By The Associated Press
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, Indiana and UCLA. Here is what to know:
GAMES TO WATCH
No. 3 Kansas State (26-9) vs. No. 9 Florida Atlantic (34-3), Saturday, 6:09 p.m. (TBS)
Storylines abound. One might think all eyes will be on Wildcats guard Markquis Nowell after his 20-point, NCAA Tournament-record 19 assist performance in the regional semifinal, with much of that coming on an ankle he turned early in the second half. Will one day’s rest be enough for the Wildcats’ diminutive (5-foot-8) maestro? The Conference USA-champion Owls, playing in just their second tourney, will be hoping to sing “New York, New York” with their fans one more time at Madison Square Garden, as they did after stunning Tennessee. K-State was picked to finish last in the Big 12. The Owls hit timely 3s against the nation’s No. 1 defense and clamped down on defense to finish.
No. 3 Gonzaga (31-5) vs. No. 4 Connecticut (28-8), Saturday, 8:49 p.m. (TBS)
A nail-biter come-from-behind victory against a tournament rival earned the Zags a date with rising UConn, which coasted into the Elite Eight. Drew Timme scored 36 for Gonzaga, but it was Julian Strawther whose 3-pointer with 6 seconds left gave them the winning points against UCLA. Resilient? The Zags blew an eight-point lead in the final 65 seconds but found a way. The Huskies, meantime, seemed primed for a push for their fifth national title in handling Arkansas. They’ve won their first three games in the tourney by double digits — surging in the second half in the first two and not waiting that long against the Razorbacks. They led by as many as 29 and shot 57.4%, heady stuff this deep in the dance. UConn improved to 15-0 in nonconference games.
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.
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.
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 three rounds thus far:
ACC (5 teams made tourney): 5-4. 1 remaining (Miami). American Athletic (2): 2-1. 1 remaining (Houston). Big 12 (7): 7-6. 2 remaining (Kansas State, Texas). Big East (5): 7-2. 3 remaining (Creighton, UConn, Xavier). Big Ten (8): 6-8. O remaining. Mountain West (4): 2-3. 1 remaining (San Diego State). Pac-12 (4): 3-3. 0 remaining. SEC (8): 9-5. 1 remaining (Alabama). West Coast (2): 3-1. 1 remaining (Gonzaga).
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.
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!
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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