College Basketball Nation: 2014 Sweet 16 previews

A look around the Midwest Region:

Tennessee vs. Michigan

What to watch: Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon have led Tennessee’s charge to the Sweet 16 thus far. A Michigan team that lacks a comparable post threat could struggle with Tennessee’s tough bigs inside, but the Vols will have their hands full as they try to stay in front of Caris LeVert, Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas.

Who to watch: The potential battle between Stauskas, a 6-foot-6 shooter who won Big Ten player of the year honors, and 6-6 wing Josh Richardson could decide the game. Richardson has to find a way to frustrate Stauskas, who can hurt opponents by shooting or slashing.

Why watch: There will be fireworks because this is not the same Tennessee team that struggled throughout the SEC season. The Vols are hot right now and are running into a Michigan team that also overcame adversity -- notably the losses of Trey Burke and Mitch McGary -- to reach this stage.

Kentucky vs. Louisville

What to watch: Kentucky had little trouble in its 73-66 victory over Louisville on Dec. 28, but it’ll be interesting to see whether the hybrid zone that Louisville has used in recent weeks will stifle Kentucky’s offense this time.

Who to watch: Julius Randle (17 points) had a great game the first meeting. Can Montrezl Harrell & Co. find a way to stop the future lottery pick?

Why watch: This is Louisville-Kentucky with a shot at the Elite Eight on the line. It’s that simple.

A look around the East Region ...

IOWA STATE vs. UCONN

What to watch: Tempo. The Cyclones like to go, go, go, and UConn is more content in the half court. Not that the Huskies can’t push, but they may not have the firepower to match Iowa State bucket for bucket. Whoever wins the tempo battle could win the game.

Who to watch: Shabazz Napier versus DeAndre Kane? Yeah, that will work. The two senior point guards have essentially put their teams on their backs in this NCAA tournament, leading not just in scoring but also in rebounding and assists. This might be one of the more entertaining one-on-one battles in the regionals.

Why watch: In just two years, coach Kevin Ollie already has put his stamp on the Huskies, easing them through APR banishment last season and reconfiguring them into an NCAA tourney team this season. A win here would only solidify that this is his team now. Fred Hoiberg, meanwhile, has resurrected his alma mater from ground level, reinvigorating a fan base that was ready to be charged. An Elite Eight berth might turn the Mayor into the Governor.

VIRGINIA vs. MICHIGAN STATE

What to watch: The Spartans as a team might be hard-pressed to score 41 points, let alone Adreian Payne solo, against the defensive-minded Cavaliers. This game will be a rock fight, in which case rebounding will be key. Michigan State ranks 70th nationally in rebounding compared to 140th for the Cavaliers, who squeezed out just one offensive board against a far-less-talented Coastal Carolina team in the round of 64.

Who to watch: Tricky choice because Virginia is such a team-oriented group. But if forced to pick, you have to say it’s the Harrises: Michigan State's Gary Harris and Virginia's Joe Harris. Both are capable of some streaky shooting, and if one gets hot, that could mean ballgame.

Why watch: If there can be such a thing as an underdog No. 1 seed, Virginia is it. Practically no one is talking about the Cavaliers. Meanwhile, the collective thinking is that the Spartans are both woefully underseeded and national title favorites. We’ll see about all of that here.
A look around the West Region ...

WISCONSIN vs. BAYLOR

What to watch: Baylor shut down Creighton’s Doug McDermott, holding him 12 points below his season average. Wisconsin has the shooters in Ben Brust and Josh Gasser to make Baylor’s zone ineffective.

Who to watch: Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Baylor’s Isaiah Austin are two big men who don’t mind floating on the perimeter to score. Bears forward Cory Jefferson, who has 30 points and 20 rebounds in the tournament, sets the tone for Baylor's frontcourt.

Why watch: Baylor’s 30-point win over Creighton was the largest margin of victory in the round of 32. The Badgers’ rally from down 12 against Oregon proved they are never out of a game.

ARIZONA vs. SAN DIEGO STATE

What to watch: Both teams prefer a faster pace, so it could be one of the more entertaining games of the Sweet 16. San Diego State has won 120 consecutive games when leading with five minutes to play.

Who to watch: SDSU forward Dwayne Polee II, the Mountain West Sixth Man of the Year, did not play in the first meeting this season between these teams. Polee averaged 8.4 points and 3.3 rebounds per game this season.

Why watch: Arizona is playing as well as any team left but is somehow flying under the radar. The Aztecs cut a 14-point deficit to three before ultimately losing 69-60 when these teams met Nov. 14.
A look around the South Region ...

FLORIDA vs. UCLA

What to watch: An offense-defense matchup for the ages. The Gators are one of the nation's two or three best defenses. They enter Thursday's game ranked No. 2 in adjusted defensive efficiency (and sixth in pure points allowed per possession). UCLA is one of the nation's best, most efficient, most finesse offenses. The Bruins don't rebound their own misses or draw fouls, but they shoot so well that they usually don't need to.

Who to watch: UCLA guards Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson are two of the nation's best players, and they may be the two most talented players on the court in Thursday's game. But the Gators have some talent of their own and are one of the few teams capable of throwing multiple matchups and looks (Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather, Will Yeguete, even Patric Young) at Adams and Anderson for 40 minutes.

Why watch: Can anyone stop Florida's march to the Final Four? With Kansas at No. 2 and Syracuse No. 3, the Gators' regional could have been as daunting as any other team's. Now it's up to the Bruins to halt Florida's machinelike run -- or leave it up to Dayton or Stanford on Saturday night.

STANFORD vs. DAYTON

What to watch: Statistically speaking, the two least likely Sweet 16 participants are also the most well-matched: Each team's offensive and defensive adjusted efficiency ranks overlap with the other. But that tells only part of the story. Dayton is a physical and athletic but largely perimeter-oriented team, while Stanford uses its size to hunker down and prevent easy baskets on the defensive end. Can the Flyers shoot over the top?

Who to watch: Dayton's guards and wings have earned the lion's share of praise in the lead-up to this game, and rightfully so -- Vee Sanford, Jordan Sibert, Dyshawn Pierre and Devin Oliver make the Flyers go. Which is why it will be so crucial that Stanford gets a good game out of point guard Chasson Randle on both ends of the floor.

Why watch: Neither of these teams is a true mid-major, and neither is exactly an underdog, either. Dayton is a basketball-obsessed town with a dedicated fan base, and Stanford is, well, Stanford. But basketball-wise, these are still the two teams making the most surprising runs of the tournament to date, and now at least one of them will reach the Elite Eight. That's March at its best, right?

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