In the hours leading up to the Sweet 16, the NCAA tournament brackets have taken on a new life of their own.
No longer is the focus on upsets and Cinderella, rather how the teams in the field match up against each other. Instead of pouring over ways to figure out how a small school can upend a powerhouse, the focus is on the schools with the ingredients to win a championship.
The oddsmakers have made their voices heard, handing out lines that make us think harder about how these games will play out, and now is the time to look at what some of these lines mean.
Sweet 16 Schedule and Odds
|Date||Regional Semifinals||Time (ET)||TV||Odds|
|March 27||South—No. 10 Stanford vs. No. 11 Dayton||7:15 p.m.||CBS||Stanford (-2.5)|
|March 27||West—No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Baylor||7:47 p.m.||TBS||Wisconsin (-4)|
|March 27||South—No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 UCLA||9:45 p.m.||CBS||Florida (-5.5)|
|March 27||West—No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 4 San Diego State||10:17 p.m.||TBS||Arizona (-6)|
|March 28||Midwest—No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 11 Tennessee||7:15 p.m.||CBS||Michigan (-2)|
|March 28||East—No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 7 Connecticut||7:27 p.m.||TBS||Pick 'Em|
|March 28||Midwest—No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 8 Kentucky||9:45 p.m.||CBS||Louisville (-5)|
|March 28||East—No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 4 Michigan State||9:57 p.m.||TBS||Michigan State (-1)|
Odds courtesy of VegasInsider.com.
Teams That Will Beat Spread
No. 4 UCLA (+5.5) vs. No. 1 Florida
It's hard to fly under the radar when you are in the Sweet 16, but UCLA should be a larger part of the tournament conversation than it has been thus far.
Some of the disinterest can be attributed to playing Tulsa and Stephen F. Austin in the second and third rounds, but it also misses the larger point of what the Bruins have done in the last two weeks.
The Pac-12 tournament launched UCLA into the national consciousness again, particularly a victory over Arizona in the championship game.
Like the Wildcats, Florida is a team that doesn't shoot the lights out but can defend with anyone. We know UCLA can beat Arizona, so why not Florida?
Dana O'Neil of ESPN.com raved about UCLA when talking about the most dangerous team left in the tournament:
Seriously, is anyone talking about UCLA? Yet UCLA has won five in a row and seven of its past eight. The Bruins' defense might still be a liability, but when the offense is cooking as well as it is right now, it might not matter.
Defense isn't UCLA's strong suit, though it's hardly an Achilles heel. The Bruins finished 74th in defensive efficiency, indicating that they are better than their 70.1 points per game would indicate.
Florida's defense is good enough to shut down any team, even one that shoots as well as UCLA, so to expect an upset would be going out on a limb. But the Bruins have the shooters to keep this game close.
Prediction: Florida 71, UCLA 68
No. 11 Tennessee (+2) vs. No. 2 Michigan
If UCLA is the least-talked about team in the Sweet 16, Michigan vs. Tennessee is the least-talked about game. It's a fascinating matchup between two teams that play very different styles.
Which underdog has the best chance to win a national championship?
Michigan adjusted the way it plays as the season has moved on. The offense was designed to run through Mitch McGary, but he played in just eight games before back problems flared up.
Now, John Beilein's offense is based on the wings and relies heavily on outside shooters Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert. Glenn Robinson III has also elevated his game, being more aggressive with the ball and shooting just under 49 percent from the floor.
This change in style has left the Wolverines vulnerable to teams with size on the inside, which Tennessee has.
Texas destroyed Michigan on the glass with a 41-30 edge in rebounding, including 21 offensive rebounds, in the round of 32.
Tennessee ranked 20th in the country with 38.8 rebounds per game, and Jarnell Stokes continues to be one of the most underrated players in the country:
Jarnell Stokes (Tennessee): got his 22nd double-double of season yesterday, tying Julius Randle for most in Division I— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 24, 2014
Assuming Tennessee doesn't miss as many second-chance opportunities as Texas did, Michigan will have to be on point from three-point range like it was in the round of 32 (14-for-28).
Too often teams that live or die by the three end up getting burned against a physical team in the NCAA tournament. Don't call Tennessee a Cinderella, because it does a disservice to how talented the team is.
Prediction: Tennessee 70, Michigan 68
No. 8 Kentucky (+5) vs. No. 4 Louisville
The matchup of the Sweet 16 pits in-state rivals Louisville and Kentucky against each other in Indianapolis.
It's not a surprise that Louisville is favored to win the game. The Cardinals are the defending champions, the higher seed and have the second-best odds to win the championship, according to Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com.
However, Kentucky is finally starting to fulfill that promise it had coming into the year. John Calipari's team showed as much fight against Wichita State as it had all season. Aaron Harrison was a wizard from three-point range making four of his seven attempts.
More important than Kentucky's perimeter players are its size inside. Willie Cauley-Stein is a difference-maker at 7'0", 244 pounds. Louisville doesn't have anyone who can bang down low with the sophomore.
The Cardinals have also struggled shooting the ball in the tournament, shooting just 40 percent overall and 30 percent from three-point range.
It doesn't matter how good Louisville's defense has been against inferior competition. If it's not scoring, Kentucky is going to have a chance to win the game. At the very least it will be easier for the Wildcats to cover the spread.
Prediction: Kentucky 72, Louisville 69
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