(1) Kansas vs. (5) Clemson — These are unchartered waters for the Tigers (25-9). This is just their fourth trip to the Sweet Sixteen and they have only made it past this round once in school history (1980).
In the last six weeks, Clemson has lost to Virginia, Duke, Florida State and Syracuse. Kansas will be a tall order for this squad that finished third in the ACC and have been favored in only four of their last 10 games.
The Jayhawks (29-7) won their 14th straight Big 12 title this season and they’ve only lost once in their last 11 games.
Clemson dumped New Mexico State and Auburn in the first two rounds of the tournament, while Kansas eliminated Pennsylvania and Seton Hall.
Devonte Graham leads a well-balanced offense for the Jayhawks. He’s one of five players who average double digits in points per game — Graham (17.4), Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (15.0), Malik Newman (13.4), Udoka Azubuike (13.2) and Lagerald Vick (12.1).
Clemson doesn’t have quite the firepower that the Jayhawks possess. They are led by junior guard Marcquise Reed (15.9) and Gabe DeVoe (13.7).
Kansas is 1-1 against the spread (ATS) in the championship, while Clemson is 2-0.
(2) Duke vs. (11) Syracuse — One of the best offensive powerhouses in the country is about to bang bodies with a top defense. Something has to give.
The Blue Devils (28-7), who have rolled through the first two rounds of the tournament, are ranked sixth in the nation in scoring. The Orange (23-13), who won a qualifying game in the First Four and their first two tournament matchups, are ranked 10th in the nation in defense.
Duke is the biggest favorite in the Sweet Sixteen round, with the line at 11.5 points. They are also now favored to win the championship at +325. Syracuse is 66-1.
The Blue Devils beat the Orange less than a month ago at home, winning the regular-season game 60-44. It was the lowest offensive output of the season for both teams.
Syracuse, which has been to the Sweet Sixteen 23 times, won its only national title in 2003. They have three players who have averaged double digits in scoring this year in Tyus Battle (19.3), Oshae Brissett (14.9) and Frank Howard (14.6).
Duke, which is 9-2 in its last 11 games, has five players who average more than 10 points a game, led by freshman sensation Marvin Bagley (21.2).
Syracuse may have an impressive defense, but the problem is the fact its offense ranks 317th. Duke should move on to the Elite Eight.