This March Madness has been historically unpredictable, with four double-digit seeds making it to the men’s NCAA Tournament second weekend. It’s the first time four teams seeded No. 11 or lower are in the Sweet 16.
It’s also stunning that the mighty Big Ten – the top conference in NET rankings – sent nine teams to the Big Dance and only one (No. 1 seed Michigan) is still standing. Especially in contrast to the Pac-12, which has four teams set to square off Saturday and Sunday in Indianapolis.
But now that the smoke has cleared, we have a feel for each of the 16 teams remaining. A look at some bold predictions for the rest of the tournament:
1. Double-digit seeds make it to the Elite Eight. Both UCLA and Syracuse were NCAA bubble teams that barely got into the field of 68. Now they’re among the 16 teams left. Both teams have played their best brand of basketball and are capable of pulling off more upsets, this time against No. 2 seeds. Coach Mick Cronin has the Bruins (20-9) rolling right now, pulverizing Abilene Christian by 20 and cruising past Brigham Young by 11. But this will be a taller task against an SEC champion Alabama team. If UCLA’s guards – namely Johnny Juzang – can outplay ‘Bama’s, this game is winnable. Much of Syracuse’s deep run – beating San Diego State and West Virginia – has been based on the hot shooting of the coach Jim Boeheim’s son, Buddy. The marksmen has made 13 triples and poured in 55 points in two tourney games. If he’s on from beyond the arc, No. 2 seed Houston is in trouble vs. the Orange (18-9).
2. Michigan is the second No. 1 to fall. The Wolverines (22-4) are the Big Ten’s last remaining men’s team (of the nine that earned bids), and even though they were able to fend off LSU in the second round, it could be a bigger challenge getting past an athletic and lengthy Florida State team. This is the type of physical game where the loss of Isaiah Livers, Michigan’s backbone throughout the season, could be costly. FSU has a lineup that can put more pressure than usual on 7-1 Hunter Dickinson and 6-9 Franz Wagner, the team’s two stars.
3. Baylor doesn’t make it to the Final Four. The Bears (24-2) are a favorite to win the whole thing and take down undefeated Gonzaga in the national title game. Problem is, their path to get there is quite tricky. No. 5 seed Villanova isn’t at full strength with Collin Gillespie out. But the Wildcats have been sharp in their first two games and can give Baylor a real test. The legitimate threat, though, is Arkansas — assuming the Razorbacks get to the Elite Eight over Cinderella Oral Roberts. This is the type of offensive team that can stifle the Bears. Coach Eric Musselman’s Arkansas team is loaded with offensive weapons, and it will be an epic backcourt matchup between Razorbacks guards Moses Moody, JD Notae and Jalen Tate vs. Baylor guards Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell.
4. Southern California takes out Oregon and Gonzaga, reaches the Final Four. The way the Trojans (24-7) looked while drubbing Kansas by 34 points in the second round, they looked like they could beat just about any team left in the tournament. But undefeated Gonzaga – the national title favorite? It’s possible for a variety of reasons. As dominant as the ‘Zags (28-0) have been, they haven’t been tested in West Coast Conference play or the first two rounds of the NCAAs. How will Gonzaga’s Drew Timme match up against USC star Evan Mobley? The battle of the big men will be must-watch. Coach Andy Enfield has a defense that ranks fifth nationally in points allowed and will give the heavily favored Bulldogs all they can handle. There’s also the notion of pressure and player psyche. The last undefeated team that got this far, Kentucky in 2015, lost in the Final Four despite being one of coach John Calipari’s most dominant teams. What happens when Gonzaga faces its first real test?
5. Loyola Chicago cuts down the nets. The Ramblers (26-4) are no longer a Cinderella. This is a national title contending team with the nation’s best defense – limiting opponents to 55.8 points a game and leading KenPom’s efficiency ratings (86.1). The last team to hold those stats during an NCAA Tournament – Virginia – won the national title in 2019. But coach Porter Moser’s offense is no slouch, either. It’s predicated on spacing and patience from the playbook of the late coach Rick Majerus.
That slows the pace down and allows a well-disciplined half-court offense to take an up-tempo team completely out of rhythm. Cameron Krutwig (15.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 3.0 apg) is the key for Loyola Chicago to come out swinging like it did in an enormous upset of No. 1 Illinois. With a slowed pace, Loyola can beat anyone in the Midwest Region – or any remaining team Region for that matter.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: March Madness bold predictions size up the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16