Yes, we don’t have March Madness, but because of great minds like Joe Lunardi at ESPN, we can have a glimpse at what the bracket may have looked like. In the latest State News series, we analyze and project what the NCAA tournament may have looked like, round by round, region by region.
Here is our projection of the South Region second round:
#1 Baylor vs. #9 Rutgers
Preview: Baylor cruised to a win over Winthrop in the first round, and now face a more difficult test in Rutgers. While the talent difference was enough to propel the Bears to victory in the first go-around, guys like Davion Mitchell and Freddie Gillespie will have to become bigger factors offensively as the tournament progresses. As a team, Baylor only averages 71.1 points per game, which ranks 193rd in the country.
Rutgers was able to squeak by St. Mary’s on a game-winner from Ron Harper Jr. in round one, gaining some more national attention heading into this showdown against the No. 1 seed. They will be underdogs, but their sound defensive play will keep them in the game. Will someone besides Harper Jr. prove to be the hero and put the Scarlet Knights in the Sweet 16?
Prediction: Rutgers keeps it close in the first half, but Baylor proves to be too much in the end. Baylor 81 — Rutgers 72.
#4 Louisville vs. #12 Stephen F. Austin
Preview: The Cardinals got a vintage performance from Jordan Nwora in their win over Vermont, and now run into what most will say is another favorable matchup in Stephen F. Austin. But beware, the Lumberjacks shocked the world against Ohio State, and aren’t afraid of anyone at this point. Nwora won’t be able to win this one on his own.
SFA is riding the momentum into this game, coming off a complete performance in a win against the Buckeyes. If they are to continue advancing in the tournament, their margin for error will continue to decrease with each game. Kevon Harris will look to continue to prove he can dominate against the NCAA’s best.
Prediction: The magical ride continues. SFA gets off to a hot start and the Cardinals just can’t quite catch back up. Stephen F. Austin 77 — Louisville 72.
#3 Michigan State vs. #11 Cincinnati
Preview: The Spartans cruised to a win over Bradley as the tournament opened, and coach Tom Izzo will now be focused on stopping the various scoring threats Cincinnati will present. After getting his first NCAA tournament game under his belt, look for freshman Rocket Watts to be more comfortable in this one, giving MSU another advantage.
The Bearcats prevailed in a low-scoring affair against Virginia, but it’s going to take more than 54 points to take down the green and white. They should be able to keep this game close, but will need everybody clicking as Michigan State is coming together at the right time.
Prediction: The Spartans never pull away, but do just enough to secure a spot in the Sweet 16. Michigan State 85 — Cincinnati 78.
#2 Creighton vs. #7 Illinois
Preview: The Bluejays did everything right in their first round victory over Arkansas-Little Rock, proving to be a legitimate threat in the tournament. Can they slow down Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn en route to their fourth ever Sweet 16 appearance? We know the Bluejays can score, but they’re only averaging 34.8 rebounds per game, good for 256th in the country.
The Fighting Illini won a nail-biter against USC, and are already eyeing a rematch with Michigan State in the Sweet 16. They might be able to get there if they can get a big performance from Cockburn, who should be able to have his way on the glass in this one. However, Creighton is one of the last teams you want to overlook.
Prediction: This game will become one of the highlights of the Round of 32, but Creighton’s hunger on their quest to get to their first ever Final Four gets them past the Illini. Creighton 83 — Illinois 76.
Sweet 16 matchups:
#1 Baylor vs. #12 Stephen F. Austin.
#3 Michigan State vs. #2 Creighton.