The initial wave of March Madness has passed, but the 2014 NCAA tournament will foster plenty more high-quality hoops to get through before a champion is crowned, beginning with Thursday's Sweet 16 tipoff.
Several unpredictable twists have already transpired through the first three rounds, and for that matter, half of the eight squads taking the hardwood on the first day weren't even ranked in the preseason, per CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman:
Two of the most surprising teams still alive will face each other in the first regional semifinal: the East's double-digit seeds in No. 10 Stanford and No. 11 Dayton.
More heralded men's college basketball programs make up the other three games, but even Arizona, the West's No. 1, and the tourney's top overall seed in Florida should encounter stern tests in their bids to reach the regional finals.
Between the elite squads and the Cinderella stories will be a showdown featuring the sixth-seeded Baylor Bears and No. 2 Wisconsin, which promises to be a physical, entertaining affair.
Below is an overview of bracket information, when and where to catch the games, predictions and analysis for each contest.
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|Thursday, March 27||Time (ET)||TV||Live Stream||Pick|
|South - No. 10 Stanford vs. No. 11 Dayton||7:15 p.m.||CBS||March Madness Live||Stanford|
|West - No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Baylor||7:47 p.m.||TBS||March Madness Live||Baylor|
|South - No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 UCLA||9:45 p.m.||CBS||March Madness Live||Florida|
|West - No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 4 San Diego State||10:17 p.m.||TBS||March Madness Live||Arizona|
Picks and Analysis
No. 10 Stanford over No. 11 Dayton
Cardinal coach Johnny Dawkins finally got his players to the Big Dance for the first time in six years at the helm. They've made the most of it, to say the least, highlighted by a 60-57 upset over second-seeded Kansas.
CBS Sports Network analyst Wally Szczerbiak praised the defense Dawkins preached, which stifled the Jayhawks and also led to a win over New Mexico in the second round:
The notion that defense wins championships is something Dawkins evidently takes to heart, and the same can be said for his Thursday counterpart, Archie Miller.
Dayton has ground its way to the Sweet 16, knocking off in-state foe Ohio State and then Syracuse by a total of three points. Those outcomes revealed just how slim the margin is between victory and defeat in March Madness, as the Flyers survived two buzzer-beating attempts that nearly went down.
Miller implies that this improbable tourney run isn't a fluke, serving as a foundation to build on for the future, per Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy:
This place can be a Marquette. When you have this type of proud fan base, when you have a great school that caters to the players — it’s a basketball school, plain and simple. If it’s done right, and you stick with it, why can’t Dayton be what we’re doing?
Although playing the role of underdog has worked well for Dayton thus far, this will be the point that it loses its luster. The Flyers don't have quite enough firepower on offense to contend with the Cardinal, and Stanford has a big advantage in the paint with center Stefan Nastic and forward Dwight Powell.
Plus, with the importance placed on guard play in the tournament, Stanford has the edge with Chasson Randle over Jordan Sibert. All of these factors point to the Cardinal moving on to the Elite Eight.
Prediction: Stanford 62, Dayton 54
No. 6 Baylor over No. 2 Wisconsin
The Badgers and Bears should beat each other up on the boards. Baylor has a knack for generating second-chance opportunities, while Wisconsin is one of the best at clearing out, securing rebounds and trudging down the court to execute half-court sets.
But unlike some years in the past, this Bo Ryan-coached Badgers team can really score the basketball. That was on display during their 85-77 third-round win over Oregon. All five starters scored in double figures in that victory, and all can shoot with proficiency from beyond the arc.
Any question about Baylor's ability on defense was put to rest in its 85-55 rout of Doug McDermott-led Creighton in the round of 32.
What stood out about that game most, though, was how the Bears shot 63.8 percent and drained 11-of-18 three-pointers. That's scary all-around efficiency and suggests head coach Scott Drew can take this team to Arlington for the Final Four.
ESPN Stats & Info showed the sensational shooting chart in addition to alluding to the Bears' near-unprecedented margin of victory as a sixth seed:
Baylor nets the 3rd-largest margin of victory by a 6-seed (30 pts). That's what happens when you shoot 64% from field pic.twitter.com/cKXFXHqR11— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 24, 2014
Baylor can play an effective high-low game with Brady Heslip drilling shots from the outside and the front line of center Isaiah Austin and forwards Cory Jefferson and Royce O'Neale pounding away at the rim. The personnel is there for the Bears to knock off their favored foe.
Ryan may be respected for his pedigree in leading the Badgers to 13 straight NCAA tournament appearances. However, just one of those trips has resulted in an Elite Eight berth. That trend will unfortunately continue for fans in Madison and beyond, as Baylor plays spoiler to Wisconsin in Anaheim.
Prediction: Baylor 78, Wisconsin 76
No. 1 Florida over No. 4 UCLA
The Gators have fallen just short of the Final Four in each of the past three years, losing in the Elite Eight each time. Coming that agonizingly close of the ultimate college basketball stage should continue driving Florida's core of seniors.
Beating the Bruins may be easier said than done, though. UCLA sophomore point guard Kyle Anderson is a matchup nightmare at 6'9", and has a capable scorer to complement him in Jordan Adams.
Anderson isn't the quickest athlete, but his length alone should bother Florida floor general Scottie Wilbekin in his efforts to be the catalyst for the Gators. Nevertheless, there are too many weapons on Florida's side for the Bruins to pull off the upset.
The road through the South region is also not very imposing—as observed by CBSSports.com's Will Brinson—so coach Billy Donovan should be able to capitalize on that
Seeds remaining in Florida's bracket: 4, 10, 11, 12. Decent setup for the Gators.— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) March 23, 2014
Even if UCLA wants to get out and run, the Gators have the athletes to keep up. Patric Young patrols the paint and can get down the floor with the best big men in the nation. Sophomore sharpshooter Michael Frazier II is lethal from beyond the arc and can offset what Adams does, while Casey Prather shoots better than 60 percent from the field.
As well as the Bruins execute, placing fifth in the nation with 17.2 assists per game and shooting 49 percent as a team, they won't be quite enough to deny this experienced Florida foursome of seniors from moving on.
Prediction: Florida 74, UCLA 68
No. 1 Arizona over No. 4 San Diego State
Both teams can defend well, but the Wildcats are on another level. KenPom.com has Arizona ranked No. 1 in adjusted defensive efficiency, which is bad news for the upset-minded Aztecs.
Senior San Diego State guard Xavier Thames has been one of the most dynamic individual players in the tournament, averaging 26.5 points and five assists in his squad's two victories. But Thames also shoots just 41.1 percent from the floor and will struggle to get to the free-throw line against the Wildcats' big men.
Penetrating the lane may be difficult for Thames, considering how well Arizona functions as a defensive unit on the perimeter. Winston Shepard is the only other Aztec who's averaged in double figures in 2013-14, which gives San Diego State a rather one-dimensional attack.
Versatile Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Aaron Gordon is the X-factor on both ends of the court for the Wildcats. His 6'9" frame and unique athleticism allow him to roam around and make game-changing plays. ESPN's Myron Medcalf summarized Gordon's impact well:
Other than Andrew Wiggins, I'm not sure any player in the country can (effectively) guard as many positions as Aaron Gordon.— Myron Medcalf (@MedcalfByESPN) March 21, 2014
The Aztecs don't have that type of player, and Arizona's Nick Johnson can create enough offense for himself and his teammates to push the favorites onto the Elite Eight.
A comparatively lackluster level of competition in the first two games doesn't prepare San Diego State well for what it will face in this contest.
Prediction: Arizona 71, San Diego State 58
Which top seed is likeliest to lose in the Sweet 16?
So there shouldn't be too many surprises among Thursday's results. The hope is that the entertainment value of these games lives up to what was one of the craziest opening rounds in NCAA tournament history. That's a tall order, but the Sweet 16 features plenty of intriguing subplots to set the stage for some dramatic theater.
By the time Thursday ends, one double-digit seed will have qualified for the Elite Eight, a dangerous squad from the Lone Star State could be on the cusp of the Final Four and the nation's two best teams should continue their prospective national-title collision course.
Then again, this is March Madness, so buckle up, get over the bitterness about busted brackets and enjoy what lies ahead.