March Madness 2014: An early look at the Sweet 16 matchups – The Oregonian

More than ever, we were reminded this weekend that seeds are just for show once the ball is in the air. The playing field between mid-major and power conferences is all but level, making the number next to a team’s name in the NCAA tournament bracket merely an arbitrary indicator of how they got there. The lower-seeded team was victorious in five of the 16 third-round games, with upsets of Syracuse, Villanova, Kansas and Wichita State headlining the madness.

Now that the dust has settled, we find an No. 8 seed, a No. 10 seed and two No. 11 seeds among the 16 teams still breathing. Beyond that, we have ourselves a bevy of must-see matchups stocked with intriguing storylines. We still have a few days to fully digest what to expect come Thursday, but here’s an early look at all eight Sweet 16 matchups:


South Regional: FedExForum in Memphis, Tenn.

No. 11 Dayton vs. No. 10 Stanford, 7:15 p.m. ET

How they got here: The Flyers are this year’s Cinderella story, slaying college basketball giants Ohio State and Syracuse by a combined total of three points. Meanwhile, the Cardinal opened with a win over New Mexico before shutting down Andrew Wiggins and Kansas on Sunday to advance to the round of 16 for the first time since 2008.

Early storylines: No matter who wins this matchup, Thursday night will produce a surprise entrant into the Elite 8. Dayton has dodged two last-second bullets to get here, while Stanford has simply overpowered teams with their size and strength inside. This is Dayton’s first visit to the Sweet 16 in 30 years, and it might be a short one unless the Flyers figure out a way to contain Stanford’s 6-foot-10 senior Dwight Powell.

No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 UCLA, 9:45 p.m. ET

How they got here: The Gators, led by point guard Scottie Wilbekin, rebounded from a shaky opener against Albany to dismantle Pittsburgh on Saturday and land in the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight year. UCLA, in its first Sweet 16 in six years, rolled past Tulsa and Stephen F. Austin in the first two rounds by identical 17-point margins.

Scottie WilbekinFlorida guard Scottie Wilbekin (5) celebrates a basket during the second half in a third-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament against Pittsburgh, Saturday, March 22, 2014, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Early storylines: A round after snapping the 29-game winning streak of the Lumberjacks, the Bruins face the top-seeded Gators, who have a 28-game winning streak of their own. And boy do they owe them. Florida topped UCLA in the 2006 NCAA title game and the 2007 semifinal. Two years later, they threw in a second-round victory over the Bruins for good measure. Along with No. 1 Arizona, the Gators may be the most complete team in the tournament. Of course, the Bruins just took down Arizona in the Pac-12 championship.

West Regional: Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.

No. 6 Baylor vs. No. 2 Wisconsin, 7:47 p.m. ET

How they got here: After knocking off Nebraska in its first game, Baylor put an abrupt end to the college career of Doug McDermott, blowing out Creighton by 30 points on Sunday. The Badgers trounced an overmatched American squad before squeaking by Oregon in one of the tournament’s best games.

Early storylines: Expect some points in this one, as both Baylor and Wisconsin are among the most efficient offensive teams in the country. Then again, so was Creighton. Baylor’s zone defense stymied the Blue Jays attack, holding McDermott to 15 points. Will that film give Bo Ryan and his similarly dangerous bunch a blueprint to attack the Bears? Maybe. But if the Baylor backcourt of Brady Heslip and Kenny Chery combine to go 9 of 12 from 3-point territory again, it might not matter.

No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 4 San Diego State, 10:17 p.m. ET

How they got here: The Wildcats shook off a lackluster effort against Weber State to pound Gonzaga by 23, flexing their defensive muscle with 15 steals. The Aztecs flashed some defense of their own in holding North Dakota State to 44 points two days after sneaking past New Mexico State in overtime.

Early storylines: Arizona looked a lot like a No. 1 seed against Gonzaga, as the outcome was never really in doubt. San Diego is an elite defensive team, but Arizona might be even better, as they’re ranked first in the nation in defensive efficiency. The Aztecs have had a great year and have an excellent coach in Steve Fisher — they’ve lost only four times, including a mid-November defeat to the Wildcats — but it is going to be tough for them to put up enough points to topple Nick Johnson and company.



East Regional: Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y.

No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 7 Connecticut, 7:27 p.m. ET

How they got here: A game-winner from DeAndre Kane moved Iowa State past UNC on Sunday after the Cyclones lost key scorer Georges Niang in a second-round win over North Carolina Central. Connecticut single-handedly torpedoed Philly’s March hopes, beating Saint Joseph’s and Villanova in its first two games.

Early storylines: It was no Niang, no problem on Sunday for the Cyclones, who still managed 85 points without their sophomore sniper. Iowa State has firepower to spare even without Niang, but it will be tough for Kane to replicate his performance against a tough UConn defense. Meanwhile, the Huskies probably have the best offensive player on either team in Shabazz Napier, who has 49 total points in UConn’s two tournament games.

No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 4 Michigan State, 9:57 p.m. ET

How they got here: The Cavaliers flirted with disaster against No. 16 seed Coastal Carolina in their opener, only to sprint past Memphis on Sunday by shooting over 55 percent. Meanwhile, the Spartans methodically took care of business against Delaware and Harvard to reach the Sweet 16 for the 12th time in 17 years.

Early storylines: One thing is for sure, we should see some fundamental basketball between the Spartans and Cavaliers on Friday night. Finally healthy, Michigan State is the trendy pick to win it all, while Virginia has gone under-appreciated all season long. There is one quick way to change that: Take down Master of March himself, Mr. Tom Izzo. Both of these squads won their respective conference tournament and enter the clash on a five-game winning streak. With a full arsenal of weapons, we should get to see just how dangerous Michigan State can be against the stingy Cavs defense.

Midwest Regional: Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis

Rick PitinoLouisville coach Rick Pitino directs his team during the first half in a third-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament against Saint Louis, Saturday, March 22, 2014, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

No. 11 Tennessee vs. No. 2 Michigan, 7:15 p.m. ET

How they got here: The Vols are the latest First Four success story, squeaking past Iowa in overtime before handling UMass and Mercer. The Wolverines have been similarly impressive, notching easy wins over Wofford and Texas.

Early storylines: After two straight blowout victories, Tennessee has people around the nation wondering how they were a bubble team. A quick look at their statistics doesn’t do much to clarify. The Vols ranked 16th nationally in offensive efficiency and 18th in defensive efficiency. How did this team lose 12 times? Meanwhile, Nik Stauskas seems poised to lead Michigan back to the Final Four. The ‘glamour bracket’ didn’t do much to disappoint over the opening weekend.

No. 8 Kentucky vs. No. 4 Louisville, 9:45 p.m. ET

How they got here: The ceiling of John Calipari’s latest batch of youngsters was on full display Sunday against Wichita State, two days after the Wildcats disposed of Kansas State. Louisville survived a scare from Manhattan on Thursday before battering Saint Louis over the weekend.

Early storylines: It doesn’t get much better than Rick Pitino and Louisville versus John Calipari and Kentucky in the NCAA tournament, and in the Sweet 16 no less. Both of these national powerhouses had reason to be upset with their seeding and took it out on their second-round opponents. But is there any way Kentucky can dial up another performance like that against Louisville? The ‘Cats have already beaten the Cardinals once this year. But remember, Pitino has never lost in the Sweet 16. 

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