Previewing Thursday's Sweet 16 Games: Which Cinderella Survives?

We know at least one double-digit seed will be moving on to the Elite Eight.

The first weekend of games are in the books, and, as always, March delivered its typical madness.

Touted freshmen Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins both made early exits after being upset in their first - and probably last - tournament appearances. Joel Embiid’s tourney career may be over, too, before it ever had a chance to start.

But now that it's Thursday again, it's time for us to forget about the first two rounds of the tournament. We're down to 16 teams, and eight of them will be playing tonight. What should we expect? Take a look below.

Want to know who will surprise, who will bust out, and who will take the tournament? Check out our bracket picks, our game simulator, and more!

Check It Out

Stanford (10) vs. Dayton (11)

TeamnERD scorenERD rankORtg ORtg rankDRtgDRtg rankSOS rankPace

Dayton and Stanford are two of the lowest seeded teams left in the tournament, so it's no surprise that they are the two lowest in terms of nERD still left dancing. Offensively, the Flyers have the slight efficiency edge, but a lot of that has to do with a much weaker schedule than the one played by Stanford (17th vs. 57th).

Thus far, the Flyers have rode an excellent performance at the charity stripe and behind the arc to help them win their contests. Stanford, on the other hand, made it to this point by playing stout defense. The Cardinal enter as the slightly better defensive team, and their defense will need to continue to step up if they are to become the first 10 seed to ever make the Final Four.

We have the Cardinal as only a little over two points better than Dayton when looking at nERD (you can see our game projections here), so it shouldn't shock anyone to see them in the Elite Eight, especially after already knocking off Ohio State and Syracuse.

Wisconsin (2) vs. Baylor (6)

TeamnERD scorenERD rankORtgORtg rankDRtgDRtg rankSOS rankPace

For both Baylor and Wisconsin, this season has been similarly filled with struggles and triumphs. The teams only lost one game combined in non-conference play, with Baylor going 12-1 and Wisconsin at 13-0. As result of their fast starts, both teams ascended to near the top of the polls with the Bears once reaching a number seven ranking, while the Badgers once were ranked third.

Both teams had their struggles in conference though, with Baylor losing seven of nine to start conference play and Wisconsin losing five of six in theirs after starting the year 16-0. Finally, both squads finished the season strong, with Wisconsin winning eight straight before falling to Nebraska prior to their conference tournament, and Baylor wining 10 of 11 over the late season stretch before losing to Iowa State in the Big 12 finals.

This should be a great contest between two talented squads who seem to be playing near the best of their capabilities at the right time. Wisconsin actually enters the game with a slightly higher offensive rating than the Bears, and they're better at defense by surrendering around 3.5 less points per 100 possessions.

On paper, the Badgers are the better squad at pretty much every quantitative aspect, but the Bears are playing great basketball right now. Wisconsin is the better team in terms of nERD, but Baylor just routed a Creighton squad that was a top-10 power ranked team all season long. It should be a good contest between similarly matched teams.

Florida (1) vs. UCLA (4)

TeamnERD scorenERD rankORtgORtg rankDRtgDRtg rankSOS rankPace

We’ve stated that defense wins championships, and the Gators enter this one with the vastly superior defense, or so the numbers indicate. They’ve chomped their opponents in 28 straight games, but now will have their hands full against one of the better offenses in the tournament. The Bruins enter having won five in a row, including a victory over Arizona in the Pac 12 Tournament championship.

There's reason to believe that Florida’s Patric Young could be a difference maker in this one and help the Gators’ exploit UCLA’s struggles on the defensive end of the court. The Bruins generally play at a brisk pace, and will need to push the tempo if they are to pull the upset.

In a game between elite offense and elite defense, our nERD metric would naturally favor the Gators to win by a couple of points. However, the matchup should test the Gators more than they’ve been test during this win streak. As always, see what our projections say.

Arizona (1) vs. San Diego State (4)

TeamnERD scorenERD rankORtg ORtg rankDRtg DRtg rankSOS rankPace

Both Arizona and San Diego state are excellent on the defensive end of the floor, making for a physical, close game. Both squads aren’t highly touted on offense, but the Wildcats, led by Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon, enter this one coming off of a 84-61 shellacking of Gonzaga, and are the more efficient team on that end.

Neither team in particular will want to push the pace, and while Brandon Ashley could’ve helped the Wildcats slow down the Aztecs’ plethora of forwards, we don’t see his absence being an issue. Our nERD metric has the Wildcats winning by nearly seven points, as this could be one of the more lopsided games of the round. But we should be prepared for the unexpected, especially in a game that should be low scoring.