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10 bold predictions for the Sweet 16: Utah upsets Duke

Last week, I wrote 10 bold predictions about the NCAA tournament. Well, I missed a few, nailed a couple and await the rest of the Big Dance’s results to see if the predictions that are still alive will come true.

Why wait, though? The Sweet 16 is here, so it’s time for another round of bold predictions that might contradict some of the original predictions. (Yeah, like you picked NC State to reach the Sweet 16.)

  1. Utah upsets Duke: In 1998, I was 14 years old when the late, great Rick Majerus led Andre Miller, Michael Doleac, the underrated Hanno Mottola & Co. to the national championship game. The Utes lost to Kentucky, but it was still a magical season for the program. Utah will give its fan base something to smile about again when it upsets Duke in the Sweet 16 and earns a spot in the Elite Eight. Duke is a great team. Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones comprise one of the top trios in the country. But Utah is playing with the offensive and defensive balance that will allow it to keep the game tight until the final minute or two. That’s when Delon Wright will grab his cape, find a phone booth and ruin brackets around the world.

  2. Double-digit loss for North Carolina in Sweet 16: The Badgers have the talent to return to the Final Four for the second consecutive season. Nigel Hayes, Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky registered 109 points combined in Wisconsin’s first two games. Bronson Koenig has 16 assists and six turnovers in his past five games. The Badgers will space the floor and stretch the defense of a UNC team that might have to go without talented big man Kennedy Meeks. Marcus Paige will put up big numbers, but he’ll need a variety of contested shots and a subpar field goal percentage to get there. Wisconsin rolls on.

  3. Gonzaga beats UCLA by 20: When these teams played in December, UCLA shot 47 percent from the 3-point line and still lost by 13. The Bruins were the most controversial addition to the field of 68 on Selection Sunday. A questionable finish against SMU in the opening round didn’t change that. But they played well in a win against UAB to reach the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season. They are better than the team that lost to Gonzaga three months ago. But Gonzaga is better, too. Domantas Sabonis is slowly evolving into a Kelly Olynyk-like monster for Mark Few’s program. Gonzaga will get the win and advance to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1999, and the second time in school history.

  4. Michigan State advances to the Final Four: Don’t try to figure out how Michigan State does it. Tom Izzo be Izzo'ing. What else can you say about this Michigan State team? Stretches of mediocrity preceded this furious finish that includes wins against Ohio State, Maryland and Virginia. The Spartans held Virginia under a 30 percent clip from the field in the round of 32. These Spartans don’t have the offensive stars that some of Izzo’s past assemblies have boasted, but they have that same I’ll-fight-you-in-the-alley-without-a-mouthguard griminess that has turned former players such as Draymond Green into young NBA standouts. They will use it to defeat Oklahoma and Louisville and reach the Final Four.

  5. Kentucky beats West Virginia by 15: Bob Huggins is right. West Virginia won’t back down from the fight that’s coming in a matchup against an undefeated Kentucky team. The Mountaineers aren’t built that way. They also are forcing more turnovers per possession than any team in America. But let’s go back to December when Kentucky faced an aggressive Louisville team that forced 18 turnovers (30 percent TO rate for the Wildcats). The Cardinals still lost by eight because they could only muster 0.85 points per possession. This will be ugly at times. And yes, West Virginia will pressure Kentucky and force a dozen turnovers, maybe more. But the Mountaineers won’t find much room at the rim when they’re trying to score. And that’s the problem. This is a sexy upset pick right now, but Kentucky has seen this act before. The Wildcats will win by double digits.

  6. Louisville holds NC State to 35 percent clip, avenges earlier loss: Somehow, the same NC State team that lost to Boston College and Wake Forest in recent weeks has secured a spot in the Sweet 16 after knocking off No. 1 seed Villanova. Crazy, right? Plus, NC State defeated Louisville by nine when the teams met on Valentine’s Day. The Wolfpack shot 45 percent from the field in that game, and the trio of Cat Barber, Ralston Turner and Trevor Lacey scored 45 points combined in that victory. It won’t happen again. Louisville will be ready to lock up in the rematch. And that defense, plus another strong effort by Wayne Blackshear, will help the Cardinals advance to the Elite Eight.

  7. Notre Dame vs. Wichita State decided on a buzzer-beater: This is not an easy pick. Two good teams. Notre Dame wasn’t great in the opening weekend, but the Fighting Irish did what was necessary to escape Northeastern and Butler in overtime. Wichita State topped Indiana and in-state-rival-depending-on-whom-you-ask Kansas to reach the Sweet 16. Fred VanVleet is just ridiculous right now. Jerian Grant looks like a lottery pick. Two good coaches who will make sure their respective squads are ready. I think Notre Dame will get the win and reach the Elite Eight. Either way, this one will come down to a "One Shining Moment" moment at the buzzer. Don’t blink.

  8. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson's 18 points/10 rebounds/5 assists/3 steals/2 blocks outing keys Arizona’s win against Xavier: The Chris Mack vs. Sean Miller matchup will be the headline entering this game. But Hollis-Jefferson will be the headline after the game. He won’t do it alone. He won’t have to. Look for the talented sophomore, however, to put together one of the best all-around performances of the NCAA tournament thus far as Arizona advances to the Elite Eight and a rematch with Wisconsin.

  9. Koenig guides Wisconsin back to the Final Four: Kaminsky will probably -- he’d better -- win the Wooden Award. Dekker will be in the NBA soon. Hayes might be the most improved player in the country. That trio gets a lot of attention. Folks are aware of Koenig’s role, but his significance to this program’s ambitions will be more pronounced after an elite effort in Wisconsin’s Elite Eight victory against Arizona.

  10. Sabonis emerges as a star in Gonzaga’s win against Utah, first Final Four berth: It’s more than the genes. Yes, Sabonis is the son of the former Portland Trail Blazers big man. You can see it with his footwork, his court awareness and his focus on the floor. He’s so precise in his actions. Here’s the thing, though. Sabonis is so selfless that he’s essentially lingered in the background throughout this remarkable season for Few’s program. But we’ll see Sabonis take another step in his growth during the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight as he builds on Sunday’s 18-point (6-for-10), nine-rebound effort in Gonzaga’s win against Iowa. He’s legit. Sabonis will be the headliner in a memorable weekend for the Gonzaga program.

(A quick recap of my earlier bold predictions: Kentucky wins the national title, which history does not favor. Gonzaga vs. Kentucky in the national title game. Eastern Washington over Georgetown in the first round. Wichita State over Kansas for the "King of the Sunflower State" crown. Wisconsin beats Arizona in the Elite Eight again. Georgia State over Baylor in the first round. Notre Dame pushes Kentucky to the brink in the Elite Eight. BYU to the Sweet 16. No Big 12 teams in the Elite Eight. Bobby Hurley and Buffalo defeat West Virginia in the first round.)