With only 16 teams left standing in the 2014 NCAA tournament, the Louisville Cardinals are just four wins away from a second straight national championship. But Rick Pitino's squad isn't alone, as 15 other teams have proven they have what it takes to stick around in March.
With eight Sweet 16 matchups on tap for Thursday and Friday, let's take a closer look at the latest lines and break down which teams have the edge.
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|Thu, March 27||(11) Dayton vs. (10) Stanford||Stanford (-3)||7:15 p.m.||CBS|
|Thu, March 27||(6) Baylor vs. (2) Wisconsin||Wisconsin (-3.5)||7:47 p.m.||TBS|
|Thu, March 27||(4) UCLA vs. (1) Florida||Florida (-4.5)||9:45 p.m.||CBS|
|Thu, March 27||(4) San Diego State vs. (1) Arizona||Arizona (-7.5)||10:17 p.m.||TBS|
|Fri, March 28||(11) Tennessee vs. (2) Michigan||Michigan (-2.5)||7:15 p.m.||CBS|
|Fri, March 28||(7) Connecticut vs. (3) Iowa State||Iowa State (-1.5)||7:27 p.m.||TBS|
|Fri, March 28||(8) Kentucky vs. (4) Louisville||Louisville (-4.5)||9:45 p.m.||CBS|
|Fri, March 28||(4) Michigan State vs. (1) Virginia||Michigan State (-2)||9:57 p.m.||TBS|
|(10) Stanford (-3)||(11) Dayton|
|(6) Baylor (+3.5)||(2) Wisconsin|
|(1) Florida (-4.5)||(4) UCLA|
|(1) Arizona (-7.5)||(4) San Diego State|
|(2) Michigan (-2.5)||(11) Tennessee|
|(3) Iowa State (-1.5)||(7) Connecticut|
|(4) Louisville (-4.5)||(8) Kentucky|
|(4) Michigan State (-2)||(1) Virginia|
South Region: No. 1 Florida (-4.5) Over No. 4 UCLA
Billy Donovan's top-seeded Florida Gators will face their toughest test yet on Thursday when they battle the fourth-seeded UCLA Bruins in Memphis, Tenn.
But recent history is on Florida's side. Not only have the Gators won 28 straight games dating back to last December, but they've reached the Elite Eight in each of the past three years.
More importantly, on the defensive end—where games and championships are won—Florida is among the nation's elite teams, ranking third in the country in fewest points allowed per game. Only Virginia and San Diego State rank higher.
ESPN analyst Dick Vitale broke down Florida's most recent performance on that side of the ball:
The Gators are off to a good start in pursuit of national championship No. 3, and defense has been a big story for Florida.
In the win over Pittsburgh, the Gators gave up just 45 points. It marked the ninth-straight game in which Florida held its opponent to 65 points or fewer. Pittsburgh shot 37 percent from the field.
Florida clamped down on Panthers star Lamar Patterson, holding him to one point in the second half and eight for the contest. That was well below his 17 PPG average.
Coming into Thursday's clash with the Bruins, the Gators are surrendering just 50 points per game in the NCAA tournament, holding a Pittsburgh team that averages more than 72 points per game to nearly half of that mark in the third round.
Granted, UCLA boasts a more potent offense than either of the two teams Florida has seen to this point. However, don't expect the Pac-12 champions to score in the high 70s like they have through the opening rounds. As Vitale points out, no team has cracked the 70-point mark against Florida since Feb. 22.
Midwest Region: No. 2 Michigan (-2.5) Over No. 11 Tennessee
John Beilein's Big Ten regular-season champions are two wins away from going to a second straight Final Four. Second-seeded Michigan will begin the second stage of its 2014 journey against upset-minded Tennessee, the No. 11 seed in the Midwest Region, on Friday.
But while the Volunteers are playing with unrivaled confidence and belief, having won three NCAA tournament games in the span of a week, the Wolverines are a serious step up in competition.
Which Big Ten team is the biggest lock to reach the Elite Eight?
The key to this matchup will undoubtedly be rebounding and three-point shooting. Tennessee ranks 20th in the nation in rebounds per game, while Michigan is a lousy 303rd. But despite the fact that Jarnell Stokes and the Volunteers have the obvious edge on the glass, the Wolverines have the shooting prowess to overcome their disadvantage.
In Michigan's 14-point win over Texas in the round of 32, the Wolverines were out-rebounded 41-30, surrendering 21 offensive rebounds to the Longhorns, who rank fourth in the country in rebounding. The difference: Michigan shot 14-of-28 as a team from beyond the arc.
With sophomore sharpshooter Nik Stauskas leading the way on Friday night in Indianapolis, watch for the Wolverines to shoot their way past a physical Tennessee team en route to the Elite Eight.
East Region: No. 4 Michigan State (-2) Over No. 1 Virginia
In the final Sweet 16 matchup to tip off on Friday, Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans will square off with the East Region's top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers.
But thanks to Michigan State's strong finish to the regular season, the Big Ten tournament champions are actually a slight favorite over the defensive-minded ACC winners. And like the slew of analysts who jumped on the Spartans bandwagon on Selection Sunday, President Barack Obama has even endorsed Michigan State, picking them to go all the way in his bracket.
Izzo responded to the pressure on ESPN's SportsCenter on Tuesday, per ESPN.com:
The best team who plays the best is going to win. And, that's what we've got to do, no matter who's the favorite, who's the underdog, where the bull's-eye is, who's picking you to win...I guess the only thing is I don't mind letting down alums, but man, the president, I don't want to let him down. That's a little bigger.
It's no secret that Michigan State will need to play a brilliant game in order to dispatch the nation's No. 1-ranked defensive squad. However, based on the Spartans' previous five games, it appears they're more than capable of advancing.
Averaging 86.5 points per game in the NCAA tournament and led by one of college basketball's best big men in senior center Adreian Payne, Michigan State will be a tough out for anyone this spring—and likely too big a challenge for Tony Bennett's Cavaliers.
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