Early Look at the Final Eight Teams in the Sweet 16

by Nelly's Sports

Early Look at the Final eight teams in the Sweet 16 

Eight teams moved on Sunday to complete the Sweet 16 field in the 2022 NCAA Tournament. Here is an early look at those eight teams heading on to new venues for the next contests Thursday and Friday. 

South #5 Houston – defeated UAB (-9) 82-68, defeated Illinois (-3.5) 68-53

After making the Final Four last season Houston in back in the Sweet 16, pulling away from Illinois in the early game on Sunday. After early season non-conference wins over Virginia, Oregon, and Oklahoma State wound up carrying little weight, Houston has picked up two of its best wins in postseason action beating Memphis in its third try in the AAC Championship and beating Illinois. 

Only Fabian White was a significant contributor on last season’s Final Four team as it is completely different starting five for Kelvin Sampson due to two key injuries early in the season (Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark). Houston also had one of the weakest paths to the Final Four last season beating a #11 seed and a #12 seed in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8, after an incredible comeback escape against Rutgers in the Round of 32. 

Houston’s efficiency numbers are incredible if you respect the schedule the Cougars have faced, now climbing into the national top 10 on offense and defense. Forcing 17 turnovers against a veteran Illinois team was a stunning result and the free throw woes that have hurt Houston this season have not come into play so far in the tournament. This is not a great 3-point shooting team, but the addition of Josh Carlton gives the Cougars the size they lacked last season and this team should be considered a serious Final Four threat. 

South #2 Villanova – defeated Delaware (-14.5) 80-60, defeated Ohio State (-5) 81-71

Villanova lost to Baylor in the Sweet 16 last season, competing better with the eventual champion Bears than any other team on the six-game title run for the Bears. Four of five starters are back from that team this season as the Wildcats finished second in the Big East regular season (playing three more games than Providence) while winning the Big East tournament to land a #2 seed.

Villanova plays at a very deliberate pace and is the best free throw shooting team in the nation. The Wildcats also played a formidable non-conference schedule despite losing three of four big games, losing close games with UCLA and Purdue, and losing badly in a rematch with Baylor in Waco. The Wildcats did beat Tennessee in November by 18 for a strong result. 

Villanova is not an elite shooting team with average scoring numbers from 2-point range on both sides of the ball and slightly above average numbers from 3-point range on both sides of the ball. Turnovers are rare on offense, but the Wildcats don’t have elite height in the paint for the some potential problematic pairings moving forward in the bracket. 

Next Up is #11 seed Michigan in San Antonio on Thursday. 

West #2 Duke – defeated Cal-State Fullerton (-18.5) 78-61, defeated Michigan State (-6.5) 85-76

Some questioned Duke’s seeding on the 2-line in Coach K’s final run but the Blue Devils have avoided an early upset to reach the Sweet 16, after escaping a very tough game with Michigan State. Early season wins over Kentucky and Gonzaga are on the resume for Duke and so far the ACC has surpassed its regular season ratings with three Sweet 16 teams.

Duke has elite talent with four potential 1st round NBA draft picks, but the defense has not been at a championship level. Duke rarely forces turnover including getting only seven against Michigan State while five of Duke’s last six opponents have scored at least 76 points

Duke has excellent shooting numbers all over the floor but the ACC schedule did not feature a single top 40 defensive efficiency team and Duke’s path to the final four includes three top 15 defenses still remaining in the region. Duke scored at a 63% clip on 2-point shots in the Round of 32 and that will be tough to match in any upcoming game. 

Next Up is #3 seed Texas Tech Thursday in San Francisco. 

West #3 Texas Tech – defeated Montana State (-15) 97-62, defeated Notre Dame (-8) 59-53

Mark Adams has done a terrific job in taking over for Chris Beard at Texas Tech and the Red Raiders survived a tight Sunday contest with Notre Dame to reach the Sweet 16 after also delivering a blowout win in the Round of 64. Only one of five starters for the Red Raiders was with the team last and this group went 3-1 vs. Kansas and Baylor in the regular season. 

This is the best defense in the nation in many measures and so far the Red Raiders have kept their turnover counts in check after having issues with turnovers in the season numbers. The offense is a below average 3-point shooting team but has tremendous size and scores inside at a very successful rate. 

The non-conference schedule was one of the weakest paths in the nation however as the case that the defensive numbers could be overstated is valid for this team. Texas Tech was still the top defense in the top-rated conference this season however. 

Next Up is #2 seed Duke Thursday in San Francisco.

Midwest #11 Iowa State – defeated LSU (+3.5) 59-54, defeated Wisconsin (+4) 54-49

Iowa State is one of two #11 seeds to make the Sweet 16, relying on it defense to defeat LSU and Wisconsin in tight low-scoring games. The Cyclones are an amazing story as this was a 2-win team last season before T.J. Otzelberger transformed the roster, riding a 12-0 start as one of the great early season surprises. 

In Big XII play the Cyclones were less successful and the offensive numbers were among the worst in the conference in many areas. Iowa State scored 59 and 54 points in its wins with marginal shooting rates. With a trapping defense Iowa State is a difficult team to prepare for, particularly on a short turnaround and the Cyclones caught a huge break in the Round of 32 as Wisconsin lost its point guard to injury early in the game. 

Iowa State’s edge on defense may be less pronounced moving forward against a Miami squad with good quickness and elusive ball handlers, featuring on the lowest turnover rates in the nation. Kansas would be a potential draw in the Elite 8 and Iowa State lost both games in the regular season to the Jayhawks even with key players absent for Kansas. 

Next Up is #10 seed Miami, FL Friday in Chicago.  

Midwest #10 Miami, FL – defeated USC (+2) 68-66, defeated Auburn (+6.5) 79-61

Miami is a surprise third team in the Sweet 16 for the ACC after blasting #2 seed Auburn on Sunday following a Round of 64 escape against USC. The Hurricanes started 5-0 and wound up 14-6 in the ACC with a win at Duke likely critical in staying on the right side of the bubble. 

Miami has a top 20 offensive efficiency rate with one of the lowest turnover rates in the nation and this was the second-best team in the ACC in 2-point success rate at over 55 percent. Miami only had three wins vs. tournament teams this season and went 0-4 vs. Virginia and Florida State, two of the better defensive teams in the ACC as this group can have off games, including suffering five home losses. 

Miami’s defense was near the bottom in the ACC in effective field goal rate allowed and the Hurricanes faced a rather light ACC path this season. Jim Larranaga’s teams have not gone past the sweet 16 since he took over the program in 2011-12. 

Next Up is #11 seed Iowa State Friday in Chicago. 

East #4 Purdue – defeated Yale (-16.5) 78-56, defeated Texas (-3.5) 81-71

The Boilermakers were able to hold off Texas in a game with big swings Sunday to reach the Sweet 16, avoiding what could have been an 0-5 Sunday for the Big Ten. This is the sixth Sweet 16 appearance for Matt Painter, only advancing to the Elite 8 once in 2019. 

Purdue as some of the top-rated offensive numbers in the nation led by future NBA draft pick Jaden Ivey while also possessing rare size with 7’4” Zach Edey. The Boilermakers have avenged a round of 64 loss last season with this run, though in the Round of 32 a lot went right for Purdue, handed a 46-12 edge in free throw attempts. Purdue did dominate the defensive glass in that game and will draw what would conventionally be considered the most favorable matchup in the Sweet 16. 

Purdue’s defense is vulnerable, ranking ninth in the Big Ten in defensive efficiency while turnovers are a weak spot for the Boilermakers on both sides of the ball. Purdue was the worst free throw shooting team in the Big Ten at just 68 percent but delivered a slightly better success rate Sunday in the huge volume of opportunities. 

Next Up is #15 seed Saint Peter’s Friday in Philadelphia. 

South #1 Arizona – defeated Wright State (-22) 87-70, defeated TCU (-9.5) 85-80

Arizona is one of the Championship favorites after a brilliant first season under Tommy Lloyd. The Wildcats have been tested so far including needing an overtime escape Sunday night against TCU, surviving despite shooting below 20 percent on 3-point shots. Arizona’s talent is immense with size and length few teams can compete with. Benedict Mathurin is a star and a strong shooter all over the floor and this team is now 33-3, dominating a Pac-12 conference that made a lot of noise in last season’s tournament. 

Arizona is one of the least experienced teams in the nation however with a first-year coach and no NCAA Tournament experience for the starting five with only a few reserves having token postseason minutes at other schools. The 3-point shooting and turnover numbers are not at an elite level for Arizona and the strength of the Pac-12 can be questioned with several teams declining from last season.

Arizona will face a shorter turnaround than most this week going from the last game Sunday to playing Thursday with the move from San Diego to San Antonio, playing in the home state of its Sweet 16 opponent. This is a team with all the pieces to continue winning in March, but the group is a bit less proven than some of the other remaining contenders. 

Next Up is #5 seed in Houston in San Antonio Thursday. 

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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