Thursday's slate of Sweet 16 games started off surprising -- but fairly slow. Dayton and Wisconsin both rolled in their regional semifinals, despite most expecting close battles in both regions. The second games brought some more excitement, with San Diego State and Arizona battling until the final minute before Arizona pulled it out -- and Florida holding off UCLA to advance. Friday has four very intriguing games on the docket.
Note: All games are Eastern.
This has everything you could possibly want in a Sweet 16 game (or any NCAA Tournament game, for that matter). The biggest rivalry in college basketball, the head coaching battle between Rick Pitino and John Calipari -- plus the past two national champions in the sport. The two teams played earlier this season, with Kentucky beating Louisville back in December. Since then, Louisville dismissed Chane Behanan and became a smaller team as a result, while Kentucky had plenty of ups and downs in SEC play. Now, Kentucky seems to be hitting its stride like we thought it would back in November, but the key will be Andrew and Aaron Harrison handling the ball against the Louisville pressure. They combined for 39 points against Wichita State, but Russ Smith and Chris Jones will look to force turnovers and get transition points. The battle down low between Montrezl Harrell and Julius Randle should be outstanding.
If not for Louisville vs. Kentucky, this would have been the most anticipated matchup of the Sweet 16. It's one of the pre-tournament favorites (Michigan State) against clearly the most underappreciated No. 1 seed in the tournament (Virginia). Both teams are more than capable of reaching the Final Four. Tempo will be a huge factor in this one. Virginia wants to play a purely half-court game, grinding out 30 seconds on the offensive end and running teams through three or four screens per possession, while forcing teams to take jump shots at the other end. Michigan State is fine playing in the half-court, but the Spartans are also lethal in transition and will look to push the ball constantly. The key for Virginia will be its ability to match up with Adreian Payne, who scored 41 points in the Round of 64. If Akil Mitchell gets the call, who will Mike Tobey guard when he's in the game?
Maybe the best individual matchup of the tournament will take place, as Iowa State's DeAndre Kane takes on Connecticut's Shabazz Napier. Two of the top five players remaining in the tournament, both guys hit huge shots down the stretch of their Round of 32 games in order to help their teams advance to New York City. Iowa State is still adapting to life without Georges Niang on the inside, but the Cyclones' lack of size won't be as much of a factor against Connecticut. The Huskies are perimeter-oriented, and Iowa State should be able to limit Amida Brimah and Phillip Nolan at the five spot. Can the Huskies match up with Melvin Ejim and Dustin Hogue at the forward spots? One thing to watch could be Connecticut's pseudo home-court advantage at Madison Square Garden. It was basically the Huskies' second home when they were in the Big East tournament.
Complete contrast of styles and personnel in this one. Michigan will look to spread the floor with shooters in an attempt to get excellent spacing, which will open up driving lanes and create clean perimeter looks. Meanwhile, Tennessee will look to work inside-out, crashing the offensive glass and hoping to dominate the paint -- and then relying on Jordan McRae on the perimeter. The biggest keys for Michigan will be the Wolverines' ability to keep Tennessee off the offensive boards. Jordan Morgan had a double-double in each of his first two NCAA Tournament games this season, but facing Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon on the inside is a completely different task. On the other side, Tennessee has to guard the perimeter effectively. Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert and Glenn Robinson III will create matchup issues for the Volunteers. Josh Richardson also has to continue hitting shots for Tennessee.