern.
Iowa State has already beaten Kansas once earlier in the season (snapping Kansas’ historic home winning-streak in the process), and are talented enough to match up position for position. The clash between two of the Big 12’s best will come down to the wire, with Iowa State gutting out a signature victory over their conference rival.
Winner: Iowa State
#2 Louisville vs. #3 Oregon: Chris Boucher’s absence finally catches up to the Ducks. Dillon Brooks has been stellar all season, but missing the size and outside shooting of Boucher will be difficult for an Oregon team that isn’t exactly built to take on an injury like this.
Without Boucher’s shot blocking in the paint, Jordan Bell and the Ducks defense will have to be absolutely perfect if they want to stop a Louisville offense that lives on buckets near the basket. Rick Pitino figures out a way to beat the undermanned Ducks, and advance to the regional final.
#2 Louisville vs. #5 Iowa State: If this ends up being the regional final, it’ll be the first time the two school have met in NCAA tournament play. As contrasting of styles as you’ll find in the tournament, the Cyclones rely on excellent guard play and position-less basketball, while the Cards use their size and athleticism to wear down teams over 40 minutes. Iowa State typically has the edge in the backcourt, but Louisville’s star guards Donovan Mitchell and Quintin Snider can compete with any guards in the nation.
The deciding factor will be if Rick Pitino can fully take advantage of the Cardinals’ gigantic front court, and bully the undersized Cyclones down low. A game that will come down to just a few possessions, we’ll give the smallest of edges to the Cardinals for their clear advantages on defense and their dominance on the glass. After the self-imposed 2016 ban, the Cardinals post an impressive tourney run on their way to an 11th Final Four appearance.
Midwest Regional Winner: Louisville Cardinals