We only know half of the Elite Eight field for the 2013 NCAA tournament, but Thursday night's games gave us a sneak preview of what the Final Four could look like for at least two teams.
Friday's Sweet 16 games will get underway with Louisville and Oregon at 7:15 p.m. ET and will culminate later in the evening with Florida and Cinderella squad Florida Gulf Coast at Cowboys Stadium.
While it's somewhat premature to project the Final Four field after just half of the Sweet 16, predicting the bracket is what March Madness is all about. Your bracket(s) have probably all been busted by now, so why not get a head start on who will represent the NCAA in the Final Four?
That being said, let's take a look at the two teams that set themselves apart on Thursday night and the two that should do the same on Friday night in Sweet 16 action. Put it all together, and your Final Four field could look very similar to the field below.
Note: All times are approximate and Eastern Time. For a complete look at the tournament schedule and bracket, check out Bleacher Report's updated PDF.
|REMAINING SWEET 16 TV Schedule|
|Mar. 29||No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 12 Oregon||7:15||CBS||Indianapolis, Ind.
|Mar. 29||No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 4 Michigan||7:37||TBS||Arlington, Texas|
|Mar. 29||No. 3 Michigan St. vs. No. 2 Duke||9:45||CBS||Indianapolis, Ind.|
|Mar. 29||No. 3 Florida vs. No. 15 FGCU||9:57||TBS||Arlington, Texas|
Final Four Predictions
East: No. 4 Syracuse
When Syracuse is playing stellar defense and is making shots in the halfcourt game, it is an extremely hard team to beat.
No. 1 Indiana found that out firsthand on Thursday night, as Syracuse limited the Indiana attack to just 50 points and found an offensive spark in guard Michael Carter-Williams. That was enough to send Indiana home early for the second year in a row.
Cuse's zone won't be a new thing for Marquette in the Elite Eight, but Syracuse is playing much better since the 22-point loss to Georgetown on March 9.
Syracuse also lost to Marquette earlier in the season, but that game was on the road, and Cuse felt it had a chance to win before throwing the game away late. That Orange team and this one stand in stark contrast to each other, but the key again will be defense against the Marquette attack.
If Syracuse can create the same amount of turnovers and fast-break chances it did on Thursday, it could coast into the Final Four in attempt to win the title for the first time since 2003.
West: No. 2 Ohio State
With their winning streak now at 11, the Buckeyes just keep finding ways to win games.
This time, LaQuinton Ross hit a game-winning three-pointer with just two seconds to play to give Ohio State the three-point win over an upstart Arizona team. Ohio State survived the onslaught from guard Mark Lyons (23 points) and the Wildcats and will have a chance to be a Final Four team for the second year in a row.
Facing them in the Elite Eight will be Wichita State, a team that dominated the inside against La Salle on Thursday night.
While the Shockers have done just that so far in the Big Dance, Ohio State's experience at key positions and versatility on the outside far outweighs what La Salle brought to the table against Wichita State.
I like Ohio State to survive one more time against Wichita State, but expect another nail-biter in the Elite Eight as Wichita State looks to pound the ball inside against everyone.
Midwest: No. 1 Louisville
If there's one team that can slow down the Oregon Ducks, it's Louisville.
That will be the task at hand for Rick Pitino's team—a task that will continue into the Elite Eight (if the Cardinals get there) against the winner of the Duke/Michigan State matchup.
As with Syracuse, defense is really picking up the slack for the offense for this team. It created 23 steals in the opening round and was a nuisance again against Colorado State. Louisville's half-trap, pressure defense will make things hard on Oregon's smaller guards if it is as effective as it was in the opening rounds.
Factor in Russ Smith having a monster tournament and Peyton Siva always a threat for heroics, and Louisville looks like it has a good shot at emerging from the Midwest region.
South: No. 4 Michigan
It's the Big Ten and the Big East in this Final Four projection.
Michigan has been lights-out so far with Mitch McGary in the starting lineup, while the Big 3 of Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III creates so many matchup problems it's ridiculous.
To clarify, I think the winner of Michigan and Kansas reaches the Final Four. By putting Michigan in this spot, I give them the edge over the Jayhawks, in large part because of the way McGary has played so far and the three-headed monster from a scoring standpoint.
Michigan has also been good on defense, slowing down South Dakota State guard Nate Wolters and the entire Virginia Commonwealth attack in blowout wins. That could come in handy against a sputtering Kansas squad that avoided upset twice in its first two games.
Between talent, NBA pedigree and a current hot streak, Michigan has all the tools to join the other three teams on this list in the Final Four. Now, it's up to the players and teams to get the job done.
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