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2015 NCAA Tournament - Sweet 16 Thursday Schedule and Open Thread

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Your guide to what should be a great start to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, including Notre Dame's chance to make its first Elite Eight in 36 years.

Godofredo Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Early Games:

3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. 7 Wichita State Shockers - Midwest Region - Cleveland, OH

Tip-off: 7:15pm (all times Eastern), CBS (Marv Albert/Chris Webber/Len Elmore/Lewis Johnson)

My take:

Just your typical power conference juggernaut trying to make its first Elite Eight since the Carter administration taking on the plucky, upstart mid-major who hasn't been there since all the way back in 2013. Classic David and Goliath stuff here. You can find my full preview and prediction of this match-up here, but long story short, I expect this to be the most entertaining game of the night.

Prediction: Notre Dame 77, Wichita State 72

1 Wisconsin Badgers vs. 4 North Carolina Tar Heels - West Region - Los Angeles, CA

Tip-off: 7:47pm, TBS (Kevin Harlan/Reggie Miller/Dan Bonner/Rachel Nichols)

My take:

A key to this one may be the health of Tar Heel big man Kennedy Meeks, who is trying to recover from a knee injury he sustained over the weekend in time to take on Frank Kaminsky and the Badgers. The news has generally not been good all week, but hopefully he is able to give it a go. Even so, UNC is fairly deep on the interior, and while they likely will not be able to fully neutralize Kaminsky, they could be a tough match-up athletically nonetheless.

This one seems to be flying a bit under-the-radar, as I think everyone is just waiting for that Wisconsin-Arizona game, but UNC has played pretty well as of late and can match up with just about anybody athletically. An upset here certainly would not surprise me, especially if they are able to push the tempo on a Wisconsin team that is almost literally the slowest team in the country. I'd have the guts to call it if it wasn't for Meeks' knee, so I'll chicken out and go chalk.

Prediction: Wisconsin 69, North Carolina 66

Late Games:

1 Kentucky Wildcats vs. 5 West Virginia Mountaineers - Midwest Region - Cleveland, OH

Tip-off: 9:45pm (approximate), CBS (Marv Albert/Chris Webber/Len Elmore/Lewis Johnson)

My take:

I think I'm less interested in this one as a possible upset and more interested to see if there are any after-effects for Kentucky in their next game two nights later after playing a Mountaineer team that will relentlessly press for 40 minutes and look to run any chance they get. Playing two difficult opponents in a row, let alone with very little time to rest, is completely foreign to this Kentucky team that merely had to go through an underwhelming SEC conference schedule. So, too, is an opponent that plays like West Virginia that specializes, basically, in trying harder than its opponent in every way possible.

Could this give Kentucky problems on Thursday night? Perhaps, but I have my doubts that West Virginia is a legitimate threat to actually win this one. Could the Wildcats still be feeling this 40 minutes of hell come Saturday? Might be interesting to keep in the back of your head. Then again, Bob Huggins has knocked off a 1 seed Kentucky before (in 2010) en route to the Final Four, so maybe the Wildcats should be on high alert for Thursday night before looking ahead.

Prediction: Kentucky 63, West Virginia 49

2 Arizona Wildcats vs. 6 Xavier Musketeers - West Region - Los Angeles, CA

Tip-off: 10:17pm, TBS (Kevin Harlan/Reggie Miller/Dan Bonner/Rachel Nichols)

My take:

This one looks like the least intriguing game of the round, which of course means it will go into quintuple-overtime. While Xavier's tournament success in the last decade or so is astounding, this might be their least impressive run. They have been able to skate by as a 6 seed beating one of the last teams in the field, Ole Miss, a lackluster SEC outfit that played two nights earlier, and 14 seed Georgia State in the Round of 32, following their upset win over Baylor.

It is one of the more unimpressive Sweet 16 runs I can really remember. Now they go up against an Arizona team that has just shredded the Pac-12 (and Ohio State) for the last month or so and looks like 1 of the 2 teams with the best chances of knocking off Kentucky. I just can't see this one being close, so you should be able to get to bed early.

Prediction: Arizona 76, Xavier 59