Have you caught your breath? Good, because the NCAA tournament is set to start once again.
Just 16 teams remain with hopes of claiming the ultimate prize of a national championship, so the tension is ratcheted up for every program still standing.
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As for brackets, no clean sheets stand, so fans of the game are now limited to having to watch games between some of the best programs in the country. Oh, the humanity.
ESPN Stats and Info provides a look at the madness that has occurred thus far:
Only 3 of the 11 million brackets in ESPN's Tournament Challenge got the entire Sweet 16 correct. Yes, March Madness has arrived.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 24, 2014
Whether a fan is cheering for the underdogs like No. 11 seeds Dayton and Tennessee or one of the historically great teams like Kentucky, Florida, UCLA or Arizona, the upcoming weekend has the potential to be just as exciting as the first.
Before the next slate of games gets underway, here's a look at the schedule and bracket predictions for some of the most intriguing matchups set to take place on Day 1 of the Sweet 16 portion.
|Region||Date||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV||Live Stream|
|South||Thurs, March 27||No. 11 Dayton vs. No. 10 Stanford||7:15 p.m.||CBS||NCAA.com|
|South||Thurs, March 27||No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Baylor||7:47 p.m.||TBS||NCAA.com|
|West||Thurs, March 27||No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 UCLA||9:45 p.m.||CBS||NCAA.com|
|West||Thurs, March 27||No. 4 San Diego State vs. No. 1 Arizona||10:17 p.m.||TBS||NCAA.com|
|East||Fri, March 28||No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 11 Tennessee||7:15 p.m.||CBS||NCAA.com|
|East||Fri, March 28||No. 7 Connecticut vs. No. 3 Iowa State||7:27 p.m.||TBS||NCAA.com|
|Midwest||Fri, March 28||No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 8 Kentucky||9:45 p.m.||CBS||NCAA.com|
|Midwest||Fri, March 28||No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 1 Virginia||9:57 p.m.||TBS||NCAA.com|
No. 11 Dayton vs. No. 10 Stanford
Following two amazing Cinderella stories for both of these teams, Dayton and Stanford now have to go up against one another to figure out who gets to keep the glass slipper for one more week.
How huge is the run by Dayton? So big that Archie Miller has already been locked into a long-term deal, according to ESPN, and even President Barack Obama congratulated the underdog Flyers, per the White House's official Twitter account:
Congrats to the @DaytonFlyers on a huge upset win! Devin Oliver, I may need to take you up on that pick-up game one of these days. -bo— The White House (@WhiteHouse) March 23, 2014
As for the players on the court, this will be a matchup between two budding stars in the college game. Chasson Randle of Stanford has taken the lead for the Cardinal, and Devin Oliver has done the same for the Flyers, but who will come out on top?
Thanks to sharp shooting from Randle and good defensive play against Andrew Wiggins, who scored just four points during the matchup, the Cardinal now look like a complete team under head coach Johnny Dawkins.
But the glass slipper can only fit for one double-digit seed. With Dayton already having to make its way through two teams in Ohio State and Syracuse, it's difficult to imagine the road ending so close to home for Archie Miller and the Flyers against a nearly equal opponent.
Predicted Winner: Dayton
No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Baylor
Which lower seed has the best chance of pulling an upset?
OK, a No. 6 seed can't technically be a darling during the tournament. But after being a bubble team with just weeks left on the schedule before making a huge run to get that seed, predicting that Baylor would be in the Sweet 16 before the tournament started wasn't exactly a trendy one.
Unfortunately, the great run by the Bears now meets one of the top teams from the Big Ten in Wisconsin. The Badgers came into the tournament as a No. 2 seed with aspirations of winning it all, and the Bears look like just the next team in line for Wisconsin to knock off.
Even after crushing a No. 3 seed in Creighton to get to this point, the Bears will have to stop a plethora of shooters rather than just one in Doug McDermott.
Thanks to the great shooting touch of Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson along with the ability of Sam Dekker, expect the Badgers to get through to the Elite Eight.
Predicted Winner: Wisconsin
No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 UCLA
The third game of the day will be a clash of East Coast versus West Coast.
Both teams play an uptempo style. Both have explosive offenses. Now it just comes down to a battle of wills between two teams that play extremely similar styles.
While it's already been a great tournament for the SEC, it could get even better with Florida taking down UCLA. With the top overall seed in the entire field, the SEC has one team nearly locked in to make the Final Four. Florida not only embraces that pressure but believes it has the energy to keep up with any team, as Scottie Wilbekin spoke about with the Associated Press:
"We just wanted to come out and not let [Pittsburgh] play harder than us or not play as hard as we can. I think we did a good job of having our energy up at the start of the game, and we played together on offense and played together on defense."
With that type of confidence and great play to go along with it, Wilbekin will help lead the Gators to the Elite Eight. Thanks to a cast that also includes Casey Prather, Patric Young and Dorian Finney-Smith—each of whom are looking to rebound from down games against the Panthers—the Gators have talent at every position on the court.
Even with great play from the likes of Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, the Bruins will come up just short of dismissing the Gators.
Predicted Winner: Florida
No. 4 San Diego State vs. No. 1 Arizona
After getting through a hard-fought victory against No. 16 Weber State, Arizona was slightly more convincing against No. 8 Gonzaga in an 84-61 triumph to reach the Sweet 16 field.
Much of the Wildcats' success has been thanks to stellar freshman Aaron Gordon. The potential future lottery pick in the NBA draft has been at the top of his game and improving his stock, according to Matt Moore of CBS Sports:
Outside of Kentucky, Arizona has done the most for its prospects in the tournament, and Gordon's no exception. His athleticism has him in the top ten, and he showed more of that as Arizona blazed its way to the Sweet 16.
Interestingly, where Gordon's athleticism is most on display is defensively. Despite not having an elite wingspan, his ability to essentially jump ladders in a single bound gives him the ability to challenge shots exceptionally well.
Gordon also shared his philosophy on stopping Gonzaga during the round of 32, something he will surely have to do against San Diego State, per Greg Hansen of the Arizona Daily Star:
Aaron Gordon on facing Zags: 'It's an effort game. Box out, front the post, we're just going to have to play really hard.' (So will Zags)— Greg Hansen (@ghansen711) March 22, 2014
While Gordon has the ability to clog up the paint for the Wildcats, they'll also need someone to shut down the Aztecs' best player in Xavier Thames. The senior is an elite scorer who averages 17.4 points per game but has pitched in a total of 53 for the Aztecs through his first two games in the tournament.
Though Thames will put on a show for San Diego State, Arizona's all-around play will be too much. With both Gordon and Nick Johnson providing the firepower, the Wildcats will move on to the Elite Eight with just one game left before the Final Four.
Predicted Winner: Arizona
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