Scott Shapiro's NCAA Midwest Sweet 16 Picks
Sweet 16 Midwest Region PicksThe eight-game slate on Thursday and Friday is extremely attractive, and the two games in Kansas City are no exception.
The four best teams in the bracket moved on after the first week of the NCAA tournament, including two blue-bloods in North Carolina and Kentucky. It should be a wild scene at the Sprint Center this weekend.
Here are my thoughts on the two Sweet 16 matchups in the Midwest Region:
North Carolina Tar Heels (-5) vs. Auburn TigersAuburn played a near perfect first half in their round of 32 matchup versus Kansas, but it will be difficult to replicate that performance on Friday night. The Tigers outscored the Jayhawks 51-25 over the first 20 minutes, led by the play of guards Jared Harper and Bryce Brown. Harper and Brown are one of the stronger backcourt duos in the country, but they will have their hands full in this one against star defender Kenny Williams and lightning-quick freshman Coby White.
Auburn loves to play an uptempo game, but that plays right into the hands of North Carolina, who is not only used to playing at a high pace, but is one of the nation’s most efficient teams on the offensive end. Look for Cameron Johnson to take advantage of a number of wide-open looks from behind the arc and for Luke Maye and Nassir Little to dominate in the paint en route to a relatively easy win for the top seed in the Midwest. I would be surprised if UNC does not put up 90 or more points.
Pick: North Carolina Tar Heels (-5)
Kentucky Wildcats (-3) vs. Houston CougarsIt appears likely that Kentucky will be without star forward P.J. Washington, which is a huge deal in this one given Houston’s lack of size up front. With Washington and Reid Travis, the Wildcats would have presented some serious matchup issues for the Cougars, but without P.J., I expect Kelvin Sampson’s squad to be able to hang in there against a longer UK frontcourt.
Houston has shown me a lot all year after being beaten at the buzzer by Michigan in last year’s tournament. They play with as much tenacity as any team in the field, and they have a go-to guy that I trust to score and make quality decisions down the stretch in senior Corey Davis, Jr.
Both teams hit the offensive glass hard, so this could come down to the team that is able to limit second opportunities. With the experience edge, I like Houston to be able to stay in this game early and have a shot to win it in the final couple of minutes.
Pick: Houston Cougars (+3)
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