There’s nothing wilder in sports than that first weekend of the NCAA Tournament; dozens of games that include fantastic finishes and improbable victors. From a pure volume standpoint, the NCAA Sweet 16 can’t compete with the round of 64. But the upcoming slate bears new intrigue: Giants will now be tested, Cinderellas push their luck and powerhouses finally square off for a berth to the Final Four.
Lucas Oil Stadium parking will pack out Friday night when two impassioned fan bases drive a few hours west for a Kentucky-Louisville showdown. These rivals face off every season and Kentucky’s won five of the last six games; none more valuable than its Final Four win over Louisville in 2012 en route to a National Championship. The Cardinals, of course, won next season’s title in 2013. This year, only one will advance to the Elite Eight.
The in-state rivalry’s preceded by another friend of the Final Four, Michigan. The Wolverines won a national semifinal game last season before falling in the title game to Louisville. Tennessee, a low-seeded but white-hot squad, stands between Michigan and the Elite Eight. The Vols won three games last week after they were drawn into the “First Four,” and beat their last two foes by 20 points.
More Friday night local flavor goes down for those who book Madison Square Garden parking to see Connecticut’s return to New York. The Huskies were a fixture at the Garden’s Big East Tournament before leaving the conference last season. UConn takes on Iowa State, the region’s No. 3 seed that squeaked past North Carolina despite suffering the tournament’s most devastating injury. The undermanned Cyclones may use that adversity as a rallying cry in what will surely be a pro-UConn crowd at MSG.
The nightcap in NYC may be the highlight of the weekend. It features a couple potent programs: No. 1 seed Virginia and trendy title pick Michigan State, despite its position as a 4-seed. The Cavaliers won their conference and outlasted ACC stalwarts Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse, but still enter the contest as dogs in the eyes of Vegas.
There’s plenty of star power to go around the night before, too. Drivers who lock in FedEx Forum parking witness the favorite, Florida, take on UCLA. Both teams, that coasted through opening weekend with double-digit wins, are now in for some real fun. And we’ll have at least one double-digit seed in the Elite Eight because 10-seed Stanford takes on 11-seed Dayton in the opener after taking out Kansas and Syracuse, respectively, last weekend.
Arizona-San Diego State and Wisconsin-Baylor round out the Sweet 16 match-ups at the Honda Center in Anaheim. The eight winners face off Saturday and Sunday before the focus shifts south to Cowboys Stadium parking and the Final Four.