Let the Madness resume! After a three-day break— which is an eternity when you’re used to almost 12-hour marathons that begins with the Round of 64 on Thursday until the last Round of 32 game on Sunday— we finally had some much-needed action to digest on Thursday. Arizona, Kentucky, Wisconsin and Notre Dame all were impressive and will advance to the Elite Eight.
So who’s next?
After Thursday’s set of games. we are now down to 12 teams left. And although the last few rounds of the tournament offered us a whole lot of excitement (who can forget the Hunters of Georgia State?), these last set of games could take it to a new level as we will have our Final Four set after Sunday’s last game.
So with the intensity to get to Indianapolis (or In the Annapolis according to Charles Barkley) about to hit a fever pitch, let’s look at each one of Friday’s Sweet 16 games with one key thing to watch in each contest.
No. 11-seed UCLA vs. No. 2-seed Gonzaga 7:15 CBS Houston, NRG Stadium
Can UCLA’s big men keep up with the beefy yet very-talented front court of Gonzaga?
This game will probably be won in the paint, as both teams boast some quality talent inside.
Gonzaga has one of the bigger frontcourts in the country led by Domantas Sabonis, Przemek Karnowski and Kyle Wiltjer. UCLA counters with Kevon Looney and Tony Parker, and whoever scores the most points in the paint will likely to have a leg up in this affair.
That said, the X-factor in this game could also be who can get going from the perimeter, as Byrce Alford and Norman Powell will go toe-toe with Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr.
No.8-seed North Carolina State vs. No.4-seed Louisville 7:37 TBS Syracuse, New York Carrier Dome
Will Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier come to play in this ACC rematch?
Louisville had one of its worst performances of the season against N.C. State back on February 14, when it lost to the Wolfpack 74-65. In that game, the Cardinals shot just 32.8 percent from the field and were out-rebounded by N.C. State, 47-37.
In particular, Harrell and Rozier had awful games. Harrell scored just seven points on 1-5 shooting from the field (although he did haul down 13 rebounds), while Rozier also scored just seven points on a woeful 3-11 shooting from the floor. Suffice to say, that’s a good reason for Louisville’s struggles in that game and thus the loss.
However, with Harrell and Rozier both looking great in the tournament so far, I’d expect Rick Pitino to have his two stars zoned into this game, especially with what is at stake.
No.5-seed Utah vs. No.1-seed Duke 9:45 CBS Houston, NRG Stadium
How will the matchup of Jakob Poeltl and Jahlil Okafor play out?
The battle in the post between Okafor and Poeltl should be fun, as it pits two future NBA players against one another.
There is a lot of height and girth going at each other in this battle. While Okafor is a little more polished, Poeltl in his own right has opened up some eyes with his play this season. Okafor better be up to playing some defense in this game.
That said, the point-guard matchup between the smaller Tyus Jones of Duke and the bigger Delon Wright also bears close monitoring.
No. 7-seed Michigan State vs. No.3-seed Oklahoma 10:07 Syracuse, New York Carrier Dome
Can Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield get going against Michigan State’s aggressive defense?
While Hield has been serviceable thus far, scoring 30 points in his first two games in the tournament, he has been less than efficient in doing so, connecting on just 10 of his 29 shots from the floor.
The Big 12 Player of the Year will need to be an offensive force in this game and much more efficient in the process. How the Spartans body up Hield will prove to be a very telling sign for how this game will be played out.
Despite the Sooners being the higher seed, the Spartans are the favorite. I guess that shouldn’t be all that shocking, as it is tough to bet against Tom Izzo in the NCAA Tournament. Ask Virginia.