This past weekend was quite possibly the wildest opening rounds in NCAA Tournament history. Double-digit seeds had a field day, setting a record for number of first round victories with 10. We witnessed, perhaps, the tournament's greatest upset of all-time. And the tournament's greatest comeback and collapse of all-time.
After all that madness, 16 teams remain. And, possibly the biggest surprise of them all, after such an insane first two rounds of the tournament, the 16 teams still standing are all heavy-hitters. All 16 schools are either part of a major conference or have a history of being highly successful. The closest thing we've got to a Cinderella is the Gonzaga Bulldogs. You know, that little tiny program that just so happens to be in their 18th consecutive NCAA Tournament, tied for the fourth longest active streak. Plus, they're headed to their seventh Sweet Sixteen in that time.
Included in these 16 heavy-hitters are all the 1-seeds still standing tall. This is the first time since 2012 that all the 1-seeds were able to get to the Sweet Sixteen. And this could be the first time since 2009 that all of them make it to the Elite Eight. So who is in the most danger of not making it? A double-digit seed is guaranteed of being there but who will it be? How many of the ACC's six remaining teams will crack the Elite Eight?
#2 Villanova vs. #3 Miami -- 4:10 pm on CBS
The Villanova Wildcats sure looked like a national championship contender on Sunday, mowing down Iowa by 19 points. But they led that game at one point by 34 points, off a seemingly unstoppable offense. And when the shots stopped falling, Iowa was able to make up some, albeit limited, ground.
Miami is not the type of team to let a game slip away like Iowa did. They are consistently competitive and don't have any glaring weaknesses. If Villanova's shots are falling, you can bet Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan will have an answer. This game might come down to defensive intensity. If Miami can force Villanova into taking bad shots, the Canes have a huge advantage. But the intensity of the Wildcats leadership, Ryan Arcidiacono, Josh Hart and Daniel Ochefu can never be questioned. I'll stick with my original pick and give a slight edge to the Canes.
#1 Kansas vs. #5 Maryland -- 6:40 pm on CBS
The number-one overall seed in this year's tournament sure did look worthy of that title in the decimation of Connecticut on Saturday. The Kansas Jayhawks have been pounding the ball inside in their two tournament games and will look to do the same on Thursday night but they find themselves against a foe that can defend and match the Jayhawks talent in the Maryland Terrapins.
The way Kansas looks, Maryland will need a lot of help to advance to the Elite Eight. Maryland will need to find a way to stick with Kansas on the glass, after being outrebounded by Hawaii. Offensively, they go as point guard, Melo Trimble, goes, and they'll need to hit some shots from the outside, something they've struggled with in the tournament thus far. I think Kansas just has too much though. Frank Mason III and Devonte' Graham can match Trimble and it seems unlikely that the Terps will be able to hang with the consistency of Perry Ellis and the athleticism of Wayne Selden, Jr.
#2 Oklahoma vs. #3 Texas A&M -- 4:37 pm on TBS
The Aggies are fresh off the greatest comeback in NCAA Tournament history but the first 39 minutes of that game shouldn't be forgotten. A&M looked like a team that wasn't ready for the spotlight, including their best player, Danuel House, not making a single field goal until the final 30 seconds. The Oklahoma Sooners best player on the other hand went for 36 points in round two against VCU, 29 of them in the second half. Buddy Hield can be downright frightening and the Aggies can't afford to not guard the three-point line when he's around. If A&M can impose themselves physically on OU, they can get to the Elite Eight. But I like Oklahoma's chances a bit better. They're solid at both ends and I think Hield and the Sooners will be looking to shoot the lights out again.
#1 Oregon vs. #4 Duke -- 7:07 pm on TBS
This is going to be a wild one. The Oregon Ducks and Duke Blue Devils both love scoring and aren't particularly fond of playing defense, though the Ducks force a lot more mistakes than Duke. Oregon, the Pac-12's last of seven teams in the tournament, survived a second round scare against St. Joseph's by stepping up their defensive intensity and relying on their star, Dillon Brooks, to hit big shots. Duke will look to spread Oregon's defense out with the shooting of Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen. As long as that defensive intensity is still there, I like Oregon to outlast Duke in a potential shootout.
#1 Virginia vs. #4 Iowa State -- 4:10 pm on CBS
The Iowa State Cyclones looked very good at the offensive end in their first two games of the tournament. But the defense of the Virginia Cavaliers is a whole other animal. Led by senior forward, Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia could be the best all-around team in the country at both ends. Iowa State can score, especially Georges Niang, but they struggle to defend and Virginia is extraordinarily efficient on both ends. This game is taking place in Chicago so there could be a lot of Cyclone fans in the building. That could be the only way that ISU hangs with Virginia.
#10 Syracuse vs. #11 Gonzaga -- 6:40 pm on CBS
Both of these programs were in danger of not making this year's tournament field just mere days before Selection Sunday. Then Gonzaga won their conference tournament automatic bid and the Syracuse Orange were controversially selected by the committee. Now these two schools are meeting with an Elite Eight spot on the line.
Syracuse, perhaps benefitting from Michigan State's shocking elimination, has been positively dominant on defense thus far. Their zone forced their first two opponents, Dayton and Middle Tennessee State, to shoot a combined 32%. But if anyone has been more dominant, it's been Gonzaga and they've done it against superior competition, handily beating Seton Hall and then flat-out mauling the Utah Utes. Bulldogs big man, Domantas Sabonis, has been perhaps the MVP of the tourney so far and I don't see the Orange being able to stop Sabonis without giving up a lot of rebounds or getting themselves in foul trouble in the process.
#6 Notre Dame vs. #7 Wisconsin -- 4:27 pm on TBS
This will come down to Notre Dame's high-powered offense versus Wisconsin's defense. The Fighting Irish's offense is ranked seventh in the nation in efficiency while the Badgers D is ranked 11th. While there's no doubt Notre Dame can score, their defense has been a major liability this season. The defense stepped up when the game was on the line against Michigan and Stephen F. Austin but their defensive woes is the thing separating this team from being a legitimate contender. I think the Badgers defense combined with the hot shooting of Bronson Koenig and the inevitable improvement of Nigel Hayes, who struggled mightily against Xavier, will be a winning combination.
#1 North Carolina vs. #5 Indiana -- 6:57 pm on TBS
It would appear the NCAA Tournament schedulers are saving the best for last with this one. Shortly before Selection Sunday, this one would have been a game I thought could happen in the Final Four. The Indiana Hoosiers almost unanimously deserved higher than a 5-seed and proved it, knocking out the red-hot Kentucky Wildcats in round two behind the stellar play of Yogi Ferrell and big man, Thomas Bryant, without starting guard Robert Johnson. But the North Carolina Tar Heels could be the most talented team in the country and looked like world-beaters in the second half of their win over Providence.
This game has the word, great, written all over it. But UNC is too talented with Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige. IU's injury situation will not help matters at all.