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2017 NCAA Tournament: Friday Sweet 16 Preview and Predictions


By the time we hit Friday, there will be 12 teams left with a chance to win the title. One could almost call this blue blood Friday with North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA among those taking the court.

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We've also got the great stories in South Carolina and Butler who each dispatched solid opponents themselves. Outside of the North Carolina-Butler matchup, Vegas has a bunch of close spreads so we should be in for a doozy of a night of hoops.

NCAA Tournament Friday Sweet 16 Games

Note: All times Eastern, some start times approximate.

No. 4 Butler vs. No. 1 North Carolina

TV: 7:09 p.m., CBS

Site: Memphis (South Region)

Preview: The two teams took different paths to get here. North Carolina crushed Texas Southern but needed late rally to knock off Arkansas. The Tar Heels looked bored almost at times against the Razorbacks, especially after jumping out to a big lead early, and it almost cost them. ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson once again filled the stat sheet with 15 points, five assists and eight rebounds.

North Carolina Football Schedule 2019
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The Bulldogs haven't really been tested seed-wise, beating a No. 12 and No. 13 so far. In their last victory, they shot 51.1 percent from the field in knocking off Middle Tennessee. Kelan Martin has awakened a bit from his midseason slump and that's huge for a Butler team looking for more scorers.

To me, this one should be a blowout as I just don't see Butler keeping up with UNC. The Bulldogs aren't that deep and they don't have anyone to cover Jackson well.

Prediction: North Carolina 78, Butler 69

Related: Butler Bulldogs vs. North Carolina Tar Heels Preview and Prediction

No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 3 Baylor

TV: 7:29 p.m., TBS

Site: New York (East Region)

Preview: South Carolina finally has to leave its home state as the Gamecocks travel to New York to play Baylor. Frank Martin’s team rode a wave of emotion in wins over Marquette and Duke in Greenville, which is less than two hours away from campus in Columbia. The Gamecocks used great second half offensive outputs in both games to go along with some fantastic defense when it mattered. Sindarius Thornwell introduced himself to the world with 24 points in the win over the Blue Devils.

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Baylor also beat a pair of double-digit seeds in No. 14 New Mexico State and No. 11 USC. The Bears struggled with consistency as they were down at one point in both games. Jonathan Motley is the key as when he is going offensively, he's more engaged on the defensive end.

The crowd won't be overwhelmingly on either side in this one so we should get a more accurate picture of the Gamecocks. I think the Bears’ athleticism is just too much in this one.

Prediction: Baylor 70, South Carolina 61

Related: South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Baylor Bears Preview and Prediction

No. 3 UCLA vs. No. 2 Kentucky

TV: 9:39 p.m., CBS

Site: Memphis (South Region)

Preview: This may be the game of the Tournament and it's only the Sweet 16 with the winner probably getting North Carolina. The two sides played a 97-92 game back in December with the Bruins getting the win. These two teams have a lot in common with the amount of talent being put on the floor.

Kentucky football schedule
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UCLA's numbers are incredible, averaging more than 90 points per contest while shooting 52 percent from the field. The Bruins have six double-digit scorers and are led by one of the best PGs in the country in Lonzo Ball. Thomas Welsh and TJ Leaf provide the inside presence to balance things out. The Bruins ran away from Cincinnati in the second half of their second round matchup.

Kentucky is putting up 85.2 points per game while shooting around 47 percent from the field. The Wildcats are immensely talented per usual with a trio of freshmen – Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo and De'Aaron Fox leading the way. Monk led all scorers with 24 points in the first game against UCLA. Expect plenty of points and a glimpse at several future (i.e., about two months from now) NBA lottery picks in this one.

Prediction: UCLA 94, Kentucky 90

Related: UCLA Bruins vs. Kentucky Wildcats Preview and Prediction

No. 8 Wisconsin vs. No. 4 Florida

TV: 9:59 p.m., TBS

Site: New York (East Region)

Preview: Most expected Villanova to be in this game and maybe even Virginia as well, but neither got past their stubborn, second-round tests. The Badgers seemingly find themselves in this situation often and are led by the usual suspects of Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ. They are sound both on offense and defense. Wisconsin showed that in knocking off the defending national champions and has to be brimming with confidence.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Florida
College Football Top 25 Rankings: Wisconsin

Florida gave Virginia a taste of its own medicine by completely stifling the Cavaliers, holding them to just 39 points and 29.6 percent shooting from the field in the Gators’ dominating, 26-point victory. Florida will need to maintain that level of defense but also get more scoring from guards KeVaughn Allen, Canyon Barry and Kasey Hill, who combined for just 14 points on 4-of-18 shooting against Virginia. Mike White is an up-and-coming head coach who will have UF ready.

If you like defense, you'll probably be watching this game instead of UCLA-Kentucky. First team to 60 points wins.

Prediction: Wisconsin 63, Florida 59

Related: Wisconsin Badgers vs. Florida Gators Preview and Prediction

— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.

(Top photo courtesy of @KentuckyMBB)