Which Sweet 16 matchups will be must-watch TV? Check out our rankings of each of the Sweet 16 games on Thursday and Friday.

The best weekend in college basketball is over, and the NCAA Tournament has already had 52 teams eliminated. Just 16 squads remain and that number is set to be cut in half on Thursday and Friday.

With the relative lack of Cinderella runs in this tournament, almost every game promises to be tightly contested with star power on full display. Let’s take a look at how every Sweet 16 game stacks up.

Sweet 16 preview: Assessing critical metrics for each team

8) No. 6 Creighton vs. No. 15 Princeton

How they got here:

After beating NC State by nine points, Creighton controlled their second round game against Baylor from start to finish, beating the Bears by nine as well. Through two games, the Bluejays had a different 30-point scorer in each game — Ryan Kalkbrenner scored 31 points against NC State and Ryan Nembhard scored 30 points against Baylor. Their 11-of-24 mark from deep against Baylor was also a complete 180-degree turn from their 3-of-20 effort against NC State. Meanwhile, Princeton is this year’s Sweet 16 Cinderella, beating 2-seed Arizona and 7-seed Missouri in Sacramento over the weekend. While their run against Arizona came in the final minutes, Princeton dominated the Tigers from start to finish in their second round game. Blake Peters has been on fire off the bench, shooting 8-of-13 from 3-point range across both of their games.

What to expect:

Unlike Missouri’s and Arizona’s flawed defenses and unbalanced rosters — Arizona’s guards have been inconsistent and Missouri’s frontcourt lacks depth — Creighton will be have the most well-rounded attack Princeton will face all season. If the Tigers sell out to stop Kalkbrenner down low, the other four starters will take advantage of the spacing. If they decide to let Kalkbrenner beat them, Kalkbrenner could scorer 30 or even 40 points. The only way for Princeton to beat Creighton is to contest everything, prevent offensive rebounds, and hope that Peters and Matt Allocco can catch fire from deep. Otherwise, Creighton should have very little difficulty in advancing to the Elite Eight. 

Key individual matchup: Tosan Evbuomwan vs. Ryan Kalkbrenner

The only way for Princeton’s defense to successfully slow down the Creighton attack is for its own center to defend Kalkbrenner as well as he can with limited help. Sure, the Tigers will send a help defender as often as they can to limit the Bluejays’ big man, but if Princeton has to dedicate two defenders to Kalkbrenner on every single possession, that could open the door from one of the guards to have huge day. If Evbuomwan can make things difficult for Kalkbrenner, one of the country’s most efficient scorers, Princeton has a small shot. Even if Kalkbrenner shoots, say, 55 percent on his 2-pointers, that would indicate a valiant effort from the Tigers’ 6-8 center.

7) No. 1 Houston vs. No. 5 Miami

How they got here:

Houston had two scares in a row to start the tournament, but they battled through injuries to win both games despite trailing at both 30-minute marks. Jamal Shead and Jarace Walker took over in the first game with Marcus Sasser out. Sasser and Tramon Mark scored 22 and 26 points, respectively, during the Cougars’ comeback effort in a virtual road game against Auburn. Miami was also in tight games from the first 70 minutes on their NCAA Tournament run. The last ten minutes against Indiana was pure dominance, and should give the Hurricanes confidence heading into their game against Houston. Isaiah Wong and Jordan Miller combined for 12 points in the game against Drake and 46 in the blowout of Indiana.

What to expect:

Game flow is going to dictate who wins this game. Miami and Houston both lean on their guard play and have smaller frontcourts that are aggressive on the offensive boards. Miami likes to get up and down the court in a more free-flowing way while Houston is content to play a game in the half court and muck things up with their defense. It will fall to the guards of Miami to try and force turnovers and beat the Houston defense down the floor to score in transition. If they can do that, they have a good chance of winning. Unfortunately, Jamal Shead, Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark are incredibly steady with the ball, which makes the game likely to be one where the score ends up closer than the game actually was because Houston will want to keep it in the 60s.

Key individual matchup: Marcus Sasser vs Isaiah Wong

This might be the best scoring guard matchup in the entire Sweet 16. The ACC Player of the Year and the American Player of the Year are set to match up against one another in a battle that could very well determine the winner. It’s probably more important for Wong, who shoots at a 39 percent clip from deep, to win this matchup, largely because Sasser has Shead and Mark helping to carry the backcourt load. Sasser, however, is an excellent defender and could hold Wong to a rough shooting performance.

6) No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 5 San Diego State

How they got here:

Alabama has seemingly been the only team that has played a full 80 minutes of dominant basketball. They got outscored by two points in both the final 10 minutes of their first round game and first 10 minute of their second round game, but their 21- and 22-point victories were not impacted by those iffy stretches. The Crimson Tide have been the best team in the tournament by a healthy margin, and that is with Brandon Miller shooting 5-of-22 during the first weekend. San Diego State has had one of the “easier” paths to the Sweet 16 — one of just three teams to play two double-digit seeds — but its masterful performance against Furman proved why SDSU was a 5-seed. Turnovers were an issue against Charleston in the first round, but the Aztecs’ defense has erased more of their mistakes on the offensive end.

What to expect:

Like the Houston-Miami game, this matchup will be won by whichever team controls the tempo. Alabama plays at the fifth-fastest tempo in the country, and San Diego State likes to play in the half court where their length can create havoc for opposing offenses. The Aztecs also do an excellent job of running teams off the 3-point line, and this could bode well for them against a Crimson Tide team that ranks top 10 nationally in 3-point attempt rate. However, Brandon Miller is a matchup nightmare that cannot be ignored in this equation. While the 6-9 freshman has had a rocky start to the tournament, he will be the one Alabama player on the floor with a size advantage in most matchups, and this bodes well for his ability to shoot over the San Diego State defense, and potentially create enough space for his backcourt to do some damage as well.

Key individual matchup: Jahvon Quinerly vs. Darrion Trammell

In this battle of conflicting tempos, the play of each team’s starting point guard will be critical to their success. Lamont Butler and Mark Sears will also play a factor in who wins the backcourt battle, but Quinerly and Trammell will be the primary ball handlers to start the game. Quinerly has remained unrattled for most of the postseason, but Trammell has been an excellent defender at every stop of his collegiate career. Trammell will give the Jelly Fam member all he can handle, and will need to slow the game down once he has the ball in his hands.

5) No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 9 Florida Atlantic

How they got here:

Tennessee’s physicality has been the story of their NCAA Tournament run, withstanding a late Louisiana run as well as the athleticism of Duke. A lot of conversation could be had about the Volunteers’ offense, which has scored 14 fewer points than any other team in the Sweet 16, but their defense has also given up the fewest points, leading to an average margin of victory of eight points. Florida Atlantic’s Cinderella season has continued into the second weekend, as the Owls team play and balanced roster performed well against the athleticism of Memphis and sheer effort of Fairleigh Dickinson. Their 4.5-point average margin of victory is the lowest in the Sweet 16, but wins are wins this time of year.

What to expect:

On paper, the battle between FAU’s offense and Tennessee’s defense could be one of the best matchups in the 2023 NCAA Tournament. Both units have a defined identity that they will try to impose on the tempo of the game. The issue will likely be how FAU’s players will handle the physicality of the Volunteers at every position. Tennessee needs to take away the flow of FAU’s offense, since their own scorers have had continued struggles against balanced defenses. The game is likely a toss up, with tempo determining who takes control early in the first half.

Key individual matchup: Vladislav Goldin vs. Uros Plavsic

The first five minutes of the battle in the paint could set the tone for the entire game. While Duke’s Kyle Filipowski was able to take Plavsic out of the game by drawing two quick fouls, the Blue Devils’ unwillingness to return physicality with physicality ultimately led to their downfall. It is now FAU big man Vladislav Goldin’s turn to try and impose his will in the paint. Drawing fouls on Plavsic is the easier task, but Goldin will need to match his physicality if FAU wants to truly take advantage down low.

4) No. 3 Kansas State vs. No. 7 Michigan State

How they got here:

If guard play wins in March, Kansas State is well on its way to a Final Four. Markquis Nowell has played like the best point guard in the entire field, averaging 22 points, 11.5 assists and three steals through the first two games. His ability to work to get Keyontae Johnson and Nae’Qwan Tomlin good open looks has helped maximize the performance of an upstart Wildcats team. Michigan State is proving that March continues to be the Month of Izzo. The Spartans still have yet to find the shooting success that they had during the regular season, but their defense held both opponents to under 65 points. AJ Hoggard is playing under control, which is a must for the Spartans to keep dancing.

What to expect:

The Spartans have done a really good job of holding their opponents’ best player in check, as USC’s Boogie Ellis shot 3-of-12 from the floor and Marquette’s Tyler Kolek shot 2-of-8. However, they have yet to play against a guard with the shiftiness and court vision of Markquis Nowell. If Nowell can get hot, the floor will open up for Kansas State and the game could get out of reach quickly. However, if Michigan State’s defense can limit his efficiency enough, this game could be a fun, low-scoring affair. 

Key individual matchup: AJ Hoggard vs. Markquis Nowell

Defending Nowell is the key to Michigan State’s success. Even if the team limits the scoring of Johnson and Tomlin, Nowell can get extremely hot and have a “Kemba-esque” game to carry the Wildcats to victory. AJ Hoggard has the length to make things difficult for Nowell, but he will need to play controlled around Nowell’s shiftiness to defend him without sending the 89 percent free-throw shooter to the stripe. On the other end of the floor, Nowell plays well despite his size, which means it is even more imperative for Hoggard to ensure he does not have a high turnover game.

3) No. 2 Texas vs. No. 3 Xavier

How they got here:

The Texas Longhorns continue to win under interim head coach Rodney Terry, putting together two complete performances to start their NCAA Tournament run. Even after giving up a big run to Penn State, the Longhorns maintained their composure and stole the momentum back to ensure their 71-66 win. Xavier followed up their scare in the first round against Kennesaw State by leaving no doubt in their win against Pittsburgh. Souley Boum continues to struggle, but Colby Jones, Adam Kunkel, and Jack Nunge have provided enough scoring to lift the Musketeers.

What to expect:

There is only one type of game in which Xavier can win, and a million in which Texas can win. The Musketeers will need to make sure that they push the pace and force the game into one that is won from behind the arc. If Texas can force the game into the half court, the Longhorns have a massive advantage, especially against a Xavier defense that could generously be called “porous.” What is likely to happen is both teams will have runs where they control the tempo. Xavier will push the pace and make its jumpers, but Texas will adjust and slow down the game to their preferred pace. Whoever wins the game will be the one whose backcourt plays within themselves and maintains their efficiency from the second round.

Key individual matchup: Colby Jones vs. Sir’Jabari Rice

Sir’Jabari Rice has been hot and cold since the start of March, and Texas’ most efficient backcourt scorer will likely draw the assignment of Colby Jones, Xavier’s best perimeter defender. If the game does become one that will need to be won beyond the 3-point line, both Jones and Rice will be integral pieces in their respective teams’ success. Souley Boum and Marcus Carr also need to carry a heavy scoring load, but with the hot and cold nature of the past month for Rice, this matchup will be one to watch.

2) No. 4 UConn vs. No. 8 Arkansas

How they got here:

UConn might be the best second half team in the tournament, turning a 2-point halftime deficit against Iona and 1-point halftime lead against Saint Mary’s into 24- and 15-point victories, respectively. Adama Sanogo is a dominant force in the paint that is difficult for any team to contain for a full 40 minutes, and the backcourt of Tristen Newton and Jordan Hawkins have helped space the floor to allow the big man more room to work. Arkansas is finally hitting the patented late-season run that Musselman-led teams tend to hit in February rather than March. Their win over Kansas, after trailing by eight at the half, was fueled by their experienced guards, Devo Davis and Ricky Council. 

What to expect:

Arkansas has been really good in the past of mucking up games to the point where their opponents can’t find any offensive flow. If there is one team that has the personnel to counter that, it is the UConn team that is one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country. What will make this game entertaining is that it should be an absolute slugfest. No other game features two teams that like to trade blows like this game does. Arkansas has the talent advantage in the backcourt, but that might not matter when UConn has the Sanogo trump card down low.

Key individual matchup: Adama Sanogo vs. Makhi Mitchell

It is crazy to think that even with Sanogo carrying a heavy scoring load and eight offensive boards over the last two games, the Huskies big man has only shot five total free throws. That could very well change in this game, against an Arkansas team that ranks 333rd in defensive free throw rate. Sanogo is better than any player Arkansas can throw at him and this dominance could make the Razorbacks even more desperate to limit his impact. Starting center Makhi Mitchell has a huge task, and will need to play the best game of his life just to keep Sanogo off the boards. 

1) No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 3 Gonzaga

How they got here:

UCLA dominated 15-seed UNC Asheville before comfortably beating Northwestern after the Wildcats pushed for the lead midway through the second half. Jaime Jaquez and Tyger Campbell have both played like the seasoned vets that they are, but it has been the scoring of Amari Bailey that has pushed the Bruins into a gear they were not expected to hit after the injury of Jaylen Clark. Gonzaga has started slow offensively in both games so far, but their 42 second-half points against GCU and 51 second-half points against TCU have shown why might be the most dangerous offense still dancing. Drew Timme has scored 49 points so far in this tournament and is one 20-point game away from breaking the record for the most such NCAA Tournament games by a player in his career.

What to expect:

This game promises to be one of the best, not only in this round but in the entire 2023 NCAA Tournament. These two teams have met three times in the NCAA Tournament — the 2006 Sweet 16, 2015 Sweet 16, and 2021 Final Four — with Gonzaga holding a 2-1 record and 13-point overall margin advantage over the Bruins. This year could very well end up being just as exciting as the ones that gave us Adam Morrison crying or Jalen Suggs’ game-winner. There is a high likelihood that a UCLA player becomes synonymous with this game, rather than a Zag, but they will need to take advantage of a Zags defense that has given up the most points of any team in the Sweet 16. 

Key individual matchup: Adem Bona vs. Drew Timme

If there is one weakness to this UCLA team it is the lack of talent behind freshman center Adem Bona, who is listed as questionable. Drew Timme is widely regarded as the best low-post scorer in the country, and his footwork leads to a lot of fouls called in his favor. Bona has committed four fouls in 12 of his 20 games since the start of 2023, and fouled out of two. If he is either unable play or does play and can’t contain Timme without sending him to the line, he could force Mick Cronin to utilize bench bigs Kenneth Nwuba and Mac Etienne, which would give the Zags a massive advantage down low — one that would be difficult to overcome.