The world of College Basketball has been turned upside down this month. Sure, there are Cinderella teams every year, but no one could’ve predicted the stunning results we’ve seen so far. That of course was headlined by the most colossal upset in the history of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament with the first ever No. 16 seed advancing as UMBC shocked the University of Virginia, 74-54 last Friday night in Charlotte.
Sure, there are still a few of the ‘blueblood’ programs left with Duke, Kansas and Kentucky – a tradition-rich trio with a combined 16 National Championships. Yet, nine of the top 16 seeds when the tournament began are gone.
Even though all three colleges from the state of Virginia that qualified for this year’s NCAA Tournament – top-seeded UVA, Virginia Tech and Radford – were bounced before the Round of 32, there still remains some Virginia flavor in March Madness.
It’s time to reset the bracket with the Sweet 16 set to get underway on Thursday.
Below, we’ll highlight the matchups, and now given a second chance, we’ll attempt to project who reaches the Final Four set for April 2nd in San Antonio.
#9 Kansas State (24-11) vs. #5 Kentucky (26-10) – Coach Bruce Weber of Kansas State has made a deep tournament run before, guiding Illinois to the National Championship game in 2005 before falling to North Carolina. But the Wildcats of K-State could be without one of their best players in Dean Wade for a third straight game. Kentucky poses plenty of challenges as they are +30 in the paint and +14 in fast-break points in this tourney while shooting 76.4% from the foul line – nearly 14% better than K-State (62.8%).
VA Connection – One of Kentucky’s top reserves is 6’10” forward/center Sacha Killeya-Jones, who starred at Virginia Episcopal in Lynchburg. Killeya-Jones originally committed to UVA before backing out of his commitment and signing with the Wildcats.
Pick – Kentucky 74-62
#11 Loyola-Chicago (30-5) vs. #7 Nevada (29-7) – Two of the tourney’s darlings square off when Loyola and Nevada get together, both trailing late in the second half of both of their wins to reach the Sweet 16. Sister Jean, the 98-year-old team chaplain for Loyola, has captivated the country. Nevada features five transfers in its starting lineup, including twins Cody and Caleb Martin formerly of NC State, as they’ve rallied from deficits of 22 points against defensive-minded Cincinnati and 14 points versus Texas in an overtime thriller.
VA Connection – On the Nevada staff is Brandon Chambers, a former assistant coach at Paul VI Catholic in Fairfax.
Pick – Nevada 70-67
#9 Florida State (22-11) vs. #4 Gonzaga (32-4) – This is the first ever between these two schools. Gonzaga is the only team still alive that reached last year’s Final Four. Florida State erased a 12-point second half deficit to stun top-seeded Xavier. Leonard Hamilton’s Seminoles have depended on their bench, which has produced 85 points in the past two games compared to just 57 from their starters. They can’t get afford to get too far behind against Gonzaga, which got 25 points from sub Rui Hachimura in the last round against Ohio State.
Pick – Gonzaga 78-66
#3 Michigan (30-7) vs. #7 Texas A&M (22-12) – It took an improbable three-pointer at the buzzer from freshman Jordan Poole to lift the Wolverines past Houston, 64-63 in the last round. Amazingly enough, Poole had almost an identical game-winner when he played in High School.
Jordan Poole once hit almost the exact same shot in high school.
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 18, 2018
Michigan will need some hot shooting to offset the 6’10” twin towers of Tyler Davis and Robert Williams, who enabled the Aggies to out-rebound UNC and Providence by a combined 94-62 margin. So far, the Wolverines have as many rebounds as their opponents in the tourney.
Pick – Texas A&M 75-70 (OT)
#1 Kansas (29-7) vs. #5 Clemson (25-9) – No one had a bigger margin of victory in the second round of the tourney than Clemson, which thumped Auburn 84-53. Their 25-2 advantage in fast-break points in the last two wins may not translate against a Kansas team that thrives in transition. The Jayhawks, who got 29 points from Devonte’ Graham in an opening round win over Penn and 28 points from Malik Newman in their second round triumph over Seton Hall, have scored 35 points off turnovers in the past two contests.
VA Connection – The Tigers feature the lone Hampton Roads player left in the tourney, former Nansemond River High standout Scott Spencer, who was quite excited celebrating during their rout of those other Tigers, from Auburn (see tweet below).
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 19, 2018
Pick – Kansas 75-68
#11 Syracuse (23-13) vs. #2 Duke (28-7) – The two coaches with more wins than any others in the history of Men’s College Basketball go head-to-head when Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke squad takes on Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse team. Both teams have relied on stifling zone defenses to get to this point, but the difference could be Duke’s outside shooting with Grayson Allen, Travon Duval and Gray Trent Jr. on the perimeter to complement the freshmen inside tandem of Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter, two potential NBA lottery draft picks. The Blue Devils have made 23 three-pointers in their two NCAA Tournament wins.
VA Connection – There are a couple in this game, naturally with it being a matchup of ACC rivals. On Syracuse’s roster is 6’5″ junior guard Frank Howard, who was rated a Top 100 recruit in the nation while at Paul VI Catholic in Fairfax. To date, he’s averaging 14.6 points, 4.7 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game for the Orange. Meanwhile, Duke counters with 6’10” sophomore forward Javin DeLaurier, a native of the Charlottesville area that attended St. Anne’s-Belfield. DeLaurier is pitting up 4.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per game as one of the primary front-court reserves on a talent-laden Blue Devils roster.
Pick – Duke 61-53
#1 Villanova (32-4) vs. #5 West Virginia (26-10) – Jay Wright’s Wildcats won the National Championship two years ago and there are still some components from that team on this squad. It’ll be a battle of wills against West Virginia, known for their in-your-face, full-court pressing style, led by the nation’s leader in steals in Jevon Carter. Villanova became the sixth team in NCAA Division I history to hit over 400 three-pointers in a season when they beat Radford, then they drained 17 3’s in an 81-58 blowout of Alabama.
Pick – Villanova 74-72
#3 Texas Tech (26-9) vs. #2 Purdue (30-6) – Senior guard Keenan Evans of Texas Tech decided to pull his name out of the NBA Draft pool last year and return for his senior season. The Red Raiders are sure glad he did as he’s been one of the tourney’s best players with 45 points on 58.3% shooting through two victories. Purdue was able to squeeze by in-state rival Butler, 76-73, in the last round despite the absence of 7’2″ senior center Isaac Haas, their second leading scorer out with a fractured elbow.
Pick – Texas Tech 68-64
Hatfield’s NEW Final Four:
Kentucky over Texas A&M; Duke over Villanova
Duke over Kentucky in the Championship