If the opening of the baseball season is your main course, then this week/weekend’s NCAA Sweet 16 is a your top-shelf appetizer.

That’s because, the tourney once again has lived up to the enormous hype (per usual) as we have some outstanding Sweet 16 match ups sprinkled in with some legendary coaches. And if you had the most popular Final 4 bracket (Florida, Mich St, Arizona, Louisville) like myself, then you are still in the mix to collect some chips when this is all said in done April 7th in Arlington, TX.

So with that backdrop, here’s how I see the Thursday match-ups from a gaming aspect as well as who I think you should take in a survivor type pool.

 South Region

#10-Stanford (-3.5, 133) vs. #11 Dayton

The Dayton Flyers are riding a heater. After beating an overrated Ohio St team in the first round, the Flyers took out a sliding Syracuse team to get here. Both of their wins were tight games throughout as the Flyers don’t posses any future NBA prospects. But what they do excel at is making teams play at their pace and making big shots when it counts. Their opponent, the Stanford Cardinal’s, are also coming off beating two really good teams in New Mexico (my sleeper) and a Kansas team without their 2nd best player. Stanford is much bigger upfront than Dayton with 6’10” and 6’11” players in Stefan Nastic and Dwight Powell. Powell is a gifted scorer and will play at the next level (NBA).

I like Stanford to squeak this one out, but wouldn’t be shocked in the least if Dayton came out on top. Both teams are 19-12 ATS this year and mirror each other offensively and defensively as they both score 72 PPG while giving up 67 PPG. Survivor wise, this might be a good spot to take Stanford as you are probably not going to use them again the rest of the way.

#1-Florida (-4.5, 137) vs. #4-UCLA

The Gators are the #1 seed overall in this tournament and haven’t done anything to disprove that notion through their first two games. Though not exactly tested in their easy wins over Albany and Pitt, the Gators will step up in class with the Bruins of UCLA Thursday night (approx 9:45 tip).

That’s because UCLA is super talented and could posses the best player no one has heard of in 6’9″ G Kyle Anderson. The dude fills up the stat sheet like Magic Johnson with pts, rebs, and assists. His size makes it tough for smaller guards and  SEC Player of the Year  PG 6’2″ Scottie Wilbekin could be in the post most of the night. The Gators have the better tournament coach in Billy Donovan and have the best starting 5 in the land. But Bruins head man Steve Alford has plenty of talent on his side  and with some luck and good three-point shooting could upset the #1 team overall.

I like the Bruins + the pts as they were 23-12 ATS this year. They score 81.5 PPG and only give up 70. The Gators counter with holding teams to a ridiculous 58 PPG and can score in the 70’s if needed. If you haven’t used Florida, save them for the next round because if they do beat UCLA they will be heavy favorites over Dayton or Stanford.

West Region

#2-Wisconsin (-3.5, 136.5) vs.#6-Baylor Bears

Wisconsin fans might not be the most represented team in Anaheim, but I guarantee those ranch shooting Badger lovers will be loud. Their opponent is the Baylor Bears whose only loss in March came in the Big 12 Championship game to Iowa St. After burying Nebraska and Creighton respectively, the Bears look to upset the Badgers and have a good chance of doing it.

That’s not to say Wisconsin is a push over by any stretch. The Badgers were ranked #1 during the season and played in the best conference in the land (B10). And after destroying American University in the first round, they outscored Oregon by 20 in the second half to secure an 85-77 win to get to this point. Both teams are balanced on the scoring sheet as all five of their starters scored in double figures in their last contests.

This one could come down to Baylor’s 1-3-1 defense vs. the Badgers ability to shoot the 3. I like the Bears to not only cover the 3.5, but win straight up. They are riding a heater and I think it continues to the Elite 8.

#1-Arizona (-7.5, 122) vs. #4 San Diego State

In the nightcap at the Pond of Anaheim, the Fighting Aztecs of SDSU will have a chance to get even with Arizona. In 2nd game of the season in San Diego, the Wildcats won 69-60 behind 23 pts from stud G Nick Johnson. Freshman Aaron Gordon chipped in with 16 pts and 8 boards in only his second college game ever.

That’s not to say the Aztecs are a pushover in this one, far from it. Not only will tons of SD fans make the 1.5 hr drive north up I-5, but Steve Fisher’s boys can ball with the best of them as they beat Kansas in Lawrence, Creighton (neutral site) and Marquette to name a few during the regular season. They are also playing their best ball now with senior guard Xavier Thames leading the charge (30 pts vs. NDST).

Both teams are great ATS (SDSU 19-13, Zona 21-14) and both tend to play low scoring games. This one shouldn’t be too different so don’t let the low total of 122 stop you from taking the low.

Who is going to win this one is tricky for me. My heart says the Aztecs can pull this upset off and get to the Elite 8, but my head tells me those annoying Arizona fans will be happy late Thursday night. I’m rooting for my hometown school, but I think it’s Sean Miller and the Wildcats that will be playing Saturday evening for the right to make it to the Final 4.