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Previewing (the rest of) the Sweet 16

Xavier isn’t the only team spending this weekend vying for a spot in the Final Four.

Arkansas v Kansas
Eric Musselman celebrates a title. Wait, no, a second round win.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

It’s amazing how fast March Madness goes by. A week ago there were 64 teams still in theoretical contention for a national title. Now there are only 16. In only four more days, there will be four teams left. Everything that everyone has been working for since early November will be condensed down to the crucible of just 80 minutes of basketball.

Xavier and Texas play in one of those games. We’ve covered it extensively here and on TSTV Sports in Texas. (A link to that will come out when it goes live.) There are seven other games that will also be happening on Thursday and Friday though, and it’s worth knowing at least a little bit about each before the ball goes up tonight.

East Region

#3 Kansas State v. #7 Michigan State

Michigan State is one of those big name teams that wasn’t really good or really bad this year, and thus kind of flew under the radar. This is the first time since the 2018-19 season that the Spartans have made the Sweet 16. They’ll meet a Kansas State team under Jerome Tang that just rolled UK. The always classy John Calipari didn’t bother to learn the name of Markquis Nowell before he eviscerated his team, and just called him “that little guy.” That little guy figures to be key in this matchup because he makes the Wildcats tick. He’ll be up against an equally accomplished point guard in AJ Hoggard. Joey Hauser is somehow also still playing for MSU. I believe he turns 32 this year.

#4 Tennessee v. #9 FAU

Florida Atlantic is sort of a Cinderella, sort of the 21st best team on the KenPom. The Owls hadn’t got a lot of respect this year because they haven’t played anyone. They still kind of haven’t, adding a win over Memphis and a win over FDU. Absolutely none of that matters, though, because they’re in the Sweet 16. They play smothering shooting defense and fire away from deep themselves.

Tennessee wasn’t supposed to get here because they lost their point guard right before the SEC tournament. As good as FAU’s defense is, it doesn’t compare to UT’s. Tennessee scores more because they have to than any other reason. They thrive on defense and dare you to figure out how to score. This one could be an absolute rock fight.

West Region

#4 UConn v. #8 Arkansas

UConn is the first of three Big East teams to play in the Sweet 16. They look every bit the national championship contender they did earlier in the year. Adama Sanogo has dominated so far. He has 52/21/0 in the first two games and has missed just nine of the 33 shots he has attempted.

Arkansas will counter by going small and fast. Their backcourt of Davonte Davis and either Nick Smith or Ricky Council is one of the best in the nation. Davis torched Kansas, Council torched Illinois. Eric Musselman will have his work cut out to figure out how to keep the Huskies big men off the glass and make this a full court game.

#2 UCLA v. #3 Gonzaga

Hope you weren’t planning on getting a lot of sleep tonight, because this is the nightcap. Jaylen Clark is out for UCLA, but that hasn’t stopped the Bruins from smacking Northwestern or UNCA. Now, however, the competition gets a lot tougher. UCLA is deep and experienced behind Jaime Jaquez and Tyger Campbell. They play smothering defense and just get by on offense. Can they do it without Clark (and maybe without Adem Bona)?

Gonzaga is still an offensive powerhouse that runs off Drew Timme and a seeming dozen other dudes that can get buckets. The question, as always, is if the Bulldogs can beat good teams when it matters. They got past TCU in the first game against a decent team not named St. Mary’s they had played since December 2nd. Whether they can beat two good teams in a row will be answered some time around 1am.

South Region

#1 Alabama v. #5 SDSU

This comes down to whether SDSU’s defense can stop Alabama’s offense. That’s really the question here. Alabama is probably the best team in the nation and would likely have been everyone’s pick if not for the moral quandry picking them represents. That’s literally the whole story here. Either the Aztecs can make this a slower paced game and stifle Alabama’s offense or they get run out of the gym. They can’t possibly try to score with them.

#6 Creighton v. #15 Princeton

Are you Mr. Big East guy? If so, Creighton is the easy choice to cheer for here. The rest of the world will be pulling for Princeton. You know all about Creighton. When they are on, they are as good as anyone in the nation. Whether they will be on or not, though, is hard to guess.

The factor here is size. Tosan Evbuomwan is Princeton’s big gun and highest usage player. The Tigers beat the other Tigers (Missouri) because Missouri didn’t have a big that could control the game. Creighton has that Kalkbrenner fellow and will run Arthur Kaluma at Evbuomwan all game long to see how he handles it.

Midwest Region

#1 Houston v. #5 Miami

Full disclosure: I have Houston winning it all. I also had them meeting Drake here, so my prognostication is probably not worth staking much to. Supposedly Marcus Sasser and Jamal Shead were going to be limited due to injury. They looked ok in combining for 32/3/7 as Houston eased past Auburn. Tramon Mark went for 26/9/0 on his own. These guys are deep and really good.

Miami might be able to score with the Cougars, but their defense can be suspect. They held Duke to 59, which was great, but then gave up 85 to Florida St., which was not. They’ll have to be top of their absolute game to beat Houston. Norchad Omier is healthy and playing well, which should help. Nijel Pack shoots a lot of threes and can get flamethrower hot. That may be the way for the Canes to stay in it.