March 25, 2021

Ranking All Eight Sweet 16 Games From Worst to Best

The opening weekend of March Madness was rather exhausting. As exciting as it was, 16 NCAA Tournament games on back-to-back days can tire a person out.

Fortunately, we’ve had a few days to rest and we’re ready for the second weekend of the Big Dance. The Sweet 16 is more about the quality of matchups rather than the quantity. After all, the stakes are even higher and teams can genuinely taste the Final Four in their sights.

Of course, we’re still looking forward to some matchups more than others. Here is our ranking of all eight matchups in the Sweet 16.

8. USC vs Oregon

On the one hand, this figures to be an interesting matchup. The Ducks can score at a high rate, as they showed in their win over Iowa. The Trojans also have a lottery pick in Evan Mobley, who is also playing alongside his brother Isaiah, a sophomore who has been just as instrumental to USC’s success in the tournament.

While this game has a couple of interesting storylines, an all-Pac-12 matchup doesn’t necessarily move the needle. The winner is probably just going to lose to Gonzaga anyway, so this isn’t necessarily a must-watch game unless you’re Bill Walton or you picked one of these teams to reach the Final Four.

7. Baylor vs Villanova

If it matters, it doesn’t feel good to believe that Villanova is going to get blown out by Baylor. Jay Wright and his players deserve an immense amount of credit for getting this far. Most pundits didn’t give them any chance of making noise in the NCAA Tournament without Collin Gillespie, and they’ve managed to prove a lot of people wrong.

Having said that, the Wildcats just don’t have the backcourt to compete with Baylor’s trio of Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, and Davion Mitchell. Even if Gillespie were healthy, that’s a big ask.

Without the co-Big East Player of the Year, the Wildcats are going to have a monumental task just trying to keep this game competitive for 40 minutes. 

6. Gonzaga vs Creighton

It could be a similar story with Gonzaga and Creighton. Much like Villanova, the Bluejays benefited from getting to play a No. 13 seed in the Round of 32. That helped hide some of Creighton’s flaws that nearly cost them in the First Round against UC-Santa Barbara.

They will have no such luck against Gonzaga.

One thing you can say about Mark Few’s team in this tournament is that they are leaving nothing to chance and are taking every opponent seriously. That will be bad news for the Bluejays, who have a well-balanced lineup but aren’t explosive enough to hang with the Bulldogs for 40 minutes.

Gonzaga should pull away at some point and win by a comfortable margin.

5. UCLA vs Alabama

Does it seem like UCLA is the most fortunate team in the Sweet 16?

Granted, the Bruins have had to win three games to get here. But they beat a lackluster Michigan State team, the second-best team from the West Coast Conference, and an upstart Abilene Christian team. As impressive as the Bruins have been in those three games, it’s a huge step up to play the SEC regular-season and tournament champions.

On the bright side, the Crimson Tide can be entertaining to watch when they get up and down the court and drain threes. But there’s a chance this game won’t be interesting in the final minutes.

4. Arkansas vs Oral Roberts

One could assume that this is the end of the line for Oral Roberts. Momentum tends to die down for Cinderella teams after a few days off. But there’s at least some chance that the Golden Eagles can give Arkansas a game.

Max Abmas and Kevin Obanor are both outstanding players who have helped carry the Golden Eagles this far. But the Razorbacks have more than two good players, which is why they should take care of business against ORU.

Of course, this game is worth watching on the off chance that Oral Roberts continues to do the impossible. But don’t be surprised if the Hogs have a comfortable lead down the stretch.

3. Syracuse vs Houston

Let’s face it, you never know what’s going to happen with Syracuse, which is why the Orange is one of the most compelling teams in the field.

Buddy Boeheim couldn’t miss a shot if he tried right now, as he leads a Syracuse team that loves to shoot from the outside. On top of that, the Syracuse 2-3 zone is always interesting to watch.

Time and time again, we’ve seen it get into the head of good teams that don’t understand how to attack it. Against a Houston squad with a few good shooters and a dynamic scorer in Quentin Grimes, this should be a fascinating matchup.

Few Sweet 16 games between a No. 2 seed and a No. 11 seed have a six-point spread, which tells you everything you need to know about how close this game should be and why it’s the late game on Saturday night.

2. Michigan vs Florida State

Aesthetically, this game may not be the most pleasing game on the eyes.

In the 2018 Elite Eight, these teams played a 58-54 defensive slugfest that saw the Wolverines advance to the Final Four. The rematch could be just as ugly but no less compelling.

Will Michigan’s Isaiah Livers be able to play? Can Florida State’s size and athleticism bother Hunter Dickinson and Franz Wagner? On the other side, who will step up for the Seminoles offensively? Can future lottery pick Scottie Barnes seize the opportunity on such a big stage?

This might be the biggest toss-up game of the Sweet 16 between two games that will feel confident they can win a national championship if they win this game. Even if it’s an ugly, low-scoring game, this game should be close from wire to wire.

1. Loyola vs Oregon State

At this point, the Ramblers have become must-see TV, right? Can this mid-major program seriously go to the Final Four twice in four years based on the prophecy of a 101-year-old nun? It almost sounds like a show that will be airing on CBS the weekend after the tournament is over. Plus, the Ramblers are genuinely a good team with Cameron Krutwig getting a ton of attention. Obviously, some folks will be made at Loyola for beating Illinois and destroying their bracket. But the Ramblers deserve to be in the Sweet 16 and belong on this stage based on the way they’ve played all season. Also, don’t discount Oregon State, which has won five straight games against teams in the tournament and will believe that they can keep winning.

Photo: Getty Images