It is sad when the tournament field diminishes to only 16 teams, but the intensity and significance of every game rises.
Here is a preview of the four Sweet 16 games that will take place on Thursday night.
No. 1 Syracuse vs. No. 5 Butler
Syracuse is finding itself once more after losing two games prior to the NCAA Tournament. Syracuse will not lose to a far inferior Butler team. Due to Butler playing so well for the last few months and holding the nation's longest win streak, the Bulldogs should be able to stay pretty close for most of the game.
Syracuse 83, Butler 72
No. 2 West Virginia vs. No. 11 Washington
Washington continues to surprise the nation during March. The Huskies have pulled off back-to-back upsets over No. 6 seed Marquette and No. 3 seed New Mexico. As great as Washington is playing, West Virginia has been just as good with eight straight wins. West Virginia has played against tougher competition and this will help them come Thursday.
Washington is a high-scoring team and defense is West Virginia's strength. The Huskies have struggled in lower scoring games.
West Virginia 71, Washington 61
No. 2 Kansas State vs. No. 6 Xavier
Everybody always sleeps on Xavier. Every year, the Musketeers are not good enough to make a deep run—blah, blah, blah. Yet every year they do.
Kansas State will need to find more sources for scoring than just Jacob Pullen. Xavier is a better defensive team than BYU and will not let Pullen explode for 34 points.
The Musketeers have been outstanding since the start of Feb., with only two losses, both coming away from home, to Dayton and Richmond. Xavier has also played tougher competition through the first two rounds of the tournament.
Kansas State needs to find other players to score if the Wildcats look to get to the Elite Eight.
Xavier 73, Kansas State 70
No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 12 Cornell
Cornell got under-seeded, but it did not matter to them. The Big Red have still been able to dominate meetings with Temple and Wisconsin in the first and second rounds, respectively.
This game will eventually come down to one main factor—can Kentucky get Jeff Foote in foul trouble?
With Foote in the game, Cornell has a great inside-outside game. If Foote has to sit a lot, it will be easier for Kentucky to defend Cornell's jump shots. If Foote gets in foul trouble, it is very possible that Kentucky wins in a blowout. If Foote stays out of foul trouble and plays most of the game, this one will be very close, and Cornell even has a chance at pulling off the upset.
Things turned out right when I picked Northern Iowa over Kansas in the second round, so why not take another mid-major over a No. 1 seed?
Cornell 80, Kentucky 79