With the original 64 teams whittled down to a mere 16, the 2012 March Madness is starting to heat up. Each team knows it's sweet to still be around, but that doesn't mean they aren't striving for more. This week will see those 16 dwindle to a mere eight teams. Who will survive and how will your bracket fair? Check out The Christian Post's previews for everything you need to know before this Thursday and Friday's Sweet 16 match-ups.
In the West:
Michigan State (1) v. Louisville (4)
Game Time: 7:47 p.m. Thursday (March 22)
Where the Action Is: Both Michigan State and Louisville squeaked into the Sweet 16 by just four points. But the glee of their survival is short lived, as both teams will face a tough challenge Thursday night. The Louisville Cardinals are hoping Michigan State will have trouble putting up big numbers against their defense. Louisville ranks second in the country in opposing field goal percentage.
But the Michigan State Spartans might just have what it takes to overcome Louisville's tenacious defense. During the regular season, the Spartans shoot 52 percent inside the three-point arc. Plus, Spartan stars Keith Appling and Draymond Green are hot, and have put up double digits in both tournament games thus far.
Michigan State boasts and additional advantage as coach Tom Izzo has an NCAA title under his belt.
Players to Watch: Michigan State's Draymond Green is usually an incredible player to watch. He leads the team in points, rebounds, and assists per game. And he's player even better in the tournament. In the Spartan's first round game against LIU Brooklyn, Green had a triple-double, and in last round's win over St. Louis, Green racked up 16 points, collected 13 rebounds, and dealt out six assists. He's hot and showing no signs of cooling off.
Louisville's sixth man, Russ Smith, should be an interesting player to keep an eye on during Thursday's game. Smith came off the bench in last round's win over New Mexico to give the Cardinals some much needed energy -- and points. He scored 17 points and snatched up three steals.
Christian Post Pick: Michigan State Spartans. With the experience of coach Tom Izzo and the hot hand of Draymond Green heating up even more, it's hard to see the Spartans being knocked off.
Marquette (3) v. Florida (7)
Game Time: 10:17 p.m. Thursday (March 22)
Where the Action Is: Florida is a guard heavy team that relies on their three-point shooting. Thus far in the tournament, the Florida Gators have put up huge numbers and absolutely crushed their opponents. They beat Virginia by 36 points, and Norfolk State by 34. In that Norfolk State game, the Gator Guards hit an impressive 10 three-pointers. But what happens if Florida can't hit their threes? It's not unheard of, as Florida did go through shooting slumps throughout the regular season. Florida doesn't have much of a back up plan. They often run a three or four guard offense and only have one dominant big man, Patrick Young.
Plus, Marquette is a defensive team. During the regular season the Golden Eagles force and average of 16.6 turnovers. And they have a strong presence in the paint with Senior Forward Jae Crowder. Crowder is the team's high scorer and it's not clear Florida has what it takes to stop him.
Players to Watch: Marquette's Jae Crowder should put on a good show Thursday night. He has played well through the first two tournament rounds, and he's showing no signs of letting up. In both tournament games Crowder has earned double-doubles. During the regular season he averages 17.6 points per game and 8.4 rebounds, however thus far into March Madness, the Senior is averaging 18.6 points per game, and 13.4 rebounds.
Florida's leading scorer, Junior guard Kenny Boynton, averages 16.1 points a game and is shooting even better as of late. He scored 20 points in last round's game against Norfolk. But will his scoring ability be enough to help the Gators advance to the Elite Eight?
Christian Post Pick: Marquette Golden Eagles. It's too risky to assume that Florida's three-point shooting streak will continue and guide them to a win on Thursday night.