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March Madness: Sweet 16 and Elite 8

Last weekend March Madness started, and, after starting with 68 teams, the field is down to 16 teams. There were plenty of upsets and buzzer-beating shots during the first weekend of tournament play.

The most surprising upset of all was Middle Tennessee State knocking off Michigan State, which had the second best odds at winning the tournament. Other upsets included Stephen F. Austin knocking off West Virginia, Yale beating Baylor and Arkansas-Little Rock coming back against Purdue.

And then there were last second shots that saw Northern Iowa beat Texas and saw Texas A&M tie and later beat in double overtime that same Northern Iowa team. The tournament also saw Notre Dame tip in a missed shot to take a one point lead with just over a second remaining to defeat Stephen F. Austin in the second round.

But, the best shot of the tournament belongs to Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig. In a tie game with just two seconds remaining on the clock, Wisconsin inbounded the ball to Koenig as he was running in to the corner next to the Badger bench. Koenig caught the ball, took one dribble, raised up over the Xavier defender and shot a fall away three. He fell into the Wisconsin bench as the ball was going through the net. It was a wild ending to a back and forth game.

Now, there are only 16 teams remaining. Of those 16, all four of the one seeds still remain. And, Syracuse and Gonzaga are the only double digit seeds remaining.

So who is going to win it all?

Kansas still has the best chance at coming out of the South Bracket. The Jayhawks face an up and down Maryland team Thursday night. The Terrapins have played well in March led by sophomore guard Melo Trimble and freshman center Diamond Stone. However, Kansas should be able to pull away with this one behind Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden Jr. If Kansas gets past Maryland they will be battling either Villanova or Miami in the Elite 8.

In the other game from the South Bracket, the three seed Miami goes up against the two seed Villanova. Miami had to fend off a pesky Buffalo team and then knocked off a March favorite in Wichita State. While the Wildcats beat up on UNC-Asheville and then beat a spiraling down Iowa team. Miami had a great conference record in the ACC and have proven they can play with anybody. Villanova won the regular season Big East Conference and have only lost five games all season. Look for Jay Wright to lead Villanova to the Elite Eight where they will more than likely get the Kansas Jayhawks.

Oregon, the number one seed in the West Bracket, beat down Holy Cross in the first round and then had a close game against a good St. Joseph’s team. The Ducks will face the defending champion Duke Blue Devils. Duke let UNC-Wilmington hang around in the first round and then let Yale get back in the game in the second round. But the Blue Devils were too much for both teams. Oregon might be the first one seed to get eliminated in the tournament this year. Duke’s Grayson Allen has been playing out of his mind in March and has a lot to prove since he was caught tripping opponents’ on two separate occasions earlier in the season. The winner of this game will get the winner of the Texas A&M-Oklahoma game.

The two seed in the West is the Oklahoma Sooners. The Sooners took out CSU-Bakersfield in round one and then had a tough game against VCU in the second round. But Wooden Award Finalist Buddy Hield put the team on his back and dropped 34 points to lead Oklahoma to victory. Texas A&M easily defeated Green Bay in the opening round, but in the second round were beat handedly by Northern Iowa. The Aggies were down 12 with 40 seconds left. Miraculously, A&M tied the game with just over a second left and went on to win the game in double overtime. However, Oklahoma should be able to ride Hield and Jordan Woodard to the Elite 8, where they will face the winner of the Oregon-Duke game.

The one seed in the East Bracket is UNC and they have played two close games where they pulled away late in the second half to win by double digits. The Tar Heels ended up beating Florida Gulf Coast and Providence handily with the help of Brice Johnson, who has been UNC’s best player all season. The Tar Heels will face off against Indiana on Friday night, which will pit two teams with rich basketball history. The Hoosiers defeated rather easily the UT-Chattanooga Mocs in the first round and then beat Kentucky in the second round in a back and forth game. Indiana is led by guard Yogi Ferrell, who has led the team in points per game and assists. This should be another good game of this tournament, but once again look for the Tar Heels to pull away late. The winner will face the winner of the Notre Dame-Wisconsin game.

The second matchup in the East Bracket pits two teams who escaped their second round games with buzzer beaters, Notre Dame and Wisconsin. Notre Dame battled with Michigan in the first round and then faced off against a harassing Stephen F. Austin team. Notre Dame found itself down one with 20 seconds remaining in the game. Notre Dame missed two shots before tipping in the go ahead basket. Wisconsin beat Pitt in a defensive battle in the opening round and then found itself in a back and forth battle with Xavier in the second round. Then after an offensive foul on Xavier, Wisconsin found itself at half-court with two seconds on the clock. And, a Bronson Koenig three in the corner went in to win the game for the Badgers. This game can go either way, if Wisconsin can get the Irish to play a slow half-court game, the Badgers have the edge. If it’s an up and down game, Notre Dame will have the edge. The winner will face either UNC or Indiana.

The last of the one seeds is Virginia. The Cavaliers faced off against Hampton in the first round and then beat a former Cinderella team in the Butler Bulldogs. Neither game was really tough for Virginia, but the Cavaliers will be led by seniors Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill, as well as junior London Perrantes. The same can be said for the four seed in the Midwest in Iowa State. The Cyclones easily handled Iona in the first round and beat one of this year’s Cinderella’s in Arkansas-Little Rock. The Cyclones are led by senior Georges Niang and junior Monte Morris. This game should be close and one of the better ones of the Sweet 16. Both teams are excellent offensively, but Virginia plays a much stiffer defense. The winner of this game will face either Syracuse or Gonzaga.

The final game of the Sweet 16 to look at is the only matchup that features to double digit seeds and are the only double digit seeds remaining, so one will be going home. That game is between 10-seed Syracuse and 11-seed Gonzaga. The Orange beat Dayton in the first round and defeated Middle Tennessee State in the second round. Neither game was ever in jeopardy. This isn’t your typical Syracuse team full of All-Americans, but Head Coach Jim Boeheim has his team playing well when it matters the most. Gonzaga was one of the teams many experts might not make it in to the tournament because their conference is a one maybe two team conference. But the Bulldogs went out and won their conference tournament and left no questions to be answered. Gonzaga beat the Big East Champs, Seton Hall, in the first round and pulled another upset by beating Utah. Coach Mark Few has been in the tournament with better teams, but he still hasn’t made it to the Elite 8. This just might be his year with a team led by Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis. The winner will face either Virginia or Iowa State in the Elite 8.