The NCAA tournament has filled out half of the Elite Eight field after March 27. However, the eight teams left in the Sweet 16 field are pretty elite themselves. Yet only four of them will get halfway through the NCAA tournament after March 28, following four big Sweet 16 showdowns in the East and Midwest.
The Michigan Wolverines, Tennessee Volunteers, Connecticut Huskies, Iowa State Cyclones, Kentucky Wildcats, Louisville Cardinals, Virginia Cavaliers and Michigan State Spartans could all make up a plausible Elite Eight field. Nevertheless, there are only four slots left for these eight teams to fight for.
Many of these teams didn't look sweet or elite at various points this season. The Volunteers, Huskies and Wildcats are all fairly low seeds who finally rounded into form this month, while the Spartans and Cardinals took all season to look like potential champions. The Cyclones have a big new question mark with the loss of Georges Niang, while the Cavaliers still have to prove themselves as a No. 1 seed and the Wolverines could face a national title game rematch with the Cardinals in the Elite Eight.
Nevertheless, this may be the most star studded day of the NCAA tournament to date. The Wildcats and Cardinals alone carry the hype of a Final Four game -- like the one they staged two years ago. The Huskies carry the red hot Shabazz Napier to Madison Square Garden -- the site where Kemba Walker started to carry the 2011 Huskies to glory in the Big East tournament.
Meanwhile, the Volunteers can keep going from the First Four to the Final Four, while the Wolverines look to be the second Big Ten team to make the Elite Eight. The Spartans could be the third, unless the Cavaliers make their first Elite Eight in almost 20 years.
The accompanying list further details the eight teams in action tonight, and how they form an elite slate of games to transition the NCAA tournament from the Sweet 16 to Elite Eight.
Martin, Volunteers peaking
Tennessee Volunteers: Cuonzo Martin and the Volunteers underachieved much of the year, yet the SEC was weak enough to keep them afloat until they got on a roll. Of course, since they avoided the Duke Blue Devils in the third round, that helped too -- but the Volunteers won't have that kind of luck the rest of the way.
Wolverines near another Final Four
Michigan Wolverines: The Wolverines were the underdog at this time last year, until a Sweet 16 upset of Kansas put them on the road to the national title game. Now the Wolverines are the highest seed left in the Midwest, and have to avoid being upset themselves in the Sweet 16 -- with a potential rematch against Louisville as their reward.
Napier to be latest Huskies legend?
Connecticut Huskies: Shabazz Napier's work in the first two games of the NCAA tournament drew endless comparisons to Kemba Walker in the 2011 tournament. Of course, Walker and the 2011 Huskies launched their national title run at the Big East tournament in Madison Square Garden -- the coincidental host of the East regionals.
Cyclones still standing
Iowa State Cyclones: The loss of Georges Niang didn't derail the Cyclones against the North Carolina Tar Heels after all, although they needed a rally to survive. But will the Big 12 tournament champions have any answers for Napier and Connecticut -- not to mention Virginia or Michigan State -- without him?
Petino, Louisville to stay sweet?
Louisville Cardinals: Rick Petino has never lost a Sweet 16 game, although he never faced one quite like this against eighth-seeded Kentucky. Will the Wildcats hand the Cardinals their first NCAA tournament loss since their 2012 Final Four defeat to Kentucky?
Calipari, Wildcats back in form?
Kentucky Wildcats: Everyone thought John Calipari and all his freshmen would roll through the regular season and NCAA tournament, until the season actually started. Now it is getting tempting to believe it again, especially if the Wildcats can survive a region that has the Cardinals, the Wolverines and the SEC rival Volunteers.
Cavaliers approach massive statement
Virginia Cavaliers: Despite winning the ACC and earning a No. 1 seed, Anthony Gill and the Cavaliers can still be considered underdogs to the Spartans, if only because of their prestige gap. Yet despite being 20 years removed from their last serious NCAA tournament run, the Cavaliers can prove how serious they are for good.
Spartans back in familiar territory
Michigan State Spartans: The Spartans have actually gone four years since they got past the Sweet 16, which is odd for coach Tom Izzo. However, now that the Spartans are healthy and peaking, the second lowest seed left in the East may be the favorite to get out of New York alive.