The last three days have been an eternity for college basketball fans, but fear not, hoop heads: The NCAA tournament resumes Thursday night.
A star-studded Sweet 16 kicks off Thursday night in Louisville when the South’s No. 2 seed, Villanova, takes on No. 3 Miami.
When the weekend is all said and done, we’ll know the four teams who will compete for a national title at the Final Four in Houston.
Who will make it through the Sweet 16? Here are NESN.com’s picks for Friday and Thursday.
No. 3 Miami vs. No. 2 Villanova
Time: 7:10 p.m. ET
Line: Villanova -4
Pick: Villanova. This game is one of the hardest to predict all round. When both teams are good, they’re really good — obviously among the best in the country. There’s a potential for a ton of points here with two of the better offenses in the country. Miami will be relieved to face a defense that’s not on the level of Wichita State, but Villanova still has the edge on the defensive end, which is enough to lean in favor of the Wildcats.
No. 5 Maryland vs. No. 1 Kansas
Time: 9:40 p.m.
Line: Kansas -6.5
Pick: Kansas. Maryland certainly could win this game. The Terps have two future NBA players in their lineup — Melo Trimble and Diamond Stone — and the 6-foot-11 Stone is rounding into form, which could cause a matchup issue. If Trimble gets hot, he’s one of the best players in the country. But, and it’s a big but, you kind of get the feeling both of those guys must excel for Maryland to hang around. Despite all of that, there’s a reason Kansas is one of the favorites to win the national title. The Jayhawks have depth, and quite frankly, they look like a team on a mission.
No. 3 Texas A&M vs. No. 2 Oklahoma
Time: 7:37 p.m.
Line: Oklahoma -2.5
Pick: Oklahoma. Texas A&M needed a legitimate miracle to get this point, and while Oklahoma struggled to put away VCU, this game comes down to one player: Buddy Hield. The OU guard’s sensational second-half performance might be the most impressive individual showing we’ve seen this tournament, and he really could be the dance’s dandy if he and the Sooners continue to roll. The Aggies can play stifling defense — just ask Northern Iowa — but Hield, along with fellow senior guard Isaiah Cousins, gives OU the answer to handling A&M’s defense.
No. 4 Duke vs. No. 1 Oregon
Time: 9:55 p.m.
Line: Oregon -3
Pick: Oregon. There will be no shortage of offense in this game with two of the top 11 offenses in the country, according to the KenPom.com adjusted offense rating. So the obvious question will be, who can get stops when they need them? Give us the Ducks, who put the clamps down far more often this season than Duke. And maybe there’s something to be said for Oregon staying on the West Coast and playing this game in Anaheim.
No. 7 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Notre Dame
Time: 7:27 p.m.
Line: Notre Dame -1
Pick: Notre Dame. This is a pretty interesting matchup. Notre Dame has one of the nation’s best offenses, but on defense, not so much. Wisconsin struggles to score, but its defense gets after it. Usually you lean toward defense in these sort of instances, but the biggest concern in this game on either side might be whether the Badgers could overcome a prolonged cold streak. Nebraska, of all teams, knocked off Wisconsin in Big 10 tournament’s first round after the Badgers’ 21 first-half points put them in an inescapable hole. Notre Dame is a lot better than Nebraska, and not even Bronson Koenig will save Wisconsin this time.
No. 5 Indiana vs. No. 1 North Carolina
Time: 9:57 p.m.
Line: North Carolina -5.5
Pick: North Carolina. It’s only fitting they saved the round’s best game for last. It’s a lot easier to get excited for this matchup of bluebloods after Indiana sent Kentucky packing in an impressive showing last weekend. The Hoosiers will have their work cut out for them Friday night, though, against a North Carolina team that’s deeper and more talented than UK. It’s always a little dicey taking North Carolina to win considering their shooting is suspect, especially from behind the 3-point line. But Brice Johnson has turned into an absolute menace in the paint on both ends, especially on defense. He’ll be the difference here, too.
No. 4 Iowa State vs. No. 1 Virginia
Time: 7:10 p.m.
Line: Virginia -5
Pick: Iowa State. This game comes down to who can dictate the pace. Iowa State wants to get out and run, run, run, while Virginia plays a more deliberate style. You have to imagine the Cavaliers will be even more focused on slowing the game down to take away what the Cyclones do best. But, we’re leaning toward Iowa State here. Even if ‘Nova builds an early lead, the Cyclones likely won’t fall out of striking distance, and this seems as good of a time as ever for the rest of the country to learn about Georges Niang, who will make a couple of huge shots down the stretch.
No. 11 Gonzaga vs. No. 10 Syracuse
Time: 9:40 p.m.
Line: Gonzaga -4
Pick: Gonzaga. Syracuse doesn’t have a single player on its roster taller than 6-foot-9. That’s going to be, ahem, a big problem for the Orange. The Zags have four, we repeat, four players 6-foot-10 and taller, the most impressive being Domantas Sabonis. He’s been a force in the tournament thus far, averaging 20 points and 13 rebounds in two tournament games. Syracuse’s only hope is getting him in foul trouble; Sabonis fouled out in the first round and committed three fouls in the second round. If that doesn’t work, it could be a long night for ‘Cuse.
Thumbnail photo via Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via North Carolina Tar Heels forward Brice Johnson (11) dunks the ball in the second half against the Providence Friars during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament at PNC Arena. The Tar Heels won 85-66.
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