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2015 NCAA Tournament: Sweet 16 Look Ahead

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The first weekend finished on Saturday as 75% of the field was sent packing from the 2015 NCAA tournament. While the best weekend the tournament has to offer is behind us, it's time to turn our attention to the Sweet 16 where two games separate each of these 16 teams from a Final Four trip.

Godofredo Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Louisville finished off Northern Iowa punching the last spot in the Sweet 16 on Sunday night and now all the times and dates are known for the upcoming week where we'll cut the field down to the Final Four.

Lets take a look at what we have in store for the upcoming week with some appetizing matchups on deck.

Thursday's Games

Midwest Region

1) Kentucky vs 5) West Virginia

The Wildcats cruised rather easily through their first two games despite some resistance from Cincinnati for a little bit in the second half. Meanwhile, West Virginia had two games they had to finish out late but clutch guard play down the stretch proved to be the difference in both wins.

West Virginia will do what it does and that's press even if speeding up Kentucky may not be the best idea. The expectation is for Kentucky to cruise yet again, especially against a Mountaineers team that isn't the biggest in the field. Can the West Virginia press force Kentucky into enough mistakes to give itself a chance or will the size and NBA talent of Kentucky be too much for a Bob Huggins team who won't back down but may not have the personnel equipped to stop the train coming?

3) Notre Dame vs 7) Wichita St

Wichita State delivered a blow to Kansas' hopes (and in-state superiority for the time being) on Sunday with a resounding victory that left little doubt who the better team was at the moment. Notre Dame meanwhile survived two Butler shots for the win in regulation and then an additional five minutes of overtime to get into the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003.

We know the guard play will be exceptional in this one with Jerian Grant and Fred Van Vleet, two of the top point guards in America. Gregg Marshall is quickly rising into the discussion of the top coaches in America and has this Shockers team looking a lot like the one that made a run to the Final Four just a couple seasons ago, except with more talent. Can the Irish's sharp shooting send Wichita State home empty handed or will Van Vleet, Ron Baker and company move on yet again and perhaps get a chance at a rematch with Kentucky?

West Region

1) Wisconsin vs 4) North Carolina

The Badgers and Tar Heels were both tested a bit on opening weekend but survived to play another day even when some might suggest both didn't have their A-games all weekend. Now Roy Williams and Bo Ryan take their squads to the West Coast in one of the more appealing Sweet 16 games we'll have in the upcoming round.

The Tar Heels will look to get out and run, something the Badgers got a bit of a chance to scout within their own round of 32 game vs Oregon. Nonetheless, the Tar Heels are a little deeper and more talented than a Ducks team who was game but still predominantly a three point shooting team around Joe Young. North Carolina's defense has been leaky at times this year and now faces one of college basketball's best offenses. Perhaps the first to 75 wins?

2) Arizona vs 6) Xavier

Both teams comfortably got into the Sweet 16 with impressive opening weekends. The Wildcats enter their round of 16 matchup as an 11 point favorite, showing the type of edge Vegas expects Sean Miller's team to have in this one.

AZDesertSwarm staff covered this matchup in a bit more detail already so if you haven't read that yet go check out the scouting report on Xavier for Thursday's game. Other than Kentucky and Gonzaga though, arguably, don't expect many teams to be a bigger favorite to reach the Elite Eight than Arizona.

Friday's Games

East Region

8) NC State vs 5) Louisville

In the one region that has had some serious shakeup, NC State delivered the first haymaker in the East, setting the table for what would become an eye-opening round two in this part of the bracket. The Wolfpack nearly didn't even make it to Villanova, needing a late game collapse from LSU to pull off the opening round upset but took full advantage of the second life. Louisville likewise had to survive a game UC-Irvine team in round one but rebounded and eliminated a trendy Final Four pick in Northern Iowa to go back to the Sweet 16.

The Wolfpack and Cardinals represent two of a Sweet 16-high five ACC teams to make it to the second weekend and this will be the second meeting between the teams this year. The Wolfpack won on the road in February to get the wheels in motion on a good end to the season. The guard play of NC State with Cat Barber and Trevor Lacey has been the backbone of this team all year and against Louisville's pressure defense, look for it to possibly be the difference maker again in who wins.

3) Oklahoma vs 7) Michigan State

Surprisingly if you asked a lot of people who the more surprising team is in this matchup you would probably get more Sooners answers than Spartans. Despite being slotted four seeds higher, the Sooners were a trendy upset pick on the first weekend with a number of people leaning Dayton or Providence to come out of that portion of the bracket. Meanwhile despite Michigan State having to deal with Georgia (stop laughing) and Virginia, plenty felt the combination of Tom Izzo in March, the Spartans strong finish in the Big Ten tourney, plus Virgina's legitimacy or fraudulence could be the difference.

In this matchup pace will dictate everything for the winner. The Sooners love to get up and down the floor and shoot the three ball while the Spartans will look to play this game in a closet in the half court. Oklahoma was eventually able to rebound after a hot start and cold middle vs Dayton on Sunday, and against a Spartans team who is beginning to get that look we've seen from so many Izzo teams before, they'll need Buddy Hield and company to be at their best to move to Sunday's regional final.

South Region

1) Duke vs 5) Utah

The Blue Devils were as impressive as any top seed on the opening weekend cruising to two victories without breaking a sweat despite a very good defensive Aztecs team standing in their way Sunday. The Utes were far more tested with two tight games vs Stephen F Austin and Georgetown but showed the moxie and discipline late in the games to finish them out and keep their dream season alive. As a team who entered the tournament with somewhat of a fraudulent tag tossed on them after going 1-5 vs the other PAC-12 NCAA recipients, Utah answered the bell on the opening weekend.

By now you've heard plenty of what people feel this matchup may come down to. For Utah it's all about getting Delon Wright in the pick and roll vs Duke's sloppy PNR defense. Yet this feels like a game where the PAC-12's best three point shooting team will have to knock down shots consistently to give itself a chance at the upset. Jakob Poeltl had major issues with Kaleb Tarczewski's size in the two meetings with Arizona making Utah's defensive strategy on Jahlil Okafor in my mind the biggest question of this game. Do you live with him likely dominating and take away the threes or do you risk the Duke gunners on the perimeter shooting the lights out?

2) Gonzaga vs 11) UCLA

In the one other rematch of the regular season Gonzaga and UCLA meet in the Sweet 16 after opening weekends for both where each played pretty well to get itself through but not without some challenges. The Zags blitzed Iowa on Sunday but had their issues with North Dakota State on Friday. Meanwhile the UCLA finish vs SMU was one of the most controversial of the opening round and has some feeling like a team who didn't belong in the first place got "gifted" a Sweet 16 spot.

This was an ugly matchup for UCLA the first time these teams met with the Zags winning comfortably in Pauley. For the Bruins it may just be a game where you make it a track meet and hope your shooting is on that night. Defensively, it's hard to see the Bruins having much of an answer for the Gonzaga offense and with the stakes as high as they've been for Gonzaga in some time, in a game everyone expects you to win, maybe just maybe the Zags get a little tight if you jump on them. Nonetheless, this is hands down the least optimistic Sweet 16 game for the PAC-12 and its hope of three teams advancing to the Elite Eight.