Favorites and Cinderellas Clash in NCAA Tournament Sweet 16

Posted on: March 22, 2018, 04:30h. 

Last updated on: March 22, 2018, 04:18h.

The Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament begins on Thursday night, with both traditional powerhouses and some surprising upstarts still alive in the hunt for a national championship.

Villanova Sweet 16 NCAA
Villanova is one of the two remaining No. 1 seeds in the Sweet 16, and is the favorite to walk away with the national championship. (Image: Steven Ryan/Getty)

The first two rounds of the tournament saw numerous upsets, leaving plenty of low seeds still remaining in the field. Two No. 11 seeds are part of the Sweet 16, along with plenty of other unexpected teams that are still dancing.

Rambling Into the Sweet 16

Perhaps the biggest Cinderella story of the tournament belongs to the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers (30-5). The No. 11 seed in the South region upset both Miami and Tennessee in the final seconds of their first two games to reach the Sweet 16, where they will now take on the Nevada Wolf Pack (29-7).

As the No. 7 seed in the region, Nevada hardly came into the tournament as a favorite, either. But that’s the role that the Wolf Pack will assume on Thursday night, as Bovada has them listed as a 1.5-point favorite over Loyola-Chicago.

The other No. 11 seed remaining in the tournament is Syracuse (23-13). While the Orange are a traditional basketball power, this year they only barely scraped into the tournament as the final at-large team in the field. But wins over Arizona State (in a “First Four” play-in game), TCU, and Michigan State have shown that their stifling zone defense gives them a chance against just about anyone they play.

That will be tested against Duke (28-7), the No. 2 seed in the Midwest region. The Blue Devils (-11.5) have already beaten Syracuse once earlier this season, as the two teams met a month ago as part of their Atlantic Coast Conference schedules. But Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski says that his team can’t assume things will be the same as in that 60-44 victory.

“You have to be careful not to point out too many thing that happened a month ago,” Krzyzewski said. “They’re changed and we’ve changed. They’re better and so are we.”

Favorites Surviving March Madness So Far

Duke is one of the few remaining pre-tournament favorites still in the field. Two No. 1 seeds are also in the Sweet 16, including the Kansas Jayhawks (29-7), the top seed in the Midwest region. Should Kansas (-5) get past Clemson (25-9), they’ll face off with Duke in the regional final.

The other No. 1 remaining in the field is Villanova (32-4), the top seed in the East region. The Wildcats are a 3/1 favorite to win the national title at William Hill, just ahead of Duke (4/1) and other contenders including Kansas (6/1), Kentucky (7/1), and Gonzaga (7/1).

But Villanova (-5) knows they will have a tough test in the Sweet 16 when they take on West Virginia (26-10). The fifth-seeded Mountaineers play a fast-paced game with lots of pressing on defense, which can pose a unique challenge for opponents.

“The pressure they bring with all the guys they play – it’s 40 minutes of pressure,” said Villanova guard Phil Booth. “They have one of the most rare styles of play in all of college basketball. The preparation for that is going to be big for us.”

Other matchups in the Sweet 16 include No. 3 seed Michigan (-2.5) taking on Texas A&M, Gonzaga (-6) battling upset-minded Florida State, and a Friday night contest between Purdue (-1.5) and Texas Tech.