The insanity of the first weekend in the NCAA tournament is over.
After an explosive first two days that left every bracket shredded, the weekend action was just as riveting. Three No. 1 seeds remain, which is the same amount of double-digit seeds that still have hopes of making the Final Four—two of which will face each other.
Only 3 of the 11 million brackets in ESPN's Tournament Challenge got the entire Sweet 16 correct. Yes, March Madness has arrived.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 24, 2014
Regardless of whether your team is still in the field or not, the Sweet 16 is setting up to be one for the ages, with many of the most legendary programs in college basketball still in the hunt.
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Whether a fan is cheering for the underdogs like No. 11 Dayton and Tennessee or one of the historically great teams like Kentucky, Florida, UCLA or Arizona, the upcoming weekend has the potential to be just as exciting as the first.
Before the next slate of games gets underway, here's a look at the odds for each team to win the national championship and predictions for some of the most intriguing matchups set to take place.
|Region||Date||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV||Live Stream||Pick|
|South||Thurs, March 27||No. 11 Dayton vs. No. 10 Stanford||7:15 p.m.||CBS||NCAA.com||Dayton|
|South||Thurs, March 27||No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Baylor||7:47 p.m.||TBS||NCAA.com||Wisconsin|
|West||Thurs, March 27||No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 UCLA||9:45 p.m.||CBS||NCAA.com||Florida|
|West||Thurs, March 27||No. 4 San Diego State vs. No. 1 Arizona||10:17 p.m.||TBS||NCAA.com||Arizona|
|East||Fri, March 28||No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 11 Tennessee||7:15 p.m.||CBS||NCAA.com||Michigan|
|East||Fri, March 28||No. 7 Connecticut vs. No. 3 Iowa State||7:27 p.m.||TBS||NCAA.com||Connecticut|
|Midwest||Fri, March 28||No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 8 Kentucky||9:45 p.m.||CBS||NCAA.com||Kentucky|
|Midwest||Fri, March 28||No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 1 Virginia||9:57 p.m.||TBS||NCAA.com||Virginia|
|San Diego State||38-1|
*All NCAA tournament odds provided by Vegas Insider.
No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 UCLA
What a great tournament for the SEC. After coming into the Big Dance with only three teams (Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee), the conference has gone 7-0 during the early going.
That certainly makes up for finishing 0-2 in BCS games and losing the national-championship stranglehold on football.
And with the top overall seed in the entire field, the SEC has one team nearly locked in to make the Final Four. Florida not only embraces that pressure, but believes it has the energy to keep up with any team, as Scottie Wilbekin spoke about with the Associated Press:
We just wanted to come out and not let [Pittsburgh] play harder than us or not play as hard as we can. I think we did a good job of having our energy up at the start of the game, and we played together on offense and played together on defense.
That high-energy, fast-break style for the Gators has gotten them to this point, and it's what will lead them to an Elite Eight appearance.
Wilbekin is the clear-cut leader for the team, as the SEC Player of the Year finished with 21 points against Pitt in the third round of the tournament. But with a cast that also includes Casey Prather, Patric Young and Dorian Finney-Smith—each of whom are looking to rebound from down games against the Panthers—the Gators have talent at every position on the court.
Playing against a UCLA Bruins team that boasts great players of their own like the versatile Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, the Gators could have one of their stiffest tests this season. But if Wilbekin can outplay Anderson on both sides of the court, Florida should advance in a tough game for both sides.
Prediction: Florida 76, UCLA 71
No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 4 Michigan State
If you had just one ACC team making the Sweet 16 field in the NCAA tournament, raise your hand.
Even after a supposed down year for the conference, nearly every analyst at least had programs like Duke or North Carolina at least making it to the second weekend along with Virginia. Instead, the ACC watched the SEC run the table while it just barely stayed above .500 at 6-5 with only one team advancing.
How often does that happen? It's not very likely, as ESPN Stats & Info reports:
This is 2nd time that both North Carolina and Duke were eliminated in the first weekend since tourney expanded in 1985. Other was in 1996.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 24, 2014
But even Virginia came into the tournament with questionable seeding at a No. 1, while others like Louisville and Michigan State stumbled down to a No. 4 seed. With that said, here's the Spartans' chance to prove they were worthy of a higher seed.
Former player and Laker legend Magic Johnson voiced his thoughts on this year's Spartans team:
Spartan Nation: We're going back to the Sweet 16! Congrats to Coach Izzo and the @MSU_Basketball team!— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) March 23, 2014
Both teams come into the Sweet 16 with plenty still to prove, but the all-around game of Michigan State will be too much for the Cavaliers.
With offensive weapons that can potentially thrust Michigan State to a national championship, Sparty will ruin the ACC's dreams of earning another title by knocking off the last remaining member.
Prediction: Michigan State 58, Virginia 52
No. 8 Kentucky vs. No. 4 Louisville
It's like Christmas came early in college basketball. One of the nastiest rivalries in the sport will take place in the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year when Kentucky and Louisville face off.
How big of a deal is this game? It's such a big deal that Bleacher Report's Adam Lefkoe has produced a movie entitled Red V. Blue solely about the rivalry.
Lefkoe gave his thoughts about the matchup this time around on Twitter:
Of all 16 teams left, two of the worst match-ups for Louisville are left in their region: UK and Tennessee. Size is the Cards weakness.— Adam Lefkoe (@AdamLefkoe) March 24, 2014
Right now, I'm leaning Kentucky. However, the notion of Russ Smith & Luke Hancock in a do-or-die situation...they'll pull out some miracles.— Adam Lefkoe (@AdamLefkoe) March 24, 2014
While he admits he's leaning toward the Wildcats, one more stat might just sway the decision toward Louisville's direction, as Lefkoe points out:
Rick Pitino is 11-0 in the Sweet Sixteen round. Think about that.— Adam Lefkoe (@AdamLefkoe) March 24, 2014
With everything on the line for both teams, it will come down to which team can impose its will over the other. With the likes of both Russ Smith and Julius Randle on the court trying to get their game going, this game could be a race to 80 for the two great offensive teams.
But with Louisville playing much better defensive basketball since losing earlier in the season to the Wildcats, expect Rick Pitino to once again trump John Calipari and fight for a chance at a second straight Final Four.
Prediction: Louisville 81, Kentucky 77
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