As if Friday night wasn't already your favorite part of the week, this Friday gives you four Sweet 16 games to kick off your weekend in style. Yep, March is the best.
We've got stylistic clashes. We've got in-state rivals. We've got the rare No. 1 seed that will be a Sweet 16 underdog. And, you know, that Shabazz Napier fella.
All that to kick off your weekend. March rules.
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|When (All Times ET)||Matchup||Watch||Stream||Pick|
|Friday at 7:15 p.m.||Tennessee vs. Michigan||CBS||March Madness Live||Michigan|
|Friday at 7:27 p.m.||UConn vs. Iowa State||TBS||March Madness Live||Iowa State|
|Friday at 9:45 p.m.||Kentucky vs. Louisville||CBS||March Madness Live||Louisville|
|Friday at 9:57 p.m.||Michigan State vs. Virginia||TBS||March Madness Live||Michigan State|
March Madness Live - http://www.ncaa.com/march-madness-live
Michigan taking on Tennessee is an interesting clash of styles. The Wolverines have the third-most efficient offense in all of college basketball, according to KenPom.com, led by Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert and Glenn Robinson III.
Tennessee, meanwhile, is efficient on both ends of the court (16th in offensive efficiency and 15th in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com) and is a handful to deal with on the interior, led by Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon. If the Wolverines don't shoot well, they'll find it tough to gain an offensive rebound.
But the Wolverines generally do shoot well. Michigan is arguably the best offensive team in the country, and after making the title game a year ago, it has players who are experienced in the tournament. I like Michigan.
I also like the team that reached the title game last year and won it. Louisville takes on a talented Kentucky side that is peaking at the perfect moment. Kentucky won the first meeting between these teams on December 28, though Louisville has since gone 20-3.
Rick Bozich of WDRB Sports asked several Louisville players what they thought of Kentucky heading into the matchup:
Louisville's Stephan Van Treese said Cards have watched video of first UK game, plus SEC Tournament and two NCAA games.— rickbozich (@rickbozich) March 27, 2014
SVT: "They're a better team. But we are also ... the first (UK-U of L) game is relevant. It has some key points (for scouting)."— rickbozich (@rickbozich) March 27, 2014
How is UK better? Van Treese: "They're taking better shots. They're not rushing as a team."— rickbozich (@rickbozich) March 27, 2014
Is Julius Randle a bigger matchup problem for U of L than he is for most teams? Luke Hancock: "I think he's that way for anybody."— rickbozich (@rickbozich) March 27, 2014
This promises to be a heck of a showdown, but I'll take Louisville's experience and dogged defense over Kentucky's raw talent.
It would be easy to boil down UConn vs. Iowa State into a battle between Napier and DeAndre Kane. And it's very possible that either player will go off and lead his team to the Sweet 16. But the truth is that both teams are more than their individual stars.
UConn is going to look to slow the pace, play efficient defense (10th-most efficient defense, according to KenPom.com) and hit its open perimeter looks. Iowa State is a well-rounded offense that has numerous weapons on the perimeter and can run teams out of the gym if it gets its transition game going. The team that establishes its style of play will advance.
I'll take the Cyclones. UConn is just too reliant on Napier, and unless he has an epic performance, I don't think he'll do enough to lead this team to victory.
Finally, there is Michigan State vs. Virginia, arguably the most intriguing matchup in the Sweet 16. Rob Dauster of College Basketball Talk breaks down an important aspect of this contest:
Michigan State has a reputation for being a grind-it-out, physical team built for wrestling matches that feature jump shots. But Tom Izzo’s teams run the floor as much as any other team in the country, with 21.9% of their possessions coming in transition. That’s a very high number, but the Spartans won’t get many chances against the ‘Hoos, as Tony Bennett’s teams limit transition opportunities as much as possible, often times sending just one or two guys to the offensive glass.
To get an idea of why this matters, Virginia, who is fifth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom, is in the 90th percentile in half court defense, according to Synergy, and just the 77th percentile in transition defense.
In other words, scoring against their set defense is hard to do, so the Spartans will be looking to run more than ever. If they can, they’ll have a very good chance to win.
Much like the Iowa State vs. UConn matchup, the team that is able to dictate the style of play will likely win. If this game becomes a fast-paced, up-and-down affair, Michigan State will win. If Virginia is able to get into its set defense and slow things down, it will win.
I like the Spartans. This is a balanced team that has four players capable of taking over a game in Adreian Payne, Gary Harris, Keith Appling and Branden Dawson. They can beat you inside, and they can beat you outside. But Virginia is going to make things very, very difficult for Sparty.