As expected, the first three rounds of the 2014 NCAA tournament were highlighted by numerous close games and plenty of upsets. No region has its top four seeds remaining heading into the Sweet 16, and a clear championship favorite still hasn't emerged.
The other factor illustrating the overall parity is the fact three double-digit seeds are still left standing. At least one of them will reach the Elite Eight, as Stanford and Dayton will face off in the South region. Those teams and all the others still in the tournament are just four wins from the title.
So let's check out all of the updated bracket information heading into the Sweet 16. It's followed by a closer look at the top three games on tap for the round and predictions for which teams will advance.
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(1) Florida vs. (4) UCLA
UCLA wasn't generating much hype heading into the tournament. That's changed as the Bruins prepare for a marquee clash with Florida after convincing wins over Tulsa and a Stephen F. Austin squad that upset popular sleep pick VCU in the round of 64.
The all-around ability of Kyle Anderson paired with the efficient offense of Jordan Adams and Norman Powell, who love to attack the rim, will pose a tough test for the stout Florida defense.
Gators head coach Billy Donovan realizes that, as illustrated in remarks passed along by the school's athletics site on Monday:
Well, unique team, probably unlike any team we've played this year. Really, really fast, explosive in transition, great scoring ability from all five spots. You know, a uniqueness about them because one of their leading rebounders is Kyle Anderson. It's a little bit unique for a point guard to get as many rebounds as he does and starts the break, and that's where they're really, really great is in transition. They also do a really good job with their half court offense.
To me just based on watching them some last night and obviously this morning, you know, maybe the most explosive offensive team we've faced and maybe the most unique offensive team we've faced this year.
Despite the Bruins' dangerous offense, the Gators have won 28 straight games due to the stability of their defense. They held Pittsburgh, which shot above 50 percent from the field in its first game, to just 37 percent shooting in the round of 32.
A veteran, battled-tested Florida lineup should be able to limit UCLA's fast-break opportunities and do a much better job of protecting the paint than the Bruins' first two opponents. That should give the Gators the edge in a close contest.
(4) Louisville vs. (8) Kentucky
When the bracket was released on Selection Sunday, the first matchup that really stood out was the potential third-round meeting between Kentucky and Wichita State. It came to fruition, and the talent of the Wildcats shined through to pull off the upset of the previously unbeaten Shockers.
Kentucky has flashed that type of potential all season. It has struggled to string big performances together, though, especially against top-tier opponents. One thing working in its favor against Louisville is John Calipari's recent track record when facing Rick Pitino, as noted by ESPN College Basketball:
Since John Calipari took over at Kentucky in 2009-10, he’s faced Rick Pitino’s Louisville team six times, winning five.— ESPN College BBall (@ESPNCBB) March 24, 2014
After a sluggish opener, Louisville looked far more like a title contender in its 15-point win over Saint Louis. The Cardinals' balanced offensive attack makes them tough to stop, and the task becomes nearly impossible when they ramp up the defensive pressure, as they were able to do against the Billikens.
The game featuring in-state rivals will depend heavily on which version of Kentucky shows up. The one that beat Wichita State or the one that lost four of seven games before the tournament. In the end, Louisville's championship experience should help it overcome a tricky challenge.
(1) Virginia vs. (4) Michigan State
Virginia isn't the most exciting team to watch because it prefers to play at a very slow pace. It's the perfect system for the Cavaliers, however, because it makes every possession more important and their defense is almost the best in the country.
Which Sweet 16 game will be the best?
Michigan State must find a way to get them out of that comfort zone. The Spartans are averaging over 86 points per game through two games, showing off the offensive talent necessary to create issues for the Virginia defense.
There won't be a chance for the likes of Adreian Payne and Gary Harris to take control of the game if the game slows to a crawl, though. So Michigan State must execute quickly on offense and amplify the pressure on defense, especially early in the game, to help increase the tempo.
Virginia advanced through its first two games because it was able to implement its game plan. How they will respond if Michigan State is able to have early offensive success and avoid being bogged down is a major question mark. It makes the Spartans the safer selection.
Pick: Michigan State