The Aggies and the Wolfpack are going to make noise in the Sweet 16, whether your bracket likes it or not.
Seven-seeds Nevada and Texas A&M are both in the Sweet 16, but they earned their spots in very different ways.
With 11:34 left in the second half of their second-round matchup with the 2-seed Cincinnati Bearcats, the Nevada Wolf Pack was down 22 points. In the next four minutes, they put together a 16-0 run, then closed the game on a 7-0 run to cap off their historic comeback.
The Texas A&M Aggies did things a little differently against their second-round opponent, the 2-seed North Carolina Tar Heels. They went up at the 8:53 mark in the first half, and did not relinquish their lead en route to a 21-point shellacking of the Tar Heels.
Despite these shocking second-round outcomes, the data show it’s not surprising these teams are here, and they should be taken as serious Final Four contenders. After all, 7-seeds have won 40% of their Sweet 16 matchups, and 30% of their Elite Eight games since the 1985 implementation of the 64-team field.
Sweet 16 opponent: 11 Loyola-Chicago
After a stellar 27-7 season, the Wolf Pack came up against Texas in the first round of the NCAA tournament. They squeaked out an 87-83 overtime win despite being down 14 early in the second half. In the second round, the Wolf Pack used more March magic to upend the Bearcats with their 22-point comeback. Clearly, this team does not give up.
This was quietly one of the best teams all season, and it put together an amazing stat sheet. The Wolf Pack ranks sixth in adjusted offensive efficiency (AdjO), averaging 120.8 points per 100 possessions. It also ranks first in offensive turnover percentage (13.5) and second in steal percentage (6.2). It also boasts an effective field goal percent of 55 (which accounts for the weight of three-point baskets), the 28th-best mark in the nation.
Their offense is their strong suit, as seen by their comeback scoring spurts against Texas and Cincinnati.
In the second-half highlights of Nevada’s matchup with Cincinnati (the video above), their offensive dominance is on full display. They shot nearly 52% and scored 43 points compared to Cincinnati’s 31% and 29 points in the second half. Many of the Wolf Pack’s points came on contested or off-balance shots, showcasing their scoring abilities.
They also used screens to break down the Bearcat second-half defense.
Now they turn their attention to the upset-minded Loyola-Chicago Ramblers, who took down 6-seed Miami and 3-seed Tennessee in quick succession.
Although the Rambler offense performed well throughout the season, they struggle to score against better competition. They’ve scored 65 points or less in their conference tournament games and the first two rounds of the Big Dance. Luckily, they haven’t faced any offensive threats yet, but Nevada will change that.
The Wolf Pack has a clear rebounding advantage (35.9 to the Ramblers’ 32.0 per game), not to mention their obvious size advantage. The Wolf Pack’s guards, Caleb and Cody Martin, are both 6‘7, compared to the Ramblers’ 6‘1 Clayton Custer and 6‘6 Donte Ingram. The Martin brothers will be able to score at will on Custer, and also take advantage of the Ramblers’ 332nd-ranked offensive rebounding percentage.
Nevada’s offense and size give them a clear edge over Loyola-Chicago. They’re a real threat to win the South region and head to the Final Four now that Virginia, Cincinnati, and Arizona are out.
Texas A&M (West)
Sweet 16 opponent: 3 Michigan
After a close bout with Providence in the round of 64, the Aggies handled the Tar Heels easily in the second round behind their unmatched athleticism in the post. They tallied eight blocks, exceeding their season average of 6.0, which ranks fourth in the nation.
Their defense, ninth in defensive efficiency, held the powerful Tar Heels’ offense (8 in AdjO) to just 65 points on a measly 33.3 overall field goal percent and just 19.4% from deep.
The Aggies’ defense also created many opportunities to score in transition, which is clear in the video below, which is peppered with fast-break dunks.
Center Tyler Davis and forward Robert Williams dominated inside, combining for 26 points, 22 rebounds, and five blocks. Guard TJ Starks contributed 21 points on 7-15 shooting.
They now come up against a struggling Michigan Wolverines team in the Sweet 16. The Wolverines have had trouble scoring, managing under 65 points in both of their NCAA tournament games thus far. The Aggies will overpower them inside. Wolverines forward Mo Wagner has just 17 points and 13 rebounds through two tournament games after averaging 14.2 points and 7.1 rebounds this season.
To worsen the outlook for the Wolverines, they’ve shot under 30% from three-point range after shooting over 36% all year. For a team that relies offensively on three-pointers, their matchup with a staunch defensive Aggies team will not go well.
One aspect of the Wolverines’ game that may keep them close is their third-ranked defensive efficiency. The Aggies are not a spectacular offensive team, so they may have difficulty scoring.
However, in a defensive matchup, I’ll still take the Aggies because of their athleticism, size, and shot-blocking ability.
If they get past Michigan, Texas A&M will cause trouble for either Florida State or Gonzaga.
Much like South Carolina in 2017, this could be another year with an unexpected 7-seed in the Final Four.
Edited by Jazmyn Brown.
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