The first weekend of the NCAA Men’s Brackets has finished, with a few surprises and one major favorite looking almost too tough to beat.
CBS Sports is showing us that three of the four brackets still have their top-seeded teams (Kentucky in the Midwest, Wisconsin in the West, and Duke in the South), and two brackets have their number two seeds left (Arizona in the West and Gonzaga in the South). Even missing some of the top teams, there are some great Sweet 16 matchups, and one bracket that is now wide open.
In the first Midwest contest, no. 3 Notre Dame meets no. 7 Wichita State, with Wichita State favored by one point. Wichita State is playing tough defense right now, which can change a game’s flow, evidenced in their 78-65 victory against Kansas. Notre Dame held off a scrappy Butler team, 67-64, to advance. Notre Dame is smaller than Wichita State but can be quicker. Wichita State’s defense will either win the day or let them down.
The second Midwest game has no. 1 Kentucky versus no. 5 West Virginia. Kentucky is favored by 13.5 points. West Virginia was not the Virginia team people thought they would see move on, but their press and every-man-in mentality was too much for fourth-seeded Maryland, who lost guard Melo Trimble during the second half and lost, 69-59. Kentucky got off to a slow start with some poor shooting but relied on good rebounding and defense to beat eighth-seeded Cincinnati, 64-51. Kentucky is the team to beat, but, as they say, that’s why they play the game.
The West bracket has no. 1 seed Wisconsin facing no. 4 North Carolina, with Wisconsin favored by 5 points. Wisconsin and North Carolina both are playing at their best right now, so this game could be a surprise to many. The other match has no. 2 Arizona versus no. 6 Xavier, Arizona favored by 11 points. Xavier can surprise here, but they will have to play the entire game and put some stops on Arizona for them to have a chance.
Sports Illustrated gives us the matchups in the South bracket, as no. 2 Gonzaga faces no. 11 UCLA, with Gonzaga favored by 9.5 points. UCLA got a sort of break because of their matchup with UAB, and Gonzaga is playing some decent ball after a tough end of the year. UCLA will have to be on top of their game, but Gonzaga can push the defense up a notch. The other game is no. 1 Duke versus no. 4 Utah, with Duke favored by 4.5. Utah has held its own through the first two games, but if Duke plays like they did against San Diego State, with precision defense and fantastic passing, Utah will be going home.
Finally, the East bracket, the widest open of the four brackets has no. 4 Louisville against no. 8 North Carolina State, even line. Louisville played to quality opponents and did well, coming off a hard year with the Chris Jones situation. North Carolina State is shooting the ball very well, so Louisville will have to raise its defense to move on. Then, no. 3 Oklahoma takes on no. 7 Michigan State, with Michigan State favored by two. Oklahoma found its heart in the round three game against a feisty Dayton team, but if there is one thing fans of the NCAA men’s brackets knows is this: never bet against Tom Izzo. Ever. He is quite possibly one of the finest, most underrated coaches when it comes to motivating players. Games begin on Thursday, so check your local listings for channels and times.
[Image courtesy of Business Insider]