This article is part of our NCAA Tournament Preview series.
My five favorite picks for the Sweet 16. Decisions and analysis made using KenPom data.
Oregon State is on a nice run, but realistically it can't last much longer. Prior to the Pac-12 tournament, the longest win streak the Beavers had all season was just three games. Hard to believe they have a chance at doubling that in the postseason. In any event, Loyola-Chicago currently has the second-best overall defensive efficiency in the entire country, so this will be Oregon State's toughest test of the season. On the other side of the court, Oregon State's defense is noticeably vulnerable against 2-point field goals, and this is significant because Loyola-Chicago is making two-point baskets at the fourth-highest percentage in the country. The Ramblers shouldn't have much difficulty scoring. This is great news for Cameron Krutwig, who's currently ranked third in KenPom's Player of the Year Standings. Add it all up and there's not much reason to think Oregon State will stop Loyola-Chicago. I'm expecting the Beavers to come down to reality Saturday.
Oral Roberts / Arkansas Over 159
If you want fast-paced, non-stop action, this is your game. Both teams prefer playing at lightning speed. Both teams know how to score. The ideal set-up for hitting an over. When it comes to defense, Oral Roberts easily has the worst defensive efficiency of any team in the Sweet 16, ranking No. 239 in the country. Needless to say, we can safely plan on Arkansas doing its part in hitting the over. On the other side of the court, Arkansas has a top-10 defense, however, it's noticeably weaker at guarding against three-point shots. This is key for Oral Roberts because the Golden Eagles make their three-point field goals at the 14th-best percentage in the country. I'm expecting Oral Roberts to bury a ton of threes as we race our way towards hitting the over.
Syracuse managed to outscore its opponents in the first two rounds, but that might not be possible this third time around. Houston is elite and balanced, ranking top-11 in terms of both offensive and defensive adjusted efficiency. Not only that, but Houston's defense holds opponents to the lowest effective field goal percentage in the entire country. Syracuse will no doubt have its hands full on offense, but its defense might have an even bigger challenge because it has the second-worst defense of any Sweet 16 team, and it's not close.
Speaking of well-rounded teams, Michigan currently ranks top-9 in terms of both offensive and defensive adjusted efficiency. Florida State's offense isn't far behind, although its defense is well below Michigan's standards. Another potential difference-maker: Michigan has a significant offensive rebounding edge in this matchup. Hunter Dickinson is sure to take advantage. Florida State will likely keep pace with Michigan for 20 to 30 minutes, but, similar to what we saw in the Michigan-LSU game, I'm expecting Michigan's defense to turn up the heat as the game goes on, enabling the Wolverines to come away with the victory when it's all said and done.
UCLA's offense is excellent, no doubt, but unfortunately for the Bruins, Alabama's defense is ranked third-best in the country. This is a major problem for UCLA because the other side of the court isn't great for the Bruins, as they rank No. 63 on defense. Also, UCLA is below average, nationally, at guarding against three-point shots, which doesn't bode well because Alabama led the SEC in both three-point attempt rate and three-point percentage during conference season. Alabama is the better team, in a favorable matchup, so I'm expecting the Crimson Tide to cover as they launch a barrage of three-pointers.