After a wild opening weekend, as usual, the Sweet Sixteen is set. Here we go!
We break down some basic stuff at the bottom - the matchups, seed and conference breakdowns and so on. But for now let’s take a more general look.
Obviously most of the happy-to-be-here crowd no longer is. Teams like Cal State Fullerton, Montana State, Norfolk State - they got to be in the first dance and go home. But they lost to better teams - no shame in that.
The power conferences are basically in charge now, as usual. Only the WCC, the American and the MAAC are represented and in the case of the WCC, Gonzaga is long since established as an elite program. The AAC is not generally seen as a power conference, but like Gonzaga, Houston is very, very good. Only St. Peter’s comes out of the blue.
When you get to the Sweet Sixteen, you can see some patterns. For instance, in the West, both Arkansas and Gonzaga have been a bit shaky. Georgia State stayed with the Zags for almost 30 minutes and Memphis could have - arguably should have - pulled the upset. You know assistant and lifer Larry Brown was dying inside watching Memphis do stupid things down the stretch. But Arkansas hasn’t been much better, having beaten #13 Vermont by just four and #12 New Mexico State by just five.
We’re not saying those teams aren’t good. They were. But Arkansas is supposed to be on a higher level - and will have to be to beat Gonzaga.
Texas Tech didn’t play overly well against Notre Dame but still won. Their defense is going to be a major challenge for Duke - it would be for anyone. We will get more into that later obviously.
UCLA got a game from Akron and St. Mary’s kept up for about 30 minutes before UCLA pulled away. The injury to Jaime Jaquez is a big deal. We’ll have to see how that looks later in the week. UNC has improved a lot although when Baylor socked them in the jaw, UNC was obviously in shock, nearly blowing a 25 point lead.
Like everyone, we have immense respect for what Shaheen Holloway and St. Peter’s has accomplished but Purdue is just huge. We’ve picked against them every game so far and been wrong each time. Could they pull off another miracle? Well, if they do, it’ll partly be down to Purdue’s average-ish defense.
Arizona gets another Texas team in Houston and that’s going to be tough. You know what’s interesting? Under Guy Lewis, Houston was famous for an explosive offense. Kelvin Sampson has staked his claim on superb defense. Old Houston fans are probably fine with it since the historic program is at least winning again but it’s worlds away from Elvin Hayes and, later, Phi Slamma Jamma.
Michigan and Villanova is really fascinating. The Wolverines have gone from a near train wreck at times this season to playing brilliantly against Tennessee. After a superb tournament outing so far, and a touching display of compassion for Kennedy Chandler after the Tennessee win, it’s safe to say that Juwan Howard is largely forgiven for his idiocy against Wisconsin.
Providence and Kansas are both teams that really define team. They’re both worthy. We’d like to see the Friars move on though. It’d be nice to see that school get some glory. Like Houston, PC has a great history, just not as much lately.
Finally, Iowa State vs. Miami - the long-awaited matchup between the Cyclones and the Hurricanes is on. Hurricanes are bigger but cyclones, aka tornadoes, are devastating. The weather geeks are going to love this matchup.
Here’s a freaky stat: Iowa State is the first team ever to win as many games in the NCAA tournament as it won the entire season before. If they beat Miami, they’ll surpass last-year’s win total of two. But man, is Miami playing well. That team is not the team we saw even recently. They’re on fire. They toyed with Auburn! Who thought that could happen? Not us.
We’re going to have to think some more, but based on what we’ve seen so far, Gonzaga and Arkansas seem somewhat vulnerable. Houston and Texas Tech are perhaps the best defensive teams although St. Pete’s deserves a mention too. The teams that are hottest right now? We’d say Michigan and Miami. You might think UNC and the Heels have a nice path, but consider this: in their last three games, they got blown out by Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament, killed Marquette, then nearly blew that 25 point lead against Baylor.
Hubert Davis gets a lot of credit, or should. He nudged UNC into a very different direction and had some tough moments this season. But he stuck with his plan and it’s paid off.
However, his team is still vulnerable as two of his last three opponents have demonstrated. UCLA is a very tough, pugnacious team that was 2-1 vs. Arizona. Every other loss was by five points or less, with one in overtime and Arizona State taking the Bruins to triple OT. That team doesn’t die easily. The matchups may be tough too.
Still, no one can doubt the heart that UCLA has shown. Mick Cronin has done a spectacular job in Westwood.
That’s going to be a very interesting game indeed.
- #1 Gonzaga vs. #4 Arkansas
- #2 Duke vs. #3 Texas Tech
- #8 UNC vs. #4 UCLA
- #3 Purdue vs. #15 Saint Peter’s
- #1 Arizona vs. #5 Houston
- #11 Michigan vs. #2 Villanova
- #1 Kansas vs. #4 Providence
- #11 Iowa State vs. #10 Miami
- 3 #1 seeds.
- 2 #2 seeds
- 2 #3 seeds
- 3#4 seeds
- 1 #5 seed
- 1 #8 seed
- 1 #10 seed
- 2 #11 seeds
- 1 # 15 seed
- Big 12: Kansas, Texas Tech, Iowa State
- ACC: Duke, UNC, Miami
- PAC-12: UCLA, Arizona
- Big East: Villanova, Providence
- Big Ten: Michigan, Purdue
- SEC: Arkansas
- American: Houston
- Big West: Gonzaga
- MAAC: St. Peter’s