Thursday’s Sweet 16 Preview

It’s been a long time coming but game previews are back for the remaining 15 games in the NCAA Tournament as we get ready for the Sweet 16. This is one of the more exciting nights of Sweet 16 action as you truly feel that all eight teams playing today have a chance to advance to the Elite Eight, so let’s get into the preview.

#3 Kansas State Wildcats (+1.5) vs #7 Michigan State Spartans 

6:30 PM ET on TBS

Jerome Tang is coaching his first Sweet 16, Tom Izzo is in his 15th but in a game in the Garden, expect this to be an all-time classic. Kansas State was expected to be the bottom team of the Big 12 but with the duo of Markquis Nowell and Keyontae Johnson, the Wildcats were able to establish the talent to not only dance but get a three seed as well. Michigan State has been mediocre this season, they’ve missed out on winning big games but also won enough games to comfortably make the NCAA Tournament. 

This game is one where both teams match up pretty similarly, playing three guards, a stretch four, and a five-man, with options off the bench for each. Michigan State will need their guards of Walker and Hoggard to step up to get offense, which looks like it could be a good game plan of attack against a short guard lineup. Kansas State should continue to run everything through Nowell, who will beat Michigan State as both a scorer and passer. It’s certainly hard to bet against Tom Izzo, especially in March and especially coming off a big win but this feels like a game that will come down to who has the big-time players to make key shots, and Nowell and Johnson are those guys.

Pick: Kansas State 69 Michigan State 63

ATS Pick: Kansas State +1.5

#4 UConn Huskies (-4) vs. #8 Arkansas Razorbacks 

7:15 PM ET on CBS

UConn is officially back in the Sweet 16 and it feels like a long time coming, while Arkansas has become a regular under Erik Musselman. UConn has been one of the most streaky teams in the sport, the first two months saw this team demolish the sport, then for a few weeks they fell off a cliff but now behind Adama Sanogo and Jordan Hawkins, this team is peaking for a potential Championship run. Arkansas on the other hand underperformed all year long but had a terrific second half to get by a coach-less Kansas team, now the question is which players can step up similarly to how Devo Davis and Ricky Council IV did to get them to this spot. 

Arkansas will mostly execute by trying to exploit a mismatch on offense, while they do have the positional size and length to annoy any team they go against on the defensive end. Nick Smith and Anthony Black are lottery talents but haven’t performed, but the Razorbacks have gotten by, this is probably a game though that their lottery talents to play like it if they want to win. UConn is one of the most complete teams in the sport, Sanogo and Clingan will dominate inside for 40 minutes, Andre Jackson will provide excellent versatility, and Jordan Hawkins has emerged as one of the premier shooters on earth. Arkansas will muck this up, they will have something up their sleeve to make this a game. That said, without Smith making tough jumpers and Black carving the defense up it will be hard to see Arkansas having enough scoring to win this. 

Pick: UConn 74 Arkansas 63

ATS Pick: UConn -4

#4 Tennessee Volunteers (-5) vs #9 Florida Atlantic Owls

9:00 PM ET on TBS

Florida Atlantic has made history by getting to their first Sweet 16 under Dusty May, they are now 33-3 on the season and have coasted to this spot. Their reward is a Sweet 16 matchup against the most rugged, physical basketball team in the sport, the Tennessee Volunteers. Both teams have depth, but both play in different ways. Florida Atlantic is a fun, well-spaced offense that has two elite guards Johnell Davis and Alijah Martin while pairing them with an abundance of good pieces. Tennessee has no stars, but what they do have is the toughest defense that will impose its will upon its opponents until they give in. 

Florida Atlantic will need to win this game with its defense and in transition. Tennessee doesn’t have great point guard play with Zakai Ziegler being out. This lends the Owls to having the ability to force turnovers to lead to easy baskets before Tennessee gets set. Otherwise, their only route is to hope the officials call everything a foul, which is realistic given how Tennessee plays defense. Should the Volunteers be able to avoid the dreaded turnover, their route to winning is easier. They have good shotmaking with Vescovi, Nkhamhoua, and Josiah-Jordan James, while they will wear on their opponents. Florida Atlantic should be able to keep this close throughout and stay in this one but at the end of the day, there’s just too much for them to overcome. 

Pick: Tennessee 57 Florida Atlantic 55

ATS Pick: Florida Atlantic +5

#2 UCLA (-1.5) vs #3 Gonzaga 

9:45 PM ET on CBS

The rivalry of the West Coast returns to Las Vegas for a thrilling next chapter for these two elite programs, as Mark Few and Mick Cronin hope to take their teams one step closer to immortality. Gonzaga worked through some things but has made a late-season charge. Drew Timme is playing great basketball, dominating the post while Strawther, Bolton, and Watson have hit their strides seemingly all at the same time. UCLA comes in hampered with the loss of Jaylen Clark but a core of Tyger Campbell, Jaime Jaquez, and their freshman class still gives room for title aspirations to remain alive. 

Gonzaga is the fast-paced run-and-gun team, the Bulldogs take the ball up the court and get quality looks. They have the easy entry point to the post with Drew Timme, while they can expect Strawther and Bolton to provide outside help to give him one on one matchups inside. UCLA will look to muck this game up, while easier said than done, Tyger Campbell is the best point guard in the region and will slow the tempo in their favor, while he and Jaime Jaquez will make the key shots. UCLA can also expect Amari Bailey and Adem Bona to contribute just enough to help. The key matchup comes down to Drew Timme vs Adem Bona, Timme has struggled with length and athleticism before and that’s what Bona provides but Bona also hasn’t seen someone as skilled as Timme. I look for Gonzaga to come out a bit slow to start this game and fall behind early. Don’t expect Gonzaga to give in but ultimately UCLA should advance to another Elite Eight.

Pick: UCLA 73 Gonzaga 70

ATS Pick: UCLA -1.5

Year to Date ATS: 341-314

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