While the first and second rounds are known as the most exciting rounds of the NCAA tournament — because that’s when all of the upsets tend to happen — the real madness is about to begin in the Sweet 16.
In the spirit of the 2017 NCAA tournament being down to the final 16 teams (this journey started with a field of 68), let’s predict the winner of every Sweet 16 matchup.
Spoiler alert: This is not going to be a chalkfest in which all of the favorites advance (what’s the fun in that?). Bold predictions and upsets will be the name of the game, and the lovely March Madness likely wouldn’t have it any other way.
No. 7 Michigan vs. No. 3 Oregon
The Wolverines, who are now being referred to as a team of destiny thanks to a scary plane incident and an improbable run in the Big Ten tournament, have made it to this point in the games by knocking off No. 10 seed Oklahoma State and No. 2 seed Louisville.
As for the Ducks, they have had an easier path to the Sweet 16 as they have taken on two double-digit seeds in No. 14 seed Iona and No. 11 seed Rhode Island.
While Oregon’s Dillon Brooks is more than capable of leading his team to the Final Four, folks can never count out Derrick Walton Jr. and the rest of the Wolverines.
Prediction: Michigan wins
No. 4 West Virginia vs. No. 1 Gonzaga
As expected — because West Virginia and Gonzaga are the top seeds in the top half of the West — the Mountaineers took care of business against No. 13 seed Bucknell and No. 5 seed Notre Dame while the Bulldogs knocked off No. 16 seed South Dakota State and No. 8 seed Northwestern.
The Bulldogs might have one of the best players in the country in Nigel Williams-Goss, but Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers are no stranger to knocking off the best teams in the country. Here’s the proof: West Virginia knocked off Virginia when it was ranked No. 6, Baylor when it was ranked No. 1, and Kansas when it was ranked No. 2.
Prediction: West Virginia wins
No. 4 Purdue vs. No. 1 Kansas
While it is a long story in the making, if you will, the Boilermakers, a team that has knocked off No. 13 seed Vermont and No. 5 seed Iowa State during March Madness 2017, can get some NCAA tournament revenge on the Jayhawks in this year’s version of the Sweet 16.
Not only does Kansas have a No. 1 seed going for it — it has looked like arguably the best team in the tournament and is averaging 95 points per game as proof — but it has one of the best players in college basketball in Frank Mason III. The Jayhawks’ tournament journey has consisted of wins against No. 16 seed UC Davis and No. 9 seed Michigan State.
Yes, the Jayhawks are arguably the best team standing (and ESPN would likely agree), and they have arguably the best player in the country, but Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan, a fellow Naismith finalist, makes the Boilermakers a serious title threat.
Four finalists for Naismith Trophy:— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 19, 2017
• Lonzo Ball, UCLA
• Josh Hart, Villanova
• Frank Mason, Kansas
• Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
Prediction: Purdue wins
No. 11 Xavier vs. No. 2 Arizona
If Xavier’s Trevon Bluiett, a man who leads the team in scoring with 18.5 points per game, and a man who has helped the Musketeers to wins against No. 6 seed Maryland and No. 3 seed Florida State, can continue to play at his current level, then Xavier could end up recording its third upset of the Big Dance.
As for the Wildcats (yet another Sean Miller-coached team that is stacked with talent), they have taken care of business against No. 15 seed North Dakota and No. 7 seed Saint Mary’s.
Arizona might be the easy pick here since it holds a No. 2 seed and Xavier a No. 11 seed, but if the Musketeers can knock off No. 3 seed Florida State by 25 points, which they did, then they can take down any team in the 2017 NCAA tournament.
Prediction: Xavier wins
No. 4 Butler vs. No. 1 North Carolina
All you need to know about Butler: During the regular season, the Bulldogs knocked off Arizona when it was ranked No. 8, Indiana when it was ranked No. 9, Villanova when it was ranked No. 1, Xavier when it was ranked No. 15, and Villanova once again when it was ranked No. 2. This team, as told by the victories above, can beat anyone in college basketball.
During the 2017 NCAA tournament, Butler has taken down No. 13 seed Winthrop and No. 12 seed Middle Tennessee.
As for the Tar Heels, a team that did enough work during the regular season to earn it a No. 1 seed, they have knocked off No. 16 seed Texas Southern and No. 8 seed Arkansas.
While all eyes will be on the Kentucky vs. UCLA rematch, this contest could bring the most excitement to the table.
Prediction: Butler wins
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 3 Baylor
Having South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell and Baylor’s Johnathan Motley playing on the same court against one another is truly a gift from the NCAA tournament committee, and that’s all that needs to be said about that one.
In terms of the March Madness journeys, South Carolina has taken down No. 10 seed Marquette and No. seed 2 Duke. Baylor did some surviving and advancing against No. 14 seed New Mexico State and No. 11 seed USC.
As a result of the Gamecocks taking down the Blue Devils and making an improbable run to the Sweet 16, it would be so easy to live in the moment and predict them to make the Elite Eight in the process.
Reminder: The Bears earned a No. 3 seed in the dance for a reason.
Prediction: Baylor wins
No. 3 UCLA vs. No. 2 Kentucky
So many folks are looking forward to this matchup, and for good reason. After all, these teams scored 90-plus points on each other earlier in the season. Plus, it’s UCLA vs. Kentucky (for good measure).
So many scorers and an overload of talent will flood the court when these teams meet up in the Sweet 16. As for predicting the winner, fans might as well break out their favorite coins and do some flipping.
Prediction: UCLA wins
No. 8 Wisconsin vs. No. 4 Florida
So much for the Big Ten being “down” this season. Not only did three Big Ten teams make it to the second weekend of the tournament, but the Badgers knocked off overall No. 1 seed Villanova in the process. Their other win, for all it’s worth, came against No. 9 seed Virginia Tech.
The Gators did work against No. 13 seed East Tennessee State and No. 5 seed Virginia (they only allowed 39 points in this contest!).
This one should be fun, to say the least.
Prediction: Florida wins
In case you weren’t keeping score, if these predictions do, in fact, become a reality, then the Elite Eight would consist of these matchups: No. 4 Florida vs. No. 3 Baylor, No. 4 West Virginia vs. No. 11 Xavier, No. 4 Purdue vs. No. 7 Michigan, and No. 4 Butler vs. No. 3 UCLA.
Two words: March Madness.
[Featured Image by Andy Lyons/Getty Images]