We have the top-ranked team in the country (and its controversial story), one of the best all-time coaches in March, everyone’s favourite ‘mid-major’ and a No. 15 seed in the men’s Sweet 16.
All in all, hard to complain much about who’s left in March Madness — though from a Canadian perspective, it won’t be quite the same without likely NCAA player of the year Zach Edey and Purdue on the court following the Boilermakers’ stunning loss to little FDU in the opening round.
Let’s take a look at some of the intriguing storylines as the road to the Final Four in Houston continues.
Alabama’s Miller, Oats in spotlight
The top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide made it through the first two rounds without major difficulties, though it was more than a bit odd to see star Brandon Miller go scoreless in their opener.
Miller, of course, has been under intense scrutiny since police testimony came out that he transported a gun that was used in a fatal shooting and was at the scene of the crime earlier this year. Miller was not charged with any crime — two others were charged with capital murder — and Alabama did not suspend him.
This week, more than a few eyebrows were raised when famous Alabama football coach Nick Saban suspended highly regarded freshman defensive back Tony Mitchell, who was arrested for marijuana possession and intent to sell/distribute.
In a press conference, Saban said of Mitchell: “There’s no such thing as being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Alabama basketball coach Nate Oats used strikingly similar words — simply saying Miller was in “the wrong spot at the wrong time” — when originally explaining what transpired with his star player. The former University at Buffalo coach later apologized for his choice of words.
Saban, meanwhile, still showed his support for the basketball team on Wednesday.
All eyes will be on Miller and Oats when Alabama faces San Diego State in Louisville on Friday.
Izzo marches on
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is back in the Sweet 16 for an astounding 15th time in 28 years.
This one was unexpected with his seventh-seeded team upsetting No. 2 Marquette last week.
Izzo has a tournament record 16 wins when coaching a lower-seeded team.
He’ll try to do it again Thursday at Madison Square Garden against a third-seeded Kansas State team that was picked by many to finish at the bottom of its conference this year.
“When you talk to — for us, the Steve Smiths and Magic Johnsons — there’s nothing like the mecca. There’s nothing like Madison Square Garden,” Izzo said.
The Wildcats, meanwhile, have one of the best stories in the tournament — transfer standout Keyontae Johnson, who collapsed on the court while playing for Florida in December 2020 and was in a coma for three days.
The UCLA-Gonzaga battle in Las Vegas — hosting March Madness games for the first time — on Thursday is one of the marquee matchups.
Gonzaga has forever been the elite team from outside the Power Five.
Led by the six-foot-10 Drew Timme (averaging 21.1 points, 7.3 rebounds), the third-seeded Zags are in the Sweet 16 for the eighth time in a row — best in the country.
“The Sweet 16 run of eight years and making it (24) years straight is probably the thing I’m most proud about, what all our teams have been able to accomplish,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “It means we’ve stayed relevant. We haven’t dropped off. We haven’t taken a year in the NIT or couple years in the NIT. We haven’t lost the first round.
“And, again, the guys deserve all the credit for maintaining that kind of winning DNA and just figuring it out.”
There’s great history here, too. In 2021, Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs hit a three at the buzzer from just inside half court to beat UCLA in a national semifinal.
And in the 2006 Sweet 16, UCLA scored the final 11 points to edge Gonzaga and star player Adam Morrison 73-71.
Gonzaga has the country’s best offence. UCLA is sixth in defence. Great matchup.
Quite the weekend in Vegas, too, with Taylor Swift playing two sold-out concerts at the 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium.
For the second year in a row, a No. 15 team from New Jersey is in the Sweet 16.
The Princeton Tigers are the Jersey upstarts this year, following last year’s historic run to the Elite Eight by the Saint Peter’s Peacocks.
After beating two Power Five schools in Arizona and Missouri, Princeton faces another surprise squad in No. 6-seeded Creighton on Friday.
The Tigers are the first Ivy League outfit since Cornell in 2010 to make it this far.
Keep an eye on…
• Solid coaching matchup on Thursday in Las Vegas between Eric Musselman of Arkansas and Dan Hurley of UConn. Both men come from well-known coaching families.
Musselman, a former Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings coach, is looking to go to the Elite Eight for the third year in a row with Arkansas.
Musselman made headlines last week when he took ripped off his shirt to celebrate his team’s win over top-seeded Kansas.
• It didn’t look like a hometown Final Four was in store for top-seeded Houston when the Cougars trailed by 10 at halftime in the second round last week against Auburn, but the favourites stormed back for an 81-64 win.
The Cougars did so with star Marcus Sasser battling a groin injury and point guard Jamal Shead dealing with a knee injury.
It’s a tough road ahead, though, with No. 5 Miami next and then No. 2 Texas or No. 3 Xavier awaiting the winner in Kansas City.
No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 3 Kansas State, 6:30 p.m. ET / 3:30 p.m. PT (New York)
No. 8 Arkansas vs. No. 4 UConn, 7:15 p.m. ET / 4:15 p.m. PT (Las Vegas)
No. 9 Florida Atlantic vs. No. 4 Tennessee, 9 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. PT (New York)
No. 3 Gonzaga vs. No. 2 UCLA, 9:45 p.m. ET / 6:45 p.m. PT (Las Vegas)
No. 5 San Diego State vs. No. 1 Alabama, 6:30 p.m. ET / 3:30 p.m. PT (Louisville),
No. 5 Miami vs. No. 1 Houston, 7:15 p.m. ET / 4:15 p.m. PT (Kansas City)
No. 15 Princeton vs. No. 6 Creighton, 9 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. PT (Louisville)
No. 3 Xavier vs. No. 2 Texas, 9:45 p.m. ET / 6:45 p.m. PT (Kansas City)