The Sweet 16 is finally upon us, which means the 2015 NCAA tournament will restart this weekend with a number of high-profile matchups. But before the next phase of the tournament begins, we get a few days to sort out the madness.
Bracket-makers were sent for a loop throughout the opening three rounds of play with unlikely occurrences, such as No. 11 UCLA making the Sweet 16, but it has only upped the intrigue and storylines worth following. Other than the top two seeds out of the East, Villanova and Virginia, as well as No. 2 Kansas in the Midwest, most of the other title contenders are still left standing.
But with some unlikely—albeit household—names dropping in to join the party, there remains a possibility for chaos to continue with the best teams facing worthy competition. Here's a complete look at what you need to know for betting on the Sweet 16.
|2015 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Odds/Picks|
|Time (ET)||Matchup (Spread)||Odds||TV||Prediction|
|Thursday, March 26|
|7:15 p.m.||No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 7 Wichita State (-1)||WSU 50-61, ND 51-50||CBS||Notre Dame, 68-63|
|7:47 p.m.||No. 1 Wisconsin (-5.5) vs. No. 4 North Carolina||UW 5-12, UNC 2-1||TBS||Wisconsin, 78-68|
|9:45 p.m.||No. 1 Kentucky (-13) vs. No. 5 West Virginia||UK 1-14, WVU 37-4||CBS||Kentucky, 65-50|
|10:17 p.m.||No. 2 Arizona (-11) vs. No. 6 Xavier||UA 1-7, XU 107-20||TBS||Arizona, 65-52|
|Friday, March 27|
|7:15 p.m.||No. 2 Gonzaga (-8.5) vs. No. 11 UCLA||GU 10-41, UCLA 17-5||CBS||Gonzaga, 80-77|
|7:37 p.m.||No. 4 Louisville (-2.5) vs. No. 8 N.C. State||UL 20-27, NCST 23-20||TBS||Louisville, 59-55|
|9:45 p.m.||No. 1 Duke (-5) vs. No. 5 Utah||DU 20-42, UT 37-20||CBS||Duke, 71-60|
|10:07 p.m.||No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 7 Michigan State (-2)||MST 10-13, OU 11-10||TBS||Michigan State, 66-63|
Note: Odds courtesy of Odds Shark, last updated March 23.
Top Matchup: No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 5 West Virginia
The start of the NCAA tournament brought two relatively easy tests for the Kentucky Wildcats, but the level of play amps up considerably right when college basketball's undefeated darling takes the stage in Cleveland for the regional semifinals.
Awaiting the Wildcats are the fifth-seeded West Virginia Mountaineers, who toppled No. 4 Maryland after overcoming an upset test from No. 12 Buffalo just in order to get here. They're one of two Big 12 teams still left standing and possess the type of skill set capable of giving Kentucky trouble.
The Wildcats usually outhustle everyone on defense, but that will be nearly impossible on Thursday night. West Virginia leads the nation in steals, offensive rebounds and steals per game.
The Mountaineers continued their havoc-wreaking ways on the defensive end against Maryland, as per ESPN Stats and Info:
Could that pose a daunting problem for Kentucky? Perhaps. With no starters shorter than 6'6" and with as many as three 7-footers on the floor at once, smart ball-handling will be emphasized as well as keeping it away from the trees in the backcourt.
The Wildcats may not have one true floor general on the court, but they have many options in that regard, and Kyle Tucker of The Lexington Courier-Journal noted they combine to take care of the ball well:
Of course, a daunting press only works so often. It can be undone against smart and careful teams, as the Mountaineers learned amid seven Big 12 losses—all of which came against ranked foes.
Another big key in West Virginia's chances is the play of 6'1" guard Juwan Staten. West Virginia's leading scorer hasn't completely returned to his regular level of play after missing four games before the Big Dance, but he will need to explode to give the Mountaineers enough of a scoring punch.
Like many West Virginians, Staten is taking an us-against-the-world mentality into Thursday, per The Associated Press' Ralph D. Russo:
The Mountaineers may not feel all that much different from Kentucky, but they are. It's been proved to be almost impossible to hang with the Wildcats for a reason—their depth and talent level overwhelms almost any roster throughout a 40-minute game.
Teams like Arizona and Wisconsin have been slotted by some as likely to dethrone Kentucky, but those are two of the most stout and sizable rosters in the nation. Devin Williams is West Virginia's most daunting presence, and at 6'9", he's going to get swallowed up by Kentucky's height in the post.
While their press and suffocating defense figure to give Kentucky problems, ESPN's Jeff Goodman doesn't think West Virginia brings enough on the outside or the inside:
None of these young Kentucky players were around back in 2010 when the Mountaineers upset the Wildcats in shocking fashion to move on to the Final Four, but John Calipari will have no problem getting his team's attention about the test that West Virginia will bring to the table. Drawing from that could have the Wildcats even more amped up to play, but playing for your season—oh, and history—is enough motivation as it is.
Turning around to face a press-happy team like West Virginia on one day of preparation would be more daunting, but the Wildcats will be ready for what the Mountaineers throw at them with a couple of days to scheme.
Calipari is just 2-8 against Bob Huggins for their careers, but he's never had a team quite like this one.
Prediction: Kentucky 65, West Virginia 50