How do the Sweet 16 teams matchup? At least in the first 4 games tonight, pretty evenly, except for the Kentucky game. In 3 of the first 4 games, the seeding differences are just 4, 3 in the case of UNC and Wisconsin.
Kentucky (1) v West Virginia (5)
Notre Dame (3) v Wichita St. (7)
Wisconsin (1) v North Carolina (4)
Xavier (6) v. Arizona (2)
Statistically, Wichita State v Notre Dame should be the closest game. Notre Dame is one of the best offensive teams in the country and Wichita State has one of the best defensive teams in the country. Playing in Cleveland affords Notre Dame the home court advantage. Notre Dame played a much stronger schedule during the regular season, but Wichita State has played stronger teams so far in the tournament. So which team is really more battle ready? Good question. This could be the upset of the night, but not quite a Shocker.
Based on the numbers, Kentucky should blow West Virginia out of the gym. Kentucky has one of the most balanced teams in the tournament. West Virginia has the worst defensive team probably of any remaining from the Midwest and West Regions. During the regular season, they ranked 346th in defensive rebounds,and 246th in blocked shots. By contrast, Kentucky was 3rd in points allowed and 2 in blocked shots. This does not bode well for the Mountaineers who also ranked 282nd in field goal percentage. Ironically, they weren’t totally bad on offense, ranking 36th in points per game. And as horrible as they were overall as a defensive team, they excelled in one area – steals. West Virginia led the nation in steals per game. I’d like to think Bob Huggins could somehow throw Kentucky off their game, you know, find a way to steal it, but they just don’t have the weapons to compete with the Wildcats. It won’t be a blowout, but it won’t be very close either.
I don’t think Arizona and Xavier will be much of a game frankly. First, Arizona has a decisive home court advantage playing in LA. Like Kentucky, Arizona is one of the most balanced teams in the tournament. Statistically, they ranked high on offense and defense: 6th in points per game and 15th in points allowed; 13th in defensive rebounds. Xavier ranked 195th in points allowed and they blocked about as many shots per game as West Virginia did, which is to say not very many. Now admittedly, the Big East had a decent league this year, but Xavier lost to some really crappy teams in the regular season like Long Beach State, DePaul, Seton Hall and Creighton, programs that were once competitive, but are on the decline. Plus Xavier had a rather uninspiring season finishing 6th in the Big East. Now you could say, “but they are on a roll.” True, but look who they’ve played so far in the tournament – an 11 seed, Ole Miss and the 14th seeded Georgia State Panthers, the feel good but not real good team. Likewise, Arizona hasn’t been challenged either playing pitifully weak teams in Ohio State, a 10 seed and Texas Southern, a 15 seed out of the Southwest Athletic Conference. Xavier will be in it for a while, but Arizona should pull away and get the bench some playing time.
The Wisconsin North Carolina game may be the best one of the night. North Carolina has one of the best offenses in the country: 2nd in rebounds, 2nd in assists, and 17th in points per game. By contrast, Wisconsin ranks 204th in offensive rebounds, 165th in assists and 67th in points per game. It’s a wonder they won so many games this year. On the defensive end, Wisconsin is in the top 10 in points allowed, BUT they are horrible at rebounding, one of the worst teams in the country in forcing turnovers and an abysmally weak shot blocking team. The question in my mind is can the Tar Heels stop Frank Kiminisky? If UNC can shut down or limit the lanky 7 footer from Lisle, IL, to say 12 points or less, they’ll win the game handily. It won’t be an upset exactly, despite the seedings because the ACC has proven to be a much more competitive conference this year than the Big Ten with 5 teams still in play vs. the Big Ten’s scant 2 in the mix, one after tonight.
Let the #Marchmadness continue!