NO. 10 N.C. STATE VS. NO. 6 WISCONSIN
The teams from Tobacco Road are smoking as Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State stand on the verge of the filling three Elite Eight openings. Only N.C. State is a surprise as the Wolfpack has beaten No. 7 N.C.-Charlotte and No. 2 UConn to reach round three. Wisconsin is surprise as well, but hasn't had to overcome the quality of opponents that N.C. State has to this point. Bo Ryan is an excellent coach who will keep the Badgers close enough to pull out a late decision by controlling tempo, but Wolf Pack senior Julius Hodge has it going on and can take over late in a tight battle. N.C. State 61, Wisconsin 57.
NO. 1 NORTH CAROLINA VS. NO. 5 VILLANOVA
It's hard to believe that it was 20 years ago Villanova shook up the college basketball world by upsetting No. 1 Georgetown, 64-62, in the NCAA championship game. It will take a similar effort and performance to knock off the Tar Heels, who have the most explosive offense in the Big Dance, led by the junior trio of Sean May (center), Raymond Felton (point guard) and Rashad McCants (shooting guard). That task will be much tougher with leading rebounder and second-leading scorer Curtis Sumpter out with a knee injury. Wildcat junior Allan Ray leads a good group of guards that must slow the game to a snail's pace in order to keep it close. Unfortunately, for those hoping for another shocker, North Carolina has too much quickness and depth to keep in check, and coach Roy Williams can smell that elusive national crown. North Carolina 85, Villanova 69.
NO. 1 DUKE VS. NO. 5 MICHIGAN STATE
This is familiar territory for both of these teams as Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and MSU's Tom Izzo rate No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, for active college coaches in NCAA Tournament win percentage. However, Duke has lost three of its last five Sweet 16 contests and may be in trouble against a Spartan team that shoots the ball well and has superior depth. Duke won an earlier contest between these teams in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, 81-74, but needed a combined 10-of-16 three-point shooting performance from guards J.J. Redick and Daniel Ewing to prevail. The Spartans have come of age since then, especially freshman guard Drew Neitzel while Redick is in a post season shooting slump. I like the Spartans to pull the upset against a Blue Devil squad that looked vulnerable against another MSU (Mississippi State University). Michigan State 74, Duke 73.
NO. 2 KENTUCKY VS. NO. 6 UTAH
The other half of the Austin Region features SEC champ Kentucky against Utah, which is led by the nation's most prolific post player Andrew Bogut. The Wildcats match up better than most teams with freshman center Randolph Morris no longer playing like a rookie and senior strongman Chuck Hayes able to provide defensive help on the block and boards. Freshman guard Rajon Rondo has matured and Utah doesn't appear to have an answer for his quickness in the backcourt. Tubby Smith is one of the most underrated tournament coaches in the business. He'll parlay the Wildcats athletic advantage and take it to Bogut inside in an attempt to get the big man in foul trouble. If successful, Kentucky may just run away with this one. Kentucky 81, Utah 72.
DUKE VS. MICHIGAN STATE: The 2004-05 Blue Devils aren't as talented as some of their previous squads, and Coach K looks a whole lot smarter when he's got better players than the opponent. That's why I'm going with the Spartans. Michigan State 79, Duke 76.
KENTUCKY VS. UTAH: Like Duke, Kentucky's talent isn't all that formidable this year. But the Wildcats have a great leader in Chuck Hayes and a great coach in Tubby Smith. I think that might be enough. Kentucky 72, Utah 67.
N.C. STATE VS. WISCONSIN: Most fans prefer run 'n gun basketball but sometimes a chess match can be interesting, too. Remember Bobby Fisher and Boris Spaasky? Wisconsin 62, N.C. State 58.
NORTH CAROLINA VS. VILLANOVA: I think Roy Williams has an uncanny knack for losing big games. Still, I picked the Tar Heels to win the whole shooting match this year, so I guess I have to keep advancing them in my bracket, don't I? Carolina 84, Villanova 72.
(Due to a computer glitch, I couldn't get my picks on Thursday's Sweet 16 games posted last night. For what it's worth, I missed on the Arizona-Oklahoma State game but got the other three right. - Randy)