This year’s Sweet 16 won’t feature a number of the top seeds — No. 1 Virginia, No. 1 Xavier, No. 2 Cincinnati, No. 2 North Carolina, No. 3 Michigan State and No. 3 Tennessee all lost on the opening weekend — leaving ajar the door for Cinderellas such as No. 11 Loyola Chicago and No. 11 Syracuse to break through to the Elite Eight and beyond. However, it might be No. 5 West Virginia that makes the most noise, perhaps even sending another No. 1 seed, Villanova, home earlier than expected.
The win probabilities below are the same ones used to help create the Perfect Bracket and fuel DAViD, the Data-Assisted Victory Detector. We’ll break down each game as well as provide the chances for an upset, according to seeding, with full projections against the spread for every Sweet 16 matchup below. Spread information is as of March 22.
|0-50||Not a great upset pick|
|51-100||Below-average chance to upset/poor value|
|101 to 125||Above-average chance to upset/good value|
|126+||Potential bracket buster|
No. 1 Villanova (-5.5) vs. No. 5 West Virginia
Chance of upset: 47 percent
Pick: Villanova -5.5
DAViD score: 150
Villanova is Pomeroy’s highest-rated team remaining in the tournament and is the second-most likely team after No. 2 Duke to win the 2018 title, but that doesn’t mean West Virgina will roll over. Based on the Mountaineers’ offensive rebounding (37 percent, fifth in the nation) and ability to generate turnovers on defense (23 percent, second), they could get as many as four or five extra possessions due to those factors, which could push the top-seeded Wildcats to the brink.
No. 7 Nevada (-2) vs. No. 11 Loyola Chicago
Chance of upset: 41 percent
Pick: Nevada -2
DAViD score: 93
The Ramblers have not been in the Sweet 16 since 1985 and it is likely their Cinderella story ends against Nevada. The Wolf Pack takes care of the ball on offense (14 percent turnover rate, lowest in the country) with an ability to get out in transition (score 51 percent of the time) or just spot-up with the ball and produce points (1.1 points per possessions, 98th percentile).
Twins Caleb and Cody Martin can both score as the ballhandler off the pick-and-roll (11 for 21 combined) or find Kendall Stephens coming off a screen, where he has produced 7 points on 11 possessions in the tournament.
No. 1 Kansas (-5) vs. No. 5 Clemson
Chance of upset: 40 percent
Pick: Clemson +5
DAViD score: 108
Clemson is good at defending the rim. It allows just 49 percent shooting around the basket (95th percentile), which will help neutralize a Jayhawks team that features 7-foot, 280-pound big man Udoka Azubuike. However, Kansas has two spot-up shooters — Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and Devonte’ Graham — who will give Clemson forward Gabe DeVoe trouble on the perimeter. DeVoe has allowed an effective field goal rate of 55 percent against spot-up shooters, putting him in the bottom 20 percent of collegiate defenders.
No. 2 Purdue (-1.5) vs. No. 3 Texas Tech
Chance of upset: 35 percent
Pick: Purdue -1.5
DAViD score: 84
Purdue has one of the most balanced teams in the country. Its offense scores points (123.3 per 100 possessions, second) and is often deadly from behind the arc (42 percent, second) while its defense is stingy against the same (47 eFG% against, 18th).
The Red Raiders have the defense to help keep the score close (fourth best in the nation) but their offense, especially from long range (36 percent, 99th) can be an issue.
No. 5 Kentucky (-6) vs. No. 9 Kansas State
Chance of upset: 34 percent
Pick: Kentucky -6
DAViD score: 106
Prediction: The Wildcats will win.
Okay, a few more specifics. Kansas State’s ball-hawking defense — it has one of the highest steal rates in the country (12 percent) — is especially potent against the ballhandler on the pick-and-roll, generating a turnover 25 percent of the time. That could be a big problem for Kentucky’s freshman point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Gilgeous-Alexander is the floor general on these plays two-thirds of the time and already has a 19 percent turnover rate on these possessions, which could make for easy baskets on the other end for Kansas State.
No. 3 Michigan (-3) vs. No. 7 Texas A&M
Chance of upset: 32 percent
Pick: Michigan -3
DAViD score: 59
Michigan’s defense is elite — 91.6 points per 100 possessions, third in the nation — and it won’t give Texas A&M extra possessions through turnovers or offensive rebounds, the hallmarks of upset-minded teams.
The Wolverines will also be ale to make the Aggies’ favorite play-type, spot-up shooting, which was below-average (0.92 points per possession, 39th percentile) this season, look even worse.
|Spot-up shooting in 2017-18||Usage||Points per possession||EfG%||Percentile|
|Texas A&M offense||25%||0.92||49%||39th|
No. 4 Gonzaga (-5.5) vs. No. 9 Florida State
Chance of upset: 25 percent
Pick: Gonzaga -5.5
DAViD score: 54
Gonzaga’s shooting (58 eFG%, ninth) and ability to crash the offensive boards (33 percent, 47th) should be enough to end Florida State’s run in this tournament. Also look for the Bulldogs to dominate in the post. Sophomore Rui Hachimura, a 6-foot-8 forward, is scoring 1.4 points per attempt in the post while converting 56 percent of his offensive rebounds into points.
No. 2 Duke (-11.5) vs. No. 11 Syracuse
Chance of upset: 14 percent
Pick: Duke -11.5
DAViD score: 44
Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski knows what it takes to defeat Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, and should have freshman Marvin Bagley III going to the rim for easy baskets. If not, the Blue Devils can always rely on their above-average three-point shooting (38 percent) to shoot over the vaunted defensive scheme.
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