Thursday's action brought a mixed bag of results as four teams punched their tickets to the Elite Eight. After 30 minutes of close basketball against Wichita State, Notre Dame pulled away with hot shooting down the stretch. Wisconsin and North Carolina played a close one, but the combination of Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker turned out to be too much. Kentucky smashed West Virginia, and in the final game of the night, Arizona held off Xavier. Friday brings four more Sweet Sixteen games in the East and South regions.
The action gets underway when the UCLA Bruins take on the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the South regional. Bruins' head coach Steve Alford has reached the Sweet Sixteen in back-to-back seasons after taking over the program in 2013. UCLA has been lead by Alford's son Bryce who has scored 49 points on 12-for-16 shooting from behind the arc in the tournament so far. Alford's hot hand will come up against a Gonzaga defense that while not elite does play good first shot defense, allowing opponents to shoot an effective field goal percentage of just 44.3 percent. The Zags will also have an advantage on the offensive end due to their size inside. Przemek Karnowski and Kyle Wiltjer should feast against a smaller UCLA front line.
Only 20 minutes later, the North Carolina State Wolfpack and the Louisville Cardinals tip-off from Syracuse in an East regional semifinal. The Wolfpack are led by a pair of quality guards in Trevor Lacey and Cat Barber. Both Lacey and Barber can light up the scoreboard, something NC State will need against Louisville's top five defense that allows opponents an adjusted 89.5 points per 100 possessions. The Cardinals will rely on a heavy dose of Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell to carry them offensively. Look for the Wolfpack to pack the paint to limit Rozier's penetration and Harrell's room to operate. The Cardinals have knocked down just 30.8 percent of their outside shots this season.
The late games present the two best matchups of the day. At 8:45pm, the Utah Utes tip-off with the South region's top seeded Duke Blue Devils. KenPom pegs the Blue Devils as a one-point favorite. This contest features two potential one-and-done freshmen big men in Duke's Jahlil Okafor and Utah's Jakob Poeltl. Okafor's impressive post skill set will be on display against Poeltl who ranks 54th nationally in block percentage, turning away 8.7 percent of opponents' shots. The Utes will have a size advantage on the perimeter where senior Delon Wright leads the team with 14.7 points and 5.2 assists per game.
The final game of the night pits the Michigan State Spartans against the Oklahoma Sooners. Unsurprisingly, Tom Izzo once again has his Spartans playing well again in March as Michigan State upset Virginia with impressive performances from Travis Trice and Branden Dawson. The Spartans will need another impressive performance from Trice and Dawson against the Sooners' sixth ranked defense. Head coach Lon Kruger has rather quietly transformed the culture at Oklahoma, taking a poor defensive team from last season to one of the better defensive squads in the country this year. The addition of graduate transfer TaShawn Thomas has made a big difference, blocking 1.5 shots per game.
Here's the full schedule for Friday's games:
If you'd need a refresher on the action so far, you can always check out the full bracket over here.
How To Watch
Friday's games will air on CBS and TBS. They will also be live streamed on the NCAA March Madness Live website or you can head on over to their mobile page and download their app for your smart phone or tablet.