March Madness 2014 Bracket: Latest Picks and Odds Advice Before Sweet 16 Day 1

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 27, 2014

RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 23: Antonio Barton #2 and Jordan McRae #52 of the Tennessee Volunteers celebrate late in the game against the Mercer Bears during the third round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at PNC Arena on March 23, 2014 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

After a brief break for teams to recharge after a hectic first weekend of the 2014 NCAA tournament, play resumes with the Sweet 16 starting on Thursday. As the early rounds showed, the level of parity is high, leaving even the best teams with very little margin for error.

The odds back up that outlook. Only one spread out of eight games for the Sweet 16 is higher than five points. It illustrates exactly how close the games are projected to be and leaves the door open for another wave of upsets during the second week of play.

Let's check out all of the updated bracket information heading into the fourth round of action. That's followed by a full schedule and list of selections for the round, followed by the top picks against the spread.

*All odds are courtesy of Vegas Insider.

All Your Bracket Essentials

Sweet 16 Schedule and Predictionsย 

2014 NCAA Tournament - Sweet 16
DateGameTime (ET)TimePick
3/27Dayton vs. Stanford7:15 p.m.CBSSTAN
3/27Baylor vs. Wisconsin7:47 p.m.TBSWIS
3/27UCLA vs. Florida9:45 p.m.CBSFLA
3/27San Diego St. vs. Arizona10:17 p.m.TBSARZ
3/28Tennessee vs. Michigan7:15 p.m.CBSTENN
3/28Connecticut vs. Iowa State7:27 p.m.TBSISU
3/28Kentucky vs. Louisville9:45 p.m.CBSLOU
3/28Michigan St. vs. Virginia9:57 p.m.TBSMSU
Schedule: NCAA.com

Best Picks Against Spread

San Diego State (+7.5) vs. Arizona

San Diego State and Arizona are two teams that both rank inside the top five in scoring defense and also prefer to play at a slower pace. In other words, this isn't likely to develop into the most exciting game of the round, at least until the final minutes because it should go right down to the wire.

Yes, the Wildcats feature more star power highlighted by the likes of Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson. But in a game where there will be fewer possessions and both teams excel on the defensive end, that advantage is limited. That obviously favors the Aztecs.

The underdogs sport a 31-4 record, including victories over Kansas and Creighton, which might have sounded more impressive before last weekend but still illustrate they are certainly no pushovers. The Aztecs are also trying to set the Mountain West standard, as pointed out by ESPN Stats and Info:

San Diego State also has a go-to scorer in Xavier Thames to lean on in key moments. It probably won't have enough firepower behind him to pull off the upset, but it's a defensive battle that should be decided by one possession one way or the other with the Aztecs covering the spread.

Prediction: Arizona by three

Tennessee (+2.5) vs. Michigan

Tennessee was on the ropes against Iowa in the play-in game before outscoring the Hawkeyes 14-1 in overtime. The Volunteers have been virtually unstoppable offensively since that point, which doesn't bode well for a Michigan team that's mediocre defensively.

The Wolverines rank 95th in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com. Now they go up against a Tennessee squad that features three different players averaging at least 18 points per contest through three NCAA tournament games.

Cuonzo Martin has been most impressed with his team's ability to overcome adversity. Nicole Auerbach of USA Today passed along comments from the Tennessee head coach, who said his team has become stronger along the journey to this point:

Luckily for our guys, they stayed the course, didn't get caught up in the negativity and continued to get better not only as basketball players, but as men. That's probably the biggest thing I'm proud ofโ€”and their love for each other has really grown as a unit. โ€ฆ They took a lot of lumps, bumps along the way.

Michigan has some scoring punch of its own, led by Nik Stauskas, which should lead to a pretty good back-and-forth tussle. In the end, however, Tennessee is the more well-rounded team and is more than capable of pulling off the upset to reach the Elite Eight.

Prediction: Tennessee by two

Louisville (-4.5) vs. Kentucky

The eighth-seeded Wildcats definitely don't lack talent. They showed that en route to an upset of Wichita State in the last round as well as during a win over Louisville back in December. Playing at that level every time out has been an issue, though, which isn't a surprise for a freshman-heavy team.

On the flip side, Louisville is a veteran team that showed last season it knows how to go the distance to win a national title. The Cardinals also rounded into form at the right time with just one loss over their last 15 games as they ramped up their championship defense.

The other thing working in Louisville's advantage is it comes from a conference where it became accustomed to playing against teams with effective size. The Wildcats' length seemed to stifle everybody on Wichita State but Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker. That won't be the case in this matchup.

All told, Louisville is the more complete team and is playing better basketball right now than it was when the teams met for the first time. Those factors should allow the Cardinals to exact some revenge for that earlier defeat with a convincing win to advance.

Prediction: Louisville by nine


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