College Basketball

X-Factors & Predictions for Thursday Sweet 16 Games

March 18, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs players react following the 79-73 victory against the Northwestern Wildcats in the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

As we have cut the tournament field three-quarters of the way down since the start of Thursday’s action, 16 teams remain as we head towards Thursday. With four games on tap, let’s break down who will these teams depend on and who will be headed to the Elite 8.

7:09 PM Midwest Region: #7 Michigan Wolverines vs. #3 Oregon Ducks

Michigan X-Factor: Moritz Wagner. The Wolverines came back from 10 down to beat the Louisville Cardinals in Round 2. It was thanks to “Mo”. Wagner want off, going 11/14 from the field including the dagger to put Michigan up 5 with a minute to go. For the run to continue, they have to rely on the big German.

Oregon X-Factor: Jordan Bell. With big man Chris Boucher going down with a torn ACL, the Junior Bell has had to step up. He has pulled down 12 rebounds in each of the first two games of the tournament. Despite not scoring much, he has pulled his weight on the glass throughout while Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey have done the scoring.

Prediction: Michigan 78-Oregon 70. Michigan’s magical run will continue to see another round.

7:39 PM West Region: #4 West Virginia vs. #1 Gonzaga Bulldogs

West Virginia X-Factor: Tarik Phillip. Hard to beat a team that shoots 57% from deep and 81% from the foul line. That’s what the Mountaineers did in Round 2 to beat the Fighting Irish. Phillip came off the bench in that game and contributed 30 minutes, shot the ball well and helped contribute to WVU’s press.

Gonzaga X-Factor: Jordan Mathews. The transfer from Cal has had a big impact for the Bulldogs shooting just under 40% from deep this season. He has been really average through the first two games (10/23 overall and 6/17 from deep), and for the Bulldogs to pull this one off, they will need to hit their threes, led by Mathews.

Prediction: West Virginia 58-Gonzaga 63. The Zags continue to march forward as the deserving #1 seed in the region.

9:39 PM Midwest Region: #4 Purdue Boilermakers vs. #1 Kansas Jayhawks

Purdue X-Factor: Caleb Swanigan. Normally, an x-factor wouldn’t be the best player on the team, but Purdue runs through “Biggie”. After letting a 19 point lead slip, they fed the big man and he delivered. Arguably the best player in college basketball, Swanigan collected 36 points and 26 rebounds over the first two games.

Kansas X-Factor: Landen Lucas. Now it comes to defending Swanigan. The only way Kansas loses this game is if Landen Lucas gets in foul trouble, causing a less experienced big man to come in to face the potential Wooden Award winner. Don’t anticipate Lucas stuffing the stat sheet, he just needs to play solid defense and try to contain Swanigan’s production.

Prediction: Purdue 74-Kansas 83. Too much firepower for the Kansas offense for the Purdue guards and forwards to handle.

10:09 PM West Region: #11 Xavier Musketeers vs. #2 Arizona Wildcats

Xavier X-Factor: Sean O’Mara. O’Mara has gone to work off of the bench so far this tournament leading Xavier to be the only double digit seed to advance to the Sweet 16. He’s come in and shot the ball very well, going 7/8 from the field and 15/16 from the foul line. They will need every point they can get.

Arizona X-Factor: Dusan Ristic. The Junior from Serbia has played spectacularly so far this tournament. In a lineup that features him and fellow 7-foot foreigner Lauri Markannen, it is difficult for any opponent to match up to. He will need to keep it going to move on another round.

Prediction: Xavier 65-Arizona 69. Expecting a close one, but Arizona has played incredible defense in the guts of the game since the Pac-12 Tournament. Can’t give Sean Miller and his squad four days of rest.



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