March Madness: Sweet 16 begins from NYC to Las Vegas

March Madness has reached Sweet 16 weekend. Two No. 1 seeds, Kansas and Purdue, are already gone along with millions of busted brackets and a host of bluebloods including Kentucky, Duke and Indiana —though UCLA’s drive for a 12th national title remains alive. Here is what to know:

GAMES TO WATCH

No. 5 seed San Diego State (29-6) vs. No. 1 seed Alabama (31-5), Friday, 6:30 p.m. ET (TBS)

The Aztecs are in the Sweet...

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March Madness has reached Sweet 16 weekend. Two No. 1 seeds, Kansas and Purdue, are already gone along with millions of busted brackets and a host of bluebloods including Kentucky, Duke and Indiana —though UCLA’s drive for a 12th national title remains alive. Here is what to know:

GAMES TO WATCH

No. 5 seed San Diego State (29-6) vs. No. 1 seed Alabama (31-5), Friday, 6:30 p.m. ET (TBS)

The Aztecs are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2004 and have won 11 of their last 13. They will need balanced scoring against the Crimson Tide, who handily dispatched Maryland. All-America freshman Brandon Miller, who is playing in the shadow of a fatal shooting case back in Alabama, had 19 after going scoreless in the first round.

No. 1 Houston (33-3) vs. No. 5 Miami (27-7), Friday, 7:15 p.m. (CBS)

The Hurricanes looked kind of like Houston in the game that got them to the Sweet 16. They started fast, got big scoring games from Isaiah Wong and Jordan Miller and dominated the glass to earn their spot in the second weekend for the second year in a row. Now, they’ll have to try it against the real Cougars, who waited until after halftime to turn up the heat against Auburn. Tramon Mark and the injured Marcus Sasser both had big offensive games and Houston clamped down on defense with 12 blocks against the Tigers. The Cougars are going to their fourth Sweet 16 in five years. Two more wins for the team ranked No. 1 during the season and they’ll get to play in the Final Four in their home city.

No. 6 Creighton (23-12) vs. No. 15 Princeton, Friday, 9 p.m. (TBS)

This year’s tournament darlings are the Tigers, and like the Bluejays they will face, they claim to be unsurprised. The Tigers dominated Missouri to reach their first Sweet 16 in 56 years. Win again and they’ll be where Bill Bradley took them in 1965. The Bluejays hope the shooting touch that got them to the Sweet 16 for the second time in three years can now get them to their first Elite Eight. They shot 45.8% from 3-point range in the second round after a 3-for-20 showing in the first round and tied the record by making all 22 of their free throws.

No. 3 seed Xavier (27-9) vs. No. 2 seed Texas (28-8), Friday, 9:45 p.m. ET (CBS)

The Musketeers are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2017 and will face a Texas team that hasn’t been there in 15 years. Xavier put on a clinic on unselfishness in the first half of its 84-73 victory against Pittsburgh, totaling 17 assists on 19 made field goals. The Longhorns made just one 3-pointer in 13 tries in their 71-66 victory against Penn State, but Dylan Disu had a season-high 28 points.

TOP SEEDS

The top four seeds were given to Alabama, Houston, Kansas and Purdue. Expectations for a chaotic tournament were met quickly: The Boilermakers were ousted by Fairleigh Dickinson in a first-round stunner and the defending champion Jayhawks lost to Arkansas the next day.

SHINING MOMENTS

Princeton used a late run to earn its first NCAA Tournament win in 25 years by ousting No. 2 seed Arizona and then beat Missouri to lock in its first Sweet 16 spot in 56 years. For Princeton and other teams, getting this far after pandemic-disrupted seasons is a milestone.

Furman celebrated its first tourney appearance since 1980 with a win over No. 4 seed Virginia on a deep 3-pointer by JP Pegues with 2.4 seconds left. Then came 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson’s win over Purdue as the 22 1/2-point underdog joined UMBC in the record books.

All that happened before the Razorbacks and shirtless coach Eric Musselman celebrated their win over the Jayhawks.

BRAGGING RIGHTS

The SEC and Big Ten led the way by placing eight teams each in the 68-team field. Conference USA (Florida Atlantic) and the Ivy League (Princeton) each got one team into the tournament. The records through two rounds:

ACC (5 teams made tourney): 5-4. 1 remaining (Miami). American Athletic (2): 2-1. 1 remaining (Houston). Big 12 (7): 7-5. 2 remaining (Kansas State, Texas). Big East (5): 7-2. 3 remaining (Creighton, UConn, Xavier). Big Ten (8): 6-7. 1 remaining (Michigan State). Mountain West (4): 2-3. 1 remaining (San Diego State). Pac-12 (4): 3-3. 1 remaining (UCLA). SEC (8): 9-5. 3 remaining (Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee). West Coast (2): 3-1. 1 remaining (Gonzaga).

GO DEEPER

Gun violence has cost lives and disrupted college sports all season, touching some of the top programs in college basketball, including Alabama. Coaches have been thrust into uncertain and unwelcome roles in trying to navigate the topic — as well as the fallout from the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

On a lighter note, if you feel you know March Madness pretty well, try this 25-question trivia quiz.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

The NCAA Tournament is filled with great players and the AP All-America team is a good place to get familiar with the names. It’s also an event where guys you’ve never heard of can take a star turn. There are some NBA prospects in the mix.

Bet on this, too: Some player — maybe more than one — will have a chance to join the mustachioed Doug Edert (remember Saint Peters’ inspiring run last year?) and find a way to cash in on their celebrity.

HOW TO WATCH

Every game of the men’s tournament will be aired — here is a schedule — either on CBS, TBS, TNT or TruTV and their digital platforms. CBS, which also has a handy schedule that includes announcing teams, will handle the Final Four and national title game this year.

The NCAA is streaming games via its March Madness Live option and CBS games are being streamed on Paramount+. Fans of longtime play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz should soak up every moment: It’s his final NCAA Tournament.

BETTING GUIDE

Who’s going to win the national championship? The betting favorites earlier this week (in order): Alabama, Houston, UConn, UCLA, Creighton and Texas, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

MARCH MADNESS CALENDAR

Sweet 16 weekend has games in New York City (East Region), Las Vegas (West), Kansas City, Missouri (Midwest), and Louisville, Kentucky (South).

Where is the Final Four? In Houston, on April 1, with the championship game on April 3. Basketball aficionados, take note: The women’s NCAA Tournament will hold its Final Four in Dallas, a four-hour drive up the road from Houston.

Can’t get enough March Madness? Well, there is talk about expanding the tournament despite a host of challenges. Enjoy the 68-team version for now!

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AP March Madness coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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