Sweet 16 Preview: After thrilling first weekend, what’s next?

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The first weekend could not have been more thrilling, beginning with Vee Sanford’s runner that sent No. 11 Dayton past No. 6 Ohio State and ending with the dunk show that Aaron Gordon put on for No. 1 Arizona.

In between, we unbelievably only had one true buzzer-beater — Cameron Ridley dispatching No. 10 Arizona State — but we did manage to put together the best day of Round of 64 games ever and the single best college basketball game since Louisville beat Michigan for the 2013 title.

What’s in store for us in the Sweet 16?:

MORE: Catch up on all our coverage from the first weekend of the tournament


1. Is this the real Kentucky, or was Sunday just a tease?: The Wildcats looked awesome in their win over Wichita State, a performance that’s almost impressive enough to make us forget that they lost to South Carolina this month. If No. 8 Kentucky continues to play the way they did on Sunday, they can win a national title. No question. But I also would not be surprised if No. 4 Louisville beat them by 15.

2. Will Florida be challenged?: The Gators can be just stifling defensively. No. 4 UCLA can score in droves, but the tournament’s top overall seed has the kind of versatility that can give them fits. No. 10 Stanford has the size and No. 11 Dayton is a scrappy, well-coached, plucky bunch that won’t go down without a fight. That said, a ten point lead against Florida can be insurmountable, particularly with Scottie Wilbekin in the closer role. Will they be tested?

RELATED: Sweet 16 Power Rankings

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3. Does Tom Izzo get back to the Final Four?: Every four-year senior that Tom Izzo has ever coached has made a Final Four. Adreian Payne and Keith Appling are still without a trip to college basketball’s biggest stage.

4. Is this the year Sean Miller becomes ‘elite’?: The Wildcats have shown the ability to absolutely beat the brakes off of opponents in the last month. When they’re getting out in transition, they’re a highlight reel waiting to happen. Make them play in the half court, and they’re very beatable. Head coach Sean Miller is one of the best young coaches in the game, as a tactician and a recruiter, but until he’s got a Final Four on his resume, he doesn’t belong in the conversation among the game’s elite.

5. Will Shabazz Napier have his Kemba Walker moment?: Kemba was a really good player having a great year when he shredded Gary McGhee’s ankles while hitting a buzzer-beater in the Big East quarterfinals. His legend lives on because he went on to win the title, but that’s the moment that everyone remembers. In UConn’s return to tournament play at Madison Square Garden, will their new star point guard create his own legacy? The No. 7 Huskies will get No. 3 Iowa State on Friday.

UK-WSUHype was justified | How good can Kentucky be? | One loss ruins Wichita State’s season?


1. Julius Randle, Kentucky: The improvement of the Harrison twins is what gets talked about with the Wildcats, but it was Randle’s 13 points, 10 boards and, most important of all, six assists that has the Wildcats in the Sweet 16.

2. DeAndre Kane, Iowa State: He may not even be the best point guard in his Sweet 16 matchup — Shabazz Napier is — but his size at his position makes him a nightmare to try to guard and the fact that the Cyclones will be playing without Georges Niang makes him just that much more vital to Fred Hoiberg’s club.

3. Adreian Payne, Michigan State: He may not be the most important player on Michigan State, but when he gets it going, he may be the most unstoppable player left in the tournament. That 41-point performance against Delaware in the Round of 64 resonates.

4. Scottie Wilbekin, Florida: The nation’s most underrated player. He’s gone from being nearly booted from the program to becoming the team’s best perimeter defender and arguably the best clutch-scorer left in the tournament.

5. Aaron Gordon, Arizona: He’s the guy that makes everything happen for Arizona and their key cog on the defensive end. He’s also playing his best basketball of the season on the offensive end of the floor.

KANSAS: Joel Embiid’s back injury cost all of us | Bill Self’s fifth tourney loss to No. 9 seed or lower


  • 1. No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 8 Kentucky (Fri. 9:45 p.m., Midwest): Do I need to explain this?
  • 2. No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 4 Michigan State (Fri. 9:57 p.m., East): The Spartans have been the favorite to win the East since the bracket was released. I think the dual-ACC champ has something to say about that.
  • 3. No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 4 San Diego State (Thu. 10:17 p.m., West): I’m not sure if SDSU can score against the Arizona team that showed up Sunday, but this game is in Anaheim. The atmosphere will be outrageous.
  • 4. No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 11 Tennessee (Fri. 7:15 p.m., Midwest): I’m really intrigued by this matchup, as the Vols are streaking and have the physicality up front to give Michigan issues.
  • 5. No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 7 UConn (Fri. 7:27 p.m., East): Tough draw for the Cyclones, as UConn packs MSG. Losing Georges Niang will hurts as well. DeAndre Kane vs. Shabazz Napier will be awesome.
  • 6. No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 UCLA (Thu. 9:45 p.m., South): Maybe I’m overlooking UCLA, but I think Florida will handle them. Key will be whether or not the Gators are hitting jumpers. If they are, look out.
  • 7. No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Baylor (Thu. 7:47 p.m., West): All of a sudden, the Bears look really, really dangerous. Can the Badgers figure out Baylor’s zone?
  • 8. No. 10 Stanford vs. No. 11 Dayton (Thu. 7:15 p.m., South): Stanford’s size vs. Dayton’s versatility.

AND THE FINAL FOUR WILL BE … : Why back off my picks now? I’m still rolling with No. 1 Florida, No. 1 Arizona, No. 4 Louisville and No. 4 Michigan State.

VIDEO: East Tennessee State players hit back-to-back halfcourt shots to win free tuition for two students

VILLANOVA, PA - NOVEMBER 20: A.J. Merriweather #13 and Peter Jurkin #5 of the East Tennessee State Buccaneers try to grab a rebound away from Daniel Ochefu #23 of the Villanova Wildcats at The Pavilion on November 20, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
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East Tennessee State’s Bluenanza hoops celebration reached a new level on Monday night when the team incredibly made back-to-back halfcourt shots to give two ETSU students free tuition.

ETSU students Garrett Pack and Jeremiah Pearson were both selected by the school to attempt halfcourt shots to win free tuition. Both students missed their attempts, but Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Dr. Richard Sander gave them a second chance to win with a unique twist — each student could pick one player on the team to shoot for them.

The students picked senior T.J. Cromer and junior Devontavious Payne to take the shots. Both players delivered clutch shots to secure free tuition for Pack and Pearson.

Talk about a ridiculous way to end a madness-type of event.

That wasn’t the only highlight-reel play from the team on Monday night. Senior AJ Merriweather also threw down this ferocious windmill.

Utah grabs important commitment from four-star center

DENVER, CO - MARCH 19:  Head coach Larry Krystkowiak of the Utah Utes shouts in the first half against the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Pepsi Center on March 19, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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Utah landed an important player for its future on Sunday as four-star center Branden Carlson pledged to the Utes.

The 6-foot-10, 210-pound center is great commitment for Utah as he’s regarded as the No. 113 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 by Rivals. Carlson’s development is going to be especially intriguing because he won’t play for Utah until the 2019-20 season because of a two-year LDS mission out of high school, according to Scout.com’s Josh Gershon.

Since Carlson needed to add strength and weight, that should give him a little more time to bulk up before college begins. Utah also has freshman center Jayce Johnson just entering the program — another four-star center — so that spaces the two big men out by a few years.

Head coach Larry Krystkowiak has done a nice job developing big men, specifically Jakob Poeltl, and it appears to be paying off on the recruiting trail.

Tar Heels ready for Final Four push after title-game loss

JACKSONVILLE, FL - MARCH 19:  Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts on the bench against the Harvard Crimson during the second round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena on March 19, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) North Carolina won’t have a difficult time finding motivation this season.

The memories of losing in the NCAA championship game on a last-second 3-pointer to Villanova still sting more than six months later. It was the crushing final play in a 33-win season that saw the Tar Heels go from a preseason No. 1-ranked team questioned about its toughness to a group that matured enough to sweep the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament titles before reaching the Final Four.

There are enough veteran returnees for UNC to have the potential to do it again, driven by the memory of coming so oh-so-close to cutting down the nets in April.

“Every time I turn around and look up at the banners, where the national championship banners are,” junior Joel Berry II said, “sometimes it hurts me that we don’t have the 2016 national championship up there. So it’s just motivation to me.”

Some Tar Heels, including Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams, still haven’t watched film from the loss.

“I thought we had a great, great year but it’s just like somebody pulls your heart out and taunts you by shaking it in front of you,” Williams said. “But you’ve got to get over it.”

The Tar Heels (33-7, 14-4 ACC) have some big holes with the losses of four-year starter Marcus Paige – the guy UNC looked for when it needed a big shot – and Associated Press all-American Brice Johnson inside. But they return six of their top eight scorers while adding a top-10 recruiting class.

Berry is the top returning scorer (12.8 points), while fellow junior Justin Jackson (12.2) and senior big man Kennedy Meeks are returning starters. The Tar Heels also return ACC sixth man of the Isaiah Hicks, now likely to earn a promotion into the starting lineup.

On the bench, senior Nate Britt provides backcourt depth along with junior Theo Pinson – out indefinitely with a broken bone in his right foot – and sophomore wing Kenny Williams III.

The Tar Heels also will get help up front from McDonald’s All-American Tony Bradley Jr., who headlines a wing-heavy recruiting class.

Some other things to know about the Tar Heels this season:

PINSON’S INJURY: Pinson’s injury during a recent practice, announced Friday, has the potential to be a big blow. The versatile swingman is the team’s top defender, a good passer and a leader with a knack for keeping up team morale .

BERRY IN CHARGE?: Berry looks like the top candidate to take Paige’s role as the guy to entrust with taking the big shot. He was the team’s best outside shooter (38 percent from 3-point range) and led the team in assists, steals and free-throw percentage. And in a sign that Berry could be ready for a leap, he upped his game by averaging 13.7 points and shooting 50 percent in six NCAA Tournament games – ending with 20 points against Villanova.

HICKS’ FOUL TROUBLE: Keeping Hicks on the floor last season was a challenge, including twice in the final 10 games when he picked up four or five fouls in fewer than 10 minutes. The 6-foot-9 forward brings scoring and rebounding, and he was the team’s defensive player of the game eight times – third most on the team behind Paige and Berry. The Tar Heels need him out there this year with fewer frontcourt options.

JACKSON’S GROWTH: Jackson has good size on the perimeter and has been a complimentary scorer through his first two seasons. The Tar Heels need him to become a consistent scorer now in a leading role, especially when it comes to improving his 29-percent shooting from behind the arc last year. He’s an unselfish player and has occasionally seemed content to blend into the background, but the Tar Heels are tougher to stop when he’s playing assertively .

THE ROOKIES: The 6-foot-10 Bradley, a native of Bartow, Florida, will have a shot at immediate minutes for a team with only Meeks and Hicks returning to the frontcourt. The rest of that recruiting class brings depth on the wing with Brandon Robinson, Seventh Woods and Shea Rush.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Coaches pick Cincinnati to win American Athletic Conference

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 24:  Gary Clark #11 of the Cincinnati Bearcats shoots the ball against the Tulane Green Wave at Fifth Third Arena on January 24, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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PHILADELPHIA (AP) American Athletic Conference coaches have picked Cincinnati to win the league title this season.

The Bearcats edged UConn in the poll, which was released Monday at the conference’s annual media day.

Cincinnati received 95 points and six first-place votes, while UConn claimed the other five and finished with 94 points.

Cincinnati guard Troy Caupain and Memphis’ Dedric Lawson were chosen as the league’s preseason co-players of the year.

Caupain is joined on the preseason conference first team by teammate Gary Clark, Lawson, SMU forward Ben Moore and Houston guard Damyean Dotson.

UConn guard Alterique Gilbert was projected as the league’s top rookie, the fourth straight season a Huskies player has been chosen for that honor.

SWAC Preview: Will Texas Southern get back to the NCAA tournament?

Texas Southern forward Derrick Griffin (23), left, blocks the shot of Baylor forward Johnathan Motley (5), right, in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Waco, Texas. Baylor won 72-59. (AP Photo/Rod Aydelotte)
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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the SWAC.

Texas Southern ripped through the league last year before seeing its NCAA bid chances evaporate with a loss to Southern in the SWAC tournament, but coach Mike Davis has conference player of the year Derrick Griffin back and committed to hoops after being dismissed from the football program, making the Tigers a favorite in the league once more.

Paris Collins returns to lead Jackson State after their third-place finish from a year ago.Chance Franklin is also back after putting up 12.3 points per game for the Tigers, who lost the SWAC title game a year ago by a single point to Southern.

The Jaguars will be looking for big contributions from Tre’lun Banks and Jared Sam, their top two returnees from last year’s NCAA tournament team. They’ll be needed in a big way to offset the losses of Christopher Hyder, Adrian Rodgers and Shawn Prudhomme.

Alcorn State was the regular-season runner-up last season, but is down four senior starters from the group and the Braves are ineligible for postseason play due to APR scores.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON SWAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Derrick Griffin, Texas Southern

The two-sport star is down to one after getting dismissed from the Texas Southern football team this fall, but he’s back for hoops following a year in which he averaged 13.3 points and 11.1 rebounds per game.


  • Paris Collins, Jackson State: Averaged 13 points and 6.2 rebounds per game last season.
  • Marcus Romain, Mississippi Valley State: The 6-foot-2 senior guard averaged 18.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game.
  • Tommy Armstrong, Alabama State: Armstrong returns to power an Alabama State team that won eight of its last 11
  • Trelun Banks, SouthernShot 36.4 percent from 3-point range while scoring 12.4 points, grabbing 2.8 rebounds and dishing out 2.2 assists per game.



1. Texas Southern
2. Jackson State
3. Southern
4. Alabama State
5. Alcorn State
6. Prairie View A&M
7. Mississippi Valley State
8. Alabama A&M
9. Arkansas-Pine Bluff
10. Grambling State