They don’t call it March Madness for nothing, but even by its usual standards this NCAA men’s basketball tournament has been particularly crazy. Consider that more than half the top 16 seeds have been sent packing, including half the top eight. There are as many No. 7, 9 and 11 seeds in the Sweet 16 as there are 1s, 2s and 3s.
So as half the remaining field hits the hardwood Thursday in what figures to be another night of wackiness, there are plenty of reasons to watch all four games. But this is America, where we love to rank things. So here is a viewers’ guide to the night’s action in order of what we think will be the most entertaining matchups.
South Region: No. 7 Nevada (29-7) vs. No. 11 Loyola-Chicago (30-5)
Time, TV: 7:07 p.m. ET, CBS
Why to watch: Loyola’s first two games in the tournament have come down to the final possess. The Wolf Pack are the comeback kids of the dance staging a huge rally to upset Cincinnati. Expect another nail biter from two of the Sweet 16’s scrappiest teams.
Why it could disappoint: It’s possible Nevada expended all its energy to get here. The Ramblers have enough scoring options that their entire offense doesn’t usually bog down, but without a true takeover guy they could struggle if they fall behind. But we don’t expect either scenario to unfold. Let’s enjoy this one.
EXPERT PICKS: Which teams will win the Sweet 16?
West Region: No. 3 Michigan (30-7) vs. No. 7 Texas A&M (22-12)
Time, TV: 7:37 p.m. ET, TBS
Why to watch: It would be difficult for this one to live up to Michigan’s last game, which ended with Jordan Poole’s buzzer-beater to topple Houston. The Aggies’ most recent outing was not close as they dominated North Carolina and ended the possibility of a back-to-back champion this year. They’re unlikely to pull away from the Wolverines, who aren’t nearly as turnover prone committing fewer than 10 a game. If both teams are efficient in their half-court sets, it should be close throughout.
Why it could disappoint: The Aggies go through stretches when they forget to get big men Tyler Davis and Robert Williams involved. Should Michigan gain a lead, A&M isn’t well equipped to shoot their way back into it from the three-point arc.
South Region: No. 5 Kentucky (26-10) vs. No. 9 Kansas State (24-11)
Time, TV: approx. 9:37 ET, CBS
Why to watch: This all-Wildcats’ showdown features the team with the biggest and most vocal fan base on the Thursday slate (No, sorry, K-State, we don’t mean you). This will, therefore, almost certainly be the most watched game of the evening. Whether it will be close largely depends on the ‘Cats from the Little Apple, who will have to clog the interior and make Kentucky beat them from the outside where it isn’t especially strong this year. It would help K-State’s cause considerably if leading scorer Dean Wade is indeed able to return from a foot injury.
Why it could disappoint: To be honest, Kansas State’s best chance to keep it close involves making the game as ugly as possible. If Kentucky’s best perimeter threat Kevin Knox heats up, it might be over quickly.
West Region: No. 4 Gonzaga (32-4) vs. No. 9 Florida State (22-11)
Time, TV: approx. 10:07 p.m. ET, TBS
Why to watch: Gonzaga is the last member of the 2017 quartet with a chance to make it back to the Final Four. There are some new faces in the Bulldogs’ lineup, but Johnathan Williams has emerged as a strong veteran presence. The Seminoles will counter with tough ball pressure that they’ll look to turn into transition points.
Why it could disappoint: Even at this late stage of the season, FSU can look lost when trying to execute in a half-court offense. If Gonzaga shoots well and takes care of the ball, the Seminoles will be hard pressed to mount another comeback.