NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 tips off with plenty of favorites still in field

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Last year’s NCAA Tournament was an epic ride for the underdogs, from UMBC’s historic takedown of No. 1 Virginia to Loyola-Chicago’s march to the Final Four.

This year, Cinderella stayed home to get some beauty sleep.

Top seeds and power programs only, please.

The top three seeds are still alive in each of the four regions of the Sweet 16 for just the second time (2009) since the bracket expanded in 1985. That’s too bad for the upstarts, but certainly should make for some high-level basketball this weekend.

To get you ready for a Sweet 16 of favorites, here’s a rundown of what to look for when the ball goes up on Thursday:

Top teams

Duke: The Blue Devils had a scare against Tacko and the Knights, but are still the No. 1 overall seed and still loaded.

Virginia: No first-round exit this year. The Cavaliers won their first two games by a combined 27 points.

North Carolina: Coby White is dominating and Nassir Little is playing well at just the right time. Will be hard to stop these Heels.

Gonzaga: The Zags zonked their first two opponents and are looking unstoppable.

Kentucky: The Wildcats won their first two games without PJ Washington. Now that he may be back, watch out.

Star players

Zion Williamson, Duke: Maybe you’ve heard of him.

Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga: Rui Hachimura gets all the attention, Clarke just gets it done — at both ends.

Coby White, North Carolina: His game is as great as his hair.

Grant Williams, Tennessee: Vols’ junior forward is loading up the stat sheet and taking them deep into the bracket.

De’Andre Hunter, Virginia: Need a bucket, rebound, dish, stop? He’s your guy.

Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech: Dominates at both ends of the floor.

Carsen Edwards, Purdue: He gets hot, forget about trying to guard him.

Best matchups

Gonzaga vs. Florida State, West Region, Thursday: Rematch of last year’s Sweet 16 — the Seminoles won a year ago — will be filled with long, athletic players.

Virginia vs. Oregon, South Region, Thursday: Like defense? This is your game. Take the under.

LSU vs. Michigan State, East Region, Friday: Tremont Waters against Cassius Winston? All day, every day.

North Carolina vs. Auburn, Midwest Region, Friday: Could be like watching a tennis match as the players race from one end to the next.

Michigan vs. Texas Tech, West Region, Thursday: Might be a few bruises after this one. First one to 50 wins?

International flavor

The Sweet 16 has 28 international players on its rosters, with all but four teams having at least one player from outside the United States. Here’s a few to keep an eye on:

R.J. Barrett, Duke: Zion, Zion, Zion. That’s all we seem to hear about from Durham, but this Canadian can fill it up.

Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga: Versatile Japanese big man is a matchup nightmare with his ability to post up, square up or put up 3s.

Mamadi Diakite, Virginia: The athletic forward from Guinea took up basketball because he grew too tall for soccer. It’s worked out for him and the Cavaliers.

Killian Tillie, Gonzaga: The versatile French forward spent most of the regular season injured. Healthy now, he makes the Zags legitimate national title contenders.

Ehab Amin, Oregon: The only Egyptian in the bracket can heat up in a hurry, like he did at the Pac-12 tournament.

Numbers

1—Perfect brackets remaining. Gregg Nigl of Ohio knows something the rest of us don’t. He has Gonzaga beating Kentucky in the title game.

3.1—Average seed of the remaining 16 teams.

11—Blocked shots in two NCAA Tournament games by Oregon’s Kenny Wooten.

12—Oregon’s seed, lowest left in the bracket. No. 5 Auburn is next lowest.

18—Steals by Tennessee in two NCAA Tournament games.

25—Times Duke has reached the Sweet 16 under coach Mike Krzyzewski.

35—Years since Houston last reached the Sweet 16. Those of a certain age will remember Phi Slama Jama.

77—Bench points by Florida State so far in the NCAA Tournament.

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