It’s been quite the roller coaster of an NCAA basketball tournament. Two of the regional finals are set, and by the end of tonight, the complete "Elite 8" will take form with the second half of the "Sweet 16" set to tip off tonight in Houston and Syracuse, N.Y., to set up the finals for the South and East regions. Here’s a rundown of what to watch out for this evening.
The first game on the slate features the lowest seeded team remaining in the field when No. 11 UCLA takes on No. 2 Gonzaga in the South region. UCLA surprised No. 6 Southern Methodist University in the first round and toppled No. 14 Alabama-Birmingham in the round of 32 to set up the meeting with the Bulldogs. The Bruins have been led by junior forward Tony Parker so far in the tournament, who scored 28 points and added 12 rebounds in the win over Alabama-Birmingham. After many college basketball analysts thought the selection committee made a mistake by putting UCLA in the bracket, they have made the most of their opportunity.
UCLA will have its hands full with a balanced Gonzaga team that owns an average plus-18 scoring margin over its opponents. Also known as the "Zags," they are led by senior point guard Kevin Pangos. Pangos has had a great showing in the tournament averaging 17 points per contest and dishing out 4 assists per game. The Bulldogs will also lean on redshirt junior Kyle Wiltjer, who dropped 24 points in Gonzaga’s previous victory over No. 7 Iowa.
Coach Mark Few has put Gonzaga on the college basketball map out of the West Coast Conference since taking over in 1999, but the program has only been to an "Elite 8" once. Experts say this is one of Few’s most talented teams in years, so it will be interesting to see if Few can get Gonzaga over hump and into their first Final Four.
You can watch Gonzaga take on UCLA on CBS with coverage in Houston starting at 7:15 p.m. Eastern.
The next game on the schedule gets underway at Syracuse University’s Carrier Dome shortly after tip-off for the Gonzaga-UCLA game and it features No. 8 North Carolina State and No. 4 Louisville in the East region. NC State took down No. 1 Villanova in the round of the 32 to reach the "Sweet 16." Watch out for freshman forward Abdul-Malik Abu, who only averaged 6.4 points per game during the regular season, but has scored 12 points in each of the Wolfpack’s tourney wins.
Coach Rick Pitino’s Cardinals have the Final Four on their minds after the Wolfpack beat the East bracket’s toughest competition in Villanova. This is Louisville's fourth straight trip to the Sweet 16, winning the national championship in 2013, and advancing to another Final Four in 2012. Around this time of year, Pitino’s teams raise their defense to another level but the Wolfpack have the added confidence of knowing they beat the Cardinals once this season. NC State defeated Louisville, 74-65, back on Valentine’s Day.
The broadcast for the NC State-Louisville game will be on TBS with tip-off scheduled at approximately 7:35 p.m. Eastern.
The next scheduled game will be a clash of wills when No. 1 Duke takes on No. 5 Utah in Houston to set up the latter half of the South regional final. The Blue Devils average a hair over 80 points per contest, whereas the Utes surrender less than 57 points to their opponents, so something has to give.
The challenge with stopping Duke is containing freshman standout center Jahlil Okafor. Okafor is likely to be the No. 1 selection in this year’s NBA draft and scored 47 points in the Blue Devils’ first two tournament games. Keep an eye on Utah big man Jakob Poeltl, a freshman from Austria. Poeltl is a little raw, but he is considered to have potential to play in the pros someday. He has the difficult task of slowing down Okafor and Poeltl’s performance could go a long ways to determining if the Utes can pull off the upset.
Check out Duke and Utah on CBS with tip-off scheduled for 9:45 p.m. Eastern.
Friday's final game may be the the night’s most intriguing when No. 3 Oklahoma plays No. 7 Michigan State. Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger became first coach to take four different schools to the "Sweet 16" after OU took down No. 11 Dayton in the round of 32. The Sooners are led by Big 12 Player of the Year Buddy Hield, a junior guard who averaged 17.4 points a game and 5.4 rebounds per game.
Michigan State is hot, having won seven of its last eight games, and put on a defensive clinic against No. 2 Virginia in the previous round. The Spartans held the Cavaliers to under 30 percent shooting from the floor. Oklahoma shot 50 percent from behind the arc in their win over Dayton. Expect coach Tom Izzo’s Spartans to make things slightly more difficult on the Sooners in this tilt.
You can watch Oklahoma and Michigan State on TBS with tip-off slated for just after 10:05 p.m. Eastern.