The emphasis on the Sweet 16 should be placed firmly on the sweet. The round features great matchups with contrasting styles, star players, rematches and a healthy mix of pre-tournament favorites and Cinderella stories.
If you aren't excited about Thursday and Friday, well, it can only mean your bracket is in tatters. But c'mon, you aren't alone there.
Below, you'll find full predictions for the next round as the big boys now square off. It may not match the madness of last week, but the quality of the matchups should compensate for that quite nicely.
All Your Bracket Essentials
No. 1 Florida over No. 4 UCLA
No. 11 Dayton over No. 10 Stanford
Florida will be the favorite to advance out of this region, obviously, but UCLA might just be the type of team to knock the Gators out and surprise everyone. David Gardner of Sports Illustrated breaks down why:
The Gators feature the country’s No. 2 defense in terms of adjusted efficiency, according to kenpom.com. They get turnovers on 21.8 percent of possessions, and allow just a 44.9-percent effective field goal percentage. UCLA, however, counteracts Florida’s greatest strength. The Bruins have the 11th-lowest turnover percentage, and while they rely on the three, they shoot it well, knocking down 38.6 percent of their attempts. Few teams are built to attack the Gators, but UCLA is one of them.
Still, Florida's experience and size inside give it the edge. Florida should control the glass, meaning if UCLA comes out shooting cold, the game could get away from them quickly. And in Scottie Wilbekin, the Gators have a composed leader capable of navigating them through the natural ebbs and flows of a tight game.
Look for the Gators to win, but expect UCLA to give them all they can handle.
In the other contest, Dayton will put its experience and balanced scoring up against Stanford's huge size advantage. The Flyers are a tough, gritty squad that won't go down easily, as Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins noted via Jeff Faraudo of the San Jose Mercury News.
"I'm impressed with them," he said. "They definitely have a toughness about them. They're very scrappy. Those kids make up for length with their activity and their effort."
Dayton has depth, and they have the shooters to let fly if Stanford tries to drop a zone on them. Just ask Syracuse. I like the Flyers, but this one is a toss-up.
No. 4 Michigan State over No. 1 Virginia
No. 3 Iowa State over No. 7 UConn
Michigan State has more overall talent than Virginia, and they also have a coach in Tom Izzo that has basically owned March with the Spartans. In Adreian Payne, Branden Dawson, Gary Harris and Keith Appling, Michigan State has four players who can all carry the load if needed. Plus, the Spartans are healthy and have won six of seven.
Of course, Virginia has won 18 of 19, including wins over Memphis, Duke, Pitt (twice), Syracuse and North Carolina in that time.
The Cavaliers are somehow underrated despite being a No. 1 seed, but they generally don't beat themselves and are efficient on both ends of the floor. Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin offered a brief scouting report on Virginia—the Volunteers beat the Cavaliers in late December—via
The thing that helped us, and yes we were making shots, but you also have to be able to pass the ball out of the post, because they are great at doubling the post.
They put pressure on you with their offense, because they move the ball, and they work the shot clock down to eight seconds. That's plenty of time for them; they'll dribble penetrate or find an open shot in that time.
Sounds like Big Ten basketball, doesn't it? Virginia's style of play won't be anything new to the Spartans, and Michigan State's superior talent will win the day in the Sweet 16's most intriguing matchup on paper.
We turn to Iowa State versus UConn. Even without Georges Niang, the Cyclones still have a ton of talent, led by DeAndre Kane. He's Iowa State's answer to Shabazz Napier, though the Cyclones are less reliant on Kane than UConn is on Napier.
UConn plays better defense than Iowa State, while the Cyclones are a blur in transition. This game will likely be won on the boards—if the Cyclones win the glass, they'll push the pace and look to score before UConn's defense can get set. But if UConn pounds the glass, especially offensively, they'll slow things down and try to limit the amount of possessions Iowa State gets on offense, much as they did about Villanova.
Styles make fights, and this fight should be a good one. Iowa State's offense will win the day, but UConn will make this fun.
No. 1 Arizona over No. 4 San Diego State
No. 2 Wisconsin over No. 6 Baylor
Start with the defense. Sure, SDSU gives up a mere 56.6 points per game, good for second in the nation and 1.6 points fewer than Arizona had coming into Sunday. But the Wildcats not only have a better defensive field goal percentage, they have the best effective defensive field goal percentage—which takes into account 3-point percentage—nd being in the Pac-12, have ground through a much tougher schedule.
Arizona is also deadly in transition. They may not have as many steals or as good of a turnover ratio as San Diego State this season, but once they swipe the ball, have as close to a two-point guarantee as you can find. Need proof? Look at the points off turnovers Sunday night: Arizona 31, Gonzaga 2.
The Wildcats may also have the two best players in this game in Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon, though proponents of Xavier Thames would disagree. This will probably be a knock-down, drag-out affair, but the Wildcats are the stronger team and should prevail.
While that game will be all about defense, Wisconsin and Baylor will probably wear out the nets with their efficient offenses. Wisconsin has the best offense we've seen in the Bo Ryan years and can wear teams out both on the interior and out on the perimeter, while Isaiah Austin leads a solid frontcourt that generally owns the paint.
Baylor is the better defensive team, but Wisconsin's balance is truly impressive. The Badgers should win this one, but the Bears are not only capable of pulling off the upset, but of also marching straight into the Final Four. The West is wide open.
No. 4 Louisville over No. 8 Kentucky
No. 2 Michigan over No. 11 Tennessee
You've heard the storylines regarding Louisville and Kentucky about 1,000 times by now, surely, so we'll instead focus on the matchup. When Kentucky beat Louisville on December 28, it did so by dominating in the paint. Julius Randle has only continued to grow since then and could give Louisville nightmares, while the Harrison twins have started to live up to the hype.
On the other hand, since that game Louisville has won 20 of 23 games. The Cardinals play suffocating, pressure defense, have a scorer in Russ Smith that can explode at any moment and have plenty of tournament experience after winning the title a year ago.
In a half-court game, Kentucky wins. But if Louisville gets the Wildcats out of rhythm and earns chunks of points in transition, it wins. Bet on the defending national champs.
Michigan and Tennessee also offer tasty contrasts. Michigan is excellent offensively and is led by perimeter star Nik Stauskas, while Tennessee is a handful on the interior. If the Wolverines aren't hitting their shots, the Vols will own them on the glass and slow the game to a crawl.
But if the Wolverines hit from the perimeter and can get out and run, they should roll. Michigan has been the more consistent team this season, which should offset Tennessee's recent hot streak. But much like pretty much every Sweet 16 game, this one really could go either way.
The matchups on Thursday and Friday are certainly all you can ask for. It should be quite the round.
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