For the mathematically inclined, there’s an almost poetic symmetry to the NCAA tournament, as over the course of just two weekends 64 becomes 16 and 16 becomes four.
Of course none of that likely matters to you if you’re just a hoops fan, but no worries – there’s still plenty to like about March Madness and its myriad storylines and historic achievements.
The men’s Sweet 16 round tips Thursday night, with action in the Big Apple and Sin City. The Las Vegas teams have enjoyed more tournament success as a group, but a March regular could end up emerging from the Madison Square Garden contingent as well. Here’s a look at the matchups.
East Regional in New York
No. 3 Kansas State vs. No. 7 Michigan State
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Time/TV: 6:30 p.m. ET, TBS
Why watch: Jerome Tang’s Wildcats won’t be in awe of the Michigan State mystique having already sent Kentucky packing. Tom Izzo’s Spartans, of course, will be as prepared as anyone for the innovative tweaks K-State will bring from the Little Apple to the Big Apple. Setting the tone on the court for the Wildcats will be energetic point guard Markquis Nowel, playing in his home city, and forward Keyontae Johnson. The Spartans outstanding backcourt duo of Tyson Walker and A.J. Hoggard combines for 27.3 points and 8.6 assists a game.
Why it could disappoint: It’s possible the Spartans’ size advantage on the perimeter could disrupt the Wildcats’ sets. Also, Joey Hauser and Mady Sissoko could provide Michigan State a significant advantage on the glass. K-State’s Johnson and Nae’Qwan Tomlin should be able to match up, but neither can afford to get into early foul trouble.
No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 9 Florida Atlantic
Time/TV: 9 p.m. ET, TBS
Why watch: With the exception of Friday’s contest involving Princeton, this is arguably the least likely pairing of the round of 16. The short-handed Volunteers defied numerous upset predictions, while the Owls picked up their first two NCAA tourney wins in program history to get here. Tennessee relies on lock-down defense and timely shooting from Santiago Vescovi. Florida Atlantic has a deep guard rotation that could help against the relentless ball pressure, but Johnell Davis and Alijah Martin are usually the most dependable scoring options.
Why it could disappoint: Let’s not sugarcoat this – Tennessee’s games can be downright ugly. The manner in which this contest is officiated will have a major impact on how the proceedings unfold. If either physicality is largely permitted or a tight whistle results in a nonstop parade to the free-throw line, the aesthetics will not be pleasing. Hopefully, the crew will be able to strike the right balance.
West Regional in Las Vegas
No. 4 Connecticut vs. No. 8 Arkansas
Time/TV: 7:15 p.m. ET, CBS
Why watch: It’s hard to know just what to expect from either squad. The Razorbacks were wildly inconsistent all season right up through the SEC Tournament but are playing their best ball now thanks in large part to Ricky Council IV and Nick Smith. The Huskies appear to have regained their early-season form when they started 14-0. UConn’s success tends to hinge on the efficiency of facilitators Tristen Newton and Andre Jackson.
Why it could disappoint: The Razorbacks are long and athletic throughout the lineup but could still struggle to match up with UConn’s Adama Sanogo, one of the game’s most effective post performers. But Arkansas’s depth should mean it is better equipped to handle another second-half surge from the Huskies.
No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 3 Gonzaga
Time/TV: 9:45 p.m. ET, CBS
Why watch: We’re quite sure we don’t need to ask if you remember the instant classic these two staged at the 2021 Final Four. Most of the key contributors from Gonzaga’s 93-90 OT win have moved on, but a few on both sides are still around, most notably Bulldogs’ charismatic big man Drew Timme and the Bruins’ feisty back-court duo of Jaime Jacquez Jr. and Tyger Campbell. UCLA has overcome the loss of standout perimeter defender Jaylen Clark thanks to key postseason contributions from Amari Bailey.
Why it could disappoint: It couldn’t possibly, could it? It’s conceivable that either team could have an off shooting night, but that seems improbable given how both squads have so many exceptional passers capable of setting up better looks.
Follow colleges reporter Eddie Timanus on Twitter @EddieTimanus