After the exhilarating, maddening opening weekend of the NCAA tournament, trying to predict what happens in the Sweet 16 is going to leave many people with gray hair.
Instead of simply saying Team A or Team B is going to win, we have identified certain trends that can be exploited to give one side the edge over the other in some of the top games on Thursday and Friday.
Here is a look at the bracket for the Sweet 16, with full predictions and some notable keys to victory.
Sweet 16 Bracket and Picks
|Date||Regional Semifinals||Time (ET)||TV||Prediction|
|Thu, March 27||South - No. 10 Stanford vs. No. 11 Dayton||7:15 p.m.||CBS||Stanford|
|Thu, March 27||West - No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Baylor||7:47 p.m.||TBS||Wisconsin|
|Thu, March 27||South - No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 UCLA||9:45 p.m.||CBS||Florida|
|Thu, March 27||West - No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 4 San Diego State||10:17 p.m.||TBS||Arizona|
|Fri, March 28||Midwest - No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 11 Tennessee||7:15 p.m.||CBS||Tennessee|
|Fri, March 28||East - No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 7 Connecticut||7:27 p.m.||TBS||Connecticut|
|Fri, March 28||Midwest - No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 8 Kentucky||9:45 p.m.||CBS||Kentucky|
|Fri, March 28||East - No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 4 Michigan State||9:57 p.m.||TBS||Michigan State|
Keys to Victory in Top Games
West Region: No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Baylor
Wisconsin's ability to defend in transition
It was strange to watch Wisconsin overcome a 12-point halftime deficit against an excellent shooting team and pummel Oregon into submission with 48 points in the second half.
Of course, the Badgers also clamped down on defense in the last 20 minutes of that victory. They allowed 19 fast-break points in the first half and zero in the second half.
Baylor didn't need fast-break points against Creighton in the round of 32, because that game was over as soon as it started. But the Bears have shooters who can get down the court and cause Bo Ryan's defense all sorts of problems.
Scott Drew's team ranked 22nd in three-point field goals made and 23rd in three-point field-goal percentage this season. If Cory Jefferson and Brady Heslip are able to get behind Wisconsin's defense the way Oregon did for 20 minutes, it's going to be a long day for the Badgers.
Wisconsin is still the better team, and it has one of the most efficient offenses in college basketball, ranking 11th in points per 100 possessions. Baylor is a mediocre defensive club—113th in points allowed, 179th in defensive efficiency—so it needs to rely on fast-break points and quick scores to win.
Take Wisconsin's shooting touch and ability to clamp down on defense when necessary.
Prediction: Wisconsin 74, Baylor 71
South Region: No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 UCLA
UCLA's shooting ability vs. Florida's defense
Sometimes a matchup comes along that doesn't require any more thought than what both teams excel at. UCLA doesn't win any style points on defense, as it allowed 70.1 points per game in the regular season, but it can score with anyone in the country.
The Bruins have blown out their two tournament opponents, Tulsa and Stephen F. Austin, by a combined score of 153-119 and shot 50 percent in the two wins.
Florida's defense has carried it to 28 consecutive wins, including an impressive performance against Pittsburgh in the round of 32. The Panthers scored 45 points and shot 37 percent from the floor.
The Gators don't have an exciting offense, though they are an efficient group that ranked 54th in points per 100 possessions during the season. But we know how Billy Donovan's team butters its bread.
UCLA and Pittsburgh are an interesting back-to-back pairing for Florida because the Bruins are a better version of the Panthers. They have athletic big men in David and Travis Wear. Kyle Anderson is a matchup nightmare at 6'9", and he is able to play inside or outside.
But Florida's defensive success comes from its ability to defend the ball in one-on-one situations. The Gators had 10 steals against Pittsburgh, with the five starters having at least one each.
The Bruins haven't gone against a defense that is this good and that has no weaknesses to exploit.
Prediction: Florida 67, UCLA 62
Midwest Region: No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 8 Kentucky
Kentucky's size vs. Louisville's defense
One advantage Kentucky has that most teams don't is the ability to win multiple ways. If you want to bang down low, Willie Cauley-Stein, Julius Randle and Alex Poythress will smack you around.
If you try to shoot the Wildcats out of the building, Andrew and Aaron Harrison are going to go off for 39 points, as they did against Wichita State.
Louisville has a versatile player in Luke Hancock, though he's not big enough to match up with Kentucky's big men in the paint. Montrezl Harrell is the de facto center, but at 6'8" and 235 pounds, he's shorter and smaller than Randle (239 lbs.) and Cauley-Stein (244 lbs.).
The Cardinals looked vulnerable against Manhattan in the round of 64, trailing 58-55 with less than four minutes to play and struggling to defend the 6'10" Ashton Pankey all game long. He had 16 points on 5-for-8 shooting and five rebounds.
Kentucky is coming off its best game of the season against Wichita State, while Louisville was able to get away with sloppy play against both Manhattan and Saint Louis. If the Cardinals play this game like they played last weekend, there will be a new national champion.
Prediction: Kentucky 72, Louisville 70
Note: All stats courtesy of SportsReference.com unless otherwise noted.
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