The games should be closer than Wisconsin's 69-52 victory over Baylor yesterday, but the University of Michigan and Michigan State men's basketball teams should win their Sweet 16 games tonight.
Michigan should beat Tennessee in the first Sweet 16 game
At 7:15 pm tonight, familiarity and bonds of friendship will be set aside as the Michigan Wolverines play the Tennessee Volunteers for an Elite 8 spot in the tournament.
Michigan (27-8) is the No. 2 seed in the Midwest region and the Big Ten regular season champion. They beat Wofford and Texas to earn their place in this regional semifinal game. The game may turn into a duel between Michigan's offense and Tennessee's defense.
Three of the Wolverines' five starters average more than 10 points per game (PPG). Sophomore guard Nik Stauskas, the Big Ten MVP, is Michigan's leading scorer with a 17.7 PPG average. He has two teammates, Caris LeVert and Glenn Robinson III, with identical 13.1 PPG numbers.
Robinson is part of the game's familiarity and friendship factor. His dad, Glenn Jr., played basketball with Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin at Purdue and Tennessee (24-12) is best represented by their coach.
Martin is a cancer survivor. It was rumored a month ago that Volunteer fans were growing tired waiting for the coach's rebuilding program to yield some positive results.
After a tough five-point loss to Missouri on February 22, Tennessee won five straight games and lost to No. 1-ranked Florida in the SEC championship game, 56-49. They beat Iowa in a play-in game to earn a spot in the second round of the NCAA tournament and then beat Massachusetts and Mercer to make it to the Sweet 16.
Tennessee's strength is defense. They have given up an average of 55.5 points in their last eight victories. Like Michigan, they have three starters who average in double digits in each game.
The Volunteers' leading scorer is senior guard Jordan McRae who has a 18.6 PPG average. Junior forward Jarnell Stokes is at 15.2 PPG and junior guard Josh Richardson has a 10.1 PPG average.
Michigan's talent and experience should offset Tennessee's strong performances in the tournament. If the Wolverines lose, it will be because coach Martin and the Volunteers were able to contain U of M's potent offense.
Time to get beyond the seeding and enjoy the games
If you believe the bracketologists and NCAA analysts, this game is the opportunity for a No. 4 seed (Michigan State) to showcase its superior talent and bench strength against a No. 1 seed (Virginia). After all, the Spartans are the well-honed experts' pick to win the NCAA mens basketball championship.
It may be lost in translation that there is another No. 4 seed (Louisville) who won the national champion last year that has looked impressive in their two tournament games. Let's also consider the 10 teams seeded No. 4 through No. 11 that made it to the Sweet 16.
Parity may have been achieved at the college basketball, but let's stop beating up the selection committee for what really is an entertainment event - the selection of teams for each bracket - and let the contenders battle for the right to be in the Elite 8. Regardless of the seeding, Michigan State against Virginia should be a great nightcap to the Sweet 16 round of games.
Michigan State should beat Virginia in the late game tonight
Michigan State is the third and final Big Ten team in the Sweet 16 and they play the ACC champion Virginia Cavaliers, beginning at 9:57 pm tonight.
The Spartans (28-8) are the No. 4 seed in the East region and beat Delaware and Harvard to earn their place in this regional semifinal game. It is the sixth time in seven years that MSU has reached the Sweet 16.
Four of Michigan State's starters routinely score in double digits. Sophomore guard Gary Harris leads the way with a 16.9 points per game (PPG) average. He is closely followed by senior forward Adreian Payne at 16.6 PPG. Senoir guard Keith Appling averages 11.7 PPG and junior forward Branden Dawson is scoring at a 11.0 PPG pace. .
Virginia (30-6), the East region's No. 1 seed, may be the tournament's best example of a team that frequently rotates personnel in a game. Only the Cavaliers' leading scorer, sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon, averaged more than 30 minutes per game. Brogdon scores at a 12.6 PPG pace and is supported by senior guard Joe Harris who has a 11.8 PPG average.
Like Tennessee who plays Michigan in tonight's opening game, Virginia has a stingy defense. It was the best in the nation and the Volunteers' defense will need to be at its best to beat the Spartans.
Michigan State will showcase its traditional toughness and ability to outrebound its opponent. The Spartans are also healthy and won their first two tournament games in decisive fashion.
Virginia's ability to rotate players will keep the game close, but someone on the MSU squad will rise up to lead the team to a berth in the Elite 8.