The NCAA tournament has hit the pause button for a few days, but March Madness will return stronger than ever when the remaining entrants fight to advance past the Sweet 16.
After staying glued to the TV for four days straight, college basketball fans can finally enjoy the fresh air and take a break from the chaos. Maybe take a shower, too. It's been a while.
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Who am I kidding, this three-day hiatus is meant to assess the weekend's damage and prepare for the ensuing bouts. Many brackets have already found a new home crunched into a waste basket, but hoop nuts can start fresh and map out the next few rounds.
When Thursday and Friday's carnage clears, expect these squads to stay standing in their quest for the NCAA title.
|Thur., Mar. 27||No. 11 Dayton vs. No. 10 Stanford||7:15 p.m.||CBS||Stanford|
|Mar. 27||No. 6 Baylor vs. No. 3 Wisconsin||7:47 p.m.||TBS||Wisconsin|
|Mar. 27||No. 4 UCLA vs. No. 1 Florida||9:45 p.m.||CBS||Florida|
|Mar. 27||No. 4 San Diego State vs. No. 1 Arizona||10:17 p.m.||TBS||Arizona|
|Fri., Mar. 28||No. 11 Tennessee vs. No. 2 Michigan||7:15 p.m.||CBS||Tennessee|
|Mar. 28||No. 7 Connecticut vs. No. 3 Iowa State||7:47 p.m.||TBS||Iowa State|
|Mar. 28||No. 8 Kentucky vs. No. 4 Louisville||9:45 p.m.||CBS||Louisville|
|Mar. 28||No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 1 Virginia||9:57 p.m.||TBS||Michigan State|
Baylor vs. Wisconsin
Baylor proved it deserves to be taken seriously as a Final Four contender after silencing Creighton's juggernaut offense. Much to the misfortune of TNT's Craig Sager, the Bears had ample reason to celebrate after blowing out Creighton in an 85-55 victory.
According to Sports-Reference.com, the Bluejays boast college basketball's most efficient offense with 120.6 points per 100 possessions. Yet the Bears, also known for their scoring prowess, held their fiery opponent to its second-lowest offensive output of the year.
Who will advance to the Elite Eight?
Meanwhile, Wisconsin still ranks seventh in KenPom's team ratings and fourth in adjusted offensive efficiency. Down 12 at halftime to Oregon, the Badgers turned on the engine and matched the Ducks' blazing pace, scoring 48 second-half points to avoid an upset.
Wisconsin will once again have to dial up the pace to match wits with Baylor, who received some great fortune during its statement victory over Creighton. The premier three-point shooting club went ice-cold from downtown, sinking just five of its 24 long-range attempts despite Baylor playing a zone defense.
Baylor caught Creighton on a down day, but now it's facing an opponent that does not rely as heavily on deep shooters surrounding one scorer. The Badgers can play better defense than the Bluejays and hold their own in the paint.
Prediction: Wisconsin 78, Baylor 72
Kentucky vs. Louisville
This is just a Sweet 16 game?
Then again, Wichita State and Kentucky felt like a Final Four bout masquerading as a round of 32 match. The Shockers and Wildcats provided the tournament's best game yet in a 78-76 thriller. Head coach John Calipari agreed that the stakes felt much higher than a trip to the Sweet 16.
"I've been doing this so long. I've been in wars," Calipari told the Associated Press, via ESPN.com, after the game. "You all understand this was an Elite Eight game. The winner of this should have gone to the Final Four."
So throw Kentucky's No. 8 seed out the window. After nearly snatching the SEC title from the No. 1 Florida Gators before ending Wichita State's perfect season, the young squad is hitting its stride at the most opportune time.
Unfortunately, Louisville is also much better than a No. 4. Only Florida and Arizona fare better on KenPom's team efficiency scale, and the Shockers are the only other squad rated in the top 15 on both offense and defense. They've won 18 of their last 20 games, which is why many people treated them as a de facto top seed when filling out their brackets.
Which of these two squads will advance?
In the past month, Louisville has allowed 58.8 points per game. Rick Pitino's club also has two experienced seniors in Luke Hancock and Russ Smith, who each know what it takes to survive March Madness.
Kentucky could have made a Final Four run in a friendlier region, but the inconsistent team is too risky to pick over the elite Louisville, who should later cement its spot as the last Midwest competitor left.
Prediction: Louisville 74, Kentucky 69
Michigan State vs. Virginia
The seeds say Virginia is the favorite to detain Michigan State, but everyone else says otherwise.
Despite getting brandished with a No. 4 seed, the Spartans cruised to the Final Four throughout many brackets across the nation. As of Monday, Vegas Insider has them as a one-point favorite to corral the Cavaliers.
Virginia is not receiving much respect despite defeating Syracuse and Duke before steadily navigating past its first two NCAA tournament opponents. But that's what happens when you trail a No. 16 seed at halftime.
While the Cavaliers woke up in time to avoid a calamity, it doesn't bode well for their chances against a premier school with a storied history in tournament play. Tom Izzo's squad has beaten three ranked opponents this month and six this year, and the Spartans' victory over Michigan is the only reason Virginia currently touts a No. 1 seed.
MSU's offense ranks ninth in KenPom's adjusted offense rating, and the communal club is not reliant on one star. Adreian Payne led the way through the second round with a 41-point outburst, while Branden Dawson scored 26 points on 12-of-15 shooting in its latest victory over Harvard.
The last ACC school remaining, Virginia will join the rest of its conference cohorts on the outside looking in after falling to a team with its sights set on the Final Four.
Prediction: Michigan State 82, Virginia 79