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Sweet 16 Preview: Top seeds South Carolina, Stanford aim to advance to Elite Eight

The Sweet 16 starts Friday, with No. 1 seeds South Carolina and Stanford both aiming to continue their march to the national championship.

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament - First Round-Howard at South Carolina
Aliyah Boston, LeLe Grissett, Brea Beal and the No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks hope to keep on dancing.
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Sweet 16 time!

The second weekend of the 2022 NCAA tournament begins Friday evening, with a total of four games from the Greensboro and Spokane Regions on the slate. All games will be broadcast on ESPN or ESPN2.

The games begin with an all-Carolina battle in the Greensboro Region, with the No. 5 UNC Tar Heels taking on the No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks at 7 p.m. ET (ESPN).

Through the first two rounds, the Gamecocks flexed their defensive dominance, holding their first two opponents to a combined 54 points, the stingiest opening weekend defensive performance in tournament history. However, South Carolina, the betting favorite to win the whole shebang at +115 at DraftKings, is not without concerns. Offense has not come as easy for Dawn Staley’s squad, largely because of below average field-goal and free-throw percentages. The Gamecocks also have struggled to threaten opponents from behind the arc.

To escape the Tar Heels, the Gamecocks will need the reverse these unsettling offensive trends. Luckily, both Destanni Henderson and Zia Cooke are capable of draining jumper after jumper, both from the midrange and long range. Better shooting also will make things easier for Aliyah Boston, who is averaging 10 points and 14 rebounds per game in the tournament, to feast inside.

Courtney Banghart also has her team playing some top-notch D, stymying the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson to advance to the Sweet 16. Quite possibly, UNC’s relative inexperience could serve them well. While it is title or bust for the Gamecocks, the Tar Heels, with five sophomores in the rotation, should not feel any extra pressure. One of those sophomores, Deja Kelly, is leading UNC in scoring for the tournament at 21.5 points per game.

In the Spokane Region, the No. 2 Texas Longhorns and No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes also take the court at 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2). Expect a contrast in styles, as the Longhorns look to lock down opponents while the Buckeyes aim to outscore them. According to DraftKings, this should be the evening’s most closely contested affair, with the Longhorns favored by 4.5 points.

Continued elite offense performance by Texas’ pair of fantastic freshies could help them cover and, more importantly, advance. Freshman point guard Rori Harmon has been pinging the ball around during the tourney, tallying a total of 19 assists. The ball has frequently found freshman forward Aaliyah Moore, who has posted back-to-back career-high scoring outputs of 18 and 21 points.

Yet, the Buckeyes have the potential to keep pace with an improved Texas attack, especially if their 3-ball is falling. Taylor Mikesell, second in the nation in 3-point makes per game, swished four of the seven triples she attempted in Ohio State’s convincing win over a favored LSU. Through two tournament games, Jacy Sheldon has been on fire from all over the floor, scoring 25 and 23 points.

Action continues in the Spokane Region at 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN), as the No. 1 Stanford Cardinal will meet the No. 4 Maryland Terrapins. The defending national champions, who, arguably, have turned in the strongest pair of tourney performances, currently have the third-best odds at +450 at DraftKings to capture their second-straight title, suggesting putting money on the Cardinal could be a smart betting strategy.

These two teams played in late November, when Stanford ran away from Maryland for the 86-68 victory.

As analyzed by our Zack Ward, the rematch presents an intriguing faceoff between Stanford’s Cameron Brink and Maryland’s Angel Reese. In November, neither player significantly influenced the outcome. Brink, coming off the bench due to illness, played only nine minutes, although she scored an efficient eight points. Reese saw just 15 minutes of playing time, beset by foul trouble as she struggled her way to six points and five boards. Hopefully, both sophomore stars can stay on the court, allowing for a Sweet 16 showdown that will meet, or even exceed, expectations.

Finally, we will find out if one of the tournament’s two remaining double-digit seeds, the No. 10 Creighton Bluejays, can continue their Cinderella run by knocking off another team from Iowa in the No. 3 Iowa State Cyclones. The game tips at 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2).

This has the potential to be a fun matchup, with lots and lots of buckets. DraftKings’ line for the combined point total is 141.5. While March always brings the unexpected, these teams can strip the nets and light up the scoreboard. For the season, both teams ranked in the top 25 in points per game and and in the top 15 for 3-point field goal percentage.

However, as they showed in shutting down Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, the Jays are capable of playing physical defense. Can they cause similar problems for Ashley Joens? The Cyclones also are a smart defensive team. They end opponent possessions by controlling the defensive glass and resist giving opponents easy points by sending them to the foul line.

So, taking the under for the points total could be a sneaky-good bet.

No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks vs. No. 5 North Carolina Tar Heels (Greensboro Region)

When: 7 p.m. ET

Where: Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, NC

How to watch: ESPN

DraftKings spread: South Carolina -11

No. 2 Texas Longhorns vs. No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes (Spokane Region)

When: 7 p.m. ET

Where: Spokane Arena in Spokane, WA

How to watch: ESPN2

DraftKings spread: Texas -4.5

No. 1 Stanford Cardinal vs. No. 4 Maryland Terrapins (Spokane Region)

When: 9:30 p.m. ET

Where: Spokane Arena in Spokane, WA

How to watch: ESPN

DraftKings spread: Stanford -7

No. 6 Iowa State Cyclones vs. No. 10 Creighton Bluejays (Greensboro Region)

When: 9:30 p.m. ET

Where: Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, NC

How to watch: ESPN2

DraftKings spread: Iowa State -5.5

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