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Sweet 16 Picks: South Region, West Region

Devonte' Graham
South Region

1 Kansas Jayhawks vs. 5 Maryland Terrapins
Before the year began, it looked as though a Kansas Jayhawks-Maryland Terrapins meeting in the NCAA Tournament would be a Final Four battle, if not a National Championship Game. But, the Terrapins underachieved throughout a large portion of the season, with the lowpoint coming in a loss to Minnesota, who was winless in the conference at this point. Though, Maryland was able to overcome two upset-minded teams in South Dakota State and Hawaii, to face a flaming hot Kansas team in the Sweet 16. Talent-wise both teams match up extremely well; the Jayhawks have a talented backcourt of Frank Mason, Devonte' Graham and Perry Ellis underneath, while the Terps bring Melo Trimble, Rasheed Sulaimon, Jake Layman and big men Robert Carter and Diamond Stone to the equation. The difference in the game is the Jayhawks' experience and depth, with guys like Svi Mykhailuk, Brannen Greene, Carlton Bragg and Chieck Diallo able to come in off the bench. That should give them a major advantage in crunch time, and it is hard to imagine the Terrapins can keep up with the playmaking of Graham, Wayne Selden and the versatile Ellis for a full 40 minutes. However, it would be foolish to believe Maryland won't give Kansas one heck of a fight. The Jayhawks don't have a lot of big men that can counteract Stone and Carter's power down low. The power of those big men can open up space for the Terrapins' plethora of shooters, mainly Layman and Sulaimon, who are both deadly when they get going. It definitely has not been an ideal year in College Park for Maryland, but this team could very well give Kansas a major challenge. They'll have to play great defense and get some help from their big guys in order to hand the Jayhawks their first loss since late January. It won't be easy though, and this Kansas team has the look of a Championship team.
Kansas by seven

2 Villanova Wildcats vs. 3 Miami Hurricanes
Villanova's struggles in March have been well-documented. Ever since a 2009 Final Four trip, Jay Wright's Wildcats have struggled on the grand stage, including an uninspiring performance as a No. 1 seed last year, losing on the first weekend to NC State. A second-round thumping of seven-seeded Iowa didn't completely erase the questions about the program, but it did give Villanova serious momentum as they entered a Sweet 16 meeting with a solid Miami squad. The first order of business for the Wildcats will be containing the Hurricanes' talented backcourt of Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan. McClellan and Rodriguez, both transfers, have cut down on turnovers and mistakes and given Miami an up-tempo, efficient attack. Expect Villanova to counteract with senior Ryan Arcidiacono, Jalen Brunson and underrated Josh Hart, in what could turn out to be a three-point contest. I think this game will be decided not by the backcourts though, but by the big guys on the block. Daniel Ochefu has had some beastly moments this season for the Wildcats, but Tonye Jekiri is tough to handle, and has become more of a two-way player. Miami will also bring forward Kamari Murphy to the equation, a master shot blocker who does work on the boards. With the size and length of Jekiri and Murphy, it may be very tough for 'Nova to get effective play in the paint, and no matter how great they play on the outside, that is going to leave them very vulnerable. The addition of Brunson as a second point guard to Arcidiacono has made Villanova more balanced, but the Wildcats may just not have enough grit and toughness to hang with the Hurricanes, even after a long rest. Miami head coach Jim Larranaga could have his best team yet in Coral Gables, and they could get him back to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2006, when his George Mason squad made their miraculous run to the Final Four.
Miami by ten

West Region

1 Oregon Ducks vs. 4 Duke Blue Devils
Talk about an interesting matchup: this West Region semifinal pits two programs that are nearly polar opposites in just about everything. East Coast vs. West Coast, traditional powerhouse vs. rising program, smart, guard-orientated basketball vs. athletic, aggressive basketball, etc. One thing that does not differ between the two is winning. The Ducks rose to a No. 1 seed late in the year and managed to sneak past St. Joseph's this past weekend, while Duke rose above UNC-Wilmington and Yale, who of course upset Baylor. The reigning champs may be undermanned (Blue Devils usually only play seven, due to Amile Jefferson's injury), and that may put them at a disadvantage from the get-go, particularly considering how fast and tireless Oregon does like to play. But, those seven are some terrific basketball players. Controversial Grayson Allen is an incredible athlete and has proven he can take over in March, while lengthy forward Brandon Ingram is my pick to the No. 1 overall selection in this year's NBA Draft. Oregon really lacks guards that can defend very well, and it will be interesting to see how Coach K, who is so good as analyzing weaknesses and attacking them, plans to play. The strength for Oregon is their frontcourt, which includes Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, Chris Boucher and Elgin Cook, all forwards. Brooks and Dorsey can handle the ball and step outside, while Boucher and Cook are not only glass-eaters, but terrific defenders in the low post. Outside of Marshall Plumlee and the sparingly-played Chase Jeter, Duke does not have any true big men. Having to deal with Boucher and Cook, plus the versatile Brooks for an entire game will be difficult to contend with and may force Duke to utilize their outside shooting. Dana Altman has done a great job with this Oregon program, and they have the size and strength to just simply overpower Duke. If the Blue Devils were fully healthy and had say, two more bigs, they would easily be my pick. Unfortunately, they are just too overmanned and the Ducks should feast on that weakness.
Oregon by five

2 Oklahoma Sooners vs. 3 Texas A&M Aggies
Texas A&M simply should not be here, but that is March for you. The Aggies were down ten points with 45 seconds left against a good Northern Iowa team that shoots very well from the free throw line, in what was shaping up to be a relatively unexciting second round clash. Instead, UNI suffered one of the worst collapses in tournament history, and the Aggies roll on to a clash with the Oklahoma Sooners and the nation's best player, Buddy Hield. Hield led the charge to a victory over VCU the past weekend, and it will be interesting to see who Texas A&M rolls out to defend him. It is going to be tough to match his power, size and ability to get down into the paint, or his quick shooting stroke. Oklahoma will also present Isiah Cousins, Jordan Woodard and youthful Christian James, all who could challenge a pretty limited Aggies' backcourt. Though, the real battle in this game, like many others in March, could come down to the battle down low. Tyler Davis and Jalen Jones will square off against Khadeem Lattin and Ryan Spangler in what could be a very interesting matchup. Spangler is not much of a true big man, and Lattin will have his work cut out for him against the freshman Davis, who is an absolute beast. Neither team is very deep in the frontcourt either, which could make it a very lengthy battle between the two sides. Personally, I never love jump-shooting teams in March, and Oklahoma is definitely one. It is a real possibility Hield, Cousins and Woodard could go ice-cold, and the Sooners don't have enough elsewhere to manage a win if that happens. Plus, Danuel House and company are on fire, and the Aggies will be eager to prove they belong. However, it is hard to bet against Hield and Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger. Kruger does a terrific job of keeping his team poised and calm, (A&M will not encounter another last-minute meltdown in this one) and they are good enough late in games to sneak out a close victory.
Oklahoma by three

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