As much fun as there was in the first three rounds of the NCAA tournament, the Sweet 16 is likely to become even more intense.
Three double-digit seeds have crashed the party, but there is plenty of talent throughout the bracket, and almost every team remaining has a chance to go to the Final Four and contend for a national championship.
The only question remaining is which squads can keep up their great level of play and which will falter down the stretch. Here is a guide to the next round of action in the NCAA tournament with predictions for each game.
All Your Bracket Essentials
- Download the Printable Bracket
- Follow the Latest Bracket Updates Live
- Play the Free Bracket Challenge
|March 27||Stanford (10) vs. Dayton (11)||7:15 p.m.||CBS||Dayton|
|March 27||Wisconsin (2) vs. Baylor (6)||7:47 p.m.||TBS||Baylor|
|March 27||Florida (1) vs. UCLA (4)||9:45 p.m.||CBS||Florida|
|March 27||Arizona (1) vs. San Diego State (4)||10:17 p.m.||TBS||Arizona|
|March 28||Michigan (2) vs. Tennessee (11)||7:15 p.m.||CBS||Michigan|
|March 28||Iowa State (3) vs. Connecticut (7)||7:27 p.m.||TBS||Iowa St.|
|March 28||Louisville (4) vs. Kentucky (8)||9:45 p.m.||CBS||Kentucky|
|March 28||Virginia (1) vs. Michigan State (4)||9:57 p.m.||TBS||Michigan St.|
Top Games to Watch
No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 4 Michigan State
When the brackets came out, few people gave any respect to Virginia as the fourth No. 1 seed. Meanwhile, Michigan State was the second-most-common selection to win the national championship on ESPN's bracket challenge.
However, a truly dominant performance by Virginia against Memphis in the third round certainly turned some heads. As Ken Pomeroy notes, this sets up an exciting game in the next round:
Virginia v. Michigan State should be a doozy.— Ken Pomeroy (@kenpomeroy) March 24, 2014
Andy Katz of ESPN also argues that Michigan State will have a hard time getting past the Cavaliers:
Virginia looking every bit like a one seed. If this keeps up may be time to halt handing Michigan State East title. UVA deserves respect.— Andy Katz (@ESPNAndyKatz) March 24, 2014
Virginia has been an elite defensive team all year long, ranking first in the country with only 55.5 points allowed per game. While a slow pace helps this out, the fact remains that every shot an opponent takes is difficult.
It is not a fluke that this team has only one loss in the past 19 games.
On the other hand, Michigan State has been less consistent but still extremely tough to beat when playing at its best. The Spartans dealt with numerous injuries throughout the season and are finally healthy at the right time.
Still, the key to this game will be Keith Appling, the senior point guard who has dealt with a wrist injury for most of the season. He has been less of a scorer lately, but he has still found a way to help his team with his ability to distribute.
If Appling can create open looks for Gary Harris, Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson, the Spartans will be able to get enough points to make it past Virginia.
Prediction: Michigan State 62, Virginia 59
No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Baylor
Few teams in the field had a more impressive start to the tournament than Baylor. The Bears were matched up with two tough teams in Nebraska and Creighton but had little trouble with either, winning by a combined 44 points.
They completely destroyed No. 3 Creighton thanks to an incredible shooting display, as seen in this shot chart:
Baylor nets the 3rd-largest margin of victory by a 6-seed (30 pts). That's what happens when you shoot 64% from field pic.twitter.com/cKXFXHqR11— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 24, 2014
On the other hand, the defense was just as impressive as the squad held one of the top scoring teams in the nation to just 55 points. Seth Greenberg of ESPN gave a brief assessment to what makes the defense so good:
Baylor. Length athleticism and a rebounders mentality.— Seth Greenberg (@SethOnHoops) March 24, 2014
This length in the zone is certain to cause similar problems for Wisconsin, which also loves to utilize the three-point shot. The Badgers made 37.6 percent of shots from behind the arc this year with all five starters capable of hitting.
Of course, this squad has succeeded this year with its ability to balance the outside shooting with inside scoring. Center Frank Kaminsky has had some huge games this year, while Sam Dekker can also come out of nowhere with big plays like this:
However, Baylor's Isaiah Austin in the middle of the defense will make points in the paint tough to come by. Add that to the strength of Cory Jefferson and Rico Gathers, and Wisconsin will struggle to get easy buckets.
If Brady Heslip and Kenny Chery hit their shots again, the Bears should continue to make their run to the Elite Eight.
Prediction: Baylor 76, Wisconsin 71
No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 8 Kentucky
Not only have these two rivals won the past two national championships, but entering the year, it would not be surprising to see this matchup take place in the national finals.
Kentucky began the year as the preseason No. 1 thanks to an elite recruiting class, while Louisville returned a big piece of last year's title team and were No. 3 to start the season.
However, the Wildcats struggled throughout the year due to the overall youth. Everyone on the roster entered as a heralded prospect and expected to do everything themselves. Head coach John Calipari explained after the third-round win how much his team had improved, via Nate Latsch of Fox Sports:
Here's what's happened with this team. They now are putting themselves in a position where they're accepting roles how they have to play. So we're becoming a better team. Individuals are losing themselves into the team, so they're playing better and more confident.
And then the other thing is, because we've been through so much throughout the year, they're stronger. So a little lull in the game doesn't affect them. They've been through all that. Their will to win, to stay with it, all that they've been up against. And like I told them today, I just wish we had another month of the season left, like keep playing. Because we're getting better every day.
This is a normal progression for a young team, but the fact remains that Kentucky at its best is better than anyone in the country. The Wildcats proved that with a tough win over Wichita State and are only gaining confidence at this stage of the year.
The truly scary part is that Kentucky actually beat Louisville earlier in the year before things were really clicking.
Louisville still has one of the most clutch players in the game in Russ Smith to pair with a dominant inside force of Montrezl Harrell. However, the Cardinals might not be deep enough to handle the Wildcats at their best.
Prediction: Kentucky 68, Louisville 67
Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.