East Regional Semifinal 1: #4 Louisville vs. #8 North Carolina State
For the second straight year, a fourth-seeded Louisville team will face the number 8 seed in their region in the sweet 16. Last year, it was Kentucky who upset #1 Wichita State in the previous round before eventually beating Louisville and going to the Final Four. This time, it’s the eighth-seeded Wolfpack who come in off a win over the top-seeded Villanova Wildcats. NC State is a good team with impressive wins this year, such as a victory over Duke, but the game against Villanova showed more about the Nova’s weaknesses than it did about NC State’s strengths. Louisville and coach Rick Pitino are only two years removed from their championship in 2013, and after looking shaky at times down the stretch, and against #13 UC Irvine in the second round, the Cardinals looked impressive in their win against Northern Iowa in the round of 32. I think this will be a close battle since NC State certainly won’t be intimidated, but Montrezl Harrell will control the paint down low for Louisville who will return to the Elite 8 for the second time in three years.
East Regional Semifinal 2: #3 Oklahoma vs. #7 Michigan State
The Oklahoma Sooners are back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since Blake Griffin starred as a player of the year candidate in 2009, while Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans are familiar faces in the second weekend of the tournament once again. With top-seeded Villanova and two seed Virginia both knocked out of the region over the weekend, the East’s Final Four berth is up for grabs. In a year that featured seven Big 12 teams making it to the tournament, few thought that Oklahoma would be one of the last teams standing ahead of the likes of Kansas, Baylor, and Iowa State. Meanwhile, many people believed Michigan State was underseeded after seeing them play Wisconsin to overtime in the Big 10 championship. A veteran team led by forward Brandon Dawson with an experienced coach will once again prevail as Michigan State locks up a berth in the Elite 8.
South Regional Semifinal 1: #1 Duke vs. #5 Utah
Utah has flown under the radar as a pretty solid team out of the Pac-12 this year, but all eyes will be on Duke and player of the year finalist Jahlil Okafor. Utah’s main focus will be preventing him and forward Justice Winslow from dominating in the paint and forcing Duke to shoot jump shots. Freshman point guard Tyus Jones will play a key role as well in running the offense. Duke has had some struggles in the tournament since their championship in 2010, including losses to a 15 and 14 seed in the round of 64. However, this Duke team appears to be playing much better basketball as of late, with dominating wins in their first two games of the tournament. Utah has not faced a team as talented as Duke, aside from possibly Arizona, this season and I expect the Blue Devils to keep it rolling.
South Regional Semifinal 2: #2 Gonzaga vs. #11 UCLA
Two West Coast teams clash in this Sweet 16 matchup as the UCLA Bruins face off against the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Neither of these teams are flashy or loaded with star power, but they do have key players that many people may not know about due to their games being late night on the west coast. Sharpshooter Bryce Alford leads UCLA, and made his presence in the tournament known with a 9 for 11 three point shooting night in the round of 64. Meanwhile, Gonzaga is paced by veterans point guard Kevin Pango and forward Kyle Wiltjer. Gonzaga has not been a very popular Final Four pick this year, despite being in the same region as arguably the weakest one seed in Duke, but the Bulldogs are very underrated and certainly have the capability to make a run. Many people think UCLA should not have even been in the tournament, and many also think they should not have won their first game on a controversial goaltending call. Combine that with their win against a 14 seed in the third round, and UCLA’s mediocre season will finally come to an end.
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