Four teams are celebrating berths in the Elite 8 and, after a gauntlet on Friday evening, four more squads will join them. While there was plenty of buzz for Thursday’s Sweet 16 slate, the big guns really arrive on Friday, with each game deploying a legitimate blue blood program with television partners undoubtedly pleased with the giant fan bases involved in the proceedings.
Beyond that casual interest, there are wildly intriguing on-court story lines to monitor and, in short, a big-time night of basketball awaits. Let’s take a look at what is in store.
No. 2 Michigan State (-6, 148) vs. No. 3 LSU, 7:09 pm ET, CBS
Michigan State’s opening round performance against Bradley was shaky at best and, throughout the season, the Spartans have endured some iffy moments. Beyond that, Tom Izzo’s bunch has been banged up from an injury perspective and they don’t have projected first round picks up and down the roster. However, the Spartans entered the Sweet 16 with a No. 3 KenPom ranking nationally and they are legitimately good on both ends of the floor, led by Cassius Winston at the point of attack.
On the flip side, LSU’s statistical profile is one of a top-20 team (No. 19 in KenPom) rather than a team that you would project to land in the Elite 8 and that is accompanied by coaching uncertainty. Will Wade remains away from the team and, while the Tigers looked great in the first half against both Yale and Maryland, things got dicey when the opposition made adjustments.
Could this be interesting and fun? Absolutely, but it would be a surprise if the team with the better coach and a veteran roster didn’t emerge victorious. Best bet: Michigan State in the second half (and -6 full game if you have to)
No. 1 North Carolina (-5, 164.5) vs. No. 5 Auburn, 7:29 pm ET, TBS
Everyone is circling this game as perhaps the most entertaining of the Sweet 16 and it’s easy to see why. Both teams sport top-10 offenses and, while Auburn doesn’t always play at a blistering pace (they are merely above-average in tempo), North Carolina loves to run. The result of that is a total in the 160s (!) on a weekend with totals in the 110s and 120s.