After a raucous first weekend of March Madness, we have arrived at the Sweet 16. This year's matchups come packed with elite talent everywhere you look. Whether it's some of the nation's top programs like Duke and Kentucky, or upstart programs like N.C. State or Xavier, every team has proven that they can make a run.
At the top of the bracket, the Midwest region is highlighted by a few terrific guards. Wichita State has Fred Van Vleet at the helm while Notre Dame is led by Jerian Grant. West Virginia also has had great play from senior Juwan Staten but will be battle-tested against Willie-Cauley Stein and a Kentucky team that has no blueprint for defeat.
In the East region, Michigan State has made quite the statement upending Virginia thanks in large part to the play of Travis Trice and Branden Dawson. Louisville has made a surprising run after many counted the Cardinals out due to their poor regular-season shooting, but they are going to have to upend an N.C. State team that will go as far as guards Anthony Barber and Trevor Lacey take them.
The other half of the Sweet Sixteen is equally loaded with talent. Where do we start with Duke? The Blue Devils are led by center Jahlil Okafor and have also had amazing production out of senior Quinn Cook in the tourney. They face a Utah team that is a force to be reckoned with when Delon Wright is playing his best basketball.
Gonzaga has so far played a flawless tournament but will have to watch out for UCLA's Tony Parker, who has had a masterful tournament including his most recent game versus UAB where he put up 28 points, 12 boards and three steals. Xavier looks to play upset against heavily-favored Arizona and senior T.J. McConnell who scored 19 points along with six rebounds and six assists in the win against Ohio State.
Lastly, Wisconsin squares off against a tough UNC squad that might be hindered by the absence of big man Kennedy Meeks (knee sprain). Wisconsin will need to get a bit more production out of Frank Kamisnky, as well as some crucial minutes from returning senior point guard Traevon Jackson.
On Tuesday, Bovada sportsbook promoted some of its most recently updated Sweet 16 odds, including the favorites to win the tournament's Most Outstanding Player of the Year award:
|Odds to win Tournament MOP|
|Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky)||4/1|
|Karl-Anthony Towns (Kentucky)||7/1|
|Trey Lyles (Kentucky)||15/2|
|Aaron Harrison (Kentucky)||10/1|
|Jahlil Okafor (Duke)||10/1|
|Andrew Harrison (Kentucky)||12/1|
|Frank Kaminsky (Wisconsin)||12/1|
|Brandon Ashley (Arizona)||16/1|
|Stanley Johnson (Arizona)||16/1|
|T.J. McConnell (Arizona)||16/1|
|Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga)||16/1|
|Sam Dekker (Wisconsin)||20/1|
|Justise Winslow (Duke)||20/1|
|Quinn Cook (Duke)||25/1|
|Branden Dawson (Michigan State)||25/1|
|Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga)||25/1|
|Travis Trice (Michigan State)||25/1|
|Montrezl Harrell (Louisville)||40/1|
|Terry Rozier (Louisville)||40/1|
|Fred VanVleet (Wichita State)||40/1|
|Delon Wright (Utah)||40/1|
|Ron Baker (Wichita State)||50/1|
|Marcus Paige (UNC)||50/1|
|Jerian Grant (Notre Dame)||66/1|
|Buddy Hield (Oklahoma)||66/1|
|Trevor Lacey (NC State)||66/1|
|Kennedy Meeks (UNC)||66/1|
|Ralston Turner (NC State)||66/1|
|Bryce Alford (UCLA)||150/1|
|Matt Stainbrook (Xavier)||150/1|
|Norman Powell (UCLA)||200/1|
|Juwan Staten (West Virginia)||200/1|
Five of the top six favorites to win the award play for Kentucky? Am I surprised? Is anyone surprised?
I am at least surprised that Cauley-Stein is currently more favored that Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns has averaged 14.5 points per game as well as nine rebounds during the tournament, while Cauley-Stein has averaged eight points and 6.5 rebounds.
There is also a case to be made for Okafor, who has been putting up stellar numbers himself. But as is frequently the case in sports, it is tough for outstanding player awards to stray from players on the best team. At this point, that's Kentucky.