The 2014 NCAA tournament hasn't been short on excitement, and now the stakes will be even higher with the Sweet 16 tipping off on Thursday.
Plenty of brackets have been busted after the chaos that accompanied the first few rounds. Now there will be a more refined focus on the individual games and more time to digest matchups and research how they might unfold.
Telecasts will run late as the weekend approaches, with no games scheduled to tip before 7:15 p.m. ET. However, for those unable to access a TV, March Madness Live has the live stream aspect of the tourney covered, and all games can be viewed there.
In addition to the updated Sweet 16 schedule, below is a preview of what to expect at this stage of the Big Dance.
|Thursday, March 27||Spread||Time (ET)||TV||Live Stream|
|South - No. 10 Stanford vs. No. 11 Dayton||Stanford -2.5||7:15 p.m.||CBS||March Madness Live|
|West - No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Baylor||Wisconsin -3.5||7:47 p.m.||TBS||March Madness Live|
|South - No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 UCLA||Florida -5||9:45 p.m.||CBS||March Madness Live|
|West - No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 4 San Diego State||Arizona -6||10:17 p.m.||TBS||March Madness Live|
|Friday, March 28||Spread||Time (ET)||TV||Live Stream|
|Midwest - No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 11 Tennessee||Michigan -1.5||7:15 p.m.||CBS||March Madness Live|
|East - No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 7 Connecticut||Iowa State -1||7:27 p.m.||TNT||March Madness Live|
|Midwest - No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 8 Kentucky||Louisville -5||9:45 p.m.||CBS||March Madness Live|
|East - No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 4 Michigan State||Michigan State -2||9:57 p.m.||TBS||March Madness Live|
Source: CBSSports.com, VegasInsider.com
Analysis of Major Storylines
Serious Cinderella Potential
At least one double-digit seed will reach the Elite Eight when the winner of the South's No. 10 Stanford and No. 11 Dayton is determined in the opening Sweet 16 contest.
Then there's another No. 11 in the Tennessee Volunteers, who had to play a First Four game just to get into the round of 64. Forward Jarnell Stokes has been tearing it up in the tourney, averaging 20.3 points and 15 rebounds in three contests.
Stokes implied he wasn't pleased with Tennessee's inconsistent play this year, yet feels it's prepared the Vols for what they've faced in the postseason, per 247 Sports' Wes Rucker:
#Vols' Jarnell Stokes: "It wasn't fun to be so up and down this season, but I think it made us more battle-tested."— Wes Rucker (@wesrucker247) March 24, 2014
The Volunteers take on second-seeded Michigan—the reigning national runner-up. While that won't be an easy test, Tennessee has a big edge inside with Stokes and Jeronne Maymon, along with enough threats on the perimeter in leading scorer Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson.
As for the aforementioned showdown in the South, Stanford looks like the more balanced, offensively competent team. As impressive as the Flyers' run has been, they got their two tourney victories by a combined three points.
That shows how fine the line is between advancing and being eliminated in March Madness. Per ESPN Research, very few people saw this matchup coming:
Just 0.4% of the 11 million ESPN Tournament Challenge brackets picked Stanford to play Dayton in the Sweet 16— ESPN Research (@ESPNResearch) March 23, 2014
Both squads are heavily reliant on defense, so this should be a rather low-scoring affair. It's dangerous to underestimate Dayton since it has relished the underdog role in two prior games, but the Cardinal seem like the safer bet here as the slight favorites.
If this one comes down to the wire, Stanford has a more diverse offense—between shot-creating guard Chasson Randle and big men Stefan Nastic and Dwight Powell—to execute better in half-court sets.
How Will the No. 1 Seeds Fare?
The Florida Gators are the clear-cut favorite to win the national title. Their core of four seniors has fallen short of the Final Four by one game in each of the past three seasons, so it's safe to say Billy Donovan will coach the Gators at least to that stage in Arlington.
UCLA is far from a Sweet 16 pushover and has 6'9" point guard Kyle Anderson posing serious matchup problems. ESPN Stats & Info noted how Anderson's unique skill set has translated to the box score in a historic way:
Since assists became official in 1983-84, Kyle Anderson (UCLA) is 1st D-I player with 500 points, 300 rebounds and 200 assists in a season.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 24, 2014
But Florida has too many offensive threats and plays defense too well for the Bruins to entertain the idea of an upset.
The West's top seed in Arizona is the best in the country in terms of adjusted defensive efficiency—just ahead of Florida—per KenPom.com. Its pressure defense forced Gonzaga into 21 turnovers, and at one point in the game, it was just ridiculous, as SI.com's Stewart Mandel highlighted:
For those that dig these kind of stats, Arizona's defensive turnover % in this game is currently 30.8.— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) March 24, 2014
Gonzaga was thought to be an upset threat in the round of 32, but the Wildcats destroyed the Bulldogs 84-61. Freshman Aaron Gordon scored a game-high 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting, aided by plays like these:
The top seed in gravest danger of being bounced is Virginia, who is just not up to par with Florida or Arizona and has to deal with Michigan State in the Sweet 16.
Spartans coach Tom Izzo is no stranger to the Final Four and has a complete team across the board. The Cavaliers don't have much offensive firepower and don't have the personnel to contend with star big man Adreian Payne.
The current spread favors Sparty, and there's good reason for it. Michigan State has been on a roll since winning the Big Ten tournament, so Virginia has its work cut out to advance in Friday's finale.
Battle for the Bluegrass
When Louisville and Kentucky squared off in their annual rivalry matchup on Dec. 28, the Wildcats emerged with a 73-66 win. Big Blue Nation endured serious turbulence thereafter, while the Cardinals went on to win the American Athletic Conference.
The coaching battle is a dandy between former Wildcats coach Rick Pitino, now with Louisville, and John Calipari.
Louisville, a fourth seed, won the national title last season, but in 2012, Calpari's Kentucky bunch defeated the Cardinals in the Final Four en route to a championship. This serves as a rubber match of sorts, with plenty of intrastate pride on the line to boot.
Knocking off Wichita State in the third round was impressive enough for the Wildcats in what may have been the best game of the tournament. Kyle Tucker of the Courier-Journal highlighted some of the numbers:
There were 14 lead changes in that Kentucky-Wichita State game. Man, that was just absurdly fun basketball. Teams shot 55 and 54%.— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_CJ) March 23, 2014
Which lower seed has the best chance at making the Final Four?
But there's plenty of work to do in the difficult Midwest region before the national semifinals become a realistic possibility for Kentucky.
The Cardinals are traditionally built on defense, but they average 82.1 points per contest. Between Montrezl Harrell and versatile forwards Luke Hancock and Stephan Van Treese, the frontcourt has a unique blend of athleticism.
Kentucky has the rare players to keep up, though, with forward Julius Randle and sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein.
Twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison will need to play well for the Wildcats to have a shot at pulling the upset, but the X-factor is fellow freshman James Young. He hit a big three-pointer late in the win over the Shockers and has all the makings of exploding toward his potential for the rest of the tournament after an inconsistent season.
No matter what happens, this Louisville-Kentucky game has all the elements of living up to the hype. Thankfully, that has been the case with most of the 2014 NCAA tournament thus far, creating one of the best openings to the premier college basketball postseason event in history.
A nice blend of Cinderellas, power-conference programs peaking at the right time and some of the elite squads from the regular season make up a diverse Sweet 16 field.
The first three rounds drove home the notions of unpredictability and parity in the modern NCAA tournament era. It's hard to envision everything going according to plan in this next stage of March Madness, too.