c/o NCAA March Madness

c/o NCAA March Madness

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: the only time you can watch college basketball for four days straight and not feel like a complete couch potato. The adrenaline rush of a player shooting 1-and-1 free throws with 30 seconds left or a coach nearly falling onto the court while yelling at his players is exercise enough for those of us too obsessed to miss a single game. I certainly fit into this category. This past weekend, I was glued to my television, computer, and even phone (on the subway in Brooklyn) as I watched Baylor University fail to complete a crazy comeback against University of North Carolina, Saint Peter’s follow up an incredible toppling of Kentucky University by handily beating Murray State, and countless NBA bound players sob as they were eliminated from the tournament. Now it’s the Sweet 16: 52 teams have already been eliminated, and eight more will be sent home after this round. Here are my previews for the games this weekend.  


North Carolina Tar Heels (8) versus UCLA Bruins (4)

UNC is clearly a force to be reckoned with…but they need Brady Manek. After Manek was ejected for a questionable, flagrant two foul, the Baylor Bears nearly completed the largest comeback in NCAA history. The Bears stifled the UNC guards with aggressive defense, and even RJ Davis, who dropped 30 in the game, seemed out of his element as he tried to break down the Baylor D. The Davis-Tyger Campbell matchup in the UNC–UCLA Sweet 16 meeting will be fun to watch, as well as seeing which guard (Jaime Jaquez Jr. or Johnny Juzang) will draw the tall task of guarding the larger Brady Manek. This game is a toss-up, but either team could also have a great day offensively and run away with the win. 

Saint Peter’s Peacocks (15) versus Purdue Boilermakers (3)

The Saint Peter’s–Purdue game will be a little more David/Goliath-esque, in a literal sense as 7’4” Zach Edey, Purdue’s starting center, is nine inches taller than any other Saint Peter’s player. Regardless of size, if Jaden Ivey can score as he did against Texas, the game will be an easy victory for Purdue. That being said, I will be personally rooting for Saint Peter’s. Their heart, hustle, and defense were inspiring, and there is nothing I love more than a Cinderella story. At the very least, expect to see an exciting first half. If Purdue does win, the ensuing matchup in the Elite Eight will be intriguing, as both UNC and UCLA have the experienced players necessary to overcome the young, burgeoning talent of Ivey and Edey. 


Kansas Jayhawks (1) versus Providence Friars (4)

I have to say that the Kansas–Providence matchup is a summation of the most boring section of the bracket. Both teams performed very well throughout the regular-season and breezed through to the Sweet 16, as many expected them to. Creighton gave Kansas a run for their money, but the combined prowess of veterans Ochai Agbaji and David McCormack sealed the game for the Jayhawks. Providence, the regular-season leader of the Big East, will provide a much better test for Kansas, arguably the best No. 1 seed so far in the tournament. Ochai Agbaji could very well win the Wooden Award and is one of the most dynamic and complete players still in the tournament, along with Arizona’s Benedict Mathurian, the aforementioned Ivey, and Villanova’s Collin Gillespie, so Providence will need to figure out a way to contain him, plain and simple. The deal-breaker for Kansas could be the Arizona State transfer Remy Martin, who is a natural, experienced scorer and poured in 20 points versus Creighton. Providence will need another strong showing from sharpshooter Noah Horchler, who drained four from deep against Richmond. 

Miami Hurricanes (10) versus Iowa State Cyclones (11)

The other game in the Midwest,  between No. 11 Iowa State and No. 10 University of Miami, is the opposite of the classic 1–4 matchup and comes on the heels of two upsets over Auburn and Wisconsin, both Final Four favorites. Keep this in mind: Iowa State went 2–22 in 2021, losing every one of their conference games. Now, they have defeated the tandem of Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis and Brad Davison and attempt to make the Elite Eight. The Wisconsin–Iowa State game was gritty, and Iowa State, a team composed of almost all transfers, managed to tough out a win. The Miami–Auburn game was a similar story until the last ten minutes of the second half, when Auburn crumpled altogether against a talented Miami squad. While Iowa State has a true comeback story, I suspect Miami will take advantage of Iowa State’s low-scoring output and run away with the win. 


Houston Cougars (5) versus Arizona Wildcats (1)

Much of the analysis I’ve read recently positions the University of Houston as essentially a No. 1 seed right now. While I wouldn’t go that far, I can acknowledge that Houston is dangerous, especially in dethroning an actual No. 1 seed like Arizona. In the second round, while Houston was literally sprinting past Illinois, Arizona was struggling into overtime against Texan Christian University (TCU). TCU showed heart, but they were scattered offensively and defensively, nowhere near the caliber of Houston. Arizona needed monster games from both of their stars, Mathurian (30 pts) and Christian Koloko (28 pts and 12 rbs), to secure the victory. Houston plays amazing defense, grabs the most offensive rebounds out of any team in the tournament, and has a plethora of capable scorers. Kyler Edwards is a knockdown three-point shooter, Taze Moore and Jamal Shead are instant offense, and big man Fabian White is the veteran glue that holds the team together on both ends of the floor. These players will need to step up to overcome Arizona’s star prowess of Mathurian and Koloko. This game will be a fun one. 

Michigan Wolverines versus Villanova Wildcats

After Michigan coach Juwan Howard nearly started a brawl during a regular-season game against Wisconsin, many wrote the Wolverines off as advancing at all in March. Yet here they are. On paper, this year’s squad lacks much of the star power and excitement present in past Michigan teams. However, Hunter Dickinson was able to carry his team past a defensively stout Tennessee group that had a championship agenda. Michigan also held Tennessee to a rough 2–18 from three-point range, and will need to replicate this defensive performance to hold off Villanova and Colin Gillespie. Gillespie has been around for a while (he was there when Villanova won in 2018) and showed us why we have to take Villanova seriously as a championship contender. Along with fellow veterans Justin Moore and Jermain Samuels, Gillespie is a player well-fitted to the kind of success we’ve learned to expect from Jay Wright-led Wildcat squads over the past few years. Villanova isn’t as deep as in years past though, so there is a definite window for Michigan. But Hunter Dickinson, as well as Eli Brooks (12.8 ppg), will need to show up offensively. 


Arkansas Razorbacks (4) versus Gonzaga Bulldogs (1)

The Arkansas–New Mexico State game was an unattractive, defensive battle filled with turnovers, missed shots, and long possessions. It’s hard to imagine the version of Arkansas from that game challenging Gonzaga in any meaningful way. That said, the Razorbacks were able to shut down the Aggies’ phenom Teddy Allen (5–16 from the field) and could do the same to Gonzaga’s undisputed best player Drew Timme. Past Gonzaga teams have excelled due to having a handful of top-scoring options, and while Drew Timme and his inside-out game are very polished, Gonzaga will need other players to step up. Look for freshman stalwart Chet Holmgren and transfer guard Andrew Nembhard to have big games. Arkansas’ biggest point of contention is their need to overcome their lack of size in the paint, as Holmgren towers over the Arkansas’ big men at 7’1”. The Gonzaga Bulldogs have the tools to annihilate the Razorbacks and continue their pursuit of redemption after losing to Baylor in last year’s tournament. The Razorbacks are a tough, battle-tested bunch, but their luck may have run out.

Duke Blue Devils (2) versus Texas Tech Red Raiders (3)

This is the classic 2–3 seed matchup. On the one hand, we have Duke, a team with six potential NBA-bound players, including freshman forward Paolo Banchero, who is a definite lottery pick, and freshman standouts Trevor Keels and AJ Griffin. Then there is Texas Tech, a team made up of seasoned veterans who might never make it to the league, including several transfers like Kevin Obaner (he played with Oral Roberts last year: remember them?). Even the coaches couldn’t be more different. Coach K. is in his last what seems like the millionth season, while it is Texas Tech coach Mark Adams’ first year at the helm. Tech is a more cohesive unit, while Duke’s stars can make plays that will leave fans starstruck. Texas Tech will need to be aggressive on both ends right off the jump, trying to get a Duke player in foul trouble (Duke basically runs a six-man rotation) and disrupting the success the Banchero has had on the low post thus far this season. For Duke, the agenda must include Banchero, Wendell Moore Jr., and center Mark Williams having success around the rim, and making sure not to force outside shots. Many signs point to the experienced Texas Tech team taking advantage of the younger Duke squad, but Duke has way too much talent to see this matchup as anything more than a toss-up.

I know Coach K. wants to win out in his last March rodeo, but I also know that nothing says March more than knocking out lottery picks in the early rounds. It seems like we’ll have to sit back on our couches and embrace the madness. 


Lewis Woloch can be reached at lwoloch@wesleyan.edu

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