Thursday’s Sweet 16 Previews

Artwork by Aaron Rench. Follow him on IG @youarelookinglive

(11) Loyola Chicago vs. (7) Nevada 7:07 p.m. CBS

AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

When #11 seed Loyola Chicago squares off with #7 seed Nevada in the Sweet 16, it will be the exact same match-up that 98.7% of brackets across the country picked when the Tournament came out. Right? The Ramblers (great nickname) have been living on the edge in the tourney. First, they pulled one out of the fire against #6 seed Miami:

Then against #3 seed Tennessee, they shot the game winner on a rim that was possibly made of tissue paper, as it was the softest rim in human history:

As much as the Ramblers have been living on the edge, the Wolfpack have been even edgier(??). When head coach Eric Musselman wasn’t putting the CBS censors in a blender, he was leading his team back from huge deficits. Nevada owns the second biggest comeback of the Tournament, down 14 to Texas, and the biggest comeback of Tournament, down 22 to Cincinnati (the 2nd best defensive team in the country), with only 11:34 left in the game, no less.

Now we’ll see who has one more miracle left in them. Loyola, winners of 12 in a row, won their first Tournament game 64-62 and their second 63-62. They allow 62 pts/gm on the year. So 62 is the magic number for the Ramblers’ defense. Nevada is a (-1) favorite. *thinking emoji* Seems like a Vegas trap. Nevada’s magic runs out, as the Ramblers ramble on.

Prediction: Loyola Chicago 65 Nevada 62

(7) Texas A&M vs. (3) Michigan 7:27 p.m. TBS

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The last time out on the court, Texas A&M was busy hammering North Carolina. The team that’s ranked 3rd in the country in rebounds was doing just that- pounding the boards, outrebounding a talented rebounding Tar Heel team. That will be key in their Sweet 16 date with Michigan, as the Wolverines are ranked 277th in the country. Can the talented Aggie big men Robert Williams and Tyler Davis punish the Wolverines on the glass, creating enough second chance points to pull the upset?

Michigan has been one of the hotter teams in the country. Winners of 11 in a row, 13 of 14, not to mention the B1G Tournament, they have been getting it done against elite competition. And it doesn’t hurt to have a little destiny on your side:

The key for Michigan will be Mo Wagner. Can he knock down enough outside shots that the Aggie big men have to move out to guard him, thus opening up the lanes for driving and lessening Texas A&M rebounding advantage? With lanes open, can Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (that’s a lot of letters and hyphens!) drive and create baskets off the dribble?

Michigan is ranked 3rd in the nation in Adj Defense, Texas A&M 8th. So points will be at a premium. With points so scarce, second chance points will be critical. Vegas has the Wolverines as (-3) favorites. Looks like the wise guys are taking advantage of the public here. We’ll go against the grain with the upset.

Prediction: Texas A&M 68 Michigan 66

PS – Say what you want about Mo Wagner, but how can you not respect this:

(9) Kansas State vs. (5) Kentucky 9:37 p.m. CBS

It’s the Wildcats vs the Wild… nevermind. We have already done this but before in the first round. This region had its top 4 seeds eliminated in the first weekend of the Tournament. Both of these teams had benefited greatly from the major upsets. Kentucky avoided Pac-12 Champion Arizona in the second round, and Kansas St avoided #1 overall seed Virginia thanks to UMBC’s historic upset. However, both teams have earned the right to be here fighting for a spot in the Elite Eight.

Kentucky is a blistering 6-0 in the Sweet 16 under Coach Cal. Not bad for a team that has more turnover on its rosters each year than Xavier in the last 5 minutes vs FSU. Kentucky has the talent and size to dominate this game vs Kansas State. Point guard Gilgeous-Alexander has had one heck of a tournament so far, and completely took over the Wildcats 2nd round victory over Buffalo. Of course, Kentucky is also loaded with a few other playmakers in Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo.

Kansas State’s run has been surprising to many given that their leading scorer and best player, Dean Wade has been sidelined with a foot injury. The Wildcats used its great defense to suffocate their first two opponents of the tournament, giving up just 59 points to Creighton, and 43 points to UMBC (yes the same UMBC club that put up 54 points vs Virginia… in a half). Wade is probable to return vs Kentucky, which could provide the offensive spark they need to pull off the upset.

Kentucky has so much length and size, that it makes it hard to pick against them. With defense being fairly even between these two teams, we are going to with Kentucky strictly based on the offensive firepower they possess.

Prediction: Kentucky 77 Kansas St 68

(9) Florida State vs. (4) Gonzaga 9:59 p.m. TBS

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

For the fourth straight year, Gonzaga finds itself in the Sweet 16. Last year they made it all the way to the championship game. For Gonzaga to get there again, they must beat a veteran led Florida State team. The Zags road to the Sweet 16 has been dramatic. They survived an opening round scare from UNC-Greensboro, and they had to comeback and win after giving up a big lead vs Ohio State in the Round of 32.

Gonzaga has a multitude of playmakers including Pypeline’s favorite Killian “Dilly, Dilly!” Tillie. Florida State has a lot of depth and Leonard Hamilton uses 11 players in his rotation. It is key for Gonzaga’s big three of Jonathan Williams, Josh Perkins, and Zach Norvell Jr to stay out of foul trouble, as the Seminoles will look to play physical and fast.

For Florida State, this season has already been a huge success. They lost three NBA players from last year’s uber talented squad, and have made their first Sweet 16 since 2011. In the opening round, they stopped perennial NBA lottery pick, Michael Porter Jr, and in the round of 32 beat the #1 seed in the region in Xavier. The Seminoles are led by a multitude of players, Phil Cofer, Braian Angola, Terrance Mann, and have two 7-footers down low that can wreak havoc on opposing offenses.

This should be a fun physical game. Florida State has found just enough offense so far in this tournament to advance, but we like Gonzaga to win a nail biter with Mr. Tillie leading the way.

Prediction: Gonzaga 71 Florida State 65