NCAA Sweet 16 has unexpected field after favorites ousted
By AARON BEARD, AP Basketball Writer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — After little went according to plan in the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament, the bracket has a wildly different look for the Sweet 16 than many expected.
Out: Two 1-seeds (Virginia and Xavier) and a pair of 2-seeds (North Carolina and Cincinnati).
In: Two No. 11 seeds (Syracuse and Loyola-Chicago).
There are only seven of the top 16 seeds still alive for the regional rounds
The Cavaliers’ historic loss to 16-seed UMBC took out the top overall seed and thrust Villanova into the role of favorite, while preseason No. 1 Duke was dominant in its two tournament wins.
Despite all the bracket turmoil, the power conferences managed to get 12 teams into the Sweet 16, with four coming from both the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big 12.
Here’s a look at the updated Final Four paths for the top remaining seeds:
This is the region that came closest to following the script.
Four of the top five seeds survived: No. 1 Villanova, No. 2 Purdue, No. 3 Texas Tech and No. 5 West Virginia. And the Wildcats (32-4) will have the shortest travel (about 315 miles) by heading to Boston as they pursue a second national title in three seasons.
“My good vibes are coming from how this team’s playing, how unselfishly they play,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said after Saturday’s win against Alabama .
“Honestly, we don’t care where we play. Boston is a great town, old Big East town like Pittsburgh. We stir up old Big East feelings. We like that.”
Villanova meets the Mountaineers (26-10) in one semifinal Friday, while the Boilermakers (30-6) face the Red Raiders (26-9) in the other.
One storyline to watch: the status of 7-foot-2 Purdue center Isaac Haas, who broke his elbow in the first-round win against Cal State Fullerton. Haas warmed up before Sunday’s win against Butler but an official said shortly before tipoff that the big man’s brace hadn’t been approved for competition.
Consider this one an ACC Invitational.
Three of the four teams to advance to Omaha, Nebraska, are from the ACC: No. 2 Duke, No. 5 Clemson and No. 11 Syracuse. They’ll join top-seeded Kansas , with regional semifinals set for Friday.
The Jayhawks (29-7) are trying to return to the Final Four for the first time since 2012 after two straight regional-final losses. They’ll face the Tigers (25-9), who are in their first NCAA Tournament since 2011 and their first Sweet 16 since 1997.
The Blue Devils (28-7) meet the Orange (23-13), who took out third-seeded Michigan State on Sunday.
Duke and Syracuse met in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Feb. 24, with the Blue Devils holding the Orange to 32 percent shooting in a 60-44 win . The rematch will mark the second NCAA Tournament matchup between Hall of Famers Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim, with Coach K’s Blue Devils winning one in the Sweet 16 in 1998.
Things were set to go to form Sunday, only to see top-seeded Xavier and No. 2 North Carolina lose. Now Big Ten champion Michigan headlines the quartet in Los Angeles.
The third-seeded Wolverines (30-7) — who beat Houston on a last-second 3-pointer — will meet seventh-seeded Texas A&M (22-12) after the Aggies blew out the reigning champion Tar Heels in their home state.
Fourth-seeded Gonzaga (32-4) will face ninth-seeded Florida State (22-11) after the Seminoles’ upset of the Musketeers .
“I think what you see happening in college basketball, it’s almost like a revolution,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “And what happens is you start categorizing people by the reputation that their players get going into college.
“But in reality, kids are playing basketball all over the country and teams are getting better.”
This is where there was the most March Madness.
None of the top-four seeds advanced, the first time in tournament history that has happened in a region. So the games in Atlanta will now be headlined by 5-seed Kentucky (26-10).
The Wildcats (26-10) followed their run to the Southeastern Conference Tournament title by surviving an upset bid from Davidson then beating Buffalo — which had upset fourth-seeded Arizona . They’ll face another set of Wildcats on Thursday in ninth-seeded Kansas State (24-11), which ended UMBC’s historic weekend in Charlotte.
The other game features 7-seed Nevada (29-7), which tied the tournament’s second-biggest comeback by rallying from 22 down to beat No. 2 seed Cincinnati. The Wolf Pack faces No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago (30-5), which advanced against No. 6 seed Miami and No. 3 seed Tennessee on final-seconds shots.
“We told the guys before, look at today alone: Michigan State, North Carolina, basically at home losing today,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said.
“It’s what makes March Madness special and it kills the coaches because it’s so hard and you think you have a great team. Matchups are important. Making the plays, having the right mojo at the right time.”
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