By Chris Emma–
(CBS) It goes so fast, this March Madness.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Rounding Out The Warmest Weekend Of The Winter
A week ago, our brackets were perfect, the anticipation was high and 64 teams had hopes. Now, we’re down to 16 squads left. The best weekend in sports offers constant action and thrilling finishes slotted in a television lineup that you can’t look away from.
There were fun, special stories along the way — none more heartwarming than coach Ron Hunter, his walking boot, his stool and his heroic son, R.J., whose game-winning shot led Georgia State to a first-round upset of Baylor. Each March brings moments like these that make us believe in the underdog.
However, as this bracket goes from 64 to its present 16, the pretenders are eliminated. Only the big boys are left. Can Kentucky stay perfect, or will West Virginia pull off the shocker? Speaking of Shockers, what will Wichita State do against Notre Dame? Wisconsin appears poised for a Final Four run, but North Carolina will be tough. And is Arizona a contender or pretender? And what do we make of Xavier?
There’s plenty of action ahead on Thursday night, but don’t blink — the madness moves fast.
7-seed Wichita State (30-4) vs. 3-seed Notre Dame (31-5), 6:15 p.m. in Cleveland
Line: Wichita State -2
If this one becomes a battle between Fred Van Vleet and Jerian Grant, everybody is a winner watching this. These are two teams with NBA talent and plenty of ways to score. Be ready for a fast-paced, fun matchup that should come down to the wire.
Key for Wichita State: Defend the perimeter and Notre Dame’s three-point shooting.
Key for Notre Dame: Keep Van Vleet in check.
Pick: Notre Dame 80, Wichita State 75
4-seed North Carolina (26-11) vs. 1-seed Wisconsin (33-3), 6:47 p.m. in Los Angeles
Line: Wisconsin -6.5READ MORE: MISSING: Khoshaba Dikyanos, 84, Last Seen In Lincoln Square
What a matchup this is. Wisconsin has so many options, while North Carolina is back where it belongs in the Sweet 16. Just as Frank Kaminsky emerged into a star last March, we’re watching the coming-out party of Nigel Hayes. However, the Tar Heels will be hurting if Kennedy Meeks can’t play.
Key for North Carolina: Let Marcus Paige take over.
Key for Wisconsin: Win the battle of the boards.
Pick: Wisconsin 68, North Carolina 60
5-seed West Virginia (25-9) vs. 1-seed Kentucky (36-0), 8:45 p.m. in Cleveland
Line: Kentucky -13.5
West Virginia’s Daxter Miles, Jr. made a bad mistake by predicting Kentucky will its first game this season. You can’t feed the beast. Kentucky is a machine and playing with purpose this March. It will be tough for anyone to keep it from perfection.
Key for West Virginia: Turn steals into points.
Key for Kentucky: Be Kentucky.
Pick: Kentucky 75, West Virginia 62
6-seed Xavier (23-13) vs. 2-seed Arizona (33-3), 9:17 p.m. in Los Angeles
Line: Arizona -10.5
Part of the reason Arizona is viewed as a championship sleeper is because it plays in the Pac-12, where its games are rarely seen by those on the other coast. Naturally, the Wildcats will play the late game of the night, but stay up and watch them take on the Musketeers. Six Wildcats average more than nine points per game, led by the sensational Stanley Johnson.
Key for Xavier: Get Matt Stainbrook active.
Key for Arizona: Win the paint.
Pick: Arizona 71, Xavier 70
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.