After an exciting first weekend, the 2016 NCAA Tournament heads to the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 rounds this weekend.
In the East regional, the action shifts to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Regional semi-final games will be played at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday, March 25, followed by the final on Sunday, March 27. The East regional consists of the North Carolina Tar Heels, Indiana Hoosiers, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and Wisconsin Badgers.
North Carolina and Indiana are no strangers to this stage of the NCAA tournament, having made 54 combined Sweet 16 appearances. While both teams have five national championships to their credit, the Tar Heels own the recent success between the two storied schools, having earned championships in 1993, 2005, and 2009. The Hoosiers' most recent title game appearance came in 2002, a loss to the Maryland Terrapins.
The other Sweet 16 match-up is between two teams that were seconds away from watching the next round from home. Notre Dame made a lay-up with less than six seconds remaining to earn their second consecutive trip to the Sweet 16. Wisconsin has been to the Sweet 16 five out of the last six seasons, but the Badgers needs six points in 14 seconds - including a buzzer-beating three-pointer - in order to extend that streak.
The following are game previews of the two Sweet 16 match-ups.
North Carolina reached the Sweet 16 by defeating No. 16 Florida Gulf Coast in the first round and No. 9 Providence in the second round. The Tar Heels have been riding the hot hands of Brice Johnson as the senior 6-9 forward has gone 14-of-20 from the field during the first two games to score a team-best 39 points. Four other North Carolina players have scored in double figures during both games of the 2016 NCAA Tournament, showing this team has the offensive balance needed to make it to the Final Four and beyond.
Indiana reached the Sweet 16 by defeating No. 12 Chattanooga in the first round and No. 4 Kentucky in the second round. The Hoosiers are advancing to the first Sweet 16 since the 2012 NCAA Tournament and their second under head coach Tom Crean. Indiana has relied heavily on Thomas Bryant against Kentucky as the 6-10 freshman center poured in 15 of his 19 points over the final eight minutes of the 73-67 victory. Senior leadership from guard Yogi Ferrell has also propelled the Hoosiers to the Sweet 16 as the Indianapolis, Ind., native scored 20 and 18 points in the victories over Chattanooga and Kentucky, respectively.
Notre Dame reached the Sweet 16 by defeating No. 11 Michigan in the first round and No. 14 Stephen F. Austin in the second round. The Fighting Irish certainly used the luck of their mascot in order to continue playing on the second weekend of the 2016 NCAA Tournament. Erasing a 12-point halftime, deficit against Michigan took a pair of 10-2 runs to start the second half for Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish also had to score the last six points – including a tip-in by Rex Pflueger with one second remaining – in order to survive the Cinderella story Stephen F. Austin almost wrote. If Notre Dame is going to succeed beyond their Sweet 16 run, the Fighting Irish need to limit the combined 29 turnovers – an uncharacteristic mark – and take better care of the basketball.
Wisconsin reached the Sweet 16 by defeating No. 10 Pittsburgh in the first round and No. 2 Xavier in the second round. With four juniors leading the way, the Badgers survived their offensive nightmare in the first round only to have their hot-and-cold offense sink two clutch three-point shots against Xavier, sending Wisconsin to the Sweet 16 for the third straight year. Freshman forward Ethan Happ has been a bright spot for the Badgers this post-season, scoring a combined 33 points and grabbing 16 rebounds in the opening weekend of the 2016 NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin will continue to advance in the Big Dance only if the team continues to play tough defense and improves on their streaky offense.
To view the Sweet 16 West preview, click here.
To view the Sweet 16 South preview, click here.
To view the Sweet 16 Midwest preview, click here.
Which team from the 2016 NCAA Tournament East Region do you expect to advance beyond the Sweet 16 and make a Final Four run this season? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.
[Photo by Jamie Squire & Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images]