March Madness has reached the Sweet 16, following four of the most entertaining days of recent NCAA Tournament history. The 2014 college basketball tournament has featured dramatic comebacks, furious rallies and remarkable upsets. So far, there has been something for everyone. That is, unless you ask fans of the Wichita State Shockers or Kansas Jayhawks or Villanova Wildcats or Syracuse Orange, who failed to make it out of the Round of 32. But, hey, at least you all have more to brag about than the fans of the Duke Blue Devils, who couldn’t even make it that far. Again.
Sure, the Shockers are gone, and it is sad. But, that defeat sets up a Sweet 16 matchup between the Kentucky Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals. Duke and Kansas may no longer be playing, but the NCAA Tournament still includes the Dayton Flyers and Stanford Cardinal. While some of the big names may no longer be dancing, that does not mean that the overall quality of play will be any less without them. All remaining Sweet 16 teams are here for a reason.
They deserve to be.
At this point, no team should be taken lightly. Taking any team – regardless of its seed – could likely result in another upset. That means that every team playing in the Sweet 16 must prepare as if it is playing in the national championship game, because one bad game will wind up ending in elimination. With that being said, here are my picks for all eight Sweet 16 games on Thursday and Friday night.
* No. 1 Florida Gators vs. No. 4 UCLA Bruins – I am tempted to go with UCLA, who has been playing as well as any team in the country over the past couple of weeks, but I just can’t go against Florida. With experience and defense, I will take the Gators to slow down a very good offensive Bruins’ squad.
* No. 10 Stanford Cardinal vs. No. 11 Dayton Flyers – Which double-digit seed do you prefer? We know that at least one double-digit squad will reach the Elite Eight, and I am going with the Cardinal in this one. Tough to bet against Dayton, but I give Stanford a slight edge.
* No. 1 Arizona Wildcats vs. No. 4 San Diego State Aztecs – I admit that I did not have the Aztecs advancing this far, but that does not mean that I am jumping on their bandwagon. I still like the Wildcats to get to the Elite Eight, and this one may not be all that close.
* No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers vs. No. 6 Baylor Bears – This one is tough. Wisconsin was one of my Final Four picks, but I also had Baylor reaching this point. The Badgers are a great team, but the Bears are hitting on all cylinders right now. I will still pick Wisconsin, but another Baylor upset would hardly surprise me.
* No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers vs. No. 4 Michigan State Spartans – I had Sparty when I originally filled out my bracket, and I am not going to chance that selection now. I think this will be a very difficult game for Michigan State, as Virginia still does not receive the respect it deserves, but MSU comes out victorious.
* No. 3 Iowa State Cyclones vs. No. 7 Connecticut Huskies – I thought that the Cyclones could make a Final Four run, but that was with Georges Niang. I still see them defeating UConn in this one, but Iowa State is not the same team without Niang on the floor.
* No. 4 Louisville Cardinals vs. No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats – the only region without a remaining No. 1 seed happens to feature the biggest rivalry game in the Sweet 16. Louisville won this matchup earlier in the season, but Kentucky is finally clicking now. I will take the Cardinals and experience one more time, but it is awfully tough to bet against the young Wildcats.
* No. 2 Michigan Wolverines vs. No. 11 Tennessee Volunteers – No disrespect to Dayton or Stanford, but Tennessee is not your average double-digit seed. The Vols are loaded. Michigan is obviously a great team as well, so I am going with Big Blue, but don’t be surprised it UT keeps on dancing into the Elite Eight.
*** Correction ***
Kentucky defeated Louisville, 73-66, on December 28, 2013.