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2022 March Madness Sweet 16 Picks: West, South Regions

Paolo Banchero, Duke


West Region

1 Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. 4 Arkansas Razorbacks (San Francisco)

After getting all they could handle from Memphis in the second round, No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga is hoping for smoother sailing as they embark on the NCAA Tournament's second weekend. They'll face off with the fourth-seeded Arkansas Razorbacks, who didn't look dominant in their two victories but still managed to fend off 13-seed Vermont and 12-seed New Mexico State. From the opening tip, expect a furious pace to this game; both these teams have excellent guards and the Bulldogs play at a blistering tempo. The Razorbacks are led by a backcourt that is highlighted by top scorer J.D. Notae, but also includes Chris Lykes, Au'Diese Toney, Stanley Umude, and Devo Davis. None are particularly elite shooters, although Umude hits about 38% from three, but they instead look for offense in transition and attacking the rim. It's a strategy that has worked well on the season, but how successful is it going to be against a Gonzaga frontline that includes Chet Holmgren? You have to think Arkansas is going to want to get Holmgren in foul trouble early and work from there, but the freshman is fairly disciplined on the defensive end for his age. The Bulldogs should be able to match the Arkansas backcourt in terms of skill, although they don't quite have the depth, unless freshmen Nolan Hickman and Hunter Sallis continue to see their roles expand. Andrew Nembhard is one of the best floor generals anywhere in the nation, and he's flanked by two capable veterans in Rasir Bolton and Julian Strawther. However, the clear advantage the Bulldogs possess over the Razorbacks? Size down low. It's not just Holmgren, but also Drew Timme and Anton Watson. Timme was the clear best player on the floor in the win against Memphis and is a matchup nightmare, while Watson and Holmgren have different skill sets but are capable complementary pieces offensively. Arkansas can counter with Jaylin Williams, who has had a breakout year on the block, but he's really the only true "big" that plays regular minutes for this team. Watching 7'3" behemoth Connor Vanover go up against Holmgren and company would have been a real treat, but Vanover hasn't played since mid-January and won't be suiting up for this one. I'm sure Eric Musselman will be creative with how he chooses to shield this potential weakness, but it's such a glaring advantage for Gonzaga it's hard to ignore. Sure, in a fast-paced game that is played the whole court and rarely in the halfcourt, Arkansas can compete. But, picking them over the 'Zags seems like unwise territory to wade into at this point.

Gonzaga by ten

2 Duke Blue Devils vs. 3 Texas Tech Red Raiders (San Francisco)

One of the best parts of March Madness is seeing two polar opposites compete on the same court. Beyond the obvious "David vs. Goliath" narratives when a top seed plays a high seed, there's often matchups behind programs that are vastly different, or play a completely different brand of basketball. Such is the case in this game between Duke and Texas Tech. On one side, you have one of college basketball's blue blood programs, led by a legendary head coach and trio of star freshmen. On the other, you have a Texas Tech program that spent years in basketball purgatory before a recent run of success, coached by a 65-year old on just his second Division I head coaching gig and a host of older players, most of whom are transfers. It's a true clash of program identities, and they also play quite different. Duke is going to want to play up-tempo and score in a hurry. They have a do-it-all low post presence in Paolo Banchero, a sharpshooter in A.J. Griffin, and Trevor Keels, who looks more like a linebacker than guard. There are supporting veterans on the team, but this is a team defined by their freshmen trio; where they go, so do the Blue Devils. When the trio is playing well, this is probably the best team in the nation. When they're not, the offense is incredibly stagnant and Duke doesn't have the pieces defensively to come out on top. Texas Tech leans heavily on an elite defense and an offense that gets the vast majority of their points at the rim. Don't expect much three-pointers to be attempted from the Red Raiders, they're looking to play downhill and attack the basket. They certainly don't have the big name stars the Blue Devils have, although Bryson Williams, Terrance Shannon Jr., and Kevin Obanor have proven to be a capable threesome. I do wonder how successful this offensive strategy is going to be against Duke. While the Blue Devils aren't a great defensive team they do have size down low and an elite shot-blocker in Mark Williams. This is not going to be a team that Tech is able to beat into submission as they've become accustomed to in the Big 12. No, I actually think this is a bad matchup for the Red Raiders, who I originally picked to come out of the West Region. They didn't look reassuring in a close win over Notre Dame and you could argue they got away with a bunch of missed foul calls. That is not going to be the case against Coach K and Duke, who should be able to match their physicality and also get to the line. I still think it should be a good one, but the Gonzaga-Duke rematch has been building for awhile and who am I to pick against it?

Duke by five

South Region

2 Villanova Wildcats vs. 11 Michigan Wolverines (San Antonio)

It's hard to consider a program like Michigan a "Cinderella," but there's no denying the team fits the billing up to this point. They barely made it into the Field of 68 before upsetting a rock-solid Colorado State team, then toppling a Final Four favorite in Tennessee. They're hoping to keep on rolling against two-seed Villanova in a rematch of the 2018 National Championship Game. While past Jay Wright-coached Villanova teams have become known for eloquent, fun-to-watch offenses, this group doesn't quite fit. It's a slow-paced offense that is engineered mainly by lead guard Collin Gillespie backing down defenders and dishing out or getting the ball to the rim. It's been effective, there's not much denying, but this Wildcat team isn't going to be mistaken for some of the past diverse and versatile teams Wright has led. Gillespie will keep things churning, but it's always a mystery who will step up alongside him. Caleb Daniels and Justin Moore have been the most consistent offensive weapons, but keep an eye on Brandon Slater, who has been awfully quiet in the Tournament so far but has the skill set to cause the Michigan defense some headaches. The Wolverines have been able to win two games thanks in large part to the play of Eli Brooks and Hunter Dickinson, but also improved play from youngsters like Caleb Houstan and Frankie Collins. Collins is going to be a fascinating watch; he had a tremendous showing against Colorado State but will see his role diminished now that DeVante' Jones is fully healthy. Even so, I think Michigan is going to need someone to pick up the pace and provide some energy to this offense, whether it's off the bench or not. He can do that, and this Michigan offense is going to need it. While they've been shooting much better over the last several weeks than most of the season, it's still not a great offensive team. Dickinson can only do so much on the block and Brooks has a versatile game, but the Wolverines are still going to need more help from their supporting cast against a strong Villanova defense. You've got to believe that alone, along with Gillespie's presence, makes 'Nova the smarter pick here. Yet, something tells me Michigan's run is not over just yet. The question on this team has never been talent, but whether it can all come together right. It seems to be gelling together at the right time and while Villanova is a good basketball team, they're definitely beatable. I like Juwan Howard and the Wolverines to keep it going and reach their second straight Elite Eight.

Michigan by three

1 Arizona Wildcats vs. 5 Houston Cougars (San Antonio)

Much like Gonzaga, Arizona got all they could handle from TCU in the second round and now face a perilous test in the Sweet 16. The Wildcats deserve credit for holding off the Horned Frogs no matter what you think about the potential missed call in the closing seconds, but Houston is quite the test. Kelvin Sampson's team went to the Final Four just last year and followed it up with another season of AAC superiority. In order to move on to the Elite Eight, Arizona will once again need magic from Pac-12 Player of the Year Bennedict Mathurin. Mathurin is a slippery scorer whose mix of athleticism and shooting touch makes him a real pain for defenders. He's a tough matchup, even for a Houston team with a lot of capable defenders in their backcourt. In addition to Mathurin, Arizona features an imposing big on the block in Christian Koloko, a talented swingman in Azuolas Tubelis, and a tremendous shooter in Kerr Kriisa. Koloko had a big game in the second round and has been improving each every game, but the X-factor is Kriisa. He suffered a grotesque-looking sprained ankle in the Pac-12 Tournament and hasn't been 100 percent since. He played fine in the win over TCU, but the Wildcats really need his leadership, ball handling, and shooting if they want to continue on their run. As for Houston, the Cougars deserve a bunch of credit for advancing to the second weekend despite losing arguably their two best players, Tramon Mark and Marcus Sasser. Former Texas Tech transfer Kyler Edwards has stepped up in a huge way, as has Jamal Shead, who went for 18 in the win over Illinois. The Cougars have the size to counter Arizona with Fabian White and Josh Carlton underneath, and they play a tough, hard-nosed brand of basketball that's tough even if you're prepared for it. With all that being said, I think this is where Houston's run comes to an end. They deserve all the credit for getting a good Illinois team undermanned, but that was their first NCAA Tournament win against a single-digit seed in four decades (they didn't beat one on their Final Four run last spring). Doing that two games in a row, against an Arizona team that should be well-prepped and ready for a fight, is too much for the Cougars.

Arizona by six

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