The Sweet 16! Ah, it just sounds cool, right?
For college basketball athletes, reaching this point in the NCAA Tournament has become a symbol of accomplishment for most teams. It’s a point in most basketball programs where players and coaches can begin to recognize their achievements from a grueling college basketball season. For the 16 teams that remain in the tournaments, it’s a time to reach for loftier goals and go where they’ve never been before.
This season, especially on the men’s side of the tournament bracket, several standard traditional powerhouses aren’t in the tournament at all, such as Kentucky and Duke. This has opened up the door for several programs that now have a chance at the ultimate prize, a national championship.
The 16 teams that remain on the men’s side of things and their matchups include:
Gonzaga vs. Creighton
USC vs. Oregon
Michigan vs. Florida State
UCLA vs. Alabama
Syracuse vs. Houston
Loyola-Chicago vs. Oregon State
Oral Roberts vs. Arkansas
Baylor vs. Villanova
Three number #1 seeds remain in Baylor, Gonzaga, and Michigan. But let’s not leave out that feisty underdog mid-major teams of Loyola-Chicago and Oral Roberts.
When the tournament started last week the Big Ten and Big 12 had a combined 16 teams in the tournament. Today, there are two standing with Michigan and Baylor. For Baylor, if they were to win this weekend and get to the Final Four, it would be the first time since 1950.
I’m looking forward to the Oral Roberts versus Arkansas matchup. Oral Roberts hasn’t ever been this far in the tournament. Arkansas hasn’t been to the national championship game since 1995. Can Oral Roberts continue their magical run?
The often, underappreciated PAC 12, is represented with four teams still standing. With USC battling Oregon and UCLA battling Alabama and Oregon State going up against the other Cinderella program Loyola-Chicago, the PAC 12 has a good chance at reaching the Final Four.
And then there’s Michigan. Can they represent the Big Ten and restore any lingering respect for a conference that started with nine teams in the tournament? This past week, I’ve been amused at the number of Big Ten fans who are trying to excuse the Big Ten’s failures in this tournament, by saying things like, “Well our players were tired because they just played their conference tournaments!”
Hey NEWSFLASH, Big Ten fans, most conferences played a similar schedule as yours. And in any game, like basketball, shouldn’t you be playing your best at the end of the season when you’ve had the season to improve as a team?
Finally, can Gonzaga win this weekend and keep their hopes of a championship going and an undefeated season to boot? When I heard recently that no team west of the Mississippi River has won an NCAA title in the past 11 years, it got me convinced again that the Zags might be out of luck in this year’s tourney.
On the women’s side of the tournament the Sweet 16 is set with these matchups:
Connecticut vs Iowa
Michigan vs. Baylor
Indiana vs. North Carolina State
Arizona vs. Texas AM
Georgia Tech vs. South Carolina
Missouri State vs. Stanford
Oregon vs. Louisville
Texas vs. Maryland
Unlike the men’s tournament, the teams that remain in the Women’s Sweet 16 are the traditional powerhouses. All #1 seeds, including Connecticut, South Carolina, Stanford and North Carolina State remain. There aren’t any real surprises or Cinderella teams.
Missouri State and Georgia Tech are #5 seeds and haven’t been this far in the tourney for a while. Oregon is #6 but is familiar with reaching this stage after the last several years.
Baylor is looking to repeat as champions after their last championship over Notre Dame in 2019. Speaking of Notre Dame, the usual powerhouse program didn’t even make the tournament this season
Indiana, surprisingly, is going to its first-ever Sweet 16. They have battled with North Carolina State, who is a traditional regular in the Sweet 16, but haven’t been to an Elite 8 since 1998.
And then there’s always Connecticut, the standard of excellence in women’s basketball, who will be seeking their 12th title. They haven’t won the tournament since 2016, their longest drought between championships since 2004-2009.
Back in 2018, when my daughter’s Buffalo Bulls squad played in the Sweet Sixteen, they battled South Carolina and lost a very entertaining and close game. Even though they lost, the memories that were made from that time will last most players a lifetime.
The Sweet 16 tournaments this weekend will have the same effect and hopefully have a lasting impression on these young athletes playing the game they love. Since many of these players started playing this game when they were little kids, hitting that imaginary game-winning shot on the playgrounds of their youth, this new moment in time at the Sweet 16 will hopefully be another moment in time to revel in.