(1) Houston vs. (5) Miami

Houston hasn’t been as dominant as they hoped through the first two rounds. Specifically in their opener against Northern Kentucky where they scratched and clawed their way to an 11 point victory. Against Auburn, they looked as dominant as they should be. Marcus Sasser heated up with 22 points and 5/9 shooting from downtown. The Cougars trailed by 10 at half, but turned the game into a blowout by the middle of the second half. Tramon Mark (pictured) had 26 points in the win, while Jarace Walker and J’wan Roberts combined for 11 of the Cougars 12 total blocks in the game. They simply looked elite in the second half and played like the team they truly are. The elite guard play of Sasser and Mark, putting defenders on an island and scoring easily from deep, attacking the rim, and on mid range attempts. Meanwhile Walker and Mark bullied every Auburn player, rejecting shots left and right against an Auburn team that looked like they got their powers taken by the Monstars in the second half. This is what Houston does against teams, crushes their spirits with elite athleticism and shot making. Sometimes they look like an NBA team out there.

Miami was on upset alert in the first round against Drake. Injuries and an excellent Drake team led most bettors to lean towards Drake with the 12-5 upset, as the most picked upset in the first round in the Midwest region. However, Miami was able to deal with the naysayers and pull away in the final minutes after a back-and-forth affair. Then they beat the breaks off of a really good Indiana team who featured not one but two NBA prospects, and an NPOY finalist. Isaiah Wong led a second half spurt that gave Miami a huge win. Wong has been excellent thus far, specifically in the second half of the Indiana game. Wong had 27 points in the win, including a late three from around 27 feet to put the Canes up by 12. He played decisive basketball and shot super efficiently. Wong has been their best player all season and he showed that he’s not afraid of the moment in the round of 64.

The matchup between Sasser and Wong in this game will be really exciting. Since the regions were announced, the Midwest region has been starred by guards. Guys like Sasser, Wong, Pickett, Hood-Schifino, Carr, and Boum all made the region very interesting to pay attention to. This matchup is going to be an interesting watch, as both of these guards have NBA style games. They both can pass the ball well, run a pick and roll cleanly, and have super clean jump shots and shot making ability. The matchup between the two, especially if the guard each other, will be one of the biggest stories and highlight machines of the sweet 16.

This game ultimately will come down to Houston’s play. If both of these teams play well, Houston will win. If both of these teams play bad, Houston will win. Miami cannot afford to slip up or take their foot off the gas when given the opportunity in this game. In both of Houston’s first 2 games they’ve been close late against teams they were expected to dominate, however they went on runs and picked up their play when they needed to. If Miami is to advance to the elite 8, they simply cannot allow Houston to get comfortable, especially defensively. Wong will have to make Sasser and company uncomfortable enough to where their defense can’t be relied on as it has been all year. The Canes are mighty underdogs in this game especially with the injury to Norchad Omier, who is an excellent matchup against Jarace Walker in terms of size, quickness, and reaction time. His injury may cause him to be a step slow, and being slow against a player like Jarace Walker cannot happen. If Walker gets hot, Sasser does his thing, and Tramon Mark shoots efficiently, I don’t see a way Miami can overcome Houston.

(2) Texas versus (3) Xavier

Texas has played well on their way to a Sweet 16 berth. They dismantled Colgate in the first round, which on all accounts was to be expected. That matchup felt more lopsided than any of the 1-16 matchups within the first round. Sir’Jabari Rice made 7 threes in the game and the Longhorns shot an absurd 56% from downtown against Colgate who looked severely overmatched. The second game for Texas is where things got interesting. They were able to defeat a red-hot Penn State team, and did lead most of the way, however they won less by their own accord and more due to unforced errors from the Penn State squad. An errant backcourt violation took all momentum away from the Nittany Lions, who held a three-point lead in the final minutes of the game. Texas couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn shooting the ball and were carried by a legendary round 2 performance by Dylan Disu, who used his size advantage to score 26 points and make bucket after bucket down the stretch for his squad.

Xavier, depending on how you feel on the first round, probably shouldn’t be here in some people’s eyes. Yes, I’m talking about my eyes as well. Some very questionable calls at the end of the Kennesaw State game gave Xavier a win that they did not deserve. They were outrebounded and shot a poor 15% from deep against Kennesaw. Luckily, Jerome Hunter put up 24 points for the Musketeers and was essentially their only good player for most of the game. However, Xavier showed why they’re a title favorite in the second round. They only trailed for a total of about a minute of game time, all in the opening 5 minutes, and cruised their way to a double-digit win against Pitt. Souley Boum and Adam Kunkel will have their time to shine on the offensive end for Xavier, however their defense against this high powered Texas offense is where the real questions are. Xavier is a decent defensive team, but they aren’t deep and aren’t nearly as talented as Texas.

The key matchup in this matchup will be Marcus Carr and Souley Boum. Xavier’s high powered, high movement, and ball-sharing offense can get them through a lot of teams. However the first round showed that sharing the ball isn’t enough and someone needs to get hot. Jerome Hunter did that four the Musketeers in the first round, but with Texas’s length he likely won’t have the kind of looks he did against Kennesaw State. Souley Boum has to get going for Xavier to stay afloat. Marcus Carr on the other hand didn’t play a great game against Penn State, and without heroics by the surging Dylan Disu would’ve been faulted for choking during the round of 32 against a group of Penn State guards who aren’t elite defenders. These two need to be the leaders they’ve been all season and it’ll be another set of guards to watch in our other Sweet Sixteen matchup.

This matchup is probably the closest of the Sweet Sixteen matchups, two high powered offenses with NBA prospects, good wings, and a helluva lot of guard talent should make for some third round fireworks for viewers. This game ultimately resides on Xavier getting stops. It sounds cliché, however Xavier’s defense is the only question mark here. We know that Texas can score and defend with the best of them, however Xavier has shown a lot of flaws against teams in the Big East not nearly as overpowering as Texas.

Final Four Prediction

I see Houston and Texas matching up in the Elite 8 and Houston walking away with a Midwest region crown. It’s the boring pick, I know, but I don’t see Miami finding a way to slow Houston down for a full 40 minutes. I also think Xavier’s defense is too big of a liability against Texas, however the Musketeers and the Canes are no cake walks for anyone. The Midwest is entirely up for grabs at the moment since none of these four teams have played two great games so far, however Houston is the clear favorite. Size, talent, shot-makers, three-point shooting, switchability on defense, interior rim protection, athleticism, they’re a team with every too


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