At first glance, it seems like just another Atlantic Coast Conference game - North Carolina State against Louisville. Except it isn't. The winner advances to the Elite Eight and the loser goes home.
"Even though it's the Sweet 16 game, it's pretty much a league game. We knew at some point we would play an ACC team, and we're ready for it," North Carolina State guard Cat Barber said after practice Thursday in the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. "Our league prepares you for the moment."
The Wolfpack (22-13), the eighth seed in the East, will meet fourth-seeded Louisville (26-8) Friday night in a matchup of teams somewhat familiar with each other.
The Wolfpack had the upper hand against the Cardinals in Louisville's first season in the conference, beating them, 74-65, Feb. 14 in Louisville.
"We have great respect for them," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "They beat us at home. A lot of teams don't beat us at home. They're a team right now that can beat you so many different ways."
Louisville, in the Sweet 16 for a school-record fourth straight year under Pitino, isn't the same team that lost to the Wolfpack.
Standout guard Chris Jones, a fierce defender, had 20 points in that game, but when Louisville traveled to Syracuse four days later, Jones didn't make the trip and was later dismissed from the team for off-the-court problems.
Michigan State vs. Oklahoma. Two coaches - Michigan State's Tom Izzo and Oklahoma's Lon Kruger - whose careers have taken divergent paths reunite when the third-seeded Sooners (24-10) face the seventh-seeded Spartans (25-11).
Izzo has reached the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight year, and 13th in 20 seasons at Michigan State.
Kruger, 62, has reached the regional round for the fourth time and with his fourth team.
The Sooners are just the latest example of Kruger's rebuilding ability.
In four years under Kruger, Oklahoma is making its deepest tournament push since the Blake Griffin-led team reached the Elite Eight in 2009.
Oklahoma features a stifling defense that's limiting opponents to a 38.6 field-goal percentage.
On offense, they Sooners are led by guard Buddy Hield, who is averaging 17.5 points and 5.5 rebounds a game.
The Spartans are one of the tournament's surprise teams. They've won six of seven, and done it with timely shooting and aggressive defense in making up for a team that lost three of its four top scorers last spring.