Predictions: Sweet 16 Thursday

We’re down to the final 16 in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, and we’ve got four big games taking place later on. We’ll be down to two teams in both the West and Southeast Regions after tonight, while the remaining teams in the East and Southwest will play tomorrow.

But let’s get right to some predictions for tonight’s games:

2 San Diego State vs. 3 Connecticut – 7:15 PM ET, CBS

This is the matchup that most of us expected to see in this spot, with UConn continuing their incredible post-season run, and the Aztecs finding ways to win down the stretch. However, if we go by who is playing the best, the Huskies are undoubtedly playing better basketball right now. Before this tournament ever started, you sort of felt like Kemba Walker‘s mission was more than just a Big East championship. So far, so good, as UConn is only two wins away from a Final Four.

San Diego State looked somewhat disinterested in their double-overtime win over Temple in the second round, but Temple’s style gave them quite a bit of trouble. D.J. Gay has contributed scoring-wise like we thought he would thus far, but it’s just a matter of time before he breaks out. We also have to keep in mind that this is a team that has only lost two games the entire year, and both game to BYU. It doesn’t have to be pretty. You just have to win. But I’ve just got a feeling about this UConn team, and at this point, it’s hard to pick against them considering what they’ve been able to accomplish in the last month or so. Kemba and company march on to the regional final.

Prediction: UConn 73, San Diego State 68

2 Florida vs. 3 BYU – 7:27 PM ET, TBS

A really intriguing matchup here, with Jimmer Fredette going up against two of the quickest guards in the country in Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker. Boynton may still be a little banged up after the ankle injury against UCLA, so that could certainly be a factor when it comes to trying to defend The Jimmer. In terms of balance, Florida is the better team. I don’t think there’s any question about that. But we’ve thought that a lack of balance from BYU would lead to their undoing in one of these first two rounds, and that just hasn’t happened.

I do think this is one of those games where the Cougars really miss Brandon Davies though. The Gators have a trio of guys inside in Vernon Macklin, Alex Tyus, and Patric Young that are going to be very physical and likely control the boards on both ends. This could very well be the difference in the game, as I’m not sure BYU can get the production inside that they need in order to help Jimmer out. The experience of the Gators wins out in the end.

Prediction: Florida 69, BYU 61

1 Duke vs. 5 Arizona – 9:45 PM ET, CBS

The Blue Devils were a little shaky down the stretch against Michigan, but I don’t expect this to be the case in this particular game. Arizona is a very good basketball team, with a very good player in Derrick Williams. In all honesty though, I find it hard to pick against the defending national champions in this spot. Again, when you get to this point in the tournament, it’s all about having options. The Wildcats were able to get contributions from other guys in their first two games, but it’s going to be much tougher against a Coach K coached team to get the type of production they need to beat the Blue Devils.

While Kyrie Irving didn’t have a huge impact in the first two games, I would expect him to contributor a little more in this game. With the way that Nolan Smith has played, adding another spark like Irving is only going to make things even harder for Arizona on the defensive end of the floor. Duke has been here before, and even though Arizona had a nice win over a potential Final Four team in Texas, the defending champs have too much balance to lose this game.

Prediction: Duke 75, Arizona 63

4 Wisconsin vs. 8 Butler – 9:57 PM ET, TBS

I doubt many people had this particular matchup at this point in the tournament. Most thought that Wisconsin would struggle to even get out of the first round against a feisty Belmont team, but not only did they do that, they also knocked off a hot team in Kansas State in route to this game. On the other side, we all thought Butler’s run to the title game last year would be a one-time thing. Well, they sure look like a team that could do it again after beating one-seeded Pittsburgh in a wild game last Saturday.

We tend to forget that the Badgers did defeat top-seeded Ohio State this season, and certainly have the talent to make a Final Four run. But there’s just something about this Butler team, isn’t there? Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard have allowed last year’s experience to benefit them so far in this tournament, and are just on a roll right now. A part of me thinks that Wisconsin will continue to fly under the radar and win this game, however, another part of me thinks that Butler is about to do something pretty spectacular for a second year in a row. I’m going with the latter.

Prediction: Butler 67, Wisconsin 64

Who are you taking in tonight’s games?

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Tags: Arizona Wildcats Butler Bulldogs Byu Cougars College Basketall College Hoops Duke Blue Devils Florida Gators March Madness Ncaa Sweet 16 Ncaa Tournament San Diego State Aztecs Sweet 16 Matchups Uconn Huskies Wisconsin Badgers

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