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NCAA Tourney Sweet 16 Preview: The Madness Marches On

Arkansas v North Carolina
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Only 16 teams are left in the 2017 NCAA men’s basketball tournament field. (You can check out our recap of rounds 1 and 2 here.) What does each squad have to do to make it to the Final Four in Arizona? Find out below:

Thursday, March 23

Midwest Region
Michigan State v Kansas
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(3) Oregon vs. (7) Michigan
Sprint Center, Kansas City | 7:09 p.m. on CBS

Third-seeded Oregon (31–5) faces seventh-seeded Michigan (26–11) for the right to advance to the Elite Eight. Led by Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey, the Ducks’ offense has been explosive thus far in the NCAA tournament. If that continues, they could fly on to the desert. However, Dana Altman’s team has suffered on defense without shot-blocking big man Chris Boucher. The upstart Wolverines must capitalize to win, meaning Derrick Walton Jr. has to feed D.J. Wilson and Moritz Wagner all night.

(1) Kansas vs. (4) Purdue
Sprint Center, Kansas City | 9:39 p.m. (ET) on CBS

Blessed with great guard play from Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham and eye-popping finishes from superstar Josh Jackson, Kansas (30–4) should not need to work that hard to breeze past fourth-seeded Purdue (27–7) into the regional final. Of course, Jayhawks’ coach Bill Self has a history of losing with other KU teams that were supposed to win. The Boilermakers need a supreme performance from NBA-ready Caleb Swanigan to make that happen again. If Swanigan doesn’t get enough help from P.J. Thompson and Carsen Edwards, he and his team will go home.

West Region
Northwestern v Gonzaga
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(1) Gonzaga vs. (4) West Virginia
SAP Center, San Jose | 7:39 p.m. (ET) on TBS

Top-seeded Gonzaga (34–1) wasn’t as dominant as expected in wins over South Dakota State and Northwestern last weekend. Still, coach Mark Few’s Bulldogs are one of the best teams in the country because they can beat quality opponents even when they don’t play their best. The trio of Nigel Williams-Goss, Zach Collins and Przemek Karnowski needs to play better against the full-court intensity of West Virginia (28–8) on Thursday. The fourth-seeded Mountaineers shot a staggering 52 percent from the three-point line in wins over Bucknell and Notre Dame. The scariest thing about coach Bob Huggins’ team is that its defense doesn’t go into slumps. This should be a nail-biter.

(2) Arizona vs. (11) Xavier
SAP Center, San Jose | 10:09 p.m. (ET) on TBS

Sharpshooters Allonzo Trier and Lauri Markkanen of second-seeded Arizona (32–4) might be the hottest tandem in college basketball. When that duo is scoring, Sean Miller’s Wildcats can run just about any team off the court. Eleventh-seed Xavier (23–13) could present a problem, though. The Musketeers tend to grind teams into submission with defense, rebounding and depth. Guard Trevon Bluiett’s 25-point scoring average after two games ranks third in the tourney, but he can’t carry the offensive load alone. If he gets help, the Cinderella X-Men might keep dancing; otherwise Arizona takes a step toward the desert.

Friday, March 24

South Region
NCAA Basketball Tournament - First Round - Texas Southern v North Carolina
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(1) North Carolina vs. (4) Butler
FedEx Forum, Memphis | 7:09 p.m. (ET) on CBS

Top-seeded North Carolina (29–7) was the lone representative of the highly touted — but woefully under-performing — Atlantic Coast Conference to make the Sweet 16. Coach Roy Williams’ Tar Heels were very fortunate to get past eighth-seeded Arkansas in the South Region last weekend. They’ll need Joel Berry, Kennedy Meeks and Justin Jackson to play a more complete game against fourth-seeded Butler (25–8). The Bulldogs may not be able to match the Heels’ talent, but they always seem to stay in games against blue-chip competition. They’ll need to continue shooting well from the field and get a big game from forward Kelan Martin to advance.

(3) UCLA vs. (2) Kentucky
FedEx Forum, Memphis | 9:39 p.m. (ET) on CBS

It’s almost unfair that third-seeded UCLA (31–4) and second-seeded Kentucky (31–5) won’t both have an opportunity to play in a regional final. The Bruins-Wildcats match-up is the best game of this round on paper. Sure, UCLA beat Kentucky in Lexington back in early December, but the Wildcats have gotten much better as a team since then. Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox lit up the Bruins in the first meeting and figure to do so again. The key questions: can UCLA’s defense get stops? And, can the Kentucky defense affect Bruins’ all-world guard Lonzo Ball? Those answers will determine the winner of this marquee match-up.

East Region
NCAA Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Virginia v Florida
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(7) South Carolina vs. (3) Baylor
Madison Square Garden, New York | 7:29 p.m. (ET) on TBS

Neither seventh-seed South Carolina (24–10) nor third-seeded Baylor (27–7) were supposed to make the Sweet 16 this year. Yet, here they are while teams like Duke, Villanova and Louisville sit home. Frank Martin’s feisty Gamecocks are physical and confident. Sindarius Thornwell’s 26.5 points per game average leads all scorers left in the tourney. He’ll need to add to it for his team to advance. The Bears have their own star in Johnathan Motley. He’ll likely need to contribute a double-double for Baylor to find itself in the Elite Eight. This should be a war.

(4) Florida vs. (8) Wisconsin
Madison Square Garden, New York| 9:59 p.m. (ET) on TBS

Eighth-seeded Wisconsin (27–9) has notched 13 tournament wins in the past four seasons because of smart and talented players like Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter. That veteran moxie — and their impressive offensive efficiency — will have to carry the Badgers past fourth-seeded Florida (26–8) into the regional final. The Gators have rebounded from a late-season swoon to thump East Tennessee State and Virginia, and they’ve done it with defense. They’ll need Devin Robinson to keep up his scoring to trap the Badgers.

READ OUR RECAP OF ROUNDS 1 & 2

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