NCAA Tournament: What to watch for in Sweet 16 matchups

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Only 16 teams remain in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament which begins Thursday. At the end of this weekend, the field will be reduced to the Final Four.

Four games are on Thursday, split between San Francisco and San Antonio, before four more on Friday in Philadelphia and Chicago. Eight teams will remain at the start of the weekend, with two games on Saturday and two on Sunday.

Nine different starting lines and eight conferences remain in the knockout stages. Here’s what to watch for in Thursday’s matches.

Baylor was eliminated on Saturday by eighth-seeded North Carolina, making it the fifth straight tournament in which the defending national champion has been ousted before the knockout stages. Still, there are three No. 1 seeds left: Gonzaga (28-3), the overall top seed, Arizona (33-3) and Kansas (30-6).

Under coach Mark Few, Gonzaga are the only side to have reached the knockout stages in each of the last seven tournaments, and they have played in two of the last four league games. But his path to the Final Four in New Orleans is anything but easy. After outlasting ninth-seeded Memphis 82-78 in perhaps the most entertaining game of the tournament, the Bulldogs will face No. 4-seeded Arkansas in San Francisco (Thursday, 7:09 p.m., Eastern Time, CBS), then get the winner between No. 2 seeded Duke and No. 3 seeded Texas Tech in the Western Region. Gonzaga comes in as a 9½-point favorite over the Razorbacks.

Kansas is an 8-point favorite over No. 4 seeded Big East regular-season champion Providence on Friday in Chicago in the Midwest.

But Arizona is just a 1½-point favorite over fifth-seeded Houston at San Antonio in the South (Thursday, 9:59 p.m. EST, TBS). If you’re looking for an upset, Houston is your best bet. The Cougars are in the top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency according to Ken Pomeroy’s ranking, which means they tend to get a good shot when their opponent doesn’t.

At least one No. 1 seed has reached the Final Four in nine consecutive tournaments, and multiple No. 1 seeds have reached the knockout stages in seven consecutive tournaments.

Duke (30-6) survived and advanced against seventh-seeded Michigan State on Sunday, extending coach Mike Krzyzewski’s career for at least a week. Still, the Blue Devils will have their hands full with an older Texas Tech team ranked No. 1 in defensive efficiency by KenPom. The Red Raiders (27-9) allow just 13 points in the paint per tournament game, the fewest on the court. They’ll be looking to play a physical game that disrupts Duke’s offensive flow (Thursday, 9:39 p.m. EST, CBS). The Blue Devils have five potential NBA draft picks, led by freshman forward Paolo Banchero, who is averaging 17.0 points and 7.9 rebounds per game.

“I’m not that excited,” Texas Tech freshman coach Mark Adams said of Duke. “I don’t know if anyone is excited to play at Duke.”

Krzyzewski was “always a mentor of mine, someone I looked up to,” Adams added. “Not only is he a great coach, but he’s also a great person. I’ve done so much for basketball. And he’s built a program that we all admire and respect. It’s just a team at the another, he has a dynasty that he built. So hats off to him.

If Duke advances, he could get a rematch against Gonzaga in what would be the highest-profile matchup of the tournament. The Blue Devils defeated the top-ranked Bulldogs, 84-81, on Nov. 26 in Las Vegas with Banchero scoring 21 points and junior forward Wendell Moore with 20 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists.

The Atlantic Coast Conference has been maligned for being down all season, but here it is with three teams – Duke, North Carolina and Miami – in the Round of 16. The Tar Heels knocked out a No. 1 seed and the Hurricanes routed a No. 2 seed, Auburn, by 18 points.

Jim Larrañaga, Miami coach trolled Charles Barkley, the Naismith Hall of Famer who played at Auburn, immediately following the 79-61 victory of the No. 10-seeded Hurricanes on Sunday. Barkley, working as a television analyst during the tournament, said before the game that he would celebrate by taking off his shirt if Auburn won.

“I listened to Charles Barkley tell the CBS team that if Auburn won, he would take his shirt off,” Larrañaga said. “And I was like, ‘Man, nobody wants to see this, Chuck. “”

The Big 12 conference also has three remaining teams in Kansas, Texas Tech and Iowa State, which eliminated third-seeded Wisconsin, co-champion of the Big Ten regular season, and then gets Miami.

The Big East still has two schools left in second-seeded Villanova, who won NCAA championships in 2016 and 2018 under coach Jay Wright and Providence.

The Pac-12 also has two schools remaining, Arizona and fourth-seeded UCLA, which faces North Carolina on Friday. A West Coast school hasn’t won the title since Arizona in 1997.

The Big Ten is once again short. It has sent nine teams to the tournament, the most of any conference, but only two remain. 11-seeded Michigan takes on Villanova in San Antonio (Thursday, 7:29 p.m. EST, TBS). No. 3 Purdue, the Big Ten tournament runner-up, will meet No. 15 seeded St. Peter’s on Friday in Philadelphia.

A year ago, the Big Ten also entered nine teams in the tournament, with only Michigan reaching the knockout stages.

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