5 bold predictions for the Sweet 16

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As we enter into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, we've had our fair share of surprises, though many of the teams which have made it here might be considered 'chalk' for a lot of people. UCLA and N.C. State seem to be the biggest surprises, though more than a few brackets probably lost some points to Wichita State and Michigan State.

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5 bold predictions for the Sweet 16

Wichita State will beat Notre Dame

Here’s a straight up prediction, how bold it is might depend on how much you believe in the Shockers.

Wichita State has been on my radar since they pounded Seton Hall last fall. Now, conference meltdowns aside, Seton Hall was playing well at the time and while I didn’t actually think they could go on the road to beat Wichita State, I came away impressed with what the eventual regular season Missouri Valley Conference Champions could do.

Aside from what I saw this season, the way the Shockers have been playing in the NCAA Tournament has been impressive and they look like a bad matchup for Notre Dame, which hasn’t been playing very good basketball in the tournament so far.

The Fighting Irish squeaked by Butler, while Wichita State decimated Kansas in the second half. While Wichita State is averaging 79.5 points per game, the Fighting Irish are totaling just 68 a game. While it’s only a two game sample in both cases, it’s also a huge gap.

Of course, the flipside of this is that Notre Dame has held their opponents to an even lower average, right? I don’t expect that to continue, not against a Shockers team which had all five starters reach double-digits against a good Kansas team, including Tekele Cotton who is much better known for his defense than his offense.

The more dangerous shooters are guys like Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker and Darius Carter. VanVleet has been especially hot, hitting 27 points against Indiana and 17 against Kansas.

Notre Dame can play tough defense and we’ve seen some good things from them. You don’t get to the Sweet 16 by collecting bottle caps, so you know they’re for real. However, the tournament has not shown them at their best.

In the last game against Butler, Notre Dame turned the ball over 13 times, which led to 12 points off those turnovers and they allowed the Bulldogs 11 second chance points. They were also outscored in the paint, 32-24.

Even in the win over Northeastern, Notre Dame had issues. Both teams scored 42 of their points from the paint, but while Notre Dame only turned the ball over 7 times they were out-rebounded 33-17.

While by no means a sure thing, it seems to me as if the Shockers are in place for another victory Thursday night.

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Michigan State will upset Oklahoma

It seems like March is the best time to be a Spartan basketball player, as Tom Izzo’s teams seem to come alive in the tournament.

According to the Chicago Tribune’s Teddy Greenstein, Izzo is 13-1 in the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament, only losing in 2007 to No. 1 seed North Carolina (at Winston-Salem). Greenstein points out that Izzo already has made six Final Fours in his 20 seasons in East Lansing and that his teams have qualified for 18 consecutive NCAA tournaments, going 44-16 in the Big Dance.

As Greenstein puts it, shame on anyone who doubted their ability to take down Virginia in the last round.

Oklahoma is a tough test though. They feature a great perimeter offense with Isaiah Cousins (15 points in two games), Jordan Woodard (24) and Buddy Heild (30) and a very solid duo to play in the paint in Ryan Spangler (15) and TaShawn Thomas (27).

In order to win, Michigan State has to play tough defense. Lucky for them, that’s been the hallmark of their game so far.

The Spartans have held the line against both Virginia and Georgia. The Bulldogs had been shooting 43 percent from the floor this season, but Michigan State allowed just 33 percent of their shots to score.  Meanwhile the Virginia Cavaliers had landed 45 percent of their shots from the field, but Michigan State shut that nonsense down, holding them to just 29 percent of their shots.

This seems like a matter of a hot defensive team playing a stifling type of basketball which should give the Sooners fits.

Of course, the Spartans need to score as well, but that also hasn’t really been an issue for them in the tournament. But since Oklahoma has put up 69 points against Albany and 72 against Dayton, it will come back to defense for Izzo’s team.

(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

NC State beats Louisville again

Another upset? Sure, why not?

After all, we’ve seen this game before. Back in November, N.C. State traveled to play Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center (really?) and handed the Cardinals a 74-65 loss.

Of course, it’s about more than a win back in the regular season, but you can take that win as a healthy reminder that Louisville can be beat, even by a lowly 8 seed.

The Wolfpack has already taken down a high seed in Villanova, and they looked like they outclassed the Wildcats and they dominated them at the glass, ending up with a 45-32 advantage in rebounds.

That’s one of the ways they beat Louisville the first time as well, out-working them at the glass, 47-37. Overall, the Wolfpack won the game inside, scoring 32 points in the paint compared to 16 by the Cardinals.

Back in more recent times, N.C. State held Villanova largely in check as well, as aside from a monumental day by Darrun Hilliard (27 points), the Wildcats’ offense was strangled, with only JayVaughn Pinkston in double-digits for scoring and Villanova held to just 31 percent shooting from the floor.

Nova, which had been solid from 3-point range all season, also fell on its face from long range, going just 9-for-28. They were outrebounded (39-29), and out-scored inside by a ridiculous margin, 34-14.

All this paints a picture of a streaking Wolfpack team which is poised to replicate what they did to Louisville the first time around.

Yes, it’s hard to beat the same team twice, but the way N.C. State is playing and the fact that it’s not at Louisville (where the Wolfpack won anyway) make the outcome point towards a Wolfpack Elite 8 appearance.

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

West Virginia’s Devin Williams will have a huge game

It still won’t make a difference in the end, but Devin Williams is going to put up some great numbers against Kentucky.

Williams has to have the game of his life to make this a close affair. I think it’s going to be a lot closer than many expect, even if the outcome isn’t one anyone but Kentucky fans and gamblers might be happy about.

West Virginia manhandled Maryland with a fierce press defense which forced the Terrapins into 21 turnovers, including 8 by Dez Wells, who had been a rock upon which this team was built. Wells also struggled to find his stroke and ended the night with just 9 points.

That defense—along with 14 points off free throws—helped lead the Mountaineers to victory, and Williams’ double-double (16 points and 10 rebounds) and his size (6’9”, 255 lbs) were key components to the success.

So expect a lot of Williams Thursday night, as the Mountaineers will rely on him to use his size in the battle for rebounds, inside points and overall defense.

Williams ability to rebound will be especially important on the offensive glass, as Kentucky gives up so few open looks and quality shots that any opportunity at second-chance points is a necessity. It’s going to fall on Williams' shoulders to use his size and physicality to get those second chances.

Williams is a real matchup issue for the Wildcats because while they do have taller players, only Karl-Anthony Townes is close to Williams’ size.

The problem—and the reason Williams will do well but it won’t be enough—is that Townes has been outstanding as well and if he can stick on Williams, he could slow Williams down. He could certainly limit Williams impact to just himself and keep Williams from moving the ball to teammates for better shots.

And ultimately, while West Virginia will play hard and Bob Huggins is 8-2 versus Kentucky’s coach John Calipari, that and Kentucky’s overall depth of talent will prove too much for the Mountaineers.

So, yes, Williams will have an outstanding day.

It just won’t get capped off with a huge upset and an Elite 8 berth.

(Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Utah’s Dallin Bachynski will shut down Duke’s Jahlil Okafor

Some of you will feel this pushes the whole ‘reasonable prediction’ narrative we have going on here, but give me a minute to explain.

While Utah has played well and Duke has had a bit of a soft schedule so far (no offense to Robert Morris and San Diego State, but come on), this is a game I fully expect Duke to win.

They’re just going to do it without their freshman beast.

Okafor is unreal and his presence inside is disastrous for other teams, so the Utes (did you say Utes?) will focus on him and shutting him down. Dallin Bachynski is their best chance of doing that and I suspect he will be doing everything he can to stop Okafor.

For the most part, I believe he will be successful. Not only is Bachynski a fantastic defender, be also finds ways to draw fouls with regularity. So his success will come in more than just slowing down Okafor’s scoring—he’s likely to get the big man into some foul trouble as well.

And if he can do it early enough, he might get Okafor off the court for a while.

The problem for Utah—and what will probably cost them the game—is that even if Okafor goes down, Duke has enough weapons to put up plenty of points anyway.

That doesn’t change the problems Bachynski can cause Okafor, just that it might not change the outcome of the game. The rest of the Utes need to step up in a big way as well.

However, if Bachynski doesn’t shut down Okafor, this game will be over by halftime.

With Bachynski shutting down Okafor, though, this game will probably be tighter than Blue Devils fans would like, even if it ends in their favor.

(Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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I was happy to ride the Shocker Bandwagon this far and have thought the Spartans were being underrated but patting myself on the back doesn't make up for missing the boat on the Bruins and relying on Villanova not to choke, which they did.

I've put together some predictions for this next round of games, with an eye towards the details, and while trying to make whatever I've typed look sane. So despite these being 'bold predictions' I'm not picking against Kentucky just to be 'bold' because 'bold' doesn't mean 'ridiculous.'

That's not to say West Virginia can't beat Kentucky-just that after looking at all the details around that game I couldn't talk myself into one I found probable.

With that as my baseline (let's try and keep it smart was the tagline over bagels this morning), I tried to look not just at who might win or lose but who will play well both as a team or individually. 'Bold' is a relative word (some of you will think everything is and others will think nothing is) but I tried to take the road less traveled, assuming that road wasn't one I needed to talk myself into 'just because.'

So these predictions cover everything -- some are upsets, some are not, some are performances and some are team performances.

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