Half of the Elite Eight is set, but the other four games should be even more difficult to determine.
Florida, Arizona and Wisconsin advanced in what was mostly a chalk-filled Thursday. Only No. 11 Dayton provided a surprise with its win, but it came against No. 10 Stanford.
In the second set of Sweet 16 games, no one is safe and not a single outcome would be considered too surprising. If the start of this tournament has been any indication, we are in for a wild ride on Friday as the lower seeds look to continue their impressive run into the Elite Eight.
Here is a look at what to expect in the remaining Sweet 16 games as eight teams battle for four spots in the next round.
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|March 28||Michigan (2) vs. Tennessee (11)||7:15 p.m.||CBS||Michigan|
|March 28||Iowa State (3) vs. Connecticut (7)||7:27 p.m.||TBS||Iowa St.|
|March 28||Louisville (4) vs. Kentucky (8)||9:45 p.m.||CBS||Kentucky|
|March 28||Virginia (1) vs. Michigan State (4)||9:57 p.m.||TBS||Michigan St.|
No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 11 Tennessee
Heading into the tournament, Michigan's biggest fear was likely facing a team with size that rebounds well. Since Mitch McGary went down earlier in the season, the Wolverines have been vulnerable defensively in the low post, leading to a lot of opposing points in the paint.
With Tennessee's ability to score inside and get second-chance points behind guys like Jarnell Stokes, this would seem like a big mismatch. Stokes has averaged 20.3 points and 15 rebounds in three NCAA tournament games.
However, Michigan faced a similar test in the previous round in Texas with Cameron Ridley and Jonathan Holmes inside. While an incredible shooting effort helped lead the Wolverines to victory, the real difference was the solid play of Jordan Morgan.
The senior has put together back-to-back double-doubles, and as Nicole Auerbach of USA Today points out, he is playing as well as he has in a Michigan uniform:
Tennessee-Michigan intrigues me. Jordan Morgan currently playing the best ball of his career vs. these Tennessee bigs.— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) March 24, 2014
According to Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press, head coach John Beilein explained, "We would not be in the position over the last four years, but in particular this year, without that man, Jordan Morgan, our captain."
His ability to limit easy buckets will slow down Tennessee's offense, giving Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert and others a chance to simply outscore their opponent with a great showing on the offensive end.
Prediction: Michigan 76, Tennessee 70
No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 7 Connecticut
The worst part of this game is that it will signal the end of a career for one elite point guard. The good news is that we get to see at least 40 minutes of Shabazz Napier battling DeAndre Kane in one of the best individual matchups you will see this year.
Napier put Connecticut on his back with 25 points in an upset win over Villanova. He even suffered what seemed to be a bad injury to his leg, but he still made big plays down the stretch to carry his team to victory.
Seth Davis of CBS Sports said he was the best player remaining in the tournament heading into the Sweet 16:
Shabazz Napier, followed by Russ Smith RT @ConnorMorovits: Who is the Best player left in the tournament?— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) March 26, 2014
Meanwhile, Kane has been just as versatile as the player who ranked in the top 10 in the Big 12 in points, assists, rebounds and steals per game. Like Napier, he is often relied upon to make the big plays when it is needed the most.
Amazingly, he is not necessarily even the best player on his team. Melvin Ejim was named the Big 12 Player of the Year after leading the conference in scoring at 18.1 points per game. While the squad will miss Georges Niang, the combination of Ejim and Kane will be more than enough offensively.
Napier will keep UConn in the game while DeAndre Daniels and Ryan Boatright will help out as well, but Iowa State simply has too much offensive talent to contain.
Prediction: Iowa State 81, Connecticut 77
No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 8 Kentucky
If you took away the numbers next to the names, this matchup could pass for a national title game. There are likely close to a dozen players who could end up on NBA rosters at some point in their careers, led by two of the best coaches of their generation.
Rick Pitino has been especially impressive in this stage of the tournament, via Adam Lefkoe of Bleacher Report:
Rick Pitino is 11-0 in the Sweet Sixteen round. Think about that.— Adam Lefkoe (@AdamLefkoe) March 24, 2014
On the other hand, he has not had much success against John Calipari recently:
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
This includes a 73-66 Kentucky win over Louisville earlier in the season. In that game, Russ Smith scored 19 points but was held to 7-of-20 from the field. With the size and athleticism of Andrew and Aaron Harrison in the backcourt, Smith could end up with a similarly inefficient effort this time around.
Meanwhile, Montrezl Harrell is surprisingly not the strongest man on the court in this matchup, as Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson look to win the battle inside. The things that Louisville normally does well might not work against a talented, athletic bunch like Kentucky.
The best chance Louisville has of earning a win is if the full-court pressure gets to Andrew Harrison and the freshman point guard turns the ball over. This could be a serious problem after he gave away the ball 12 times in the past two games.
Still, the young player has greatly improved since earlier in the season and has plenty of confidence heading into this matchup. The Wildcats are playing as well as they have all season, and they are poised to make a run to the Elite Eight.
Prediction: Kentucky 67, Louisville 65
No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 4 Michigan State
Joe Harris did not even need to watch film to know what to expect from Michigan State. The Virginia guard explained the tough task ahead, via The Seattle Times:
I think they just kind of have that rep. That’s the way they’re going to play. You always know they’re going to bring it. They’re just tough kids.
All the players they’ve had over the years are always just those tough-minded guys that do the little things, whether it be setting solid screens, rebounding, playing well defensively and playing physical.
This Michigan State team is not exactly the same as years past thanks to an offense that knows how to score. Point guard Keith Appling might be still playing through a wrist injury, but Gary Harris, Adreian Payne and others have picked up the slack.
Of course, the defensive effort is usually still there with the athleticism to keep top players from getting easy looks.
Virginia also has quite an impressive defense, leading the nation with just 55.5 points allowed per game. The squad uses a pack-line defense that prevents anyone from getting into the lane, making it almost impossible to get easy shots inside.
Ed Feng of Grantland points out that the Cavaliers' simple system leads to a lot of victories:
Love this Virginia team. They play defense, get good shots and repeat every possession. Basketball is simple game.— Ed Feng (@thepowerrank) March 24, 2014
However, Michigan State can beat it thanks to an inside-out game that Virginia has not seen much of all year. Payne and Branden Dawson can cause problems in the paint while Harris, Appling and Denzel Valentine look to make shots from the perimeter.
This scoring depth makes the Spartans tough to defend, even for Virginia. It will be a physical, hard-fought game, but Michigan State has the skill and experience necessary to pull out a win.
Prediction: Michigan State 59, Virginia 56
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