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 State News' latest 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 East Sweet Sixteen.
#1 Dayton vs. #5 Butler
Preview: Dayton’s had an easy battle thus far. It’s their first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 2014, but nobody should be too surprised. As expected, sophomore Obi Toppin, who was recent named Player of the Year, is leading the Flyers through their trip in March.
Butler, on the other hand, enters the Sweet Sixteen with fuel in them, driven by their one-point victory over 4-seeded Maryland in the second round. The Bulldogs will need their defensive bigs to bring the heat in order to put a stop to Toppin and the Flyers.
Prediction: Dayton will come out playing smart, not giving away all of their tricks too soon. The Flyers know they have the advantage, they lead overall in shooting percentage, 52.5%-46%. They won’t tire their guys out too early.
This means Butler will play hard from the jump ball. They’ll make some plays, but Dayton will almost always follow it up with some sort of production on the offensive side. Dayton will enter the half leading, 34-28.
Butler will come out in the second half knowing that forcing turnovers may be their only hope in pulling off this upset. Bulldogs senior Kamar Baldwin and redshirt junior Bryce Golden will desperately try to snatch control of the ball and throw Dayton’s offensive strategy off balance.
At the same time though, Dayton will turn on the heat that they kept so quiet the whole game. Toppin will start dominating and junior Jalen Crutcher will make some plays as well, as the team's assist leader.
Dayton’s 52.5 field goal percentage marks first place in the country and will make it seem like they just can’t miss a shot this second half. Almost in the blink of an eye, the Flyers will have pulled away too far for the Bulldogs to manage.
Dayton 82 – Butler 68
#11 NC State vs. #2 Florida State
Preview: NC State has found themselves in the Sweet Sixteen thanks to their defensive power. They’ll once again rely on redshirt freshman Manny Bates, the 7th leading blocker in the nation, to put a stop to offensive production on their opponents’ side. The Wolfpack will need production deep on their bench, as their leading scorer, C.J. Bryce, averages just 13.3 points per game.
This round, Florida State will put up a fight against what nobody has been able to match in NC State’s defense. The Seminoles rank 12th in the country as a team in blocks per game and will give Bates a good challenge to prove himself. The Seminoles' leading scorer, Devin Vassell, averages just 12.7 points per game, meaning this matchup will be a test of the defense.
Prediction: Knowing the true test will be how each team defenses match up, and acknowledging themselves as the underdogs, NC State will come out desperately trying to make things happen on offense. Markell Johnson, the team’s leader in assists, will be the ball general at the start, searching for any gaps in Florida State’s tight defense.
The Seminoles will play along. They’ll tighten their defense, putting Trent Forrest on Johnson to limit his court vision and stop him from making offensive plays for the Wolfpack.
It won’t be a high-scoring first half, as both team rely on a strategic defense, they’ll spend the first half reading each other. Florida State will lead 30-24 at the half.
NC State will try to get to the line as their preexisting offensive struggles only grow worse against Florida State’s defense. The Wolfpack doesn’t have much consistency from beyond the arc so they will resort to D.J. Funderburk’s 60.9 field goal percentage overall for the consistency they need to make a comeback.
On the other hand, Florida State's Vassell will come alive for the Seminoles, creating the offensive production they need to extend their lead as his teammates defend the court on the other side. Once in their control, Florida State will bring out some consistent bench shooters, like Balsa Koprivica who shoots 69.9%, to give their starters a breath, knowing they're on their way to another Elite Eight.
Florida State 73 – NC State 63
Elite eight matchups:
#1 Dayton vs. #2 Florida State