It's almost crazy to say that there are only 15 games remaining in the 2014-15 college basketball season. In two weeks, a champion will be crowned and lives will change dramatically as stars will break out and dreams will be crushed.
On Thursday night, the Sweet 16 begins with action from the Midwest and West regions. Both of these regions are drastically different and that should give us an entertaining night of hoops.
On the Midwest side, there is a heavy, heavy favorite in the Kentucky Wildcats, who should advance to the Final Four barring an unforeseen poor outing defensively.
And then there's the West region, which is considered the toughest road to the Final Four. Wisconsin, Arizona and North Carolina are all capable teams with immense NBA talent that all have a shot at possibly giving the Wildcats a run for their money in Indianapolis.
But before we get to that point, teams must survive and advance to the Elite Eight Thursday night where squads like West Virginia and Xavier try to upset the powerhouses to keep their hopes alive.
How/where to watch:
7:15 pm ET CBS #3 Notre Dame vs. #7 Wichita State (Marv Albert, Chris Webber, Len Elmore)
7:47 pm ET TBS #1 Wisconsin vs. #4 North Carolina (Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner, Rachel Nichols)
Approx. 9:45 pm ET CBS #1 Kentucky vs. #5 West Virginia (Albert, Webber, Elmore)
Approx. 10:17 pm ET TBS #2 Arizona vs. #6 Xavier (Harlan, Miller, Bonner, Nichols)
#3 Notre Dame vs. #7 Wichita State MIdwest Region
The backcourt match-up in this one should not disappoint as the Shockers are going to try to counter the Irish stars Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson with Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker. Tekele Cotton, who had a huge game against Kansas in the Round of 32, is expected to go head-to-head with Jerian Grant as he is Wichita State's best defensive stopper.
Both of these teams are undersized but they both run their offensive sets so well to set themselves up for open looks at the basket. They also both play solid defense as the Shockers put up an impressive showing at that end against Kansas while Jackson's ball pressure makes everything easier for Notre Dame.
Unfortunately, the reward for the winner: A possible match-up against the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats.
#1 Wisconsin vs. #4 North Carolina West Region
The Badgers and Tar Heels have a contrast in styles.
Wisconsin is so efficient offensively as they try to create mismatches using Frank Kaminsky, Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker's abilities to step out and shoot the three as well as finish around the basket.
North Carolina has bullies in the paint as they like to out tough their opponent while struggling to shoot the outside jumper well.
One thing that the Tar Heels have on their side is Marcus Paige. Even though he has struggled this year with injuries and consistency, the senior guard can break out for 30 in any game and loves to be in the spotlight.
The main headlines in this game will come from the injury department though. Kennedy Meeks is not expected to play after suffering a knee strain in the last round against Arkansas and Traevon Jackson, who has missed most of Big Ten conference play with a foot injury, is expected to play for the Badgers.
#1 Kentucky vs. #5 West Virginia Midwest Region
On Wednesday, Mountaineers guard Daxter Miles Jr. decided that he was going to show his confidence to the world by saying, "Salute them (Kentucky) for going 36-0 but tomorrow they're going to be 36-1."
Seriously? He just woke up the sleeping giant.
On a positive note though, Bob Huggins is 8-2 all time against John Calipari and their latest match-up came in the 2010 Elite Eight when the Mountaineers led by Da'Sean Butler knocked off the Wildcats, who were led by NBA stars John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.
The Mountaineers also support a lethal press that could give the Harrison Twins, Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker some major problems if they don't remain poised.
West Virginia is a fearless team, similar to Cincinnati (who gave Kentucky a run in the first half), and they have a beast in the paint in Devin Williams. The 6'9" sophomore is a rebounding machine as he put up two marvelous games to open this NCAA Tournament and proved to be the difference maker in the Round of 32 game against the Maryland Terps.
#2 Arizona vs. #6 Xavier West Region
Matt Stainbrook and Jalen Reynolds have been excellent so far in the Big Dance but they haven't exactly played a front line even close to as good as Arizona's. Not only are the Wildcats athletic in the paint (athletic bigs have given Xavier trouble this season) but they are not going to back down from anyone in the country.
The Wildcats are playing with a high level of confidence and if they continue to get production from Gabe York, the Musketeers are going to have a rough outing in Los Angeles. Arizona should have a strong crowd on hand and it will be interesting to see how Xavier's smooth offensive attack goes up against one of the best defensive teams in the country.
Dee Davis and Myles Davis are going to have to have big time games for Xavier to have a chance to pull off the upset.
Don't forget that Dee Davis is also going to have the task of trying to shut down one of the best point guards in college basketball, T.J. McConnell.