They've made it past the first weekend. Now, just four wins away from a national championship, which teams have what it takes to focus on the game in front of them and come away with a W?
The battle that takes place when Kentucky takes on West Virginia is an old one. It's a battle of size versus speed. The Wildcats play five guys as tall or taller than West Virginia's biggest guy, using their size at every position to suffocate teams in the half-court. Meanwhile, West Virginia utilizes a full-court, pressure defense to make teams play fast and turn the ball over.
To win, West Virginia's going to need to play the game fast, shooting and scoring off turnovers before Kentucky can set their defense. The Wildcats, though, have great low post players who will finish with lob dunks when Kentucky breaks the press.
Most people think Notre Dame and Wichita State are playing to see which will have the honor of losing to Kentucky in the Elite Eight, but the truth is that both of these teams are legit. Notre Dame beat Duke twice this season and won the ACC Tourney Title, while Wichita State has gone 65-5 over the past two seasons.
Wichita State, in particular, has to relish the chance to beat Kentucky after the Wildcats ruined the Shockers' chance at an undefeated season last year.
The game between North Carolina and Wisconsin feels like it's one between two storied programs, but Wisconsin's looking to reach the Final Four for only the second time in school history. Can Frank the Tank, Sam Dekker, and the rest of the gang get through UNC? The Tar Heels have a couple of bigs in Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson to throw at the Player of the Year favorite, but neither of them are quite as long as Kaminsky.
Will they be able to trouble him enough to bother the Badgers and steal a win against Wisco?
When Arizona plays Xavier, the Wildcats are pretty clear favorites - Vegas put the line at 11 points. However, in the Musketeers' 24 NCAA Tourney games, Xavier has gone 20-3-1 against the spread, meaning they're consistently underrated.
So, while some people will point to the fact that Xavier had an easy path to the Sweet 16 (they played 11-seed Ole Miss and 14-seed Georgia State), the real point should be that they're in the Sweet 16. They have legitimate size, and they're a legitimate threat to Arizona.
The Cardinals and the Wolfpack are playing for a trip to the Elite Eight, but that trip seems to mean just a little more in the East, where the top two seeds (Villanova and Virginia) were upset early. Can NC State capitalize on beating a 1-seed and ride a wave of momentum to the Final Four, a la last season's Kentucky? Will Rick Pitino do what he's done so many times before - win in the NCAA Tournament?
Though Michigan State has the lower seed when they play Oklahoma, Vegas says don't bet against Tom Izzo - the Spartans are a 2-point favorite. However, Lon Kruger's had plenty of success himself, and both of these teams are pretty similar. Both teams really defend and neither team shoots particularly well. This should be a backcourt-based (with Travis Trice and Buddy Hield leading the way) battle royale.
When Duke plays Utah, the Blue Devils are the heavy favorite. However, in the ten times Mike Krzyzewski has led a Duke team with 4 or fewer losses to the Sweet Sixteen, he's gone just 5-5 in those games. So, who knows? Maybe Delon Wright can show the freshmen-led Blue Devils the value of staying in school, and maybe Duke wins by 20. The point is, based on Coach K's history, that this one could be a coin flip.
UCLA and Gonzaga are both squads with something to prove. For UCLA, a non-goaltending-based, legitimate win over a top team in the tourney will prove without question they belong. For Gonzaga, a team who is often criticized for being upset early, a trip to the Elite Eight will solidify a great 2014-15 season.
After Tony Parker dominated UAB, the Zags play three guys 6'10" or over. Both Kevin Pangos and Bryce Alford have played well so far. Whoever wins these two matchups will move on.