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McFarling: Sweet 16 games, ranked by intrigue

McFarling: Sweet 16 games, ranked by intrigue


Of all the things we remember about the 2021 NCAA Tournament a couple of decades from now, I hope it’s not masks or what happened to VCU or even the team that cuts down the nets in Indianapolis.

I hope to remember it as the event that revived badminton.

How great is that game? You don’t have to be athletic, coordinated or even sober to play it. You get to say the word “shuttlecock” as many times as you like. It’s bowling with sunshine!

On Tuesday’s edition of “Packer and Durham,” the ACC Network’s flagship morning show, Syracuse star Buddy Boeheim talked about how he’s spending his time as he awaits Saturday’s Sweet 16 game against Houston.

There are movies, of course. Practices. Team video sessions. But there is also badminton, a sport many of the remaining teams are playing daily at the approved outdoor recreational site, Victory Field, home of the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians.

Hey, young people are the ones who make things cool — particularly young people who have a platform. If they’re playing badminton, then badminton has a chance.

Let’s just hope nobody pulls a hammy. That could ruin the sport’s comeback story.

But the actual basketball shall return soon — seemingly sooner for us than for the cooped-up players, no doubt. So let’s count down the Sweet 16 games in terms of competitiveness and intrigue.

8. No. 5 Creighton vs. No. 1 Gonzaga (2:10 p.m. Sunday, WDBJ)

Don’t get me wrong; the Bulldogs are tremendously fun to watch. But they’re the biggest favorite on the board in this round (-13.5). Their challenges come later, if at all.

7. No. 15 Oral Roberts vs. No. 3 Arkansas (7:25 p.m. Saturday, TBS)

No 15th seeded team has ever reached the Elite Eight. By all means, run straight for the television if Oral Roberts keeps this close, just to give yourself a chance at witnessing history. But the Razorbacks are an 11-point favorite for a reason. This is where Cinderella typically settles her tab and calls an Uber.

6. No. 7 Oregon vs. No. 6 USC (9:45 p.m. Sunday, TBS)

The Sweet 16’s final matchup features two of the four Pac-12 teams still kicking. The Trojans are favored by only a single point, making it the smallest spread on the board. But how many East Coasters watched a lot of Pac-12 basketball this year? That’s a late tipoff for us older folks with no connections to the teams.

5. No. 11 UCLA vs. No. 2 Alabama (7:15 p.m. Sunday, TBS)

You have to imagine those teams that play in the First Four get less love in office pools than even some of the No. 13 and No. 14 seeds out there, just because nobody wants to bother figuring out who’s going to win that extra game. The Bruins are cresting at the right time, and this game is quite the athletic showcase.

4. No. 5 Villanova vs. No. 1 Baylor (5:15 p.m. Saturday, WDBJ)

Full credit to Villanova for reaching the second weekend — something many experts doubted (I, as an obvious non-expert, had them losing to Winthrop in the first round). Drawing North Texas in the second round gave them an easier path to this point, though, and it feels like Baylor could blast them. Villanova’s March pedigree moves this game up a rung or two.

3. No. 11 Syracuse vs. No. 2 Houston (9:55 p.m. Saturday, TBS)

The Orange just keeps doing Orange things. After waxing San Diego State and holding off West Virginia, Syracuse is now 9-2 all-time as a double-digit seed – easily the best record in history. It’s the younger Boeheim and not the coach that gives the Orange a realistic chance here, as Buddy has shot 57% on 3-pointers and averaged 27.5 ppg so far in this tournament.

2. No. 12 Oregon State vs. No. 8 Loyola Chicago (2:40 p.m. Saturday, WDBJ)

The analytics folks tried to warn us about the Ramblers. Kenpom had them ranked first in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency and ninth overall, but the selection committee didn’t respect their schedule and gave them a No. 8 seed. Beating Illinois by 13 points last round was quite the revelation, and pudgy post man Cameron Krutwig is just the kind of inspiration some of us have been looking for while stuffing our faces during the pandemic.

1. No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 1 Michigan (5 p.m. Sunday, WDBJ)

OK, so there’s probably a little ACC bias here. But FSU had a team poised to make the Final Four last season before COVID-19 struck, and the Seminoles have handled their business nicely while five conference teams exited in the opening round. Meanwhile, Michigan coach Juwan Howard has done a remarkable job of steadying the Wolverines after they lost standout forward Isaiah Livers to injury. The line is only 3 points (in Michigan’s favor), and there’s a whole lot of talent on that floor. Can’t wait to see this one play out late in the weekend.

In the meantime, who’s up for some badminton?

Contact sports columnist Aaron McFarling at 540-981-3423 or

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