The first two rounds of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament produced many funny moments, incredible stories and unexpected results.
But now we’ve made it to the Sweet 16, and it’s here on the second weekend of the tournament that teams with national championship aspirations must break away from the field.
The few remaining Davids on the field will have their turn on Friday. But Thursday night’s action at the West and South regionals is limited to the Goliaths: Final Four shows and championship banners hung in their home stadiums.
Here’s a breakdown of Thursday night games in San Antonio and San Francisco (PM ET).
West Regional, San Francisco
4 Arkansas vs. 1 Gonzaga, 7:09, CBS
Why watch: Gonzaga, once an annoying upstart and now a member of the Sweet 16, is still searching for that illusory first national title. But despite getting the top seed overall, the Bulldogs have arguably the toughest path to the Final Four of the remaining No. 1s. Start here with the Razorbacks, who play just the kind of physical defense that can throw the high-paced Zags out of their offensive groove. The game will depend on which team can consistently impose their style.
Why it might disappoint: It’s unlikely he will, as both teams survived to get here. But if Gonzaga snaps out of his recent trend of starting slowly and is able to build an early lead, Arkansas may not have the firepower to keep up. Conversely, while this is one of the best defensive teams Gonzaga has fielded, the equation can change when and if rim protector Chet Holmgren is sidelined by foul trouble. If that scenario plays out, it could be the relentless pressure from the Hogs that turns the competition into one side.
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3 Texas Tech vs. 2 Duke, 9:39, CBS
Why watch: Whether you’re a Duke fan or not, Blue Devils games have to be a date to watch at this time as legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski’s long career comes to an end. The Red Raiders, seeking a second Final Four appearance in four years, aren’t too keen on a storybook ending for Coach K. This extremely talented but youthful version of Duke has played the part of him in close competition. . The Blue Devils usually, but not always, find their way out of late game trouble. The recent increase in the use of Jeremy Roach up front in those critical situations has helped, but Texas Tech’s ability to change the defensive aspect can pose problems for even the most experienced opponents. Duke’s lack of cohesion on the defensive end often leaves opponents sitting still, and the Red Raiders’ scoring balance makes it difficult to plan the game against them.
Why it might disappoint: The Blue Devils are streaky enough to have a long run. Texas Tech is not a great 3-point shooting team (32.2%) and therefore should avoid falling into an early hole.
South Region, San Antonio
11 Michigan vs. 2 Villanovas, 7:29, TBS
Why watch: At the beginning of the season, this rematch of the 2018 national championship game in the round of 16 seemed much more plausible. The Wildcats’ presence here is no surprise. The Wolverines did enough to secure one of the last wildcards, but they made the most of their opportunity. Michigan will have the edge in the paint thanks to Hunter Dickinson, and has been even more effective lately thanks to a more stable guard game. But even with Michigan’s improved performance on the perimeter, Villanova’s veterans, led by Collin Gillespie, will have the edge on the perimeter.
Why it might disappoint: The Wolverines won’t want this to turn into a long-range shooting contest. The Wildcats average more than nine 3-pointers a game, and their 82.6% free throw accuracy, the best in the country, makes it even more difficult to pull off a late rally.
5 Houston vs. 1 Arizona, 9:59, TBS
Why watch: The evening cup features another group of Wildcats with a record of postseason success. The current version of Arizona is under new management, but fans certainly like what they’ve seen so far from first-year coach Tommy Lloyd. Surprisingly, the Cougars have returned to the Final Four hunt despite lacking the star power of last year’s team. What Houston does well is defend, giving up just 59 points per game. Arizona’s latest outing against TCU may have provided something of a sneak peek, as the Wildcats were able to make enough plays to survive. Having an acquisition guy like Bennedict Mathurin is a definite plus, but again he’ll need help sorting out the Cougars.
Why it might disappoint: If this game is going to be close, it’s almost certainly going to be pretty ugly, too — think Houston’s last win against Illinois. If he’s not around, chances are the Wildcats will run away with him.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: March Madness Sweet 16 Games Goliath Battle Thursday