The clock may have struck midnight on Cinderella during the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament, but the Sweet 16 matchups did not suffer because of it.
We have blue blood versus blue blood. We have a preseason top-five team trying to topple the No. 1 overall seed. And we have games pitting opponents that are both an intriguing contrast of styles and mirror images of one-another.
Here's a look at the eight matchups ranked in order from most to least compelling:
1. North Carolina (1) vs. Indiana (5) (East Region): Indiana's reward for dispatching second-round foe Kentucky is an even tougher matchup. North Carolina is loaded with experience and talent and seemingly peaking at the right time. Indiana's greatest challenge will be holding its own against a Tar Heels frontcourt that scores efficiently and swallows up offensive rebounds at the fourth highest rate of any team in the country. The Hoosiers need Thomas Bryant and Max Bielfeldt to be at their best, to avoid foul trouble and above all else to limit second-chance points. They also may need bouncy combo forward O.G. Anunoby to spend time on Brice Johnson because he's the Indiana player best equipped to guard the All-American.
2. Kansas (1) vs. Maryland (5) (South Region): If Maryland is truly as good as its preseason top-five ranking suggested, this is the Terps' chance to prove it. They face a 32-win Kansas team that hasn't lost a game since Jan. 26. One key will be whether Maryland can bounce back from a 1-for-18 3-point shooting performance against Hawaii and force Kansas to extend its defense. The Jayhawks otherwise have every reason to go under screens, stay compact and limit both post touches for Diamond Stone and driving lanes for Melo Trimble. The trickiest defensive matchups for Maryland will be Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden. It will likely be up to Robert Carter to defend Ellis out to the 3-point arc and Jake Layman to stay in front of Selden.
3. Oregon (1) vs. Duke (4) (West Region): The only other times Duke has been a lesser seed in an NCAA tournament game the past 20 years, the Blue Devils lost to Kansas in the 2003 Sweet 16 and Louisville in the 2013 Elite Eight. To avoid another loss on Thursday, they'll have to overcome the matchup issues Oregon presents. The Ducks win by spreading out defenses, isolating mismatches and attacking off the dribble, a strategy that may force Mike Krzyzewski to go zone for long stretches. Duke also can be vulnerable against an aggressive defense and Dana Altman will almost certainly throw all sorts of traps and presses at the Blue Devils. The big advantage Duke has is Oregon doesn't have an ideal matchup to defend Brandon Ingram. He will have to be dominant for Duke to win.
4. Virginia (1) vs. Iowa State (4) (Midwest Region): High-scoring Iowa State wants to play at a brisk pace and outscore its opponents. Disciplined Virginia is the nation's most methodical team and excels at controlling tempo. That contrast in styles is intriguing, as is the matchup between the Cyclones' elite offense and the Cavaliers' formidable defense. How Tony Bennett deploys ACC defensive player of the year Malcolm Brogdon will be an important decision. Brogdon would typically draw an opponent's best wings, but Iowa State's top two weapons are point guard Monte Morris and power forward Georges Niang. Brogdon switched onto Butler's Andrew Chrabascz in the second round and locked him up in the second half. Could he do the same at crunch time Friday?
5. Villanova (2) vs. Miami (3) (South Region): Watching Villanova and Miami will be strange because both teams are mirror images of one-another. They're both experienced, they're both guard-oriented and they both rely on their starting centers for rim protecting, their top wings for perimeter scoring and their senior point guards for emotional leadership. The individual matchups between Daniel Ochefu and Tonye Jekiri, Josh Hart and Sheldon McClellan and Ryan Arcidiacono and Angel Rodriguez appear to be very evenly matched, so it would be no surprise if this game is exceptionally tight. Villanova is the more 3-point reliant of the two teams, while Miami's guards are better at attacking off the bounce and getting to the free throw line.
6. Oklahoma (2) vs. Texas A&M (3) (West Region): A longtime Big 12 rivalry will be reborn Thursday in Anaheim. Oklahoma and Texas A&M will meet for the first time since the Aggies left for the SEC in 2012. The appeal of this matchup stems from the presence of national player of the year candidate Buddy Hield, the NCAA tournament's most lethal scorer. Hield torched Cal State Bakersfield for 26 in the opening round and then erupted for 36 against VCU two days later. Texas A&M could have an advantage inside against the Sooners, but can the Aggies contain Hield and the rest of Oklahoma's array of shooters? It seems unlikely. Opponents shoot a hefty 40.1 percent of their shots against Texas A&M from behind the arc and that number has increased in March.
7. Syracuse (10) vs. Gonzaga (11) (Midwest Region): Only a couple weeks ago, Syracuse was one of the last teams out of the field in most mock brackets and Gonzaga needed to win the WCC tournament to avoid the NIT. Now both are a win over a double-digit seed from advancing to the Elite Eight. The slight favorite is probably Gonzaga based on how well the Zags have played so far in this tournament. In dispatching Seton Hall and Utah, their frontcourt tandem of Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer have excelled and their backcourt has shown great improvement. Syracuse's zone will be an adjustment for Gonzaga, however, the undersized Orange may have an even harder time with Sabonis. The skilled yet physical 6-foot-11 forward is a menace in the post and on the glass.
8. Notre Dame (6) vs. Wisconsin (7) (East Region): How good are these Sweet 16 matchups? My least appealing one pits two teams who won a combined eight NCAA tournament games last March and have a recent history of postseason classics. Wisconsin got here thanks to a pair of Bronson Koenig 3-pointers, the last one a fall-away buzzer beater that helped the Badgers edge Xavier. Notre Dame had to rally to beat Michigan in the opening round before nipping Stephen F. Austin on a late Rex Pflueger tip-in. The key for Wisconsin may be shaking forward Nigel Hayes out of his slump. Hayes is 7-for-42 in his last three games and 0-for-17 from behind the arc. That doesn't seem to be the recipe for beating Notre Dame even if the Badgers have survived so far.
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