There are just four more coveted spots up for grabs in the prestigious Elite Eight, and eight of the best teams in college basketball will duke it out on Friday in what could be the most competitive day of the NCAA tournament thus far.
All four matchups could conceivably go either way, and that is confirmed by the fact that the oddsmakers view many of them as virtual tossups.
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The first day of Sweet 16 action was a mixed bag in terms of close games and blowouts, but it's difficult to imagine any of the contests on Day 2 getting out of hand. There must be a winner, though, and here is a look at the latest betting lines along with picks against the spread for every remaining Sweet 16 tilt.
|Matchup||Date||Time (ET)||TV||Spread||Pick ATS|
|No. 11 Tennessee vs. No. 2 Michigan||Friday, March 28||7:15 p.m.||CBS||MICH (-2)||Michigan|
|No. 7 UConn vs. No. 3 Iowa State||Friday, March 28||7:27 p.m.||TBS||IOWA ST (-1.5)||UConn|
|No. 8 Kentucky vs. No. 4 Louisville||Friday, March 28||9:45 p.m.||CBS||LOUIS (-4)||Louisville|
|No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 1 Virginia||Friday, March 28||9:57 p.m.||TBS||MICH ST (-2)||Michigan State|
*Betting lines courtesy of Vegas Insider.
Tennessee vs. Michigan
After coming so close to winning it all last season, the Michigan Wolverines are once again in position to make a run at a national championship. In order to reach the Sweet 16, however, Michigan must get past one of college basketball's hottest teams in the 11th-seeded Tennessee Volunteers.
The Vols already have three tourney wins to their credit, having beaten Iowa, Massachusetts and Mercer to get to this point. While Tennessee has arguably looked as good as any team in the entire tournament, there is no question that Michigan will pose a much stiffer challenge than previous opponents.
Tennessee has an opportunity to turn this tournament upside down after No. 11 Dayton managed to reach the Elite Eight on the other side of the bracket. According to ESPN College Basketball on Twitter, having two double-digit seeds in the Elite Eight is an extremely rare feat:
If 11-seed Tennessee beats Michigan, then we will have two double-digit seeds in the Elite 8 for the third time since seeding began in 1979.— ESPN College BBall (@ESPNCBB) March 25, 2014
The current Michigan team is quite different from last year's, but there is still plenty of big-game experience on the team. Nik Stauskas, Michigan's leading scorer, has thrived in some huge moments, and he figures to be key in this game. The Vols' bigs will keep this close throughout, but the Wolverines will find a way to cover the minuscule spread.
Connecticut vs. Iowa State
The Sweet 16 showdown between Connecticut and Iowa State is of particular interest because it features two of the most dynamic guards in college basketball. Shabazz Napier has put the Huskies on his back for much of the season, while DeAndre Kane has done the same with the Cyclones. There are several talented players to watch in this game, but the winner of the Napier-Kane matchup could decide the winner.
While Iowa State is the favorite as a No. 3 seed against a No. 7, UConn has one huge factor working in its favor. With the game taking place at Madison Square Garden, the Huskies will be very close to their home base. According to CBS New York, Napier believes a pro-Huskies crowd could be the deciding factor.
The thing that would help us is our great fanbase coming down and supporting us, like they always do. When we are down and when we're up, they are still cheering. They give us the support, they give us that sixth man that we need to push us forward.
It's difficult to measure the significance of crowd support, but it could certainly intimidate Iowa State a bit if UConn is able to go on some runs. This contest truly seems too close to call on paper, so Connecticut has to be given the slight nod due to what could be a home-court atmosphere.
Kentucky vs. Louisville
A clash between Kentucky and Louisville wouldn't seem out of place as a national championship game in any given year. In this particular tournament, though, a trip to the Elite Eight is on the line. It took some time for the young Wildcats to hit their stride, but they secured a No. 8 seed and are starting to put it all together at the perfect time.
Louisville has had somewhat of an up-and-down season after winning the national title last year, but nobody doubts that they can repeat. Key players from last season's team, such as Russ Smith and Luke Hancock, are still playing vital roles, and they certainly won't be overwhelmed by a tournament game against Kentucky.
The Cardinals may have an edge in terms of experience, but it can be argued that Kentucky has the mental edge. It seems as if Wildcats head coach John Calipari has had Louisville head coach Rick Pitino's number in recent years:
Since John Calipari took over at Kentucky in 2009-10, he’s faced Rick Pitino’s Louisville team six times, winning five.— ESPN College BBall (@ESPNCBB) March 24, 2014
While that stat is a feather in Calipari's cap, the past has no bearing on a matchup between these two teams. The key in this one will be the play of the respective backcourts. Although the Harrison twins have been spectacular for Kentucky, the high-pressure duo of Smith and Chris Jones will pester them all night, create turnovers and ultimately help Louisville prevail.
Michigan State vs. Virginia
Which Sweet 16 matchup will be the most exciting?
Although the seeding tells a different story, No. 4 Michigan State will be favored to eliminate No. 1 Virginia when they lock horns on Friday night at Madison Square Garden. The Cavaliers shocked a lot of people this season by dominating the ACC and becoming one of the best teams in college basketball. On the other hand, the Spartans are starting to live up to expectations.
Michigan State is on a tear right now, and it's easy to see why many see the Spartans as a threat to win it all. That isn't the case for Virginia, but a win over Michigan State would obviously change that perception. The Cavs struggle to score on occasion, but they are the best defensive team left in the tournament, and they may be able to keep Michigan State in check.
With that said, the Spartans are battle tested, and head coach Tom Izzo has them well prepared for this bout. As pointed out by Joe Giglio of the Charlotte Observer, the Spartans have what it takes to knock off a scrappy team like Virginia:
Kind of a shame Virginia has to play Michigan State next, might be the only team in the field tough enough to beat them— Joe Giglio (@jwgiglio) March 24, 2014
The Cavaliers are going to scratch and claw until the bitter end, but the talent disparity on offense will prove too much for them. Spartans forward Adreian Payne presents a huge matchup problem with his inside-out game, and he'll be key to Michigan State advancing to the Elite Eight.
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