NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16: What to know and who to watch


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DES MOINES, IOWA – MARCH 23: Cassius Winston #5 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates a basket against the Minnesota Golden Gophers during the second half in the second round game of the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena on March 23, 2019 in Des Moines, Iowa.

By Shannon Ryan, Chicago Tribune

Cinderella didn’t show up to the NCAA Tournament this year, it’s a chalky Sweet 16.

The first two rounds have produced few upsets, leaving the bracket mostly with seeds 1 through 4. The only lower-seeded team is No. 12 Oregon. Here’s a look at the Sweet 16 matchups:


No. 1 Duke vs. No. 4 Virginia Tech (7:39 p.m., Friday)

Virginia Tech already beat Duke this year, taking down the Blue Devils 77-72 on Feb. 26. But Duke was missing star Zion Williamson, who was out with a knee injury. The Blue Devils have been rolling since his return, narrowly escaping UCF in the second round. They average 83.5 points per game.

Of teams left in the tournament, Virginia Tech owns the best 3-point shooting at 39.4 percent. The Hokies made 7 of 16 in their second-round victory against Liberty and made 8 of 26 in their previous meeting against the Blue Devils.

Players to watch

Duke: Who else? Zion Williamson. The 6-foot-7 Duke freshman is averaging 28.5 points in the first two tournament games.

Virginia Tech: Kerry Blackshear Jr., a 6-10 junior forward, will need to hold his own against Duke. He hit 11 of 12 free throws and scored 15 points to beat Saint Louis in the first round and made 8 of 19 from the floor to help defeat Liberty in the second round.

Advantage: Duke.

No. 3 LSU vs. No. 2 Michigan State (5:09 p.m., Friday)

Michigan State is playing loose after advancing to the Sweet 16 for the first time since its 2015 Final Four run. The Spartans need to take better care of the ball after turning it over 22 times against Minnesota in the second round.

LSU has persevered with its coach, Will Wade, suspended after being linked to FBI wiretaps as part of the college basketball corruption scandal. The SEC regular-season champions have escaped two close tournament games: beating No. 14 Yale 79-74 and then No. 6 Maryland 69-67.

Players to watch

Michigan State: Cassius Winston, the Big Ten player of the year, has been as dependable as ever. In a tight first-round game against Bradley, the junior point guard scored 26 points. He had 13 points with 11 assists to destroy Minnesota.

LSU: Tremont Waters’ layup with 1.6 seconds left lifted the Tigers over Maryland. The sophomore guard leads LSU with 15 points and 5.9 assists per game.

Advantage: Michigan State.


No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 4 Florida State (5:09 p.m., Thursday)

Who doesn’t love a rematch? The Seminoles upset the Zags during last season’s Sweet 16. Florida State is coming off a 90-62 dismantling of Murray State in which 10 players scored, showing off the Seminoles’ depth.

The Bulldogs are making their fifth straight Sweet 16, but their fans are eager to see them win a national championship. They average 88.8 points per game — more than any other team in the tournament.

Players to watch

Gonzaga: Brandon Clarke can put on a show with windmill dunks and two-handed jams. The junior forward dropped 36 points with eight rebounds, five blocks and three assists to beat Baylor.

Florida State: Mfiondu Kabengele, a 6-10 forward, averaged 13.4 points during the regular season, but he’s averaging 21.5 points in the tournament.

Advantage: Gonzaga.

No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 Texas Tech (7:39 p.m., Thursday)

The Red Raiders and Wolverines have the two most efficient defenses in the nation. Michigan hasn’t allowed an opponent to score 70 points since Feb. 26. Texas Tech has held its first two tournament opponents to 57.5 points.

Players to watch

Michigan: Ignas Brazdeikis is only 1 of 7 on 3-pointers in the tournament. In the Big Ten Tournament, the 6-7 freshman forward hit 43.8 percent of 3s. In other words: he’s due.

Texas Tech: Sophomore Jarrett Culver, a 6-5 guard, scored 29 points in the opening win against Northern Kentucky and then 16 points against Buffalo.

Advantage: Michigan.


No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 12 Oregon (7:57 p.m., Thursday)

The Cavaliers put last season’s first-round upset loss to UMBC behind them and can focus on winning a title with a team that is deeper and more talented than last year’s.

The Ducks aren’t the same team they were midseason. They’ve won 10 in a row and ran away with the Pac-12 Tournament title.

Players to watch

Virginia: When Kyle Guy struggled to score against Oklahoma in the second round, Mamadi Diakite stepped up with 14 points with nine rebounds. In the first round, the 6-9 forward posted 17 points and nine rebounds to help beat Gardner-Webb.

Oregon: Payton Pritchard, a junior guard, has scored at least 18 points in each game since the Pac-12 quarterfinals.

Advantage: Virginia.

No. 2 Tennessee vs. No. 3 Purdue (5:29 p.m., Thursday)

This is the second straight Big Ten opponent for Tennessee, which defeated Iowa in overtime in the second round. The Volunteers have five players averaging double figures and the team averages 82.3 points per game.

Carsen Edwards led the Boilermakers with 42 points on 12-of-21 shooting with 9 3-pointers to help the Boilermakers take down defending champion Villanova in the second round.

Players to watch

Purdue: Matt Haarms scored 18 points with nine rebounds to beat ‘Nova. The 7-3 sophomore center must battle against the Vols’ big men.

Tennessee: Admiral Schofield, a versatile 6-6 guard, has scored 19 points in each of the first two tournament games.

Advantage: Tennessee.


No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 5 Auburn (5:20 p.m., Friday)

Auburn has won 10 straight, including two against Tennessee and another against Kansas (second round). The Tigers were a surprise to win the SEC Tournament after finishing fourth in the regular season.

The Tar Heels have struggled in the first half of their two tournament games before breezing to victories. They’ll need a complete game to beat Auburn.

Players to watch

Auburn: Bryce Brown scored 25 to beat Kansas in the second round, hitting 7 of 10 3-pointers.

North Carolina: Luke Maye, a senior forward, scored 20 points to beat Iona. He has been known to shine during tournament time.

Advantage: North Carolina.

No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 3 Houston (7:57 p.m., Friday)

Kentucky star PJ Washington’s status (ankle) is still uncertain. The Wildcats defense bailed them out when their offense struggled against Wofford in the second round.

Houston’s defense impresses. The Cougars have the best defensive field-goal percentage (36.7 percent), rank second in 3-point percentage defense (27.6 percent) and seventh in scoring defense (61.1 points per game).

Players to watch

Kentucky: Senior forward Reid Travis is shooting 65 percent in the tournament.

Houston: Senior guard Corey Davis Jr. is thriving, scoring game highs of 26 points against Georgia State and 21 against Ohio State.

Advantage: Houston.