The NCAA playoffs are like a four-course meal. The round of 16 is a delectable appetizer featuring juicy matchups and story lines. The season comes down to 60 minutes. All eight games can be seen on the ESPN networks in HD, four on Saturday and four on Sunday. Let's sink our teeth into five games that appear most appetizing.
Background: The Pride (13-2) beat Hopkins (12-2) badly last year on Long Island. The Jays are unbeaten since mid-March, with one goal wins over North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Loyola. After 2010, Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala dropped Hofstra from the regular-season schedule, which isn't unusual, but Hofstra will use that as motivation. Former Hopkins goalie Michael Gvozden spoke out this week to The Sun about "being the scapegoat" for the 7-8 season a year ago. His brother, Andrew, is Hofstra's goalie.
How Hofstra will win: Win faceoffs and slow the game down, and hope to win 6-5.
How Hopkins will win: Defend Ian Braddish, Jay Card and Jamie Lincoln according to the scouting report by sliding smart. The Jays must make Hofstra score unassisted goals.
Why watch? Whats more exciting than a playoff game between two teams who dislike each other?
Background: Delaware won the CAA tournament by beating Hofstra and UMass on the road last week. Goalie Noah Fossner was voted team MVP. The Blue Hens lost a thriller last year in the playoffs to North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 2007, they upset Virginia on their way to championship weekend. They won't be a deer-in-the-headlights. Duke is the reigning champion, with new faces and veterans who have taken on bigger roles this year. With so many youngsters in key spots, I'm not sure what to expect. When examining the major statistical categories from this year land last year, the two Duke squads are surprisingly comparable. But there are two key differences: The Blue Devils are younger in 2011 and the ACC was down; in 2010, the entire ACC lost two games out of conference. This year the losses already total 10.
How Delaware will win: The Hens must score transition goals, but they can't let Duke run. It's a tricky mix.
How Duke will win: Own the middle of the field. Duke's CJ Costabile takes faceoffs with a long pole. He's a high performance hybrid. When he plays well, Duke usually wins. Their X factor is goalie Dan Wigrizer, who's been wildly inconsistent.
Why watch? Duke's style is viewer friendly and Delaware won't try to run and hide.
Maryland at North Carolina (ESPN, Sunday, 1 p.m.)
Background: The Terps and Tar Heels split their two meetings this year. Rematches are a recurring theme in the tournament. Since 2003 there have been 48 rematches in the postseason (40 percent of all games), including 11 of the 16 semifinals and six of the eight championships. This rematch was avoidable.
How Maryland will win: Maryland seniors must outperform the Carolina freshmen.
How North Carolina will win: Be multiple on defense mixing man-to-man, zone and other wrinkles. The Heels must limit transition goals.
Why watch? Carolina's attack trio of Billy Bitter, Marcus Holman and Nicky Galasso are electric playmakers. Their game is infused with imagination. The Maryland seniors are down to their final lifeline. They've been through the a lot over the past two seasons. Have they checked out? Or will they come out fighting?
Bucknell at Virginia (ESPNU, Sunday, 3 p.m.)
Background: Bucknell coach Frank Fedorjaka is one half of a husband-wife coaching tandem. His wife, Kathy, is Bucknell's women's basketball coach. The Bison lost five one-goal games in 2010, and are 14-2 this spring after winning eight games in a row, including the Patriot League automatic qualifier. They are universally given a chance to upset the Cavaliers.
How Bucknell will win: Manage the middle of the field during freelance situations. Use skill and finesse to combat Virginia's speed and athleticism. Riddle Virginia's poor defense with multiple pass goals.
How Virginia will win: Play defense. The Wahoos rank No. 38 in the country in scoring defense.
Why watch? Virginia is a soap opera. Bucknell is the lovable underdog.
Villanova at Denver (ESPNU, Sunday, 5:15 p.m.)
Background: Villanova coach Michael Corrado has quietly built the Wildcats into a perennial top 20 team. They lost nail bitters to Notre Dame and Syracuse. Denver is making its fourth NCAA appearance and this is the first playoff game hosted by a school west of the Mississippi.
How Villanova will win: The Wildcats must defend Denver attackman Mark Matthews. The left-hander from Canada has put up first-team All-American stats. They must also scrap to 50 percent on faceoffs against Chase Carraro.
How Denver will win: Guard Villanova attackman Kevin Cunningham and limit shots from Jack Rice.
Why watch? Denver coach Bill Tierney is must-see TV. He is part Bobby Knight, part Coach K, part Bill Parcells. The game is a sell-out. One team will win its first NCAA playoff game.
Quint Kessenich covers college sports for the ESPN Networks and writes for the Baltimore Sun during the spring. He will be providing studio analysis for all eight games and will host a web chat on ESPN.com all day long Saturday and Sunday.