How they got here and what's next for every team in the Sweet 16

Sunday, 18 March 2018 22:29 Written by  Read 11 times
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The Sweet 16 is set. There are names you expected to see and some, well, we'll need proof if you said before the NCAA tournament started that these teams would still be playing on the second weekend. The tournament, though, does not stop here. There's more to be done. It's time to look at how the 16 still left standing got here and, more important, what they have to do if they want to continue on the path to the Final Four.

South Region

No. 5 Kentucky Wildcats First round: Defeated Davidson 78-73 Second round: Defeated Buffalo 95-75 Up next: Kansas State

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How they've gotten this far Once again, coach John Calipari has figured out how to get his freshmen studs to play like a team of vets in March. Forward Kevin Knox says the Cats are finally playing "unselfish" ball, but the biggest thing for Kentucky is that they have completely embraced being a defense-first team. Davidson and Buffalo averaged a combined 28.1 percent from 3, which is one point lower than what Kentucky gave up entering the tournament. Kentucky also held both to under 40 percent shooting from the field.

What it'll take for them to keep winning These young Cats have to keep spreading around the ball. Calipari made it a point to mention after Kentucky's blowout win over Buffalo on Saturday that despite the current run his team is on, these guys are still freshmen, and with all that talent, they can easily revert to their old, selfish ways. After relying on Knox and guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander late in the season, Kentucky watched four players score in double figures Saturday. -- Edward Aschoff

No. 7 Nevada Wolf Pack First round: Defeated Texas 87-83 Second round: Defeated Cincinnati 75-73 Up next: Loyola-Chicago

How they've gotten this far At one point Sunday night, Nevada guard Caleb Martin asked coach Eric Musselman if it was OK for the Wolf Pack to start in front once. Apparently the answer was no. The Wolf Pack escaped Nashville only after spotting a 14-point lead to No. 10 Texas on Friday and a 22-point lead to No. 2 Cincinnati on Sunday. Each time the team made up almost exclusively of transfers showed toughness by clawing its way back, shooting lights-out in the second half of games.

What it'll take for them to keep winning Following the pattern of epic comebacks maybe isn't the way to go. Not as the stakes get higher in Atlanta. Instead, Nevada must continue to find ways to create mismatches with an undersized lineup that's 6-foot-7 across the board with the exception of 6-foot-3 guard Hallice Cooke. Twin forwards Caleb Martin and Cody Martin, who combined to average 34 points in Nashville, must continue to carry the offense. -- Alex Scarborough

No. 9 Kansas State Wildcats First round: Defeated Creighton 69-59 Second round: Defeated UMBC 50-43 Up next: Kentucky

How they've gotten this far Tenacious defense. The 50-43 win over UMBC was recorded in a game that was actually played at a normal pace (66 possessions). Even more impressive, the Wildcats held a very good Creighton offense to its worst performance of the season. K-State has been recording takeaways and forcing misses at the rim. The games that have resulted have been filled with turnovers and rebounds. Not pretty, perhaps, but definitely a winning formula for Bruce Weber and his team.

What it'll take for them to keep winning More scoring. Leading scorer Dean Wade missed the games against the Bluejays and Retrievers because of a foot injury, and his status for the Sweet 16 is still unclear. Better performance from a Kansas State offense that has been so-so thus far would definitely provide a significant boost against Kentucky. After all, getting to the Elite Eight doesn't necessarily require a third consecutive extraordinary game on D. A win could also come from really good defense and much better offense than we've seen to this point from the Wildcats. -- John Gasaway

No. 11 Loyola-Chicago Ramblers First round: Defeated Miami 64-62 Second round: Defeated Tennessee 63-62 Up next: Nevada

How they've gotten this far Defense, ball movement and poise. This is a proven team that came into the tournament with solid credentials: a Missouri Valley Conference championship, an RPI ranked 28th nationally and a nonconference win at Florida. The Ramblers held their first two tournament opponents, Miami and Tennessee, to 62 points apiece, right at their season average (which ranked fifth in Division I). Their spacing, passing and patience has compensated for the disadvantages they faced in athleticism, and they've been clutch with two veteran guards (Donte Ingram and Clayton Custer) hitting last-second shots to lift them to victory.

What it'll take for them to keep winning They'll have to keep playing defense and taking care of the ball the way they have been (only 10 turnovers in each of their first two tournament games). As they get deeper, the talent disparity will widen, so they'll probably have to make a few more long-range shots (they hit 38 percent of their 3-pointers against Miami and 40 percent against Tennessee). They're a patient enough offensive team to continue to move the ball and wait for their opportunity, but the deeper and more athletic the opponent, the more taxing it will become -- even Custer admitted at halftime against Tennessee that he was exhausted by how much the Ramblers had to work to get open looks. -- Sam Khan Jr.

Midwest Region

No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks First round: Defeated Penn 76-60 Second round: Defeated Seton Hall 83-79 Up next: Clemson

How they've gotten this far Balance. The Jayhawks have simply had more weapons than their opponents so far. Against Penn, Devonte' Graham went for 29 points and six assists. Graham struggled against Seton Hall, though, and Malik Newman stepped up with 28 points and Svi Mykhailiuk had 16. The return of Udoka Azubuike from injury was a big boost, as the 7-footer played 22 minutes against Seton Hall and was key in the Jayhawks' victory.

What it'll take for them to keep winning Perimeter defense and Azubuike. Both Penn and Seton Hall made double-digit 3-pointers against Kansas this week. Part of that was due to late-game comeback mode, but both teams also had their fair share of open looks from the perimeter. Moreover, Bill Self needs a healthy Azubuike. Without him on the floor, Seton Hall dominated the paint and dominated the glass. Mitch Lightfoot was good against Penn but overmatched against Angel Delgado and Seton Hall. -- Jeff Borzello

No. 2 Duke Blue Devils First round: Defeated Iona 89-76 Second round: Defeated Rhode Island 87-62 Up next: Syracuse

How they've gotten this far Duke physically overwhelmed Iona and Rhode Island in the first two rounds, using its size and talent advantage to post double-digit wins. What stood out in the victory against the Rams was the way Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. dominated, especially in the paint. They went a combined 14-of-16 and most of those field goals came on either slam dunks or layups. The Blue Devils also said they are more comfortable in the two defensive schemes they are using, and that showed in both games.

What it'll take for them to keep winning

Duke players are fully aware they won't be able to physically outmatch everybody as they move through the tournament. Beyond having the inside-outside game work as well as it did in the first two games, the biggest key is going to be getting consistency on the defensive end. This has been a bugaboo all season, but this young team seems to be getting the concepts down, and if the improvement continues, Duke feels really good about its chances moving forward. -- Andrea Adelson

No. 5 Clemson Tigers First round: Defeated New Mexico State 79-68 Second round: Defeated Auburn 84-53 Up next: Kansas

How they've gotten this far The Tigers' first two games of the tournament have been nearly a best-case scenario. After cruising to a 79-68 win against No. 12 New Mexico State, they followed it up with their biggest margin of victory in tournament history -- an 84-53 win against Auburn that didn't even feel that close. The common denominator in both wins: excellent shooting. They shot 51.6 percent from the field (62 of 120) and 40 percent from 3-point range (16 of 40).

What it'll take for them to keep winning Coach Brad Brownell knew coming into the season he would have to win to keep his job, and by advancing to the school's first Sweet 16 since 1997, he already has cleared the bar. A matchup with Kansas in Omaha, Nebraska -- where the crowd will be decisively pro-KU -- presents an obvious challenge, but if the Tigers can replicate the defensive effort they gave against Auburn, which shot just 25.8 percent from the field, it'll have more than a puncher's chance. -- Kyle Bonagura

No. 11 Syracuse Orange First Four: Defeated Arizona State 60-56 First round: Defeated TCU 57-52 Second round: Defeated Michigan State 55-53 Up next: Duke

How they've gotten this far Duct tape and guts, for the most part. Syracuse has leaned on Tyus Battle, Frank Howard and Oshae Brissett to play nearly every minute of its unexpected three-game run to the second weekend. The 2-3 zone has been its typical, befuddling self while holding opponents (including the uber-talented Michigan State Spartans) to an average of less than 54 points per game in the postseason.

What it'll take for them to keep winning Jim Boeheim knows his team's ticket to any win this year will be defense, but he also knows that the party won't last much longer if his guards don't start shooting a bit better. The group will now get the better part of a week to get its legs back under them. If the Orange has any chance of beating Duke -- a team that is more accustomed to playing the zone than the three non-ACC opponents they faced this past week -- it's going to have to shoot better than 35 percent from the field and the dismal 12.5 percent it shot from 3-point land against the Spartans. -- Dan Murphy

East Region

No. 1 Villanova Wildcats First round: Defeated Radford 87-61 Second round: Defeated Alabama 81-58 Up next: West Virginia

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How they've gotten this far It is fairly straightforward: 3-point shooting and defense. In their double-digit wins over Radford and Alabama, the Wildcats made a combined 31 3-pointers -- the second most over a two-game stretch in NCAA tournament history. But it goes beyond the shooting. Players pointed to their effort on defense, too, especially against Alabama, limiting Crimson Tide standout Collin Sexton to 17 points. Overall, Radford and Alabama each failed to reach 62 points.

What it'll take for them to keep winning

If Villanova keeps shooting and playing defense the way it did in the first two rounds, it's going to be hard to slow the Wildcats down. This is a team that doesn't lack confidence in its outside shot, especially with four different players averaging more than 40 percent from the 3-point line. Just as promising is the way they played defense against a more athletic Alabama team. -- Andrea Adelson

No. 2 Purdue Boilermakers First round: Defeated CSU Fullerton 74-48 Second round: Defeated Butler 76-73 Up next: Texas Tech

How they've gotten this far The Boilermakers' veteran lineup has puts its depth and diversity on full display in the first couple NCAA tournament games. Two nights after Carsen Edwards carried his team through a slow start, Vincent Edwards helped hold Butler at bay and fellow senior Dakota Mathias stepped up with a late, game-clinching 3-pointer. Purdue closed ranks without losing its pace after the loss of Isaac Haas to injury.

What it'll take for them to keep winning Haas is holding out hope that his fractured elbow will heal itself this week, but there's a far greater chance that Purdue's frontcourt will have to figure out a way to battle without their 7-foot-2 mainstay in the middle. Redshirt freshman Matt Haarms held his own in taking Haas' place and a supporting cast also played a role. It will get harder for those big men against a tough, physical defense when they face Texas Tech in Boston. -- Dan Murphy

No. 3 Texas Tech Red Raiders First round: Defeated Stephen F. Austin 70-60 Second round: Defeated Florida 69-66 Up next: Purdue

How they've gotten this far With a diverse selection of playmakers -- senior guard Keenan Evans and freshman forward Zhaire Smith chief among them -- and an efficient, active defense. Evans has been the key man in the clutch, making key play after key play down the stretch in the Red Raiders' first two tournament wins. When they need a bucket or a play, they turn to him and he usually delivers.

What it'll take for them to keep winning Keep Evans as fresh and healthy as possible. His first three games back from his sprained toe, which he suffered in February against Baylor, were touch and go, but the last five games, he's feeling better (he said after the second round that he's at about 85 percent) and playing that way (he's averaged 21 points per game in the last five). The more he improves the better. And Texas Tech interior defense will have to be better than it was vs. Florida. After a solid performance against Stephen F. Austin (20 points in the paint allowed), the Red Raiders allowed 38 to the Gators, way above the season average they allowed coming into the tournament (20.2, second-fewest nationally). -- Sam Khan

No. 5 West Virginia Mountaineers First round: Defeated Murray State 85-68 Second round: Defeated Marshall 94-71 Up next: Villanova

How they've gotten this far The Mountaineers have been one of the most impressive teams in the tournament with lopsided wins against both Murray State and Marshall. Neither opponent could match the caliber of athletes West Virginia had on the court, which allowed its already potent press to be even more effective.

What it'll take for them to keep winning There are no easy outs in the East regional, where the top three seeds -- Villanova, Purdue and Texas Tech -- all advanced, but that's the status quo for West Virginia this year. The Mountaineers have played the nation's 13th-toughest schedule, according to ESPN's Basketball Power Index, and that ranks No. 2 -- behind Kansas -- of the 16 teams remaining. If they can hold Villanova to a low three-point shooting percentage, they'll give themselves a good shot to advance. -- Kyle Bonagura

West Region

No. 3 Michigan Wolverines First round: Defeated Montana 61-47 Second round: Defeated Houston 64-63 Up next: Texas A&M

How they've gotten this far Defense and luck. Michigan is guarding better than any John Beilein team, and the Wolverines have needed every bit of it in the first two rounds. They held Montana to just 0.71 points per possession, and then forced Houston's Rob Gray to take 22 shots in order to get his 23 points. Of course, the Wolverines wouldn't be here without Jordan Poole's 30-footer at the buzzer to beat Houston by one. Ironically, that play was called "Indiana."

What it'll take for them to keep winning Better offense. Michigan can't win if it keeps scoring at the clip it did the first weekend. The Wolverines were held below one point per possession in both games, the first time since January they've done that in back-to-back games. In two games, they've gone 13-for-46 from 3-point range, and have struggled to get any flow on the offensive end. Moe Wagner, the team's leading scorer, averaged 8.5 points on just 15 combined shots through two games. -- Jeff Borzello

No. 4 Gonzaga Bulldogs First round: Defeated UNC Greensboro 68-64 Second round: Defeated Ohio State 90-84 Up next: Florida State

How they've gotten this far For one, tournament experience goes a long way, as guards Josh Perkins and Silas Melson have made it to four straight Sweet Sixteens. The Zags can also be a defense's worst nightmare. After UNC Greensboro's press held Gonzaga to 68 points in the first round, the Zags laid 90 on an Ohio State team that was allowing 64.9 ppg before Saturday. Gonzaga doesn't figure to see much press from its side of the bracket.

What it'll take for them to keep winning The offense has to stay hot, but the free-throw shooting has got to get better. This is a team that should be shooting better than 70 percent from the charity stripe each night, but in its two games in Boise, Gonzaga shot a paltry 57.1 percent (32-of-56) from the foul line. The Zags missed four of their last five free throws with less than two minutes left in their 68-64 win over UNCG. -- Edward Aschoff

No. 7 Texas A&M Aggies First round: Defeated Providence 73-69 Second round: Defeated North Carolina 86-65 Up next: Michigan

How they've gotten this far Incredible defensive rebounding. Facing possibly the best offensive rebounding team in the nation in North Carolina, Billy Kennedy's team pulled down a whopping 83 percent of the Tar Heels' missed shots. Robert Williams alone had 12 defensive boards, and the Aggies were also relentless at taking the ball to the rim at the other end of the floor. Lastly, it hasn't hurt matters that Providence and UNC combined to make just 12 of their 51 3-point tries.

What it'll take for them to keep winning More of the same on defense. During the SEC season, the Aggies were just average on D. Then Kennedy's men ran into the defending national champions and held them to 0.84 points per possession, the Heels' third-worst showing on offense for the entire season. If A&M's really turned over a new leaf on defense, the timing is impeccable. The next opponent is Michigan, and the Wolverines are excellent in their own right on that side of the ball. It could be a defensive struggle in LA. -- John Gasaway

No. 9 Florida State Seminoles First round: Defeated Missouri 67-54 Second round: Defeated Xavier 75-70 Up next: Gonzaga

How they've gotten this far Florida State wasn't a trendy pick in the tournament, and with good reason considering it lost six of its last 10 games entering the tournament. But the Seminoles' depth and experience have made a world of difference with four of five starters being upperclassmen. All told, 65 of its 142 total points came from the bench.

What it'll take for them to keep winning The bench scoring has been nice, but getting Terance Mann a couple days of rest is important as Florida State's leading scorer was limited by a groin injury in Nashville. Braian Angola (24 total points) and Co. were able to carry the load, but against stiffer competition having a go-to scorer of Mann's ability in the half-court could be the difference. -- Alex Scarborough


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