By Chris Emma–
(CBS) While the NCAA Tournament is the most beloved in sports, it’s one of the more imperfect playoffs.READ MORE: Jussie Smollett Takes The Witness Stand, Describes Alleged Attack As Real And Like 'Something Out Of Looney Tunes Adventures'
Automatic bids are awarded by separate conference tournaments, where one shot or fortunate bounce leads to one team in the Big Dance and another going home. Then, a committee — people in suits — decide the rest of the bracket.
Once the bracket is set, these games continue to prove that luck often prevails over talent. Baylor would beat Georgia State nine out of 10 times, but that outlier came in the first-round upset. In reality, it’s often not the best team that makes a tournament run. It’s the hottest or luckiest team.
The NCAA Tournament is perfectly imperfect, as tonight’s matchups demonstrate, and that’s why we watch.
11-seed UCLA (22-13) vs. 2-seed Gonzaga (34-2), 6:15 p.m. in Houston
Line: Gonzaga -8.5
Mark Few may have his best team yet, with all due respect to Kelly Olynyk, Adam Morrison and Dan Dickau. The Bulldogs are absolutely loaded and can finally break through that barrier to reach the Final Four. Better yet, it’s a favorable matchup against UCLA.
Key for UCLA: Make this a track meet.
Key for Gonzaga: Let Kyle Wiltjer take over.
Pick: Gonzaga 84, UCLA 76
8-seed North Carolina State (22-13) vs. 4-seed Louisville (26-8), 6:37 p.m. in Syracuse
Line: Louisville -2.5
Rick Pitino has his Cardinals in the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight year, and they’re poised to take it further than that. Standing in the way is an NC State team that’s playing its best basketball at the right time. This will be a fun ACC showdown in the Carrier Dome.
Key for NC State: Get the bench active.
Key for Louisville: Win the rebounding war.
Pick: Louisville 67, NC State 62
5-seed Utah (26-8) vs. 1-seed Duke (31-4), 8:45 p.m. in Houston
Line: Duke -5
Utah is back as a high-level basketball program, with Delon Wright leading a terrific team. Standing in the way of continued tournament success is the high-level basketball program, Duke. But this could be a game to come down to the wire.
Key for Utah: Let Delon Wright take over
Key for Duke: Keep feeding the best, Jahlil Okafor.
Pick: Duke 70, Utah 61
7-seed Michigan State (25-11) vs. 3-seed Oklahoma (24-10), 9:07 p.m. in Syracuse
Line: Michigan State -2
Death, taxes and Tom Izzo. That about sums it up, because the Spartans are back in the Sweet 16. Their future Hall of Fame coach gets his teams ready for runs through the tournament, and this Michigan State group has overcome a lot to reach this matchup with Oklahoma.
Key for Michigan State: Keep active on defense.
Key for Oklahoma: Win from beyond the arc.
Pick: Michigan State 68, Oklahoma 66
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.