Michigan’s bid for a second straight trip to the Final Four is entering the second weekend of the NCAA tournament as the second-seeded Wolverines cruised through to the Sweet 16. The road gets a little tougher at the Midwest regional today when Michigan (27-8) faces Tennessee (24-12) in Indianapolis.
The 11th-seeded Volunteers were perhaps the most impressive team of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, rolling over Massachusetts and Mercer by a combined 39 points. Tennessee needed to sneak past the Big Ten’s Iowa in overtime in the first round just to make the field of 64 but wasted little time proving it belonged. Jarnell Stokes is averaging 20.3 points and 15 rebounds in the Volunteers’ three NCAA tournament games and will need all the points he can find to keep up with Wolverines stars Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. Michigan used its defense to overwhelm Wofford 57-40 in its tournament opener but found another gear offensively in cruising past Texas 79-65 in the round of 32.
TV: 7:15 p.m., CBS
PREDICTION: Michigan 75, Tennessee 70
Preview: Connecticut vs. Iowa State
Iowa State (28-7) is in the Sweet 16 for the first time in 14 years, but will have to overcome the loss of one of its top players to reach the Elite Eight. The third-seed Cyclones face Connecticut (28-8) in the East regional semifinals in New York City without forward Georges Niang, who averaged 20.4 points in his previous five games before breaking his right foot in Iowa State’s second-round victory over North Carolina Central. The seventh-seeded Huskies have made the most of their return to the postseason following a one-year ban for academic sanctions, upending second-seeded Villanova 77-65 in the third round as Shabazz Napier scored 21 of his 25 points in the second half.
Connecticut will rely on Napier to lead the way, as the senior guard has scored 49 points in two NCAA tournament games with six 3-pointers, 13 rebounds and nine assists. Iowa State’s Niang is lost for the rest of the season but DeAndre Kane helped ease the blow in the Cyclones’ 85-83 victory over North Carolina in the third round, scoring 24 points with 10 rebounds and seven assists. The matchup marks the second time in three years the two teams have met in the NCAA tournament, with Iowa State beating Connecticut 77-64 in the second round in 2012.
TV: 7:27 p.m., TBS
PREDICTION: Iowa State 72, Connecticut 69
Preview: Kentucky vs. Louisville
In a matchup with seemingly endless storylines, Louisville (31-5) and Kentucky (26-10) face off in Indianapolis with a berth in the Elite Eight of the Midwest Regional on the line. For starters, the Cardinals and Wildcats have won the last two national championships and also are playing for the second time this season after Kentucky handed Louisville a 73-66 loss Dec. 28. Of course that was nearly three months ago and now both teams are playing some of their best basketball. the Cardinals having won 14 of 15 and the Wildcats having won four of their last five, the loss a one-point defeat to No. 1 Florida in the SEC tournament title game.
Eighth-seeded Kentucky is coming off a three-point win over top-seeded and undefeated Wichita State - a game in which four of the Wildcats’ starting freshmen had strong games, led by Andrew Harrison’s 20 points. Louisville, the No. 4 seed, defeated fifth-seeded Saint Louis by 15 points Saturday thanks in large part to Luke Hancock’s 21 points. Another storyline to keep an eye on is the slump of Cardinals star Russ Smith, who is 6-of-19 from the field with 13 turnovers in Louisville’s two NCAA tournament contests.
TV: 9:45 p.m., CBS
PREDICTION: Louisville 72, Kentucky 66 (OT)
Preview: Michigan State vs. Virginia
Despite drawing a No. 4 seed in the East region, Michigan State (28-8) was considered by many the NCAA tournament favorite while top-seeded Virginia (30-6) had the misfortune of winding up in the same part of the bracket. The Spartans, who face the Cavaliers in Sweet 16 action in New York City, are 6-1 since getting all of their players back in a season filled with key injuries. The Big Ten tournament champions have carried over their recent success to the Big Dance, defeating Delaware and Harvard.
Michigan State has historically not enjoyed its visits to Madison Square Garden, falling to 2-10 at the venue all-time after losing to Georgetown on Feb. 1. While the Spartans attempt to overcome those demons, Virginia will try to make the Elite Eight for the first time since 1994-95. The Cavaliers claimed both the ACC regular-season and tournament titles for the first time in school history and rebounded from a shaky second-round victory over No. 16 seed Coastal Carolina with a dominant win over eighth-seeded Memphis.
TV: 9:57 p.m., TBS
PREDICTION: Virginia 64, Michigan State 61