The Mayhem of March – Sweet 16

March 28, 2024

NCAAM: (5) San Diego State vs. (1) UConn

7:39 p.m. ET, TBS / truTV

UConn -11.5 (-110) | O/U 136.5 (-110)

© Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

What a matchup for the Sweet 16, as the Huskies and Aztecs face off in a rematch of last year’s national championship game. This time around, however, it’s a little bit more of a mismatch.

UConn entered the tournament as the No. 1 overall seed in the field. And their first two games did little to demonstrate that they weren’t worthy of that honor.

The defending champs rolled through Stetson, beating the No. 16 seed 91-52 in a game that wasn’t as close as that lopsided score would indicate. Then, the Huskies made easy work of Northwestern, topping the Wildcats 75-58 to advance to Boston.

Those wins moved UConn to a dazzling 33-3 on the season. They’ve won nine in a row and show no signs of slowing down during their chance to repeat.

San Diego State, on the other hand, isn’t on that kind of roll. They’re a respectable 26-10 on the season, but most of that work was done at home, where the Aztecs were a dazzling 14-1. On the road and at neutral sites, SDSU was a very pedestrian 12-9.

That includes a loss in the final of the Mountain West tournament, where they fell to New Mexico. The Aztecs also dropped their final two games of the regular season, losing by four at UNLV and dropping their season finale at home to Boise State, watching their quest for a perfection at Viejas Arena come to an end in overtime.

UConn is an offensive juggernaut. They’re averaging 81.6 points per game this season, good for 17th in the country. The Huskies are led by Tristan Newton, as the senior guard is averaging 15.3 points, 6.2 assists and 6.8 rebounds.

They’re even better on the other end of the court. UConn gives up just 63.9 points per game, the eighth-best total in the nation.

That’ll make it a tall order for the Aztecs. Jaedon LeDee is one of the best players in the country, as the senior forward averages 21.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. But he’s going to need help, which could be hard to find; no other player on the San Diego State roster averaged double digits this season.

Hoops Harlan’s Pick: UConn -11.5 (-110) 

San Diego State was lucky to escape the first round, holding off UAB in a sloppy game. Then, they had a fortunate draw in round two, where they blew out an overmatched Yale team by 28. They’ll get the opposite kind of opponent in this one, as UConn appears on a collision course with Purdue in the natty. Look for Dan Hurley’s team to win, pulling away late, to propel the Huskies to the Elite Eight.


NCAAM: (3) Illinois vs. (2) Iowa State 

10:09 p.m. ET, TBS / truTV

Iowa State -1.5 (-110) | O/U 146.5 (-110)

© Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

On paper, this looks like the best game of the night. It’s two evenly matched teams, as reflected in the small 1.5-point point spread.

Iowa State is getting the nod from the oddsmakers, as the No. 2 seed comes in playing good basketball. The Cyclones lost their regular season finale at Kansas State, but the finished the season on an 8-2 run.

They carried their hot play into the Big 12 tourney, where ISU blew out K-State by 19, rolled past Baylor by 14 and then spanked Houston, a No. 1 seed in the big dance, by 28.

That got everyone’s attention. And the Clones have kept rolling the NCAA Tournament.

Iowa State beat South Dakota State by 17 in their opener and cruised past Washington State by 11. That’s a five-game winning streak, with an average margin of victory of 17.8 points.

Illinois is playing good basketball, as well. They won five of their last six regular season games, losing only to No. 1 seeded Purdue. Then, the beat Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin to capture the Big Ten Tournament title.

In the dance, Illinois started with a 16-point win over Morehead State. Then, they burst Duquesne’s bubble with a 26-point win.

The Ilini are led by their high-powered offense. On the season, Illinois averaged 84.6 points per game, the sixth-highest mark in the nation.

Iowa State wins by playing the opposite way. The Cyclones are giving up just 61.3 points per game, the fourth-best average allowed in the country.

It’s a contrast of styles. It’ll be fascinating to see who wins the battle of wills.

Hoops Harlan’s Pick: Illinois ML (+105) 

If the Cyclones can slow down the Illini, they’ll have a great chance to win. If it turns into any kind of a track meet, however, Iowa State doesn’t have a chance; they simply won’t be able to keep up. Even if the pace falls somewhere in the middle, it bodes well for Illinois. Terrance Shannon, Jr. (23.3 points per game), Marcus Domask (16.1) and Coleman Hawkins (12.3) are simply too much for even a very good defensive team to handle.