The Sweet 16 is only sweet for eight teams.
Think about that, and remember these predictions of which eight teams shall enjoy the round are for entertainment purposes only. We covered the West and Midwest Region matchups Thursday, so let's jump over to the East and South to fill out the rest of the Elite Eight field.
(8) Wisconsin vs. (4) Florida
It’s still a challenge to get a firm handle on what sort of team the Gators are without center John Egbunu. They’re at least a winning team now; entering the tournament they were .500 but they since comfortably won over East Tennessee State and Virginia. Forward Devin Robinson excelled in the win over ETSU, but is that our best measure? He has not attempted double-figure shots in any of his past four games against high-major opponents —even though he was 5-of-11 from 3-point range in those games. Florida might be the most dynamic defensive team Wisconsin has faced this season, but the ability of the Badgers to find their moments on offense should be the difference.
The pick: Wisconsin wins.
(7) South Carolina vs. (3) Baylor
It’d be easy to fall in love with the moment. South Carolina was overpowering in the second halves of its victories over Marquette and Duke, producing offensive outbursts it would have struggled to match in most of its full games. The Baylor defense is a different deal, though, involving more careful consideration and the potential for more physicality along the baseline. We know coach Frank Martin, because of his years in the Big 12, will not be unfamiliar with the Bears defense. But it’ll be a different experience for South Carolina. The Gamecocks are one of the weaker long-distance shooting teams in Division I. Even in wrecking Duke’s D they shot only 31.8 percent from deep and 42.9 percent overall. This looks like the end of the line for USC’s tournament run.
The pick: Baylor reaches Scott Drew’s third Elite Eight.
(4) Butler vs. (1) North Carolina
The one thing the Bulldogs have on their side is their competitive toughness —and their understanding that getting this far has been a considerable achievement. They are the only team in Memphis whose fan base does not have an expectation —in fact, a reasonable expectation —of moving on to the Final Four. The other three have been elite teams all season. Butler has excellent players but is not overloaded with the high-end NBA talent that generally leads to the expectation of tournament success. However, BU has shown the ability to compete with the very best teams; they’ve beaten 30-win teams Cincinnati, Arizona and Villanova (twice). If they can turn this game into a grind, the Tar Heels might buckle.
The pick: Tar Heels have no fun, but win anyway.
(3) UCLA v. (2) Kentucky
If you’re Kentucky, how do you play this? They know they can run with the Bruins. They figure they can win running with the Bruins, although the only piece of available evidence in that regard favors UCLA. But most of UCLA’s defeats have occurred when its team has been drawn into less comfortable games in which defense is a priority and the pace is measured. Southern California did it that way once, and nearly a second time. Arizona did it in the Pac-12 Tournament. We’re not talking about a slowdown. It’s unlikely anyone’s keeping UCLA in the 60s. We’re talking about just forcing the Bruins to guard. They’re better at it now than they once were, but the less they are forced to deal with that end of the court, the happier they’ll be.
The pick: Kentucky, but only if the Wildcats make UCLA work.