The Sweet 16 was certainly fun. The Wisconsin Badgers squeaked past a feisty North Carolina squad, Notre Dame shot the lights out, Gonzaga dropped 70+ points for the third game in a row and Tom Izzo’s crew advanced to yet another Elite 8.

That’s where we’ve found ourselves after two weeks of March Madness, as just eight teams remain in the hunt for the Final Four and a shot at the national title. Kentucky is still very clearly the easy favorites to win it all, but if all goes well they’ll still have two or three very tough games coming their way before it’s all said and done.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. The Elite 8 is here and we have four games to breakdown as all eight teams have done a fantastic job getting to this point and are one win away from the Final Four. That being said, three of four #1 seeds remain and all three are favored to move on. Michigan State is by far the lowest seed and they will be legit threats to get to the Final Four – something head coach Tom Izzo has made a regular happening up north. Let’s break down both sets of games for the weekend:

Saturday’s Games

(2) Arizona @ (1) Wisconsin

The Badgers were a #1 seed for a reason. They’re a veteran bunch that puts the most efficient offense on the court on a nightly basis and also plays stingy defense when it matters most. When up in the final five minutes of games this year, Wisco hasn’t lost a single one. Thanks to an inside-outside attack featuring future pros Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, the Badgers can kill you from all over the floor and also have the versatility and depth to match you at what you do best. Arizona’s challenge? Making Wisconsin forget how to do that.

North Carolina showed for about 75% of their Sweet 16 battle that the Badgers can be messed with and taken out of their game at both ends. The Badgers reverted to their cool and collected selves in the end, though, and that’s what the Wildcats need to be prepared for. Arizona is much the same, however, as they can put up the point and defense, and also have a nice balance of size and elite guard play. Two similar teams happen to be the top two seeds in their region and we’re all realizing it’s not at all by accident. Wisconsin has had their sights set on getting back to the Final Four all year, though, while a likely rematch with Kentucky (who ousted them in the tourney last year) awaits.

Pick: Wisconsin 81, Arizona 77

(3) Notre Dame @ (1) Kentucky

The Kentucky Wildcats have had an arguable cakewalk so far in this year’s tourney. Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein provide far too much imposing size for opposing offenses to get past, while Kentucky’s offense has been too good, as well. Notre Dame may finally be their first true test before the Wildcats try to get back to the Final Four. Notre Dame brings hot shooting, great coaching and some competitive size to the table, but it’s obvious they don’t have the bigs to go toe to toe all day with Kentucky’s bruisers. The Wildcats will remain a serious problem on the boards and as a defense, while the Fighting Irish’s only real chance in this one is if they come out, guns a’blazin’. That’s certainly possible for a Notre Dame squad that has lost just five games all year, while Kentucky’s kryptonite appears to be elite outside shooting (if they truly have one).

Notre Dame has shown to be a real force in this tourney and it’s doubtful they’ll go quietly. They won’t win, but they’ll keep this one close and give college basketball bettors a shot at chasing the Total.

Pick: Kentucky 79, Notre Dame 74

Sunday’s Games

(4) Louisville @ (7) Michigan State

The only Elite 8 battle featuring anything lower than a #3 seed has Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo facing off in an epic coaching clash. Louisville didn’t really look the part of a Final Four contender during the season or in the first round of the tourney, but they certainly do now. The same goes for Michigan State, who is simply going on another yearly deep run we’ve all grown accustomed to for Izzo teams. The question is, who has more momentum and who wins? The reality is fans are in for a gritty affair and picking this game with any real confidence is next to impossible. Both teams have the athleticism and strength to play great defense in the clutch, while neither is particularly a great offensive team. Louisville needed a seven-point barage from bench scorer Anton Gill to move on from the Sweet 16, while the Spartans held on and won by four over Oklahoma. Both teams barely got here, but one will have a chance to get to the Final Four. Judging by Izzo’s history, the Spartans head to yet another Final Four.

Pick: Michigan State 65, Louisville 63

(2) Gonzaga @ (1) Duke

The second game of the weekend featuring the top two seeded teams from any region caps what is truly an Elite 8, where most of the top teams actually made it as far as they should have. Duke is going to be the obvious favorite due to Coach K’s imposing presence and ability to shake things up on the fly, as well as big man Jahlil Okafor and the rising Justice Winslow. Of course, we can’t rule out the Zags, though, as their hot shooting and efficient offense has led to three games with at least 74 points. They simply out-run their opponents and out gun them, as well. Kevin Pangos will be extremely key in this one, both in creating offense and hitting outside shots. Gonzaga has good coaching that can match up with Duke, but if they don’t bring their shot, they’ll be in serious trouble due to average defense and a lack of effective big bodies when compared to the Blue Devils. The biggest problem? Gonzaga’s strength as a potent offense can easily be matched by Duke. Duke may have the edge, but something tells me we’re in for an explosive barn burner. Go for the Total in this one.

Pick: Duke 85, Gonzaga 81

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