The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is for celebrating Cinderellas and their magical runs that each year make March Madness great, but the second weekend is meant to separate the good teams from the great ones. After a few days of work back on campus, the 16 remaining teams in the 2024 NCAA Tournament have arrived at their regional locations in Boston, Los Angeles, Dallas and Detroit. The goal of every coach and every player is to be on college basketball's biggest stage, the Final Four, at the end of the season. And by the end of these regional competitions, four teams will emerge from these four sites. 

It's hard to identify any one region as more top-heavy than another since every No. 1 and No. 2 seed advanced to the Sweet 16 for just the fifth time since 1979. Every game on Thursday night includes a team that's expected — according to their seed — to reach to the Elite Eight at a minimum. But history tells us that won't be the case, and the close competition we're expecting in the matchups makes another round of chalk extremely unlikely. 

Thursday night's action focuses on the regional semifinals in the East and West regions, set in Boston and Los Angeles. Let's get into some of the big storylines for the evening, starting with the reigning champions facing a familiar foe. 

A title game rematch for the reigning champs 

UConn entered the 2024 NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed and there's been very little across two games — won by an average of 28.0 points — to suggest the Huskies are out of sync or off pace from contending for a second-straight national championship. But the path to accomplishing the first repeat since Florida in 2007 runs through the same team UConn defeated in last year's national championship game, as the Huskies rematch against San Diego State (7:39 p.m. ET, TBS). 

While UConn's continuation of last year's success has made the last two years seem like one long run, the reality is that the Huskies are a different team from their 2022-23 version. They lost three of their top six scorers and rely on multiple newcomers in key spots like transfer Cam Spencer and freshman Stephon Castle. Of the eight players who played significant (10-plus) minutes in last year's 76-59 national championship game win against San Diego State, only three — Tristen Newton, Alex Karaban, Donovan Clingan — are in the lineup for Thursday night's game against the Aztecs. Backups Hassan Diarra and Samson Johnson were on the team and registered an appearance, but only to salt away the game's final minute. 

Brian Dutcher's San Diego State team has a little more carryover, with Lamont Butler, Darrion Trammell and Micah Parrish all still serving as key pieces. But the big change for the Aztecs has been the expanded role for senior Jaedon LeDee. A reserve in 2023, he has developed into one of the best players in the country this season. LeDee is averaging 21.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, recently earning first-team All-Mountain West and third-team AP All-America honors. He's added offensive firepower to a team that was already one of the best in the country defensively. That might make this year's showdown a bit closer and more complicated for the reigning champs.  

Elite offense clashes with elite defense 

The nightcap in Boston features an intriguing clash of styles. Illinois has been on an absolute heater in the postseason, averaging 88.4 points per contest through a five-game winning streak that has included a run to the Big Ten Tournament title and its first Sweet 16 appearance since 2005. Heading into Thursday night, Illinois rates as the No. 1 team in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency for the season. Now the Fighting Illini will meet their toughest test from this postseason run, clashing with an Iowa State team that rates No. 1 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Cyclones are relentless with their ball pressure, forcing steals and other turnovers against teams that lack the level guard play to needed handle their defensive style. Illinois is experienced, battle-tested and has done a good job of taking care of the ball, but Iowa State is clearly the toughest challenge the Illini have faced in that department. 

As it goes with these kinds of good-on-good matchups, the game could be decided by which team's "weaker" side performs better. Illinois didn't give up much to Morehead State or Duquesne on the way to the Sweet 16, but Nebraska and especially Wisconsin had plenty of success offensively in those Big Ten Tournament matchups. Iowa State, meanwhile, caught absolute fire from behind the 3-point line against South Dakota State in its NCAA Tournament opener but cooled off when the competition was cranked up against Washington State in the second round. If you're looking for an X-factor, it's probably Iowa State freshman Milan Momcilovic. He's broken out of a shooting slump with double-digit scoring and effective 3-point shooting in the last four games. Iowa State doesn't get a lot of "easy offense" if it's not created off turnovers, but a few timely 3-pointers from Momcilovic could provide a scoring spark to balance the Cyclones' defensive pressure.  

High-scoring night on tap in Hollywood 

It is appropriate that the Los Angeles-based West Regional features not only some of the juiciest storylines of the tournament's second weekend but some of the most up-tempo and high-scoring teams left in the field. A city familiar with pyrotechnics and big productions should expect to see some fireworks, as the combination of No. 1 seed North Carolina, No. 2 seed Arizona, No. 4 seed Alabama and No. 6 seed Clemson set up the potential of some wild back-and-forth affairs. 

Of the 16 teams remaining in the 2024 NCAA Tournament, the No. 1 (Alabama), No. 2 (Arizona) and No. 6 (North Carolina) scoring offenses all reside in the West. Alabama, Arizona and North Carolina -- in that order -- are also the top three teams remaining in adjusted tempo and the only teams with a rating above 70.0 possessions per game (per KenPom). While Clemson does not fit the mold exactly — 11th of the 16 teams in scoring average, 13th in adjusted tempo — the Tigers have shown the ability to run and score with the top offensive teams in the country, including an 85-77 win at Alabama and an 80-76 win at North Carolina. 

The 2024 NCAA Tournament's version of "Showtime" gets started with Arizona taking on Clemson (7:09 p.m. ET, CBS) followed by North Carolina against Alabama (30 minutes after Game 1). There's an extra Hollywood-approved storyline that's bubbling beneath the surface with Pac-12 Player of the Year and former North Carolina star Caleb Love potentially going head to head with his former team and ACC Player of the Year R.J. Davis. However, we'll wait for Thursday night to conclude so as not to disrespect the Crimson Tide or the Tigers.

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Check out the full TV and streaming schedule for Thursday's Sweet 16 games below.

Time (ET)GameTV / Stream
7:39 p.m.(5) San Diego State vs. (1) UConn
TBS (watch live)
30 minutes after Game 1(4) Alabama vs. (1) North Carolina
CBS (watch live)
30 minutes after Game 2(3) Illinois vs. (2) Iowa State
TBS (watch live)