The Sweet 16 separates the wheat from whatever the stuff is that's not wheat. Through all the headline-grabbing upsets of the early rounds, surviving until the Elite Eight is a tall test for even the best teams, let alone the Cinderella squads.
With the field rapidly dwindling and the Final Four in sight, here is a complete breakdown of the NCAA tournament with 16 teams remaining and an eye toward the regional matchups for the final eight.
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|3/27||Dayton vs. Stanford||7:15 p.m.||CBS||Stanford -2|
|3/27||Baylor vs. Wisconsin||7:47 p.m.||TBS||Wisconsin -4|
|3/27||UCLA vs. Florida||9:45 p.m.||CBS||Florida -5.5|
|3/27||San Diego St. vs. Arizona||10:17 p.m.||TBS||Arizona -6|
|3/28||Tennessee vs. Michigan||7:15 p.m.||CBS||Michigan -2|
|3/28||Connecticut vs. Iowa State||7:27 p.m.||TBS||Even|
|3/28||Kentucky vs. Louisville||9:45 p.m.||CBS||Louisville -5.5|
|3/28||Michigan St. vs. Virginia||9:57 p.m.||TBS||Michigan St. -1|
(Odds via OddsShark.com)
It is always entertaining when a pair of upstarts collide in the Sweet 16, and that's just what fans will get between Dayton and Stanford in a pairing of an 11 with a 10. Dayton stunned Ohio State and Syracuse to reach the Sweet 16, while the Cardinal overcame New Mexico and Kansas.
One of these teams will reach the next round, but they profile in strikingly similar manners. Both have held their tournament opponents under 60 points so far, but neither team's defense ranked particularly high in the regular season. Though known for decent shooting efficiency, neither team rebounds or shoots free throws well.
With all due respect to the Flyers and the A-10 Conference, Dayton's luck is due to run out thanks to Stanford being steeled against strong competition in the much tougher Pac-12.
Florida faces UCLA in the other matchup, and for all the people picking Michigan State or Louisville, the Gators are still the top team in the tournament and show no signs of slowing as their competition gets whittled down. They will crush whoever they play in the regional final.
Top-ranked Arizona goes against San Diego State, and the Wildcats are primed for an upset. They are not the same team since losing starter Brandon Ashley for the year to a foot injury. Arizona lost two of its last four games heading into the tournament, including the Pac-12 championship game to UCLA.
As Ashley told reporters about his new-look team, his absence has brought out a different tempo, per Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star:
They’re more up-tempo with Aaron (Gordon) playing forward. Although I could start the break, I didn’t necessarily do that. Now they start it immediately. I think that makes us a more aggressive team offensively, where we can use our defensive abilities to get offensive looks for us.
The No. 1 Wildcats (of 'Zona) shuffled past the No. 16 Wildcats (of Weber State) in the round of 64, letting the Big Sky pests whittle a 21-point deficit down to just seven points over the final 10 minutes. This will be the matchup that trips Arizona up.
The Aztecs bring relentless defense and they ranked second in the nation for giving up 56.6 points per game. They also averaged 7.9 steals and 5.2 blocks per game, good for 32nd and 23rd in the NCAA, which will trouble Arizona's new tendency to get out and run.
Baylor will go up against Wisconsin, and the Bears are coming off a domineering 30-point defeat of third-seeded Creighton. Look for the Badgers to coast, as Baylor won't be able to focus simply on limiting their opponent's three-pointers, as they did against the Bluejays.
A Wisconsin and San Diego State matchup would be a dogfight, but when in doubt, pick the Big Ten team.
Virginia faces such a tough clash with the Spartans that the No. 1 seed is actually an underdog in the Sweet 16. Virginia boasts the best scoring defense in the country and a rare ACC title, but the Cavaliers run into a buzzsaw with Michigan State.
Virginia lost to Maryland in overtime on March 9. Meanwhile, everyone on ESPN's panel of experts as well as President Obama tabbed Sparty to win the whole shebang, and you can bet they won't fall before the Elite Eight.
The winner of that game would face the victor from Iowa State and UConn. The Cyclones get a Huskies team that is brimming with confidence after beating Villanova by a dozen.
This is a curious matchup to predict, but the winning team will largely be dictated by whichever player has a better night between Melvin Ejim and Shabazz Napier. UConn has a solid defense, but Iowa State brings too much offense (82.9 points per game), and the team's ball movement has produced more assists (18.5 per game) than any team in the nation.
Even if UConn wins, neither team would survive the Elite Eight.
This region sees the only team with three wins under its belt—Tennessee, which won in the First Four—clash with Michigan. The Vols have been a fun story so far, but there is no way they get past the Wolverines.
While some of the personnel has changed, Michigan marched to the championship game last season, and a bittersweet exit is not on the cards in this round.
In the other matchup, Louisville is the defending national champion, and many derided the Cardinals getting seeded fourth as far too low for a team with such talent. However, they're now going against eighth-seeded Kentucky which boasts one of the most talented freshman classes in the history of the universe.
This game will be about turnovers. Louisville has the experience (they're seeking a third straight Final Four appearance) and the defensive prowess (60.8 points allowed and 10.1 steals per game, 14th and 2nd in the nation respectively) to disrupt Kentucky and throw the young Wildcats off their rhythm.
Yes, Kentucky beat Louisville this season, but that was all the way back in December. Since then, the Wildcats lost to Arkansas (twice), LSU and South Carolina, plus three losses against Florida. The Cardinals will avenge that setback and then collide with Michigan on the road to a possible repeat.