- Duke or Syracuse? Villanova or West Virginia? Texas Tech or Purdue? Kansas or Clemson? Picking who will advance to Sunday's Elite Eight matchups.
Thursday's first set of Sweet 16 games saw three upsets as No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago and two No. 9 seeds, Kansas State and Florida State, advanced to the Elite Eight. No. 3 seed Michigan also moved on. The other half of the Elite Eight will be determined Friday night. Here's what to expect.
Midwest Region: No. 5 Clemson vs. No. 1 Kansas
Friday, 7:07 p.m., CBS
The way Clemson picked up the pieces after Donte Grantham tore his ACL is one of the most impressive feats of the 2017-18 college basketball season. The Tigers looked like a true Final Four threat with Grantham, and more than a few teams would have crumbled after losing a player of his stature. Not only did the Tigers not go in the tank, they enjoyed one of the strongest opening weekends of any of the Sweet 16 teams. With all that said, it’s hard to see how their season extends beyond Friday. As good as the Tigers looked last week, they beat 12th-seeded New Mexico State and an Auburn team that was on borrowed time. Kansas is neither a 12-seed nor a team punching above its weight. The Jayhawks have been a machine on offense most of the season, but particularly over the last six weeks. Any team that is going to beat them needs to have at least one player who can consistently get buckets himself, or create easy ones for his teammates. Kansas’ short rotations always put it at risk should someone get into foul trouble, but Grantham was the Clemson player most likely to force that issue. Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk are both shooting lights out, and Udoka Azubuike could be a real problem for Clemson’s frontcourt.
Kansas 80, Clemson 70
East Region: No. 5 West Virginia vs. No. 1 Villanova
Friday, 7:37 p.m., TBS
West Virginia-Villanova is the most intriguing matchup of the Sweet 16 round, and the battle between Jevon Carter and Jalen Brunson shapes up the best individual matchup of the weekend’s first two days of games. There’s little doubt that the Wildcats can handle the Mountaineers’ press. They rank 11th in the country in turnover rate, and Brunson is one of the most sure-handed point guards in the country. As great as he has been, though, it might be Mikal Bridges who gives the Mountaineers the most trouble. Put simply, it’s hard to see either Wesley Harris or Esa Ahamd as an effective primary defender against the future lottery pick.
West Virginia has one of the best team defenses in the country, but once Villanova gets into its sets, it has the weapons to attack the Mountaineers’ half-court defense. Bob Huggins’s team may make its name on the defensive end of the floor, but realistically, it can’t hope to shut down Villanova’s offense. If West Virginia is going to pull off the upset, Carter will have to once again show why he’s arguably the best two-way guard in the country.
Villanova 84, West Virginia 77
Midwest Region: No. 11 Syracuse vs. No. 2 Duke
Friday, 9:37 p.m., CBS
The Midwest and East Regions played much more to script than the West and South. Syracuse is the lone surprise Sweet 16 team playing on Friday and the Orange simply cannot match Duke’s top gear. If the Blue Devils are able to get out in transition with any consistency, this won’t be much of a contest. Syracuse obviously wants to figure out a way to slow this game down and turn it into a rock fight, but there’s one major problem with that strategy: Duke is likely better at that style of play, too. The Blue Devils turned their defense around once they committed to a 2-3 zone and they are now one of the best in the country on both ends of the floor. These teams played in late February, with Duke suffocating Syracuse en route to an easy 60-44 victory. It’s hard to build a case for why this meeting could be different. Syracuse may have shut down Michigan State in the second round, but the Spartans were prone to offensive lulls all season. The same cannot be said for Duke. This is the easiest game of the weekend to call.
Duke 68, Syracuse 53
East Region: No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 2 Purdue
Friday, 9:57 p.m., TBS
Isaac Haas’s elbow injury significantly changes the outlook of this game. The Boilermakers can still play their four-out, one-in offense with Matt Haarms, but he simply isn’t the scoring threat that Haas is. The Boilermakers made 11 of their 24 three-point attempts against Butler in the second round and needed every single one of them in the 76-73 win. Texas Tech, however, is a much better defensive team, ranking fourth in kenpom.com’s adjusted efficiency. The Red Raiders also have the most electric scorer in this matchup in the form of senior point guard Keenan Evans.
Games rarely come down to a singular element, but if the Red Raiders can run the Boilermakers off the three-point line, they’ll likely move on to the Elite Eight. If Purdue gets going from distance—and, remember, Carsen Edwards, Vincent Edwards, Dakota Mathias, P.J. Thompson and Ryan Cline all shoot at least 40% from behind the arc on at least 100 attempts this season—the Boilermakers will place themselves one win from the Final Four.
Purdue 75, Texas Tech 74