As we approach the second weekend of the March Madness tournament, sixteen teams remain in the hunt for the National Championship. Many teams with high hopes and championship aspirations fell short of their goals; the East Region saw both #1 Villanova and #2 Virginia fail to advance past the second round. Now, let’s take a look at the remaining teams and my predictions for the Final Four.
N.C. State and Louisville: Rick Pitino returns to the Sweet Sixteen, leading an experienced and gritty Louisville team. I’m still angry that they squeaked by UC Irvine, but I have to tip my hat to them. That game really could’ve gone either way. N.C. State had to grind for a comeback-win in the first round, overcoming a huge deficit in the second half against LSU. They then went on to stun #1 Villanova in the second round. With a nothing-to-lose mentality, I see the upset-minded Wolfpack pulling out a close game.
Prediction: N.C. State
Oklahoma and Michigan State: I can’t say I’m surprised to see Michigan State still alive in the Sweet Sixteen. Head Coach Tom Izzo sure knows how to get his team to step up when it comes to tournament time. They seem to be in cruise control, at times, even looking a bit lackadaisical during the season. But you’d be making a huge mistake by overlooking them. Oklahoma has looked strong so far in the tournament, but I think this is where the road ends for the Sooners.
Prediction: Michigan State
Advancing to the Final Four: In a scrappy dog fight of a game, Michigan State edges N.C. State to advance to the Final Four.
Kentucky and West Virginia: Uh-oh! Is it smart for West Virginia to provide the most talented team in the country with bulletin-board material? It’s one thing to be confident, but this is borderline-cocky. To claim that Kentucky “doesn’t play hard” and to say that the Wildcats will be 36-1 after this game doesn’t sound like a smart move. Stacked with a handful of future first-round picks in the NBA draft, Kentucky rolls past West Virginia.
Notre Dame and Wichita State: To me, this is the hardest matchup to predict in this round. Both teams play with tremendous heart and passion. However, Wichita State has really impressed me with wins over Indiana and Kansas. In a close, hard-fought contest, I see it coming down to the wire, with the team with the ball last getting the W.
Prediction: Wichita State
Advancing to the Final Four: Wichita State will give Kentucky a run for its money for majority of the game, but the Wildcats will pull away late to set up a Final Four matchup against Wisconsin.
Duke and Utah: I think Utah will definitely put up a fight. Duke is a perennial powerhouse led by Coach Mike Krzyzewski, and with three solid freshmen and the senior Quinn Cook, it’ll take a near-perfect game from the Utes to advance to the Elite Eight.
UCLA and Gonzaga: UCLA has had a magical run so far in this tournament. With a little help from UAB taking out Iowa State, the Bruins are matched up against a versatile Gonzaga team, primed to make an appearance in the Final Four. Although I want to root for the local team in UCLA, I think Gonzaga is just too strong. It’s been a great run, Bruins, but unfortunately, the train stops here.
Advancing to the Final Four: Get your popcorn ready as I expect a shootout between Gonzaga and Duke. Gonzaga hasn’t advanced to the Elite Eight since 1999, but Head Coach Mark Few will have them ready to go. Gonzaga will hold on to get the win versus a talented Duke team, setting up a date in the Semifinals with Michigan State.
Wisconsin and North Carolina: The Badgers are led by Big Ten player of the year Frank Kaminsky. He’ll be matched up against a smaller, more versatile front court presented by North Carolina, but he should be able to dominate the low post. However, Wisconsin better not forget about Marcus Paige, as he can score in a hurry. All said and done, Wisconsin sets up a rematch of last year’s Elite Eight showdown versus the Arizona Wildcats.
Xavier and Arizona: Much like Kentucky and Duke, this Arizona team is stacked with NBA talent. Wildcats coach Sean Miller faces off against Xavier, the team he coached for six years. Xavier brings a young and energetic squad looking for a huge upset, but they won’t find it here. Arizona will be too much for the Musketeers to handle.
Advancing to the Final Four: A rematch of last year’s Elite Eight, Arizona and Wisconsin will fight for a spot in the Final Four. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, I don’t see the results being any different. The Badgers advance to face Kentucky in the Semifinals.
So, as a round-up, my Final Four predictions are: Michigan State, Kentucky, Gonzaga, and Wisconsin. What do you think? Am I completely off? Let me know in the comments below.
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