What's your flavor?
Do you want an in-state rivalry between two of the most talented teams remaining in the tournament? A showdown of two Cinderellas looking to crash the Elite Eight? Perhaps you want to see which of the three No. 1 seeds remaining will reach the Elite Eight?
Whatever the case may be, the Sweet 16 has something for you. Let's take a look at the championship odds for each remaining team, pick every game and quickly break down one or two key storylines.
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|San Diego State||38-1|
No. 1 Florida over No. 4 UCLA
No. 11 Dayton over No. 10 Stanford
No. 4 Michigan State over No. 1 Virginia
No. 3 Iowa State over No. 7 UConn
No. 1 Arizona over No. 4 San Diego State
No. 2 Wisconsin over No. 6 Baylor
No. 4 Louisville over No. 8 Kentucky
No. 2 Michigan over No. 11 Tennessee
There aren't really any slam-dunk picks at this point, though I really like Florida over UCLA. The Bruins are good, no doubt, and their length and raw talent could take Florida down to the wire, but the Gators have a slew of veteran players who have helped Florida reach the Sweet 16 in four straight years.
Good luck picking Dayton vs. Stanford. I like the Flyers because of their experience, but Stanford's advantage on the interior could just as easily lead the Cardinal into the Elite Eight.
Michigan State and Virginia are two of the five teams with the best odds to win a national title. Iowa State has more overall talent than UConn, but it will be missing Georges Niang. Meanwhile, Shabazz Napier is one of the individual players capable of leading his team all the way to the Final Four.
But give me Michigan State and Iowa State. It's never wise to bet against Tom Izzo in March, and the Spartans are peaking at just the right time. Also, consider the following, via ESPN Stats & Info:
Tom Izzo is 3-7 all-time vs 1 seeds… but he's 3-3 when 1 seed isn't North Carolina— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 25, 2014
As for Iowa State, it survived a tough North Carolina team without Niang and has now won six straight games, including wins over Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Kansas and Baylor. This is a team playing great basketball at the moment.
Arizona looks likely to beat a San Diego State team that barely advanced out of the round of 64, though the Aztecs play the sort of lockdown defense that evens the odds.
Bo Ryan always has his Wisconsin Badgers playing solid defense and smart, measured offense, but they can really score the rock this year too. Baylor is no pushover, but Wisconsin is one of the more well-rounded teams remaining.
Finally, there is the Midwest. Four teams have surfaced from arguably the strongest region in tournament history—or at least the strongest one in quite some time. You could write a book about the storylines in Kentucky vs. Louisville, but here's the abridged version:
- They are bitter state rivals.
- Louisville is the defending national champion, while Kentucky came into the season as the No. 1 team in the polls before underachieving during the regular season.
- Kentucky won the only meeting between these teams this season.
- Rick Pitino formerly coached Kentucky.
Both of these teams have peaked at the right time. Where does each hold an advantage?
Kentucky certainly has more overall talent. The Wildcats have length and athleticism that can bother any team and the size and physicality inside to make it tough for Louisville on the boards. Any one of several players can get hot for the Wildcats, making them tough to defend now that they are beginning to play team basketball.
But Louisville has players who have been here before, and we've already seen Russ Smith and Luke Hancock come up clutch in this tournament. Louisville puts relentless defensive pressure on opponents and is dangerous in transition. Smith has the ability to put up 30 on any night. And Louisville is getting big performances from a wide array of players, as Pitino noted via Jeffery Greer of The Courier-Journal:
I believe the reason we're playing very sound, good basketball right now coming into this tournament is because of [Stephan] Van Treese and Chris Jones. If I had to pick an MVP of the AAC tournament, it would have not been Russ, who scored 42 points—he's our LeBron—it would have been Van Treese. It doesn't show up on the stat sheet how well he played in that tournament. He played awesome.
And the second one I would pick would be Jones. Those two guys have made us such a better basketball team than we were at the midway point of the season. They have evolved into great basketball players.
It's going to be an epic showdown, but I think Louisville's experience will prevail. It really could go either way, though, as Kentucky is really clicking right now.
As for Michigan vs. Tennessee, the Volunteers are as hot as any team in the nation and are a handful to deal with on the interior. But Michigan is one of the most efficient offensive teams in the nation and should shoot themselves by Tennessee.