Previewing your college hoops weekend


Game of the weekend: Sat. 3:15 pm: No. 2 Ohio State @ No. 13 Kansas:

(All times ET)

There isn’t going to be a much more intriguing individual matchup this season than seeing Jared Sullinger go up against Thomas Robinson. Both are potential lottery picks, but they do it in such different ways. Sully is a space-eater and a positional expert, using his massive rear-end to carve out space and create angles to score on the block. He also has the footwork of a ballerina, which allows him to execute pretty post moves against quality competition. T-Rob, on the other hand, is a physical specimen whose ability centers on the fact that he can jumper higher and go through the players that he is guarding. He’s a perfect example of what effort will get you if you have some god-given ability.

And that, more than anything, is why we should all be hoping that Jared Sullinger’s back spasms have gone away by Saturday afternoon. Because seeing those two go head-to-head for 40 minutes would be a treat for all involved.

The other key matchup here is going to be Aaron Craft guarding Tyshawn Taylor. Taylor has some serious turnover issues this season (he had 11 against Duke in the Maui finals) but he has the ability to flat-out take over a game at times. He will be guarded by arguably the best on-ball defender in the country in Aaron Craft. If Craft is up to his pesky ways, than Taylor is going to have a very difficult time getting Kansas into their offensive sets.

Five more games you can’t miss

Sat. 12:00 pm: Washington vs. No. 5 Duke: This is such an important game for Wahsington. That cannot be emphasized enough. With three losses already on the season and without another team ranked in the top 25 on their schedule this season, the Huskies need to earn that marquee win for their tournament resume. But I’m not sure this team is going to be capable of beating Duke. They certainly have the talent on their roster to do so, but as they have done for the last couple of years, Washington seems to be a different team every time they take the floor.

Sat. 12:30 pm: Cincinnati @ No. 8 Xavier: This may be the most interesting game of the day. These two teams genuinely dislike each other, and this game always seems to devolve into the kind of physical affair that results in a fight and a couple of ejections. The question I am looking to get answered here involves Cincy. In other words, what are you doing, fellas? The Bearcats have enough talent to be a top five team in the Big East, but they have looked, well, bad early in the year Big East contenders don’t lose at home to Prebysterian.

Sat. 2:00 pm: UNLV @ No. 16 Wisconsin: So is UNLV for real? We all thought so after they knocked off UNC two weeks ago. But after getting worked by Wichita State on the road, the people voting on the top 25 were no longer convinced and dropped the Rebels out of the top 25. Wisconsin is in a similar boat. Are the Badgers really a top ten caliber team and a group that can compete for the Big Ten title? UNLV matches up well and has enough quality on-ball defenders that Jordan Taylor should be in for a long day, but the Kohl Center is one of the toughest places to win a basketball game.

Sat. 5:15 pm: No. 1 Kentucky @ Indiana: Contrary to what Dan Dakich has been telling people, if Indiana wins this game it will be a massive upset. But I think what he meant is that the Hoosiers have a very real chance of winning this game. They have some size and skill in their front court and some scorers on the perimeter. I love what I’ve seen out of Cody Zeller early in the season, but he is going to be overwhelmed by Kentucky’s size and athleticism. As concerned as I am about Jordy Hulls going up against that Wildcat pressure, I’m equally worried about whether or not the Hoosiers will be able to get stops. Kentucky has a lot of weapons and IU isn’t great defensively. The great equalizer here? The road. Kentucky hasn’t experienced the kind of hostile environment they will face yet.

Sat. 9:00 pm: Michigan State @ No. 22 Gonzaga: There are so many questions still to be answered about both of these teams. Michigan State has been getting better play out of their perimeter attack, but its still unclear whether Brandon Wood, Keith Appling and Travis Trice are going to be able to produce the way the Spartans need them to if they want to become a top 25 team again. MSU’s strength, however, is their front court strength, a skill that matches up well with a Gonzaga team that doesn’t exactly have a front line training for the pro-wrestling circuit. Robert Sacre and Elias Harris aren’t exactly known for their physicality, but Draymond Green certainly is. It will also be interesting to see if Gonzaga’s back court is going to be able to defend MSU.

Who’s getting upset?: Sat. 4:00 pm: No. 19 Michigan @ Oakland: The Grizzlies are no joke. They can claim Tennessee as one of their victims for the second straight season and have gotten some absolutely sensational play out of the dynamic Reggie Hamilton early in the season. As any Wolverine opponent will find out, the key when playing Michigan is being able to defend the offensive sets that John Beilein runs. They are so crisp and so well-coached and have this style so thoroughly ingrained that its a feat to knock them out of a rhythm.

Five more teams on upset alert

Sat. 5:00 pm: Villanova @ Temple: Frankly, I’m not sure exactly who would be the team getting upset here, but I wanted a space to write about this matchup. Both Villanova and Temple are struggling to find a rhythm this season. The Nova, that seems to stem from issues this team has with youth and a lack of playmakers. For the Owls, however, their biggest issue is the patella injury suffered by Michael Eric that cripples their interior presence Look for Mouph Yarou to have a big game.

Sat. 7:00 pm: Long Beach State @ No. 6 North Carolina: After their win over Pitt earlier this season, the 49ers are not going to be sneaking up on anybody for the rest of the year. That shouldn’t necessarily matter, however, as LBSU has the kind of talent on their roster to pull off another upset somewhere along the way. The big men of Kansas has a field day against LBSU on Wednesday. Will the 49ers be able to guard inside on Saturday evening?

Sat. 7:00 pm: Penn @ UCLA: I know, I know, this isn’t technically going to be considered an upset. UCLA is way down this season as they have had to fight just to get to the point they are in right now. Penn, however, has been claiming that they are good to make some nothing through out the season. But Quakers have Anthony James, one of the biggest scorers in the county right now.

Sun. 6:00 pm: Detroit @ No. 15 Alabama: Detroit looks like they are finally hitting their stride offensively. Coming off of a nice win over St. John’s at home, the Crimson Tide went ahead and lost to Dayton on the road. Detroit’s sophomore Ray McCallum is probably the most talented back court player that the Crimson Tide will take on this season, but the Titans also have Eli Holman back. He has 21 points and seven boards in his first action of the season.

Sun. 6:00 pm: Murray State @ No. 20 Memphis: Its tough to trust this Memphis team this season. They make poor decisions with the ball and have, in now way, looked like a team that is going to be considered among the nation’s elite. The Racers are now 9-0 on the season, but the Tigers are by far the toughest team that they will face this year.

Mid-major matchup of the weekend: Fri. 8:00 pm: Richmond @ VCU: The battle of Richmond. The game may not get this kind of national attention that other city rivals get when they play, but there is some bad blood between the two schools. VCU is finally starting to play like the team that made the run to the Final Four last season. Brad Burgess has solved his early season shooting issues while guys like Troy Daniels and Darius Theus have thrived is more significant roles this year. Richmond is in a similar boat — they lost a lot of talent from last year’s team, but their back court of Cedric Lindsay and Kendall Anthony has been impressive in the early going.

The thing that is the most interesting about this game is that neither of these teams look like they will have a chance to be in consideration for an at-large bid come March. But that shouldn’t change the fact that this is a rivalry game, and it will be played that way for 40 minutes.

Six more mid-major matchups to watch

Sat. 12:00 pm: No. 17 Creighton @ St. Joseph’s: The Bluejays are for real. If their come-from-behind win at San Diego State didn’t confirm the hype they had coming into the season, than their win against a tough Nebraska team should have done the trick. St. Joe’s is going to sneak up on a lot of people this season, however. They have a couple of studs in their back court in Langston Galloway and Carl Jones would could end up giving Creighton fits.

Sat. 2:00 pm: Akron @ Cleveland State: The win that the Zips have over Mississippi State continues to look better while Cleveland State’s performance against Vanderbilt gets less impressive with each lackluster Commodore performance. But while the Vikings have continued to play well since their win over an SEC opponent, Akron has struggled. They’ve lost four games on the year and have yet to put together another performance quite as impressive as the game they played in Starkville.

Sat. 2:00 pm: Milwaukee @ Northern Iowa: Northern Iowa has been very impressive early on this season. Anthony James is blossoming into a star as the Panthers have rolled through their competition, including a 20 point win over Iowa their last time out. Milwaukee, however, is 8-1 on the season and just blew out DePaul at DePaul.

Sat. 8:05 pm: Utah State @ Wichita State: Utah State is battling injuries to their front line right now, and that could end up being their undoing against a Wichita State team that is playing very well right now. The Shockers have an excellent perimeter attack and enough of a presence in the paint to hang with the likes of Tulsa and UNLV. What happens when that group goes up against the Aggie’s diminished front court.

Sat. 9:00 pm: Nevada @ Montana: Deonte Burton has finally started to play like we’ve expected him to over the past two seasons. He’s scored 59 points the past two games as the Wolfpack have knocked off both Washington and Arizona State. But the Grizzlies can play. They may have four losses on the season already, but this is a team that is going to be in the mix for the Big Sky title by the end of the season.

Sun. 2:30 pm: Iona @ Marshall: Many people were expecting a big season out of the Gaels, but they have outlived most expectations. This is a team that can really get out and run the floor, and much of that is due to the terrific play they are getting out of one of the most underrated point guards in the country in Scott Machado. But Marshall has some talent in their own right. The Thundering Herd has an excellent back court in Deandre Kane and Damier Pitts and enough capable big men to give Iona fits inside.

The rest of the top 25


7:00 pm: Rider @ No. 12 Florida: Florida needs to learn to get the ball inside to Patric Young. Can it start this weekend?


7:00 pm: George Washington @ No. 3 Syracuse: I was expecting a lot out of George Washington this season, but they have struggled early in the season. Lasan Kromah doesn’t look like the same player he was before he was injured.

4:00 pm: Fairleigh Dickinson @ No. 4 Louisville: As good as Louisville as been defensively this season, they’ve been just as bad offensively. They are going to have to find their rhythm before heading into Big East play.

5:00 pm: Navy @ No. 10 Missouri: Missouri has been shredding their opponents, but it all starts with a 5’8″ point guard that can dominate a game without taking a shot. I doubt Navy is going to be able to slow him down.

9:00 pm: Green Bay @ No. 11 Marquette: Like Missouri, Marquette has been as impressive as any team in the country early in the season and is coming off of their two biggest wins back-to-back. Will they avoid a let down game?

2:30 pm: Oklahoma State @ No. 14 Pitt: LeBryan Nash has been inconsistent early in the season, but against Missouri State, he scored 19 points while coming off the bench. It will be interesting to see how he matches up with Pitt’s bigger — and significantly less mobile — front line.

4:00 pm: Troy @ No. 18 Mississippi State: Arnett Moultrie has been playing some terrific basketball early this season. Renardo Sidney, on the other hand, is still the same Renardo Sidney, but with the way Moultrie has been playing, are folks noticing?

12:00 pm: Howard @ No. 21 Georgetown: Henry Sims has been playing some terrific basketball. As in, he may be the best big man in the Big East right now. Seriously.

4:00 pm: No. 24 Harvard @ Boston U: How will Harvard respond after losing to UConn? It will have to start with the Crimson slowing down Darryl Partin, who is averaging 23.9 ppg.

LA-Monroe @ No. 25 Texas A&M: Khris Middleton will be back, but the Turners — both Elston and Ray — have been pretty good in him absence.


8:00 pm: Coppin State @ No. 22 Illinios: Illinois is coming off of an impressive win over St. Bonaventure. It wasn’t impressive because they played well. Rather, it was impressive because they managed to be a pretty solid team despite playing fairly terribly. That’s good sign … if they start to play better.

Other notable games


– 8:00 pm: Iowa @ Iowa State
– 9:00 pm: Old Dominion @ Fairfield


– 1:00 pm: St. Peter’s @ Minnesota
– 1:00 pm: Austin Peay @ Tennessee
– 2:00 pm: BYU @ Utah
– 2:00 pm: Butler @ Ball State
– 2:00 pm: Kent State @ Western Carolina
– 2:00 pm: Arkansas @ Oklahoma
– 4:00 pm: Clemson @ Arizona
– 4:00 pm: Eastern Michigan @ Purdue
– 5:30 pm: Missouri State @ Arkansas-Little Rock
– 7:00 pm: New Mexico @ USC
– 7:00 pm: Miami FL @ West Virginia
– 7:30 pm: Dartmouth @ Notre Dame
– 8:00 pm: Bpise State @ LSU
– 8:00 pm: Wake Forest @ Seton Hall
– 10:00 pm: Ohio @ Portland


– 1:00 pm: UNC-Greensboro @ Florida State
– 2:00 pm: North Florida @ Kansas State
– 3:00 pm: North Carolina Central @ NC State
– 4:00 pm: Norfolk State @ Virginia Tech
– 4:00 pm: Santa Clara @ Washington State
– 5:00 pm: Jackson State @ Cal

Texas blows out Xavier 83-71 for spot in NCAA Elite Eight

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Jeffrey Becker/USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Tyrese Hunter scored 19 points, Marcus Carr and Christian Bishop added 18 apiece, and second-seeded Texas rolled to an 83-71 victory over No. 3 seed Xavier on Friday night to reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 15 years.

Playing most of the way without ailing star Dylan Disu, the Longhorns – the highest seed left after No. 1s Alabama and Houston lost earlier in the night – built a 42-25 lead by halftime. They quickly pushed it past 20 before cruising the rest of the way into a matchup with fifth-seeded Miami on Sunday night for a spot in the Final Four in Houston.

Sir’Jabari Rice had 16 points and Timmy Allen added 11 for the Longhorns (29-8), who kept Souley Boum and the rest of Xavier’s perimeter threats in check while making life miserable for Jack Nunge down low.

Adam Kunkel hit five 3-pointers and led the Musketeers (27-10) with 21 points. Nunge scored 15 but needed 19 shots to get there, while Colby Jones also had 15 points. Boum didn’t hit a field goal until early in the second half and finished with 12 points.

The job the Longhorns did in shutting down Xavier was merely the latest example of some masterful work by interim coach Rodney Terry. The longtime assistant took over in December, when Chris Beard was suspended and later fired over a since-dropped domestic violence charge, and Terry has not only kept the season from falling apart but sent his team soaring.

Things won’t get any easier against Miami, which romped to an 89-75 win over the Cougars.

And especially without Disu, who led the Longhorns to a Big 12 tourney title and earned MVP honors on the same floor just over two weeks ago, and who’d been dominant through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

Disu tried to play through a left foot injury that the Longhorns had successfully kept secret Friday night, but he lasted only a couple of minutes before limping off the floor and straight to the locker room. When he returned to the bench, he was wearing a big walking boot, a black hoodie and a grim expression.

Relegated to a 6-foot-9 cheerleader, Disu at least had plenty to celebrate.

Carr got the Longhorns off to a fast start, spinning through the lane like a Tilt-A-Whirl for tough buckets at the rim, and even knocking down a spinning, desperation 3 as the shot clock expired. And when Musketeers coach Sean Miller traded out a man-to-man defense for a zone, the Longhorns began to pound the ball to Bishop in the paint.

With dozens of family and friends on hand, the Creighton transfer from the Kansas City suburb of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, went to work. Bishop threw down one dunk on Carr’s alley-oop lob, then slammed down another a few minutes later.

By the time Allen banked in a half-court heave, the Longhorns had established a 42-25 halftime advantage – and had to be redirected from the Xavier tunnel, where they were busy celebrating, toward their own locker room.

Xavier tried to creep back a couple of times, but the Longhorns never allowed their lead to sniff single digits. And that gave Terry, who returned to Texas after head coaching jobs at Fresno State and UTEP, a chance to breathe deeply and enjoy the moment.

The 54-year-old from the small Texas town of Angleton was on Rick Barnes’ staff the last time the Longhorns reached the Elite Eight, back in 2008. He was on the 2003 staff that guided them all the way to the Final Four, too.

Now, he’s one step away from taking Texas on another improbable trip to college basketball’s biggest stage.

Creighton ends Princeton’s March Madness run with 86-75 win

creighton princeton
Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Creighton used its size, 3-point shooting and a swarming second-half defense to end the March Madness run of Princeton, beating the 15th-seeded Tigers 86-75 on Friday night in the Sweet 16.

The sixth-seeded Bluejays (24-12) advanced to their first regional final since they were part of an eight-team NCAA Tournament in 1941. Creighton will play No. 5 seed San Diego State in Sunday’s South Region final, with each team seeking its first Final Four.

Ryan Kalkbenner, the two-time Big East defensive player of the year, scored 22 points to lead the Bluejays to their sixth win in seven games. Baylor Scheierman made five 3s and finished with 21 points.

“Kalk, he impacts us at the rim on both ends of the floor and defensively provides so much for us,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “I thought he really got going late in the first half and carried it over to the second half. Baylor just plays at every level. He can make the mid-range. He shoots the 3. He sees the floor incredibly well, and believe it or not, he’s become a pretty good defender.”

The Tigers (23-9) were led by Ryan Langborg with 26 points and Ivy League player of the year Tosan Evbuomwan with 24 points, six rebounds and nine assists.

Princeton shook up brackets everywhere by beating No. 2 seed Arizona in the first round, then blew out seventh-seeded Missouri last weekend in Sacramento, California.

Playing in its first Sweet 16 since 1967, Princeton was hoping to become the first Ivy League champion to make the Elite Eight since Penn’s Final Four run in 1979, the first Tigers squad to reach the Final Four since Bill Bradley led them there in 1965, and the second straight No. 15 seed to play in a regional final. Saint Peter’s last year became the first 15 seed to achieve that feat.

Princeton’s offense bore no resemblance to the back-cutting, deliberate style that defined the late Pete Carril’s coaching tenure. Instead, the Tigers went toe to toe against Creighton’s fast-paced offense until they stalled out at the start of the second half.

Creighton used a 9-2 run to take 56-45 lead, a four-minute stretch during which Princeton coach Mitch Henderson called two timeouts and Evbuomwan drew his third foul.

The Bluejays just wouldn’t stop. When Princeton cut the deficit to 61-52, Creighton answered with seven more points and the Tigers couldn’t get closer than seven points after that.

“Princeton’s really good at establishing their pace, so you’ve just got to take them out of it,” Kalkbrenner said. “Their whole goal is to take us out of our pace.”

After beating North Carolina State and third-seeded Baylor in Denver last weekend, drawing confidence from not needing oxygen masks like their opponents, Creighton eliminated the suddenly popular Ivy Leaguers. Now, the Bluejays are one win away from the national semifinals.

“It’s been amazing, it’s been a dream come true. This is why I came to Creighton in the first place, to make a run with this group of guys,” Scheierman said. “It’s just been an incredible experience. I’m looking forward to continuing that on Sunday.”

Miami beats No. 1 seed Houston; all four top NCAA seeds out

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Nijel Pack and Miami hit shots from near and far against the stingiest defense in the country to beat Houston 89-75 on Friday night in the Sweet 16, leaving the NCAA Tournament without a single No. 1 seed among its final eight teams for the first time since seeding began in 1979.

Miami (28-7), only the fifth team this season to score at least 70 points against Houston (33-4), will play second-seeded Texas or No. 3 seed Xavier in the Midwest Region final for the chance to go to the Final Four.

About 30 minutes before Houston’s loss, top overall seed Alabama fell to San Diego State in Louisville, Kentucky. Fellow No. 1 seeds Purdue and Kansas lost during the tournament’s first weekend.

The fifth-seeded Hurricanes reached a regional final for the second straight year just a few hours after Miami’s ninth-seeded women’s team hung on to beat Villanova and advance to the Elite Eight for the first time. Miami and UConn are the only schools with teams remaining in both tournaments.

This is the first time in three years Houston didn’t make it to the Elite Eight.

The Cougars simply couldn’t stop a multifaceted Miami offense led by Pack’s 3-point shooting. He had season highs of seven 3-pointers on 10 attempts and 26 points.

Isaiah Wong’s mid-range game helped get the ‘Canes out to a fast start, and he finished with 20 points. Jordan Miller hurt the Cougars with his penetration and had 13 points, and Norchad Omier was his usual rugged self under the basket while recording his 16th double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds.

It resulted in a heartbreaking end for a Cougars team that was in the Sweet 16 for a fourth straight time, had won 15 of its last 16 games and had the season-long goal of playing in next week’s Final Four in its home city.

Miami coach Jim Larrañaga, much to his players’ delight, busted out dance moves in the locker room befitting a 73-year-old man harkening to the disco era. Then Wooga Poplar and Joseph Bensley joined him up front for an impromptu line dance.

Larrañaga will seek his first Final Four with Miami and second overall – he took George Mason there as an 11 seed in 2006.

Miami used a 16-5 run spanning the halves to go up by double digits, with Omier’s three-point play and Jordan Miller’s short bank-in with the left hand making it 47-36 and forcing Houston coach Kelvin Sampson to call timeout less than two minutes into the second half.

Houston battled back to make it a two-point game, but then Pack made three 3s and Miller and Wooga Poplar hit one each to fuel a 16-2 run that put the Canes ahead 70-53. The lead grew to as much as 17 points, and Houston never got closer than 11 the rest of the way.

There was no denying it was Miami’s night after Houston made a mini run with under five minutes to play. With the shot clock running down, Omier was forced to put up a jumper just inside the free-throw line. It bounced off the front of the rim, then the backboard, then the front of the rim again before dropping through. A minute later, Houston’s Jarace Walker missed from point-blank range.

Walker led the Cougars with 16 points. Jamal Shead added 15 and All-American Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark had 14 apiece for the Cougars, who shot just 37% overall and 29% from distance.

Houston – which came into the game as a 7.5-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook – found itself behind at half for the second straight game after the Hurricanes played their sharpest half of the tournament.

Miami turned the ball over just once the first 20 minutes, converted Miami’s six turnovers into 15 points and shot 6 of 14 from distance against the second-best 3-point defense in the country.

Pack made four of them, and all were timely. His first three gave Miami leads and his fourth broke a 31-all tie.

San Diego State ousts No. 1 overall seed Alabama from NCAAs

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Darrion Trammell and San Diego State used a dominant defensive performance to knock top overall seed Alabama out of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night, bottling up All-America freshman Brandon Miller in a 71-64 victory in the Sweet 16.

Trammell scored 21 points while Miller, whose outstanding season was marred by off-the-court complications, was held to nine points on 3-of-19 shooting and had six turnovers.

The fifth-seeded Aztecs (30-6) will face either Creighton or Princeton on Sunday in the West Region final as they seek their first Final Four in program history. With fellow No. 1 seeds Purdue and Kansas losing during the tournament’s first weekend, Houston – which played Miami on Friday night – was the only top-seeded team remaining.

San Diego State trailed 48-39 midway through the second half before going on a 12-0 run and controlling the game from there. The Aztecs finished with eight blocked shots – five by Nathan Mensah – and forced 14 turnovers.

The March Madness run of Alabama (31-6) was clouded by its response to the Jan. 15 fatal shooting of a 23-year-old woman in Tuscaloosa, which led to capital murder charges against a then-Crimson Tide player, Darius Miles.

Miller was at the scene of the shooting and has not been charged, but police have said in court documents that Miles texted Miller to bring him his gun. Authorities have said Miller is a cooperating witness, and he did not miss any playing time. Miller has received armed security protection during the tournament.

Mark Sears had 16 points and Jahvon Quinerly and Charles Bediako scored 10 each for Alabama, which shot 32% overall and a miserable 3 of 27 (11.1%) from 3-point range. The Crimson Tide fell short of the second Elite Eight berth in school history.

“Alabama’s a great team. They have a lot of talented players and individuals,” Trammell said. “We knew it was going to be hard. It was a dogfight. Very physical.”

Sears’ layup got Alabama within 66-64 with 46 seconds remaining, but Matt Bradley made two free throws and Micah Parrish followed by making three of four attempts, including two with 17 seconds left.

Jaedon LeDee finished with 12 points for the Aztecs.

Houston-Miami matchup a battle for respect

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Top-seeded Houston is in the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament, but the Cougars don’t feel they receive the proper respect.

Heading into the second weekend of the tournament, that feeling lingers despite the Cougars being just one victory away from their third straight Elite Eight appearance.

“A lot of people were pushing for us to lose,” Houston guard Tramon Mark said. “They didn’t believe we were a real 1 seed because of the conference (American Athletic) we play in. But I think we’re one of the best teams in the country still, and we proved it.”

The Cougars (33-3) look to take the next step when they battle fifth-seeded Miami (27-7) on Friday night in Midwest Region play in Kansas City, Mo.

Houston spent the entire season near the top of the national rankings and surely isn’t a surprise Sweet 16 participant.

“I put ourselves in a whole different category,” forward J’Wan Roberts said. “I don’t compare us to other teams. We just stick to what we do, and it shows. Other No. 1 teams got beat, but we didn’t.”

The Cougars and Alabama are the No. 1 seeds still playing. Purdue lost in the opening round and Kansas fell in the second.

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson tries to simplify the approach during March Madness.

“We’ve been here many times in the final 16,” Sampson said. “The next 40 minutes are going to be big. We’ve got to find a way to get the next 40 minutes, and then we’ll move on from there. If not, it’s over.”

Star guard Marcus Sasser (groin) is still gimpy despite scoring 22 points in Saturday’s 81-64 win over Auburn. On Thursday, Sasser proclaimed he will be “around 90 percent” for the game. Teammate Jamal Shead (knee) said he is 100 percent recovered.

Mark scored a career-high 26 points against Auburn.

The Hurricanes are in the Sweet 16 in consecutive seasons for the first time in program history. Last season, they reached the Elite Eight before being routed 76-50 by eventual national champion Kansas.

Star guard Isaiah Wong said it is a great era for the Hurricanes, who are just two victories away from matching the school record.

“It’s just an honor being part of this program, with the history we have,” Wong said. “We have a great team this year and last year too, and I feel like it’s great to see how we came up.

“My first year we wasn’t as good, but for the last two years, we’re going to the Sweet 16, and last year the Elite Eight.”

Still, guard Jordan Miller said that Miami also doesn’t receive the level of respect it should.

“I wouldn’t say underappreciated, but at the end of the day, all we can do is just come out and win basketball games,” Miller said. “I feel like winning a game in itself is a way to get recognition. We’re going to the Sweet 16. That’s a lot of recognition. We don’t necessarily care about what the media says.”

Wong averages a team-best 16.1 points and Miller is right behind at 15.1 Nijel Pack and Norchad Omier both average 13.4 points with the latter collecting a team-leading 10.1 rebounds per game.

Omier grabbed 17 rebounds in Sunday’s 85-69 victory over Indiana. That was a program record for boards in an NCAA Tournament game, surpassing the 14 he collected two nights earlier in a 63-56 victory over Drake.

“If I’m being honest, I really don’t know,” Omier said of his success. “I just like playing with my teammates. They always motivate me to go do what I love to do, and I love rebounding.”

Wong scored 27 points against Indiana.

Miami guard Wooga Poplar, who injured his back against Indiana, has yet to be cleared but will be in the starting lineup if he can play.

Houston holds a 9-5 series edge over Miami but the schools haven’t met in 52 years.

The winner faces either second-seeded Texas or third-seeded Xavier in Sunday’s regional final.