Top seeds dominate in rare Sweet 16 field
RALEIGH, N.C. — The path to the Final Four will not be easy for Zion Williamson, Luke Maye, De’Andre Hunter and the other top-seeded stars in the NCAA Tournament.
For the first time in a decade, the remaining tournament field entering the Sweet 16 looks a lot like the one set on Selection Sunday.
The headlining teams are still around after avoiding upsets — some pretty serious scares, too (Hello, Duke!) — during an opening weekend that went unusually according to plan. Fourteen of the top 16, including all of the No. 1, 2 and 3 seeds, reached the regional semifinals for the first time since 2009.
The Atlantic Coast, Southeastern and Big Ten conferences gobbled up 12 of the 16 slots, with the ACC having a national-best five teams — led by top seeds Duke, Virginia and North Carolina — followed by the SEC’s four and the Big Ten’s three.
Here is a look at the updated paths in each region to reach the Final Four in Minneapolis:
Duke is the No. 1 overall seed, yet the Blue Devils are fortunate to still be alive after UCF had two shots for the win roll off the rim in the final seconds Sunday.
“We had a lot of foul trouble, and we are young, and we’re not deep,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said, “but we’re good.”
And now the Blue Devils (31-5) face a regional bracket in Washington that still has the top four seeds.
Duke faces No. 4 seed and fellow ACC member Virginia Tech (26-8), a rematch from one of Duke’s losses during the nearly six full games that Williamson, the star freshman, was out with a knee injury. Yet the Hokies — in the tournament’s second weekend for the second time in program history — will have point guard Justin Robinson, who missed 12 games with a foot injury and didn’t play in that February win.
Friday’s other semifinal will be No. 2 seed Michigan State (30-6) against No. 3 seed LSU (28-6) — which is still without suspended coach Will Wade amid a federal investigation into corruption within the sport.
Gonzaga, too, sits atop a 1-2-3-4 bracket.
The Zags (32-3) had little trouble reaching a national-best fifth straight Sweet 16. Now they find themselves in a familiar scenario: playing Florida State in the regional semifinals for the second straight year.
The fourth-seeded Seminoles (29-7) won last year’s meeting and have plenty of confidence after beating Virginia in the ACC Tournament semifinals.
“I thought they were really, really underseeded,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said, adding: “You have to beat really good teams to advance in this thing. So, we knew we were going to have to play somebody really good, and Florida State is no doubt that.”
Thursday’s other semifinal in Anaheim could be a rugged fight between No. 2 seed Michigan (30-6) and No. 3 seed Texas Tech (28-6). They’re the top two teams in KenPom.com’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings, with the Red Raiders first (85.3 points allowed per 100 possessions) followed by the Wolverines (85.8).