The maddest March ever? Underdogs head to the Sweet 16
We know you’re upset. Underdogs have blown up every bracket in the country.
An upside of the upsets: perhaps the maddest March ever.
Defending national champion Kansas and fellow No. 1 seed Purdue are gone — the Boilermakers with a slice of unwanted history. The Sweet 16 won’t have blue bloods Kentucky, Duke or North Carolina for only the second time since 1979.
In are upstarts like Princeton, Florida Atlantic and a team picked to finish last in the Big 12 Conference.
And, this being March, of course there’s Tom Izzo.
The bracket has been nearly devoid of the buzzer-beaters that college hoops fans have been accustomed to, but the games have been close. There have been four games decided by one point, the most since there were six in 2017 and three short of the record last matched in 1998.
Alabama has looked every bit the No. 1 overall seed, blowing out Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Maryland despite turmoil swirling around the program.
Waiting for Alabama in Louisville, Kentucky, will be San Diego State. The fifth-seeded Aztecs are old and love to knock around opponents — just ask College of Charleston and Furman.
The second game marks Princeton’s first Sweet 16 in 56 years. The No. 15 seed Tigers had the first major March upset by knocking off No. 2 Arizona and proved it was no fluke by taking down Missouri.
They face Creighton, one of three Big East teams to get this far. Inconsistent early, the bombing Bluejays and big man Ryan Kalkbrenner are in the Sweet 16 for the second time in three seasons after bouncing No. 3 seed Baylor.
Florida Atlantic won the battle of bracket darlings by knocking off Fairleigh Dickinson, the second No. 16 seed ever to beat a No. 1, taking down Purdue.
The Owls better be ready for some bruises against Tennessee at Madison Square Garden in their first Sweet 16. The third-seeded Vols bullied their way through the first two rounds, pushing around Duke after grinding out a win over Louisiana.
Sharing the Garden marquee will be Michigan State and Kansas State.
The Spartans are at their best in March under coach Izzo, who won his record 16th NCAA Tournament game as a lower seed by bouncing No. 2 seed Marquette.
Jerome Tang is taking underdog Kansas State from one Manhattan to another in his first season in the Little Apple.
Picked last in the Big 12, the Wildcats and undersized but undeterred guard Markquis Nowell shoved aside Montana State and wore down Kentucky for their first Sweet 16 since 2018.
Tang said the Wildcats won because they’ve “got dudes.” Houston has a few of its own.
The Midwest’s No. 1 seed, the Cougars have played the lockdown defense that made them a Final Four favorite at the start of the season, holding Northern Kentucky to 52 points and Auburn to 64.
The Cougars’ bid to play the Final Four at home now heads to Kansas City, Missouri, where they will face Miami.
The speedy, fifth-seeded Hurricanes hit Indiana with a gale force of offensive rebounds, scoring 29 second-chance points to reach the Sweet 16 for the second straight season under Jim Larrañaga.
Another Texas team is still in the mix to reach the Final Four in its home state — the one from Austin.
No. 2 seed Texas overcame the midseason firing of coach Chris Beard to play some outstanding basketball under interim coach Rodney Terry. The Longhorns shut down sweet-shooting Colgate in the first round and earned their first Sweet 16 appearance in 15 years with a 71-66 win over Penn State.
Up next is another coach making the most of an opportunity.
Fired by Arizona two years ago, Sean Miller landed back where he started at Xavier. The Musketeers earned their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2017 with a 84-73 win over Pittsburgh.
Losing guard Jaylen Clark has done little to slow down No. 2 UCLA. Now the Bruins hope their lineup isn’t depleted further after key guard David Singleton injured his ankle late in a 69-63 victory over Northwestern.
UCLA still has Jaime Jaquez and Tyger Campbell, which will give them at least a shot at beating Gonzaga in Las Vegas.
There were midseason whispers the Zags were in a down year. An eighth straight trip to the Sweet 16 under Mark Few put those to rest.
Two coaches with familiar last names face off in the other Sin City game.
Eric Musselman, son of longtime NBA and college coach Bill Musselman, has shown off his coaching chops by leading Arkansas to the Sweet 16 for the third straight season. The Razorbacks got there with a takedown of top-seeded Kansas that had Musselman taking off his shirt — again.
Danny Hurley’s father is a Hall of Fame high school coach, his brother the NCAA’s all-time assist leader. Bob’s son and Bobby’s brother has revitalized UConn, taking the Huskies to the Sweet 16 for the first time in nine years.
AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report.
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