After an opening weekend that did not see many upsets, the NCAA is ready for the Sweet 16. This round will feature plenty of good matchups, which includes some great one-on-one battles. What are the key matchups for the Sweet 16?
1 Duke vs. 4. Virginia Tech: R.J. Barrett vs. Nickeil Alexander-Walker
The headlines for this game will surround Zion Williamson, but the key matchup will be Alexander-Walker going up against Barrett. While they may not guard each other, both have key roles to play.
Barrett is also one of the best players in this 2019 NBA Draft class, but his play needs to be great for Duke to get to the Final Four. Teams are collapsing into the paint when Williamson gets the ball and leaving shooters open. Williamson will still put up numbers, but his supporting cast needs to help. With that, Barrett needs to knock down shots and move the ball to find the open man. If Duke loses, it will be because of Barrett taking bad shots, or because of the team missing a lot of perimeter shots.
Alexander-Walker is Virginia Tech’s leading scorer and will need to get to the basket. If he can get Williamson in foul trouble, it could really change the game. Even if he can’t, his ability to get to the basket should allow for shooters to get open. As Virginia Tech’s best NBA prospect, Alexander-Walker will get his chance to go up against a few future pros on Duke.
2. Michigan State vs. 3. LSU: Cassius Winston vs.Tremont Waters
Winston is one of the best passers and shooters in college basketball and will have a big-time matchup in this game. He’ll need to score, pass and play defense well for Michigan State to advance. The most important thing for Winston though, is to take care of the ball, as he has been turnover-prone in the past.
LSU has a solid point guard of their own in Tremont Waters. He hit a clutch shot for LSU to beat Maryland and is great with the ball in his hands. Waters leads the team in scoring and assists, but can really help LSU win the game by forcing turnovers. He leads the team with three per game.
1. Gonzaga vs. 4. Florida State: Brandon Clarke vs. Mifondu Kabengele
Clarke has been an often overlooked player, but he is an integral player for Gonzaga. He has more blocked shots than missed shots this season. His play has been great, but this game will provide a stiff test for him. Florida State has size and a lot of depth that he’ll have to deal with for Gonzaga to win the game.
Kabengele plays just 21.4 minutes per game, but leads the team in scoring. He also is a solid rebounder and can block shots. In this game, he will have a couple of formidable opponents to go up against in Clarke and Killian Tillie. If he plays well and can limit them, they will likely win the game.
2. Michigan vs. 3. Texas Tech: Ignas Brazdeikis vs. Jarrett Culver
Brazdeikis has been the leading scorer for the Wolverines this season. He’ll need to have a good shooting night against a great Texas Tech defense for Michigan to be able to advance. He is shooting 40.6% from deep and his shooting will stretch the Red Raider defense.
The Red Raiders have a star player in Culver, who should be a lottery pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Culver is also the team leader in points, rebounds and assists. The Texas Tech defense will do its part, but Culver needs to make sure the offense is producing against a good Michigan defense.
1. Virginia vs. 12. Oregon: Ty Jerome vs. Payton Pritchard
While he may not be the best player on the Cavaliers, Jerome is the point guard. He rankes third on the team in scoring, but he leads the team in both assists and steals. His matchup with Payton Pritchard will likely decide the game.
Pritchard is the unquestioned leader of the Ducks. With Bol Bol out, Pritchard has led the Ducks in every major statistical category, except for rebounds and blocks. Against a tough Virginia defense, Pritchard will have to do a bit of everything to help pull off the upset.
2. Tennessee vs. 3. Purdue: Jordan Bone vs Carsen Edwards
Bone has been a great point guard for the Volunteers this season. He is averaging 13.6 points and 6.0 assists per game. Not only will he be tasked with running the offense, but he’ll also have the difficult task of shutting down the red-hot Edwards.
So far, Edwards has arguably been the player of the tournament. In the opening round he scored 26 points and in the second round against Villanova, Edwards finished with 42 points. Against Tennessee, he’ll need to get his teammates involved as he will likely be the focal point of their gameplan.
1. UNC vs. 5. Auburn: Cameron Johnson vs. Bryce Brown
Johnson is a sharpshooter who knocks down over 46% from three-point range. In a game that should be an up and down affair, Johnson will need to hit some shots from deep to outscore Auburn in this one. It won’t be easy, as Auburn will run their fair share of shooters out there too.
Brown is a good shooter in his own right and also plays solid defense. He’ll need to hit several outside shots for Auburn to have a chance to win the game. His defense on Johnson, or other wing players, will also have to be top notch.
2. Kentucky vs. 3. Houston: Tyler Herro vs. Corey Davis Jr.
In their win against Wofford, Herro didn’t have his best offensive game, but did shut down Fletcher Magee to help the Wildcats secure a victory. Against a Houston team that is great at three-point shooting, Herro is going to have to score a lot to help the Wildcats advance.
Davis Jr. has been the Cougars’ leading scorer all season long and he can’t afford to disappear in their biggest game of the season. With Kentucky just having shut down Magee, Davis Jr. will be the focal point for the Wildcats’ gameplan. If he plays like Magee did, Houston has slim chances of advancing.