1. Louisville vs. Kentucky. Tremendous rivalry, the two tend to always play close games (last four games determined by a total of 25 points), and the court is loaded with future pros. Calipari and Pitino hate each other. Pitino is 5-0 in the Sweet 16 with Louisville; 11-0 in his career. Wildcats are coming off their most complete game of the season. Kentucky beat Louisville at home during the regular season and has won five of the last six in this rivalry. Louisville is a 5-point favorite.
2. Virginia vs. Michigan State. Fascinating matchup of two formidable defensive teams, a legendary coach (Izzo) vs a rising coaching star (Bennett). The Spartans have two first round picks on the roster; the Cavaliers may have one player who could get drafted late in the 2nd round (Joe Harris). All the ESPN pundits picked Michigan State at the start of the tournament. Maybe I’m speaking from the heart of my bracket, but I like Virginia to pull the “upset” (only a 1.5-point underdog). They have athletes to hang with Dawson/Valentine/Gary Harris in Anthony Gill/Joe Harris/Malcolm Brogdon. Harvard did a great job with two of those three, but Dawson went for 26 points. [Ed: The author is from Northern Virginia.]
3. Tennessee vs. Michigan. Buckets, athletes, excitement and style points. Nik Stauskas vs. Jordan McRae. Problem for Michigan: Will it have to go with two bigs to handle Maymon and Stokes, or will it try Glenn Robinson at PF, and make Tennessee adjust? I like Tennessee in this spot, but there are two problems. 1) John Beilein is a terrific coach. Cuonzo Martin is a young coach. 2) Tennessee is 139th in the nation defending 3-pointers, according to Ken Pom. Michigan is 6th in shooting 3-pointers, according to Ken Pom. Michigan made 14-of-28 three-pointers against Texas.
4. UCLA vs. Florida. The Bruins have been a fun watch for the last couple weeks, including their scintillating Pac-12 tourney championship win over Arizona. They have a potent 3-guard attack, led by do-it-all Kyle Anderson, high-scoring Jordan Adams, and slick Norman Powell. The Wear twins provide size … but is it enough size to hang with Patric Young’s brawn? I’m probably in the minority, but I don’t enjoy watching Florida play. The offense bogs down and it essentially becomes the Wilbekin show and offensive rebounds. I’m not sure this will work against UCLA’s strength, the backcourt. I’ll take UCLA and the points.
5. Baylor vs. Wisconsin. This should be a fun game, hopefully similar to the Oregon-Wisconsin thriller. Baylor overwhelmed Creighton by 30, and will have a talent/size/athlete advantage again here. This one also falls into the “interesting coaching matchup” because Bo Ryan is considered a very good coach (doesn’t have a great Sweet 16 history) and Scott Drew is considered someone who can recruit but can’t coach. I find Baylor fun to watch because it plays recklessly at both ends. Brady Heslip feels automatic from beyond the arc (46 percent) and I believe power forward Cory Jefferson tis one of the most underrated players in the Sweet 16 (he’ll play in the NBA). Feels like a final possession-type game. I’ll take a chance on Baylor.
6. Connecticut vs. Iowa State. This comes down to Shabazz Napier vs. DeAndre Kane, two electrifying scorers and arguably the two best individual players left in the tournament. Problem is, UConn has very little after Napier. And the Cyclones are essentially playing a road game at MSG and don’t have their 2nd best player, George Niang (out for year with a foot injury). I like the Huskies to advance here.
7. Arizona vs. San Diego State. Wildcats are a joy to watch – Aaron Gordon soaring, and Nick Johnson climbing even higher. The Aztecs … not so much. They were fortunate to get by New Mexico State in overtime. Then they beat North Dakota State. Didn’t look impressive in either victory. The Wildcats topped the Aztecs by nine earlier this season, and the over/under for this game is 122, so expect a 66-56 snoozer or thereabouts.
8. Dayton vs. Stanford. No star power, unless you count the Stanford alumni. The team that finished 6th in the A-10 vs the team that finished 4th in the Pac-12. Neither is likely to have a shot against Florida in the Elite 8; I suppose either could give UCLA a bit of a game. Stanford lost at UCLA by 17 and by 25 in the Pac-12 tournament, but beat the Bruins by nine at home.