With teams just one step away from an appearance in the prestigious Elite Eight, there is no question that Thursday's slate of Sweet 16 games will be some of the most competitive and emotional NCAA tournament contests thus far.
Two of the nation's top teams will be in action in the form of Florida and Arizona, but upstarts like Dayton, Stanford and even Baylor to some extent are hopeful that they can continue to bust brackets en route to the Elite Eight.
As anticipated, the 2014 NCAA tournament has been extremely unpredictable to this point, and there is little doubt that the madness will continue on Day 1 of the Sweet 16. Here are predictions for how all four games will ultimately play out, along with picks against the spread as well.
|No. 11 Dayton vs. No. 10 Stanford||Thursday, March 27||7:15 p.m.||CBS||Stanford|
|No. 6 Baylor vs. No. 2 Wisconsin||Thursday, March 27||7:47 p.m.||TBS||Baylor|
|No. 4 UCLA vs. No. 1 Florida||Thursday, March 27||9:45 p.m.||CBS||Florida|
|No. 4 San Diego State vs. No. 1 Arizona||Thursday, March 27||10:17 p.m.||TBS||Arizona|
Mike Chiari's Predictions
Picks Against the Spread
*All betting lines courtesy of Vegas Insider
Dayton vs. Stanford (-3)
Two Cinderellas enter the South Regional affair between No. 11 Dayton and No. 10 Stanford, but unfortunately, the clock must strike midnight for one of them. Neither the Flyers nor the Cardinal were supposed to make it this far; however, there is no denying the fact that both teams have what it takes to continue their runs.
Dayton has already shocked high-profile programs in the form of Ohio State and Syracuse, and it has increased its Elite Eight odds significantly, according to ESPN Stats & Info:
Entering tourney, Dayton had 2.8% chance to reach Elite 8, per BPI. Today, Flyers have 45% chance to beat Stanford and reach Elite 8.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 24, 2014
With that said, Stanford is still favored to reach the next round. Both teams have had to grind out wins thus far in the NCAA tournament, but the Cardinal certainly seem to have a more potent and consistent offense behind guard Chasson Randle.
Because of that, Johnny Dawkins' squad will triumph and manage to cover the three-point spread against a game Dayton team in the process.
Baylor vs. Wisconsin (-3.5)
Since starting Big 12 play with an awful 2-8 record, the Baylor Bears have gone on an incredible run. Baylor has now won 12 of its past 14 contests, and it can be argued that no team has been more impressive through two NCAA tournament contests.
Wisconsin entered March Madness well prepared after braving the rough-and-tumble Big 12 all season long, and the Badgers have flexed their muscle in March as well. Wisconsin has long been known as a defense-first team under head coach Bo Ryan, but it was able to outgun an explosive Oregon team in the round of 32.
Not only is Baylor explosive, but it is also confident after overcoming so much adversity this season. According to the Associated Press (via the Topeka Capital-Journal), senior guard Brady Heslip believes that the Bears have plenty left to accomplish.
This year, we had a lot of ups and downs, but we peaked at the right time, and we're still going. Not a lot of people thought we were going to make the tournament, let alone the Sweet 16. The Sweet 16 wasn't our goal, so we're still playing for our goal.
Wisconsin is a dangerous team due to its bevy of three-point shooters, but Baylor is long and athletic, and it shut down a potent Creighton team in the round of 32 in a 30-point romp. The Bears are coming into their own right now, and they'll pull off the upset outright.
UCLA vs. Florida (-4.5)
Which Sweet 16 Day 1 game are you most excited about?
With 28 consecutive wins to its credit, Florida remains the hottest team in college basketball. The Gators have certainly had some close calls along the way, but thanks to a strong defensive philosophy and timely offense from the likes of Casey Prather and Scottie Wilbekin, Florida remains the team to beat in the NCAA tournament.
If Florida is going to win another national title, then it will have to defeat a familiar opponent along the way. Florida beat UCLA to win it all in 2006 and then beat the Bruins in the Final Four the following season. Fittingly, UCLA is standing between Florida and the Elite Eight this year.
This UCLA team is much different than those of past years, as the Bruins are now an offensively focused team. In fact, Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead believes that UCLA has enough firepower to pull off the upset:
Florida has looked less than ordinary 70 minutes into the tournament. UCLA has enough offensively to beat them.— Jason McIntyre (@jasonrmcintyre) March 22, 2014
UCLA swingman Kyle Anderson is capable of taking over games in many different ways, and guard Jordan Adams is a dynamic scorer as well. That will allow UCLA to keep things close and even cover the spread, but Florida's experience in close games and in the NCAA tournament will allow it to advance.
San Diego State vs. Arizona (-7.5)
The San Diego State Aztecs have quietly enjoyed one of the best seasons in college basketball with a 31-4 record, which includes victories over teams such as Creighton, Kansas and New Mexico, but they aren't receiving a ton of respect ahead of their Sweet 16 clash with Arizona.
Arizona is no pushover in its own right, especially after decimating Gonzaga in the round of 32. Few teams have as much depth of talent as the Wildcats, with Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon serving as the primary offensive threats. With that said, the Aztecs are one of the best defensive teams in the country.
These two teams met earlier in the season, with Arizona prevailing by nine points, but now San Diego State knows what it takes to hang with the Wildcats. Unfortunately for the Aztecs, history isn't on their side when it comes to reaching the Elite Eight:
San Diego State will try to be the 1st Mountain West team to win a game in Sweet 16. To do that, they have to beat No. 1 seed Arizona.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 24, 2014
San Diego State should be able to keep this game close for quite some time, but look for Arizona to lead for almost the entirety of the game and just manage to cover the spread due to the foul game late.
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