The Sweet 16 is set for Thursday and Friday. The defending champs (Villanova) are done, and the Vegas favorites (Duke) were dusted. It feels like the networks split up the games so Thursday has better games, but Friday has the best game.
Kentucky vs UCLA, Friday, 9 pm
Far and away the only CLEAR MY SCHEDULE Sweet 16 game. UCLA already won the earlier meeting in Lexington, and this one should be another high scoring affair. Lonzo Ball obviously is a huge draw. Kentucky needs no introduction.
Kansas (-4) vs Purdue, Thursday, 9 pm
Is this a showdown of the best individual non-guards left in the tournament? Josh Jackson of Kansas has the feel of a Top 5 pick in the draft, and Caleb Swanigan is a double-double machine who has been unstoppable for much of the season. Purdue’s sneaky fun to watch; their survival against Iowa State Saturday night was tremendous.
Michigan vs Oregon, Thursday, 7 pm
From a fun perspective, the Wolverines are awesome. They shoot a lot of 3-pointers. They’re methodical on offense and less so on defense, but they make so many shots it doesn’t really matter. John Beilein is a coach who is easy to root for because he looks like a guy who is your neighbor, and takes it upon himself to rake your leaves when you’re on vacation. Oregon plays a fun brand of basketball – up-tempo, relentlessly attacking, and above the rim.
Arizona (-7) vs Xavier, Thursday, 9:40 pm
Rematch of a very fun 2015 Sweet 16 game, won by Arizona. Sean Miller previously coached at Xavier. Arizona has a checkered history in California in the regionals: Lost in the Elite 8 in 2015 (LA), lost in the Elite 8 in 2014 (Anaheim), lost in the Elite 8 in 2011 (Anaheim), lost in the Elite 8 in 2003 (Anaheim). Will things go differently in San Jose? Xavier ran away in the 2nd half from the Big 10 (Maryland) and ACC (Florida State) for impressive victories.
Baylor vs. South Carolina, Friday, 7:30 pm
South Carolina was fun to watch playing at home the first two games, but this isn’t making anyone cancel dinner plans. South Carolina has a 1st round pick in Sindarius Thornwell, and a good coach in Frank Martin, but it’s a program with no history. Except them to be the media darlings this week. Baylor is associated with scandal, and you know the NCAA would love the Bears to get bounced before the Final 4.
Gonzaga (-3) vs West Virginia, Thursday, 7:40 pm
The Zags haven’t been particularly impressive, failing to cover in each game. West Virginia was in control against Bucknell and Notre Dame from start to finish, leading almost exclusively. Neither team plays beautiful basketball or has a national following. But with Huggins on the sideline, it’s going to be at least mildly interesting.
Wisconsin vs Florida (-1.5), Friday, 9:40 pm
Boring and methodical gets the job done, but can be a tough watch. Wisconsin has a rich postseason history in recent years, and a future NBA player in Ethan Happ. Nigel Hayes has been in school forever. Florida disemboweled a putrid Virginia offense in one of the worst games of the tournament, but these Gators aren’t in the same galaxy as the Billy Donovan ones from a decade ago.
UNC (-7) vs Butler, Friday, 7 pm
At least it’s not Arkansas-Butler. The Bulldogs probably have the least recognition of anyone in the Sweet 16, with a little-known coach, no future NBA player, and no All-American. The Tar Heels have lineage, size, the ACC POY in Justin Jackson, and a coach everyone’s been watching in March for over two decades, Roy Williams.