Top four seeds Mississippi State, Texas, UCLA, and NC State won their first two NCAA Tournament games to advance to their 4th, 15th, 8th, and 12th Sweet 16 appearances, respectively. Despite the chalk, it will certainly be interesting to see which makes it out of this group—all four have a legitimate shot.
With Sweet 16 action getting started on Friday, let’s take a look at how these teams measure up in their upcoming matchups.
Mississippi State (34-1) vs. NC State (26-8)
|Overall Team Rating||3rd||19th|
|HHS Offensive Rating||3rd||20th|
|HHS Defensive Rating||5th||16th|
|Margin Per Game||3rd (26.9)||49th|
|Total Rebound Rate||43rd||10th|
|Turnovers Per Game||3rd||93rd|
|Assisted Shot Rate||52.90%||57.30%|
All indications paint the picture that Mississippi State is the favorite in this one. The Bulldogs are one of the best teams in the country, and the stats seem to bear that out. But don’t sleep on NC State. The Wolfpack comfortably beat a solid Maryland team in the 2nd round and head coach Wes Moore, who was an assistant for NC State’s late, legendary head coach Kay Yow, believes in his team.
“Think back to the Louisville game: we were down 26-1 to start the game, how ‘bout that?,” he told The News & Observer. “You feel like you’re out there in your underwear in front of 3,000 people. Next thing you know it’s a four-point game with three minutes left and we got the ball. We had a chance. That’s the way they are. They ignore the noise and keep coming.”
Moore’s squad has hit a number of firsts for the program since Yow was in charge, including the first Sweet 16 appearance in 11 years and the first season over 25 wins since 1991. They were led by a former Terrapin in their second-round victory, Kiara Leslie, the team’s second-leading scorer on the season notched team-highs with 21 points, 11 rebounds, and three steals.
Senior forward Chelsea Nelson is NC State’s leading scorer and rebounder, averaging nearly a double-double this season. Both Nelson and Leslie will need to be on their game, as one of the Wolfpack’s few advantages in this game appears to be in the post.
MSU is coming off a win over ninth-seeded Oklahoma State that was close into the third quarter after one of OSU’s best players went down with an injury. OSU put up a good fight but Mississippi State had too much firepower.
Victoria Vivians (23 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) and Teaira McCowan (21 points, 18 rebounds) led the way while Morgan William, the hero of last year’s Final Four upset of UConn, added 17 points. William’s numbers are slightly down from last year, but the senior guard may be finding her stride at the right time. She picked things up in the SEC Tournament and just had her best game in a while.
The Wolfpack are a much better rebounding team, but that’s really the only statistical area where they seem to have an advantage. Mississippi State is the better team here; it won’t be easy but Vic Schaefer’s squad should come out with the win.
"What I do know,” Schaefer told the Clarion-Ledger, “is that they’re a very tough, physical rebounding team.”
This game will be televised on ESPN at 7 p.m.
Texas (28-6) vs. UCLA (26-7)
|Overall Team Rating||7th||9th|
|HHS Offensive Rating||7th||11th|
|HHS Defensive Rating||7th||8th|
|Margin Per Game||10th||29th|
|Total Rebound Rate||3rd||37th|
|Turnovers Per Game||109th||28th|
|Assisted Shot Rate||58.80%||51.70%|
The Longhorns breezed through the first two rounds of the tourney, most recently disposing of Arizona State by 20 to make their fourth straight Sweet 16 appearance. UT is a tough team that is currently having one of its best seasons in the program’s history—their only losses on the season have been to No. 1 UConn and No. 3 Baylor. Texas head coach Karen Alston is hoping to join those two top-tier of programs starting with a deep run this year.
Guards Lashann Higgs and Brooke McCarty lead the way for the Longhorns, which will make for an exciting matchup on the perimeter against UCLA’s Jordin Canada and Kennedy Burke. Canada leads the Bruins in scoring (16.7 PPG) and assists (7.1 APG) while Burke is third in scoring and second in assists.
This will be a fairly even matchup, with a slight edge to Texas, who has been more dominant across the season and is also a much better rebounding team. UCLA hasn’t had much difficulty making it to this point either and is a solid team in its own right, though. The Bruins beat Creighton by 22 in the second round and notched some good wins in a strong Pac-12 conference during the regular season, including over fellow Sweet 16-ers Stanford and Oregon State.
This should be a really entertaining game, taking place at 9 p.m. on ESPN2.