The first two Elite Eight matchups are set. Florida will take on upstart Dayton in the South Regional while Arizona and Wisconsin, the top two seeds in the West Regional, are also set to face off. The other four spots will be filled Friday night.
Although Thursday's slate of games to generate those first two Elite Eight contests were solid, the remaining Sweet 16 contests have all the makings of creating a memorable night of college basketball. The group is of course highlighted by Louisville taking on Kentucky.
With that in mind, let's check out how the remaining Elite Eight games will look once the dust settles at the end of the Sweet 16. The predictions are preceded by an updated look at all the important bracket information for the 2014 NCAA tournament.
All Your Bracket Essentials:
Midwest: (11) Tennessee vs. (4) Louisville
As Tennessee continues its run through the big dance it seems more and more like going to overtime in the play-in game against Iowa served as the ultimate wake-up call. The Volunteers outscored the Hawkeyes 14-1 in the extra session and have been on fire since.
They now bring their three-headed scoring attack of Jordan McRae, Jarnell Stokes and Josh Richardson into a matchup with second-seeded Michigan. The Wolverines haven't been seriously challenged yet, but the Vols' offense will change that.
ESPN College Basketball notes an interesting fact should Tennessee pull off the upset:
As for their opponent in the next round, it would be whichever teams emerges from the aforementioned high-profile tussle between Louisville and Kentucky. The Cardinals are the reigning national champions while the Wildcats are fresh off an upset of previously unbeaten Wichita State.
The bad news for Kentucky, and every other team left in the tournament, is that Louisville has been able to reach this point without strong showings from either Russ Smith or Chris Jones. It's only a matter of time before that guard duo heats up and the Cardinals take off.
Although the Wildcats did beat Louisville in December, the young squad has struggled to string marquee wins together throughout the season. That's why it's easier to side with a battle-tested Louisville side that played extremely well down the stretch.
Expect the Cardinals to put a lot of pressure on the Kentucky backcourt. It's an approach that should pay off as Louisville pulls away in the second half to advance.
East: (4) Michigan State vs. (3) Iowa State
Michigan State entered the season with a lot of hype. After living up to that high billing early in the season, the Spartans hit the skids around the halfway mark. And just when it looked like the campaign was slipping away, they got things back on track en route to the Big Ten tournament title.
Head coach Tom Izzo knows the slump made things more difficult on his team. Chantel Jennings of ESPN passed along comments from him about the ups and downs, but what stood out was the fact he knew this group had a chance to be special from the beginning:
I had the whole package this year. ... You yearn for those kind of years. I thought we had a real shot to get there when the year started. And you don't have many of those.
Now that the Spartans are playing well again it's easy to see why he felt that way. They will face a difficult test from Virginia, a stout defensive group capable of slowing down any offense. But against a Michigan State team on a roll, that won't be enough.
In a slow-paced game, look for Michigan State to put together more strong possessions on the offensive end in the second half to edge the Cavaliers.
The outlook for the bottom half of the region changed when Connecticut upset Villanova. Shabazz Napier put together an outstanding performance in that game, and when he plays that well, the Huskies go from a good team to a great team.
Iowa State scored an impressive win of its own over North Carolina. The biggest thing to emerge from that contest was the fact the Cyclones could still put up 85 points without Georges Niang, who's out for the rest of the season because of a foot injury.
That was crucial in terms of rebuilding confidence. If Iowa State had barely edged out a win in an ugly, low-scoring win, the prediction for this game might have been different. But since the offense continued to click, the Cyclones should be in good shape.
In a game that goes right down to the final possessions, look for the balanced Cyclones to score the win over the Napier-led Huskies.
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