Half the Sweet 16 is over. While Baylor didn't give Wisconsin much of a fight, two of the games were extremely well played as Florida topped UCLA and Arizona outlasted San Diego State. And the miracle ride for Dayton continues after the Flyers knocked off Stanford. Friday's games have the potential to be incredible.
All four matchups are intriguing and should be played at a high level. Enjoy it because things like this don't come along that often. In just a few hours the Elite Eight will be set; before we know it, we'll be desperately clutching at the memory of the tournament trying to draw it back in for protection from the long nights where it's just NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs and the slow scorched earth march of baseball.
For now though, this is still our time.
Midwest Region: No. 11 Tennessee (24-12, 11-7 in SEC) vs. No. 2 Michigan (27-8, 15-3 in Big Ten)
How to watch: 7:15 p.m. ET, CBS
What to watch for: In the Vols' first two games since earning their way into the adults' table bracket by beating Iowa in the First Four, they've looked like a team possessed. This was the potential Tennessee had all along and explains a bit (although not all of) why fans were so irked with Cuonzo Martin earlier in the year. You could see this complete, physical, overwhelmingly powerful basketball team not reaching its full potential. The Volunteers sure picked the right time to be playing their best basketball.
Michigan played some of its best hoops in the first half against Texas, destroying the zone and making everything look easy. When the Wolverines are hitting shots, they're a nightmare to defend because the scoring can come from everywhere. They have the athletes to play against Tennessee, but the Vols have the size advantage overall. They're long, and that combo of Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon are hard to handle down low. If Josh Richardson continues this offensive awakening he's been undergoing, it'll be hard to see Tennessee losing to anyone – and that includes Michigan.
East Region: No. 7 UConn (28-18, 12-6 in AAC) vs. No. 3 Iowa State (28-7, 11-7 in Big 12)
How to watch: 7:27 p.m. ET, TBS
What to watch for: If you didn't know before, now you know. Shabazz Napier wasn't just the AAC player of the year based on a popularity contest. He spent much of the Huskies' game against Villanova on the bench in foul trouble and also missed a portion of the game due to injury; but when he was on the floor, he was electric. He scored inside and out, got his teammates involved, pulled down big rebounds and hit clutch free throws. In a word, Napier was virtuoso, as he has been often this season.
He'll need his teammates to follow his lead and play well early. Iowa State, even without Georges Niang, is athletic and dynamic. The Cyclones can attack you in a lot of ways, and they play patiently and under control even when they're fighting back from a deficit. At this point in the tournament, you start to see the well-coached teams separate themselves from the teams getting by on hot shooting, mismatches or emotion. Whichever team gets a more concerted effort out of its role players will probably have the edge in this one.
Midwest Region: No. 8 Kentucky (26-10, 12-6 in SEC) vs. No. 4 Louisville (31-5, 15-3 in AAC)
How to watch: 9:45 p.m. ET, CBS
What to watch for: Yes, the committee botched the seeding a bit. Yes, Wichita State and Kentucky shouldn't have been playing in the round of 32. Yes, the inconsistency of where certain teams were placed made the bracket a bit of a nightmare and focused more on potential games and geography than how good teams actually were. And we can spend plenty of time complaining about that later on. But on Friday, let's just enjoy the fact that we're getting Kentucky vs. Louisville in Indy in the Sweet 16. Rivalries are always important, but when they actually mean something and have championship implications, now that's the good stuff.
Kentucky has grown up a lot in recent weeks, and the Wildcats have the talent to do anything they want. When John Calipari has been able to get them to listen (and it looks like he has been successful now), they can't be stopped on offense. The Harrison brothers spread the floor, James Young can get you off the dribble, Julius Randle is a double-double machine. While the reigning champions are more than familiar with Kentucky, they haven't exactly been playing their best basketball in the NCAA tournament. Louisville looks vulnerable. The Cards need Russ Smith to figure it out. He doesn't have the luxury of waiting around any longer.
East Region: No. 4 Michigan State (28-8, 12-6 in Big Ten) vs. No. 1 Virginia (30-6, 16-2 in ACC)
How to watch: 9:57 p.m. ET, TBS
What to watch for: Just as we're coming down from UK-'Ville, this one is going to kick into another gear. Virginia's defense vs. March Izzo should be a sight to behold. Michigan State was a popular pick to win it all not just because Izzo is such a good coach in the tournament, but also because the Spartans were supposed to play this way throughout the year had injuries not caused them to get creative and absorb extra shock. The adversity may have been a blessing long term; it forced role players to take on different identities, and the various lineups Izzo rolled out there gave him a lot more looks to throw at teams once he finally got all his personnel back.
Most of that shouldn't matter to Virginia. The pack-line is going to be consistent, and it's hard to score against regardless of who you are. While some teams that run the pack-line do it haphazardly – sagging too much on the perimeter or not closing out quickly enough – that's not really a problem with the Cavaliers. Tony Bennett's guys know exactly what they're doing. For Virginia, points will be key. Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogdon have to make the most of their looks, and guys like Anthony Gill and Justin Anderson need to play a big part.
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