Why to watch Friday's NCAA Tournament showdowns in the Sweet 16

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament continues Friday as the Sweet 16 concludes with four matchups in the Midwest and South Regionals. By the end of the evening, eight teams will find themselves a win away from a season-ending trip to Houston and the sport’s ultimate stage, the Final Four.

The two remaining No. 1 seeds take the court on this night in regional action in Kansas City and Louisville. One of the top seeds seeks a third consecutive trip to the Elite Eight, while the other has never been to a Final Four. Both of them, however, are ultimately seeking their first national championship but have significant obstacles to overcome first.

And, of course, there are other favorites and underdogs hoping to advance and be one step away from Houston.

South Regional in Louisville

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 5 San Diego State

Time/TV: 6:30 p.m. ET, TBS

Why watch: Despite some minor hiccups early in their first tourney game, the Crimson Tide now appear to have everything working as they pursue the program’s first trip to the Final Four. The Aztecs, however, might be equipped to slow them down. Alabama puts up 82.3 points a game, while SDSU surrenders just 63.1. The number will likely land somewhere in the middle, so the game’s biggest question will be whether the Aztecs can generate enough on the offensive end to keep pace. Matt Bradley, the lone Aztec with a double-digit scoring average at 13.0 per game, must find the range quickly against the Tide’s perimeter defense that holds opponents to just 28% from the three-point arc.

Why it could disappoint: In truth, both games at this site have the potential to become one-sided. Alabama’s drivers are hard enough to keep out of the paint, and if Mark Sears starts knocking down his three-pointers, the Tide become almost impossible to defend.

Alabama players on the bench celebrate near the end of the second half of the team's NCAA men's tournament game against Maryland at Legacy Arena.
Alabama players on the bench celebrate near the end of the second half of the team's NCAA men's tournament game against Maryland at Legacy Arena.

No. 6 Creighton vs. No. 15 Princeton

Time/TV: 9 p.m. ET, TBS

Why watch: You will not hear words like Cinderella, underdog or upset uttered by anyone affiliated with the Princeton Tigers. But they will nevertheless carry that perception as the lone double-digit seeds remaining in the field. But neither do the Bluejays want to view themselves as the favorites as they chase their own first Final Four appearance. The manner in which Princeton trucked Missouri in the second round should certainly have Creighton’s attention. The Tigers don’t rely exclusively on making threes, but if Ryan Langborg and Blake Peters keep knocking them down it would definitely help the cause.

Why it could disappoint: Creighton’s middle man Ryan Kalkbrenner, however, could be a major mismatch for Princeton with no one taller than 6-9 Keeshawn Kellman in its regular rotation. The Bluejays’ solid free-throw shooting, 78% as a team, could make a comeback difficult if they can build a significant cushion.

HIGHS AND LOWS: Men's tournament winners and losers headlined by Nowell

POSTSEASON LINEUP: Complete NCAA men's tournament schedule, results

Midwest Regional in Kansas City

No. 1 Houston vs. No. 5 Miami (Fla.)

Time/TV: 7:15 p.m. ET, CBS

Why watch: Despite the usual March Madness machinations, there is usually at least one regional in which the seeds largely hold. This year it’s the Midwest with four of the top five reaching the second weekend. This should theoretically produce high-quality matchups, and we hope from a viewer’s standpoint that will indeed be the case. The Cougars’ health concerns appear to have been assuaged as both Marcus Sasser and Jamal Shead were effective in Houston’s comeback win against Auburn. They’ll again be needed as they contend with the Hurricanes’ dazzling array of scoring guards, led by Isaiah Wong and Jordan Miller. Houston’s Jarace Walker could be a tough matchup on the inside for Miami, but Norchad Omier’s 17-rebound performance against Indiana was encouraging after a health scare of his own during the ACC tournament.

Why it could disappoint: Obviously we hope this will not happen, but there’s always some trepidation when any star players enter a contest with injury concerns. As long as everyone is healthy, a blowout seems highly unlikely.

No. 2 Texas vs. No. 3 Xavier

Time/TV: 9:45 p.m. ET, CBS

Why watch: The night concludes with what should be a terrific contest between two high finishers from power leagues. The Big East doesn’t have the top-to-bottom depth of the Big 12, but the Musketeers should nevertheless be well prepared to challenge the Longhorns. Both programs are still seeking their first NCAA title, so there will be no lack of intensity. Both are also capable of lighting up the scoreboard, but it won’t just be the Longhorns guard Marcus Carr and super sixth man Sir’Jabari Rice trading triples with Xavier’s Souley Boum and Adam Kunkel. Dylan Disu has delivered some huge buckets in the paint for Texas this postseason, and he’ll again be asked to contribute against Musketeers’ veteran big man Jack Nunge.

Why it could disappoint: It’s unlikely the game would get away from either team, though Xavier has been on the short end of a couple of double-digit results more recently, including its loss to Marquette in the Big East tournament championship game.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: March Madness NCAA Tournament Sweet 16: Previewing Friday's games