This is an unbelievably exciting weekend for sports. Both the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments are into the Sweet 16, and the MLB is back in action for opening weekend. This week, I will be looking at the best matchups from both the men’s and women’s Sweet 16, as well as the best opening series for baseball.
MLB: Atlanta Braves vs. Philadelphia Phillies
Thursday March 28 – Sunday March 31
Nationally televised games: Saturday, 4 p.m. on Fox Sports 1 and Sunday, 7 p.m. on ESPN
Baseball is probably my favorite sport overall, so I am super excited for it to be back. Opening Day was Thursday, and there are a ton of good matchups for the first weekend of the season. None are bigger than this NL East showdown between the Braves and the Phillies.
The Braves are the reigning division champs and have most of their team returning with some notable additions. Reigning rookie of the year Ronald Acuna Jr. and young phenom Ozzie Albies are both primed for big years, and they also signed some veteran stars in Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann. Their pitching staff looks pretty good as well with the likes of Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Kevin Gausman. This team is in a great position to repeat as NL East Champs.
The Phillies are a really interesting case. They competed the majority of 2018 when they weren’t supposed to be that good, and I don’t think any team did more to improve their lineup than the Phillies. They added J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura and who’s that other guy? Oh right, Bryce Harper. Pair them with their homegrown talent like Odrubel Herrera and Rhys Hoskins and you have one of the best lineups in the National League. Their pitching is a bit of a question behind ace Aaron Nola, but I could definitely see this team making the playoffs either as a division champ or a wild card team.
The Phillies got the best of the Braves in game one so it will be interesting to see how the rest of the series goes.
NCAAM: #3 Houston Cougars vs. #2 Kentucky Wildcats
Friday March 29, 10 p.m. on TBS
While everyone is hyping up the Duke-Virginia Tech game, I am looking at this matchup to be the most intriguing. Kentucky has been without their best player P.J. Washington for the whole tournament, and it hasn’t hurt them yet, but Houston is unlike any of the other teams that they’ve had to play.
The most recent reports say that Washington’s status is TBD, which probably means he’ll play, but in limited minutes. That means that Keldon Johnson and Reid Travis will have to continue their good performances so far in the tournament and provide most of the Wildcats’ scoring.
Scoring is not a department that has been an issue so far at all for Houston in the tournament. They scored 84 points in their first game and 74 in their second game, but Kentucky is also unlike any other team that they have played, especially with regard to defense.
Kentucky’s defense will have to contain Corey Davis Jr. if they hope to beat the Cougars. Davis has been their best scorer all year, and he has dropped over 20 points in each of his team’s first two tourney games.
I think this will be the best game in the entire Sweet 16, because it will be fun to see who wins out: The terrific offense of Houston or the stifling defense of Kentucky.
NCAAW: #3 NC State Wolfpack vs. #2 Iowa Hawkeyes
Saturday March 30, 11:30 a.m. on ESPN
I also have a two-vs.-three game for my best game of the Sweet 16 for women’s basketball. NC State was one of the top teams in the ACC all season, as they lost just five games all year, one of them being to Louisville in the ACC Tournament.
The Hawkeyes, on the other side, won the Big 10 Tournament and enter this game on a seven-game winning streak.
Iowa definitely scores the ball a bit better, averaging almost 80 points per game, but NC State is better defensively, holding their opponents to just 60 points per game. The Wolfpack also rebounds better, grabbing almost 43 per game compared to Iowa’s 38.
Iowa has one thing that no other team in the country has though, and that is Megan Gustafson. She has been an absolute monster all season, averaging 28 points and 13.5 rebounds per game. She seems to be the favorite for the Women’s Naismith Award and a guaranteed top five pick in this year’s WNBA Draft.
If any team can contain her though, it’s NC State, and they will have to if they want to punch their ticket to the Elite 8.
Danny Barletta is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com .