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2022 March Madness Sweet 16 Picks: East, Midwest Regions


Trevion Williams, Purdue

East Region

15 Saint Peter's Peacocks vs. 3 Purdue Boilermakers (Philadelphia)

Cinderella stories are a major aspect of the thrills of March Madness and they don't get much crazier than Saint Peter's. A small, private school in New Jersey, Saint Peter's shocked the college basketball world (and decimated my bracket) by shocking Kentucky in the first round, then followed it up by beating a strong Murray State in the second. The Peacocks look to add another school to their victim list as they battle Purdue, who impressed in their win over Texas last weekend. It's obviously a tough matchup for the Peacocks; not only do they have to contend with Purdue's size, but will have to find a way to keep up with Jaden Ivey, whose impressive play has continued into March. Saint Peter's does have an interesting cast of characters that haven't shied away from any opponent so far, so they won't be intimidated in Philadelphia. Junior Daryl Banks III was the leading scorer in the regular season and went for 27 against Kentucky, but others like K.C. Ndefo and Doug Edert have stepped up in a big way. Ndefo is the heart-and-soul of the team, a do-it-all forward who can score, rebound, and defend. He averages nearly three blocks per game and will be counted on to be the team's defensive anchor. Whether coach Shaheen Holloway chooses to use him as a post defender against one of the bigs, or on the perimeter against Ivey, he'll see a bunch of minutes. Edert has become a cult hero thanks to his sharpshooting and interesting look, but his role will also be vital, as he'll have to match Purdue's abundance of shooters. While the Peacocks have a lovable cast, it pales in comparison to the weapons Matt Painter will throw at them. Zach Edey and Trevion Williams are a load to handle underneath, Ivey is an unquestioned superstar, and Sasha Stefanovic's shooting can be a real difference-maker. Purdue is also an incredibly deep team, with names like Ethan Morton and Caleb Furst able to come in and make plays off the bench. With all due respect to Saint Peter's, the second units aren't even in the same stratosphere. Frankly, neither are the starting lineups, but that doesn't mean I expect the Peacocks to fold. This team is going to battle for all forty minutes, but they simply don't have the resources necessary to keep this thing rolling. 

Purdue by twelve

8 UNC Tar Heels vs. 4 UCLA Bruins (Philadelphia)

It's been a rollercoaster of a debut season for Hubert Davis at UNC, but the Heels are still alive on the Tournament's second weekend after taking down Baylor and Marquette last week. At the core of UNC's run has been veteran Brady Manek, who went for 28 against Marquette and had 26 against Baylor before being ejected for a controversial flagrant foul. Manek has not only provided the scoring punch the Heels have missed all season, his presence on the court has opened up other areas of offense for UNC and his leadership has galvanized the team. This feels like it could be a special ending to a tremendous career for the forward, who began his career at Oklahoma and played with Trae Young. In addition to Manek, Armando Bacot continues to be a force down low and Caleb Love seems to have figured it out leading the offense after an up-and-down campaign. That trio should provide UNC with enough offense to win the game, but is the Heel defense up to the task? They're facing a UCLA team with a staggering collection of scorers, from Johnny Juzang, to Tyger Campbell, to youngster Peyton Watson. Juzang has carried over his impressive play from last March, Campbell is the perfect collegiate point guard, and Watson has taken on a larger role. The big question for UCLA is all about forward Jaime Jaquez, who has been tremendous all season but has dealt with nagging ankle problems. He had an awkward-looking turned ankle in the win over Saint Mary's which has put his future into question, but rumor is that he's battling through it. Not having Jaquez at 100 percent clearly hits the Bruins, but they still have enough offensively. On the other end, Myles Johnson has become an elite rim protector for the Bruins, while veteran Cody Riley is another holdover from the Final Four team a season ago. This game should be defined in a lot of ways by the guards with how hot both teams are shooting, but I actually think the play in the paint will be the deciding factor. Neither team really runs their offense through the post, but between two evenly matched foes, the battle on the block can be the thing that puts one team over the edge. With all due respect to Bacot, Johnson and Riley are a much better defensive combo and the Bruins have more size overall. While they still have work to do to return to their second consecutive Final Four, I think they end UNC's run here, in the battle of the "blue bloods."

UCLA by five

Midwest Region

1 Kansas Jayhawks vs. 4 Providence Friars (Chicago)

All season and leading into March, much has been made about Providence and their ability to win close games. No team in college basketball this year made a living winning games by the skin of their teeth quite like the Friars, with 16 wins by single-digit margins. There seemed to be quite a bit of public opinion out there that the luck had to die at some point, especially with Providence opening the NCAA Tournament against a flaming hot South Dakota State squad. Yet, the Friars are still alive and looking to make their first Elite Eight since 1997 under coach Pete Gillen. They'll have to overcome Kansas to do it, a team that has had a strong season, but is certainly not unbeatable. Expect the Friars to spread things out and isolate Nate Watson against David McCormack in the post, with their collection of guards attacking the Jayhawks off the bounce. Watson has been Providence's most consistent offensive weapon and will have opportunities against McCormack, who has been prone to foul trouble throughout his KU career. Al Durham, Jared Bynum, and A.J. Reeves are a gritty group of guards for the Friars who do match up well against Kansas, but to pull off an upset the shooting has to arrive at some point. Bynum shoots at a fairly decent clip but doesn't pull a lot of them, which could be an issue against a Kansas team that has a plethora of shooters, led by Christian Braun. With that being said, Braun is known as a sharpshooter, but his overall offensive growth has been one of the most underrated storylines of the college basketball season. He can run rim-to-rim, finish at the rim, and his ability to create shots for himself wasn't there early in his career. Braun alone could be the difference-maker, but expect KU to also be led by explosive guard Remy Martin and Big 12 Player of the Year Ochai Agbaji. Providence is going to play a tough and physical brand of basketball; will Kansas fold, or rise up to the challenge? It's really a mystery. Past Bill Self teams have folded in March, but I think this is a different type of team. With their edge in talent, if they can match Providence and their intensity, I think they come out on top.

Kansas by six

10 Miami Hurricanes vs. 11 Iowa State Cyclones (Chicago)

Outside of Ames and Coral Gables, I don't think there were many people predicting Iowa State-Miami meeting with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line. Yet here we are, with one of the two set to move to the Midwest Regional Finals. Iowa State went 7-11 in Big 12 play but have been terrific away from the conference, including victories over LSU and Wisconsin en route to the Sweet 16. The key has been their stingy defense; they've slowed down the game and forced opponents into difficult shots. Offensively, guards Tyrese Hunter and Gabe Kalscheur pace the Cyclones, while Izaiah Brockington is looking to get back on track after a poor shooting night against the Badgers. Hunter also struggled against the Badgers, but Kalscheur is the real X-factor. When he's on, the Cyclones are a significantly more dangerous team but he's had a knack for being streaky. The Iowa State defense doesn't block a lot of shots, but they will get their hands in passing lanes, which is going to require Miami to play smarter in this one. Luckily, veteran guard Charlie Moore is one of the best floor generals anywhere in college basketball. On his third school, Moore is the type of savvy leader you want in March and he's looking to end his lengthy college basketball career in a big way. In addition to Moore, the Hurricanes feature an abundance of dynamic guards, including Isaiah Wong, Kameron McGusty, and Jordan Miller. Iowa State will have the advantage in size, but containing the 'Canes guards over forty minutes is a tall task. 

Miami by three

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