If you said a week ago the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament wouldn't include Jabari Parker and the Duke Blue Devils, or Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid of the Kansas Jayhawks, most would have called you crazy.
As we head into the fourth round of The Big Dance, that is the reality. The most celebrated freshmen in the United States have been left to ponder their NBA futures a little earlier than expected.
Their teams were part of the rash of upsets that has made this year's tournament one of the most unpredictable—and fun—in years.
Action will resume on Thursday night when half of the Sweet 16 clash for a spot in the Elite Eight. The other half will tangle on Friday.
Click here to see the updated bracket and predictions. Just under the table is a detailed look at three of the most compelling matchups.
|Date||Regional Semifinals||Time (ET)||TV||Predictions|
|Thu, March 27||(11) Dayton vs. (10) Stanford||7:15 p.m.||CBS||Stanford|
|Thu, March 27||(6) Baylor vs. (2) Wisconsin||7:47 p.m.||TBS||Baylor|
|Thu, March 27||(4) UCLA vs. (1) Florida||9:45 p.m.||CBS||Florida|
|Thu, March 27||(4) San Diego State vs. (1) Arizona||10:17 p.m.||TBS||Arizona|
|Fri, March 28||(11) Tennessee vs. (2) Michigan||7:15 p.m.||CBS||Michigan|
|Fri, March 28||(7) Connecticut vs. (3) Iowa State||7:27 p.m.||TBS||Iowa State|
|Fri, March 28||(8) Kentucky vs. (4) Louisville||9:45 p.m.||CBS||Kentucky|
|Fri, March 28||(4) Michigan State vs. (1) Virginia||9:57 p.m.||TBS||Michigan State|
The Baylor Bears are Flying Under the Radar and Very Dangerous
Not enough people are talking about how well the Baylor Bears have been playing in March. Scott Drew's team has won eight of its last nine, with the only loss coming in the Big 12 tournament. In the Big Dance, the Bears have been dominant.
Baylor beat Nebraska by 14 and destroyed Doug McDermott and Creighton by 30 to make the Sweet 16.
This tweet from Baylor Basketball adds more perspective to how good the Bears have been in March:
Baylor has trailed for only 7:24 of 240:00 game time (3.1%) over 6 postseason games this year. #SicMarch— Baylor Basketball (@BaylorMBB) March 25, 2014
The No. 2-seeded Wisconsin Badgers have a versatile 7-footer in Frank Kaminsky, but the Bears have two formidable big men.
The 7'1" Isaiah Austin and the 6'9" senior Cory Jefferson have solidified the interior for the Bears. On the outside, long-range bomber Brady Heslip helped sink Creighton with five threes.
When Heslip is hot, the Bears are tough to beat. Baylor is 8-1 when he makes five or more threes—yeah, he's done it nine times this season.
The great thing is that the team proved it can win without Heslip going nuts from deep. Against Nebraska in the first round, Heslip was 0-for-6 from long range and Baylor still won behind a 37-25 edge on the glass.
Wisconsin is well coached by Bo Ryan, but it doesn't have the size-athleticism combination in the frontcourt to stop a red hot Baylor team.
The Bears will move on.
The Florida Gators Will Again Stop the UCLA Bruins' Run
There's a temptation to pick UCLA because of how well its playing, but Florida is so well coached by Billy Donovan and chock full of talent and experience, it's hard to pick against a team that has won 28 games in a row.
This game will likely come down to whether Zach LaVine, Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson are making their threes for UCLA. On the inside, Florida is so physical and strong, the Bruins would likely be worn out banging in the paint.
The Gators rebound by committee with the tight end-like Patric Young pulling down 6.3, and Dorian Finney-Smith leads the team with 6.7 per game.
If UCLA shoots the ball well, it can win this game, but anything short of a hot performance from deep will allow the Gators to exert their physicality.
I'm betting on the latter and Florida extending its win streak to 29 games.
Kentucky is On a Roll
The Battle of the Bluegrass State could only be bigger if it took place later in the tournament. Still, this one will go down as one of the biggest in the rivalry's history.
Some critics might have gotten down on Wichita State for losing their first opportunity to take on a ranked team. Well, Kentucky isn't just any ranked team—and it played perhaps its best game of the season to beat the Shockers.
The Wildcats shot 54 percent from the field, 44 percent from beyond the arc, 72 percent from the free-throw line and committed only 11 turnovers.
All of those stats were better than their season numbers.
John Calipari has his young team playing at its best at the right time. Think Coach Cal knows how important it is that his team play as a unit, and that he give role players their due?
Calipari touted freshman center Dakari Johnson's huge rebound during the win over the Shockers. Johnson had just three points and two rebounds in the game.
But without Dakari’s rebound after a missed FT when we were down four, we don’t win. It became anyone’s game when he rebounded that ball.— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) March 24, 2014
Heading into this game against Rick Pitino and Louisville, Calipari holds a clear advantage over the former Wildcats coach in head-to-head meetings.
Check out these numbers from ESPN Stats and Info:
Since John Calipari took over at Kentucky in '09-10 season, he's faced Rick Pitino's Louisville team 6 times and won 5 of those games— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 24, 2014
This will be 4th time that John Calipari and Rick Pitino meet in the NCAA Tournament as head coaches. Kentucky won the previous 3— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 23, 2014
That second statistic is a bit misleading, though, when it comes to the tournament. Kentucky has won the last three tournament meetings between Pitino and Calipari, but two of those wins were in 1992 and 1996, when Pitino was at Kentucky and Calipari at UMass.
When it comes to talent, no team measures up to Kentucky from top to bottom. The only question is whether the kids will play up to their potential—or somewhere close to it. Against Wichita State they did, and when they nearly knocked off the Gators in the SEC tournament, they were pretty close.
Kentucky is one of the most dangerous teams in the nation right now. They have a coach who is pressing all the right buttons, athleticism, size and the kids are playing together.
Calipari will continue his dominance over Pitino with another win.
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