It might seem blasphemous as we are right smack dab in the middle of the greatest tournament of the year, but it's OK to feel a little melancholy.
The best weekend in sports is now in the books, and just like that, 52 of the Big Dance's 67 games are already behind us. Why can't it just be the first Thursday and Friday of the NCAA tournament every day?
Don't fret, though. For what the Sweet 16 and subsequent rounds lack in volume, they are sure to make up for in enthralling matchups.
But while everyone is looking forward to Virginia vs. Michigan State and Louisville vs. Kentucky, let's take a gander at some of the underrated matchups on the docket.
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Sweet 16 Schedule and Predictions
|Date||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV Info||Prediction|
|Thurs., March 27||No. 10 Stanford vs. No. 11 Dayton||7:15 p.m.||CBS||Stanford|
|Thurs., March 27||No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Baylor||7:47 p.m.||TBS||Baylor|
|Thurs., March 27||No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 UCLA||9:45 p.m.||CBS||Florida|
|Thurs., March 27||No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 4 San Diego State||9:55 p.m.||TBS||Arizona|
|Date||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV Info||Prediction|
|Fri., March 28||No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 11 Tennessee||7:15 p.m.||CBS||Michigan|
|Fri., March 28||No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 7 Connecticut||7:47 p.m.||TBS||Iowa State|
|Fri., March 28||No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 8 Kentucky||9:40 p.m.||CBS||Louisville|
|Fri., March 28||No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 4 Michigan State||9:55 p.m.||TBS||Virginia|
Underrated Games to Watch
(1) Arizona vs. (4) San Diego State
There were a lot of impressive team performances on Saturday and Sunday, but it's difficult to argue that any were better than Arizona's.
The Wildcats' swarming defense forced Gonzaga—a talented team with impressive offensive balance inside and out—into 40.7 percent shooting and a silly 21 turnovers, which resulted in 31 points for Sean Miller's squad.
Nick Johnson (17 points, five rebounds, five assists, three steals, four blocks), Aaron Gordon (18 points, six rebounds, six assists, four steals) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (18 points, five rebounds, five assists, one steal, four blocks) all put up fat stat lines. When the Wildcats play like they did on Sunday, no one is going to beat them.
San Diego State offers an intriguing matchup, however.
The Aztecs protect the ball (22nd in turnover percentage) much better than Gonzaga (106th) and can force Arizona into a half-court game. The Wildcats defense will always keep the team in games, but when the pace slows and Arizona isn't able to get into transition, it can be inefficient offensively, especially against a SDSU team that is so disruptive on defense.
Finally, the Aztecs have a difference-maker in Xavier Thames, who scored 30 against North Dakota St. and has the ability to break down Arizona's pack-line defense.
Xavier Thames scored or assisted on more points by himself (45) than the entire North Dakota State team scored (44).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 23, 2014
This is a rematch of a game Arizona won on the road in December. The Wildcats are favored again, but Steve Fisher's squad has the makeup to frustrate the 'Cats into a game they don't want to play.
(3) Iowa State vs. (7) Connecticut
DeAndre Kane against Shabazz Napier at the Mecca of Basketball.
In the round of 32, DeAndre Kane tallied 24 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and the game-winning layup in traffic with just under two seconds remaining:
The senior, who transferred from Marshall, turns 25 years old in June, and as Bleacher Report's C.J. Moore noted, he certainly looked the part in the Cyclones' win over North Carolina:
DeAndre Kane is older than everybody and looked it today.— CJ Moore (@CJMooreBR) March 23, 2014
Fun fact: Kane is older than James Harden, DeMar DeRozan and Eric Bledsoe, who are all basically NBA vets at this point.
Although not nearly as old, Napier is similarly a senior and similarly put his team on his back last weekend. The explosive guard scored 21 of his 25 points in the second half as the Huskies put away No. 2 Villanova, 77-65.
Although the Naismith College Player of the Year finalists may tell you differently, there has arguably been no guard in the country better than Napier this season, and CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein put it simply:
Have said it since a UConn practice in mid October. I'd take Shabazz Napier over any other guard in college basketball. Straight assassin.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 23, 2014
You aren't going to find a better individual matchup this round. Georges Niang's absence threatens to swing this one in UConn's favor, but it will likely come down to which point guard thrives better under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.
(2) Michigan vs. (11) Tennessee
You would be hard-pressed to find two teams that are more different from each other than Michigan and Tennessee.
The Wolverines are perimeter-oriented. Often playing four athletes—Derrick Walton, Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, Glenn Robinson Jr.—who score and handle the ball on the court at the same time, it's not exactly surprising that John Beilein's squad slots third in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted offensive efficiency ranks and sixth in points per possession.
The Wolverines may not always defend, but boy can they put up points in a hurry—and boy is it fun to watch.
Tennessee, meanwhile, isn't exactly lacking on the perimeter with Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson, but the Vols' true strengths are on the interior.
Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon are physical loads underneath, and it's incredibly difficult to keep them out of the paint or off the glass. Tennessee, according to kenpom.com (subscription needed) is fourth in America in offensive rebounding percentage and 18th in defensive rebounding percentage.
Beilein discussed the difficult matchup Monday morning during a radio interview, via The Detroit News' Rod Beard:
I watched the game last night with Mercer and I watched (another Tennessee) game already this morning. This is (the type of) team we see quite often and it’s a difficult match for us because they have great quickness on the perimeter and they play with a classic two big guys on the blocks that just beat us up.
When we lost Mitch McGary earlier in the year, that no longer became an option for us to play with two bigs and we’ve just been playing with one. They will probably win the rebounding battle but we have to win the possession battle like we did (against Texas).
As Michigan attempts to prepare for the Volunteers' size and physicality, hopefully no one runs into Spike Albrecht on the way to class this week:
Beilein told players to practice boxing out on classmates, in restaurants, etc. to practice for Tennessee.— Rod Beard (@detnewsRodBeard) March 24, 2014
In all seriousness, Michigan almost never puts Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford on the floor at the same time, while Stokes could have a difficult time keeping up with "Little Big Dog" on the perimeter.
The coaching chess match that will ensue is what makes these types of matches so alluring.