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NCAA Bracket 2019: Schedule and Updated Predictions Before Friday's Sweet 16

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMarch 29, 2019

COLUMBUS, OHIO - MARCH 24:  Coby White #2 of the North Carolina Tar Heels takes a shot against David Crisp #1 of the Washington Huskies during their game in the Second Round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament at Nationwide Arena on March 24, 2019 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The second quartet of Elite Eight participants will be determined during Friday's Sweet 16 action.

The eight programs still alive in the East and Midwest Region of the 2019 NCAA men's basketball tournament are looking to join Gonzaga, Texas Tech, Virginia and Purdue in the next round.

Friday's matchups include an all-ACC battle, an expected high-paced affair and a pair of clashes featuring experienced coaches going up against strong teams from the south.

Michigan State and LSU open up Friday's slate, which concludes with Kentucky hoping to take the court with a previously missing key player against Houston.

                                  

2019 NCAA Tournament Bracket

                 

Sweet 16 Schedule

All Times ET. 

Friday, March 29

East Region: No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 3 LSU (7:09 p.m., CBS) 

Midwest Region: No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 5 Auburn (7:29 p.m., TBS) 

East Region: No. 1 Duke vs. No. 4 Virginia Tech (9:39 p.m., CBS) 

Midwest Region: No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 3 Houston (9:59 p.m., TBS)  

                      

Predictions

Johnson, White Lead UNC Past Auburn

Points are expected to light up the scoreboard when North Carolina squares off against Auburn in Kansas City, Missouri.

The Tar Heels and Tigers both play at a fast pace and possess a wide array of scorers, but it will be North Carolina's top shot-makers who shine the most Friday night.

Any one of six players could lead North Carolina in scoring on any given night, but on Friday, the team's top two scorers will make the biggest difference.

Cameron Johnson comes into the clash with Auburn with 34 NCAA tournament points and at least 13 points in each of his past 12 games.

COLUMBUS, OHIO - MARCH 22:  Cameron Johnson #13 of the North Carolina Tar Heels shoots against E.J. Crawford #2 and Rickey McGill #0 of the Iona Gaels during the second half of the game in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Na
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Freshman Coby White has been scoring at a similar rate, as he's hit the double-digit mark the last nine times he's stepped on the court.

Johnson and White will help the Tar Heels put the Tigers under pressure early because of how fast they get up and down the court.

Roy Williams' team is one of the few in the nation capable of pulling down a rebound, surging up the floor and taking an efficient shot in a 10-second span.

In the second-round win over Washington, the Tar Heels shot 50.8 percent from the field and knocked down nine three-point shots. If they shoot as efficiently Friday, they should be on their way back to the Elite Eight.

Johnson, White and the rest of the UNC guards will also attempt to replicate the defensive performance from the second round, in which they limited Washington's three starting backcourt players to 22 points.

Auburn's Jared Harper and Bryce Brown combined for 43 points in the second-round triumph over Kansas, and if the Tar Heels are able to stop them from getting into a rhythm, they will be one step away from their third Final Four in the past four seasons.

                           

Kentucky Thrives with or Without Washington 

Since the NCAA tournament began, the top story involving Kentucky has been the health of PJ Washington.

The 20-year-old entered Kansas City without a cast on his foot or the scooter he used to get around during the first weekend of the tournament.

However, Washington isn't guaranteed to play against Houston, even though he's been working his way back to playing shape, per Guy Ramsey of the team's official website.

"He wants to play," Kentucky head coach John Calipari said. "Now, it's can he play? We don't know."

Washington added: "I definitely want to play in this tournament. This is what I've been working for all year and just to sit out was definitely hard on me. To see our guys winning definitely picked me up a little bit and then to see how excited everybody was is just kind of funny, I guess."

Although a healthy Washington would provide a significant boost to Kentucky's production on both sides of the ball, the sophomore's presence on the hardwood won't determine the final result.

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Kentucky proved in the second-round win over Wofford that it's capable of playing terrific perimeter defense and frustrating an opponent's top shooter.

Houston's guards may not go 0-for-12 from three-point range like Fletcher Magee did, but they won't take many easy shots because of how well Ashton Hagans, Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson defend the three-point line.

If the Wildcats can frustrate Houston's Corey Davis Jr. and Armoni Brooks, they will be able to build up an advantage on the scoreboard.

When it comes to the offensive part of the game, look for Reid Travis to have another strong performance down low after he put up 32 points and 20 rebounds combined against Abilene Christian and Wofford.

If the Wildcats create an inside-outside balance between Travis and the guards, they will keep the Cougars out of sync for 40 minutes.

If Washington plays, he will provide a boost on both ends of the court, and he will make a significant impact down low, as he averages 14.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.

By silencing Houston's offensive efficiency with its defensive backcourt play, the Wildcats will set up an epic matchup with North Carolina on Sunday.

                                

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90Statistics obtained from ESPN.com.