The Sweet 16 field is set after four days of hectic action in the NCAA Tournament. Here’s how it all shook out on Sunday.
The fourth day of March Madness gave us the final shape for the Sweet 16 — along with more great games and even a couple upsets.
No, it wasn’t anything as crazy as the first three days, but Fairleigh Dickinson kept our attention for the full 40 minutes, and three more teams from the top four seed lines made early exits.
At the end of the first two rounds, we now have 16 teams remaining from 11 different conferences, and nearly half of them were supposed to be gone by now. Two of them weren’t even supposed to make it out of the first round. Only two 1-seeds remain. Only two 2-seeds remain. None of the brackets went chalk.
It’s been as mad a March as any in recent memory, and with four rounds remaining, it’s still anyone’s game.
Let’s jump into a few observations and notes from Sunday’s second-round action.
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K-State’s Markquis Nowell shines down the stretch
Markquis Nowell cemented his place into this year’s “One Shining Moment” montage with a dominant performance in Kansas State’s 75-69 win over Kentucky. The 5-7 Little Rock transfer took over down the stretch for the Wildcats, securing K-State’s first Sweet 16 since 2018.
Nowell had all the answers when it mattered most for first-year coach Jerome Tang’s squad. He finished 27 points, nine rebounds and three steals — the first such performance in the NCAA Tournament since Stephon Marbury did it with Georgia Tech way back in 1996.
Kansas State, picked last in the Big 12 preseason poll, continues to march on. The Wildcats struggled mightily from the floor early but connected on two massive triples to close the game — one by Ismeal Massoud and another by Keyontae Johnson with 1:23 left to push the lead to five.
Spartans’ D, Tyson Walker topple Marquette
Marquette’s offense posted elite numbers for most of the season — but it had especially elevated its game over the past month and a half. Entering yesterday’s matchup with Michigan State, the Golden Eagles had scored 1.2 points per possession or more in seven of its past ten contests. That included a particularly impressive effort against the stingy defense of Creighton on Feb. 22nd.
So, against a good — but not great – Spartans defense, Marquette fans thought it would probably be more of the same.
Not so fast.
Mady Sissoko erased shots at the rim, holding Marquette to just 4-of-15 on its layup attempts. Big East Player of the Year Tyler Kolek found it especially tough sledding. The point guard shot just 2-of-8 from the field en route to seven points — his lowest total since Jan. 7th. He also turned the ball over six times, thanks in no small part to Tyson Walker’s on-ball peskiness.
Speaking of Walker, the 6-1 dynamo broke out the flamethrower in the second half. Serving Marquette a surplus a crafty mid-range shots, Walker scored 17 of his 23 points in the second half.
– Riley Davis
Big East still dominates despite Marquette loss
Entering Sunday, the Big East had four teams left, and all of them had games in the afternoon. While Marquette dropped their game to 7-seed Michigan State; Xavier, Creighton, and UConn all won their games relatively comfortably.
In the first game of the day, Xavier took on Pittsburgh in a matchup that was close for the first seven minutes. Solely Boum struggled to get anything going for the second straight game, so it fell to Colby Jones’ and Adam Kunkel’s combined 7-11 from deep in his stead. Jack Nunge led the scoring attack, but it was Jones’ 10 points, 14 rebounds, and 7 assists that pushed the Musketeers to an 11-point victory. Xavier will face Texas in Kansas City on Friday.
In the third Big East game of the day, UConn had what was supposed to be a tight 4-vs-5-seed matchup with WCC Regular Season Champion Saint Mary’s. The game lived up to expectations through the first half, with the Huskies taking a 31-30 lead into the half. However, an early back injury to Gaels wing Alex Ducas and a dominant 24 point and 8 rebound performance from Adama Sanogo, led UConn to a 70-55 blowout. UConn will play Arkansas in Las Vegas on Thursday
In the only game of the Second Round where a Big East team was the underdog, Creighton managed to upset the 3-seed Baylor Bears. The Blue Jays took the lead with 15:24 left in the first half on a Ryan Nembhard 3-pointer – Nembhard scored 30 points in the game – and never gave the lead back. Despite the struggles of Ryan Kalkbrenner and Baylor Scheierman, who combined to score 18 points on 6-18 shooting, the Blue Jays flew to an 85-76 win. Creighton will play the 15-seed Princeton Tigers in Louisville on Friday.
With three teams in the Sweet 16, the Big East is tied with the SEC for the most teams in the second weekend. As Lukas Harkins pointed out on Twitter, the Big East also has the highest winning percentage of any multi-bid conference through the first weekend.
Miami shows its stuff in win over Indiana
For the second season in a row, the Miami Hurricanes have swept into the Sweet 16 after knocking out a higher-seeded team in the second round.
The ‘Canes cruised past Indiana 85-69 in a game that Indiana led in the second half before a 16-2 run put Miami ahead for good. The guard trio of Isaiah Wong, Jordan Miller and Nijel Pack combined for 58 points, with Wong’s 29 leading the way.
Miami’s guards were the stars of last year’s run, too, when Charlie Moore and Kam McGusty were also in the picture. But one thing that was missing from the 2022 team — woefully so — was rebounding. The Hurricanes ranked 329th in offensive rebounding last year and 268th on the defensive boards.
Thanks to the addition of Norchad Omier via the transfer portal, those ranks are up to 60th on offense and 177th on defense. For his part, Omier finished with seven points and 17 rebounds against Trayce Jackson-Davis and the Hoosiers. The former Arkansas State forward also had 14 boards in the first-round win over Drake.
With Miami getting the same level of guard play as they had last season, this team was always going to be a tough out. But with one of the country’s best rebounders in the country dominating the glass in March, the ‘Canes may just knock off Houston next week.
Owls flying into first-ever Sweet 16
The best season in school history just keeps on going for the Florida Atlantic Owls.
Thanks to 29 points and 12 rebounds from Johnell Davis, FAU shot down 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson’s balloon with a 78-70 win on Sunday. The victory sends the Owls on to the school’s first-ever Sweet 16 appearance, where they will face 4-seed Tennessee at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
To put this season into perspective, consider that this is just the second-ever NCAA Tournament for FAU, and just the second 20-win season since joining Division I in 1993. The Owls won the 2002 Atlantic Sun Tournament before giving Alabama a surprising run for their money as a 15-seed. In 2011, FAU won 21 games and the Sun Belt regular-season championship — but flamed out in the first game of the conference tourney (and in the first round of the NIT). The Owls also lost in the first round of the 2019 CIT and the 2022 CBI.
That’s Florida Atlantic’s entire postseason history before this year. But the Owls’ poor track record in March goes even further than that. Besides that 2002 Atlantic Sun Tournament crown, this season’s March run marks the only other time the Owls have ever made it to the semifinals of a conference tournament.
Thankfully for Dusty May, this year’s team has learned to play with its back against the wall.
They survived the C-USA Tournament — the last they’ll ever play in, since Florida Atlantic is off to the AAC next year — and then survived against Memphis in the first round. And even with the nation’s smallest team feeling bigger than ever after taking down Purdue, Fairleigh Dickinson’s slingshot could not bring down the Owls.
Florida Atlantic might not be a 15-seed like Princeton or a 16-seed like FDU, but make no mistake: The Owls are absolutely a Cinderella story.
Death, Taxes, Gonzaga to the Sweet 16
In the final game of the night, Gonzaga took on TCU, in a game that was every bit as competitive as it promised to be. The Zags were looking to extend their Sweet 16 streak to eight straight, while the Horned Frogs were attempting to break into the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history.
Through 13 minutes of play, it looked as if TCU was going to end the streak. Mike Miles had just sunk a pair of free throws to put the Horned Frogs up by 10, and Gonzaga couldn’t find any rhythm offensively. The second foul called on Drew Timme came with three minutes left in the half, and TCU up six. Rather than extend the lead, the Horned Frogs were kept in check and a late 3-pointer gave them a five point lead at the half.
The second half was a completely different story. Drew Timme started to take over offensively, and the spacing he created for his perimeter scorers allowed Malachi Smith, Rasir Bolton and Julian Strawther to find their shooting strokes as well. The Gonzaga defense also made some key adjustments to keep TCU point guard Mike Miles in check, as the Gonzaga lead ballooned to nine with 3:29 left in the game.
The Zags ended up taking home a tough 84-81 win, with all bettors who took the Zags -4.5 punching air as TCU made a meaningless, buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the game.
The Zags will play UCLA in Las Vegas on Thursday, in what will likely determine West Coast bragging rights until next November.
Sweet 16… but not so innocent
At the end of four days of madness, it’s natural to be a little loopy and maybe a little carried away. Even during a postgame interview on national television.
Just ask FAU’s Johnell Davis or Gonzaga’s Drew Timme. Both players capped off their team’s big wins with big gaffes on live TV.
In the first instance, Davis tells Jamie Erdahl after his 29-point performance, “I’ve been trying to prove this shit since Day 1,” before catching himself.
“That’s all right. It happens to all of us,” Erdahl coolly responded. “We’re on TruTV, man.”
Then, in the nightcap of all nightcaps, Timme was in classic form and did not seem to care much about the casual F-bomb he dropped to Andy Katz while explaining his team’s approach to keeping its Sweet 16 streak alive.
“Before they announce our starting lineup at home, they’re always like, ‘It’s seven straight Sweet 16s’ (coming into this year)’,” Timme said on the live TBS feed. “I’m like, ‘We cannot be the team that fucks this one up.” The interview continued without further incident, and neither Katz nor Timme addressed the faux pas. The Gonzaga senior even tossed in an extra “helluva” for good measure.
Of course, neither was wrong or off-base in what they said: Davis did indeed prove himself on the big stage, and Gonzaga did not snap its Sweet 16 streak.
But it might be worth throwing these guys a little media coaching in the run-up to next week’s games.