16 most interesting facts about the Sweet 16 field
Oh, how sweet it is.
Sorry. Had to.
The Sweet 16 is here. Sort of. It’ll kick off Thursday. We’re lacking blue-bloods, but we’re not lacking intrigue or interesting nuggets.
Here at 16 facts about the Sweet 16:
1. Rick Barnes did something he hasn’t done in 15 years … can he do it again?
The Tennessee coach beat a single-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008. That’s wild. He broke a streak of 8 consecutive losses against single-digit seeds and made it to the Sweet 16 weekend for the second time since 2008. Now, he’ll be matched up against a 9-seed FAU squad that suddenly has the nation’s attention after somehow finding a way against Memphis and then holding off 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson.
2. Speaking of FAU … their coach is a Bob Knight disciple (sort of)
Dusty May is a major climbing in the coaching profession. He started off as a student assistant under Bob Knight at Indiana in the late-1990s. In other words, he saw the twilight of Knight’s career (and what not to do to ruin your legacy). May’s only non-Conference USA loss of the year? Ole Miss. If his run continues, he’ll have to have a better result against an SEC foe (Tennessee), though not one who had a disastrous season that ended with a coach firing like Ole Miss did.
3. Miami was the ACC’s last hope, and it delivered
The ACC was on life support on Sunday night, but Isaiah Wong and the Hurricanes took down Indiana and extended the conference’s streak of having at least 1 Sweet 16 team in every NCAA Tournament since 1979. The ACC is the only league in America that has made every Sweet 16 since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Even in a down year in the ACC, that’s quite the streak. Another fun fact? Norchad Omier is the first Nicaraguan-born Division I basketball player ever … and he dominates the glass.
4. Houston is trying to become the first team since 2010 Butler to …
… earn a Final Four berth as the host university. Shoot, we’ve only had 1 team from a bordering state make the Final Four since Butler got to play down the road at Lucas Oil Stadium in 2010 (2016 Oklahoma). I suppose that would balance out the fact that Houston had to play a Round of 32 game against Auburn in Birmingham.
5. Alabama’s up-tempo style is super rare among this field
According to KenPom, Alabama is only team left in the field that ranks in the top 30 in adjusted tempo. The Tide rank 5th in that category. In fact, Alabama is the only team in America — not just among NCAA Tournament teams — that ranks in the top 30 in both tempo and adjusted defensive efficiency (No. 4). Who else ranks in the top 5 nationally in that category? Alabama’s Sweet 16 opponent, San Diego State.
6. Recognize San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher? Here’s why
The Aztecs coach was Steve Fisher’s right-hand man for decades at Michigan and at San Diego State. Most notably, Dutcher played a huge part in recruiting the Fab 5, and if you’ve seen the ESPN doc, you’ve seen plenty of Dutcher. At San Diego State, he helped recruit Kawhi Leonard. Now running his own program after decades as an assistant, Dutcher reached the Sweet 16 for the first time. Another fun fact? SDSU is trying to become the Mountain West’s first team to reach the Elite Eight.
7. Princeton is trying to do something that’s never been done
That is, reach an Elite Eight as a 15-seed. Princeton was the 11th team to ever win a Round of 64 game as a 15-seed. However, 2013 Florida Gulf Coast, AKA “Dunk City” and 2021 Oral Roberts are the lone 15-seeds to advance to the Sweet 16. Well, include Princeton in that club now. Princeton can join its own club as the first 15-seed to reach the Elite Eight if it can beat Creighton.
8. This Creighton team already made it further than Doug McDermott’s ever did
Isn’t that weird? Given how much the high-scoring McDermott was a staple of the sport, it’s wild to think he never got out of opening weekend in March. This is, however, the 2nd time in 3 years that McDermott’s dad, Greg McDermott, led the Bluejays to the second weekend. He’s trying for the program’s first Elite Eight appearance since the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration.
9. Is Sean Miller the best active coach to have not been to a Final Four?
I hear you, Matt Painter apologists. But your boy also just lost to a 16-seed. Chill. Miller has to at least be in that conversation having reached the Elite Eight 4 times and never getting to a Final Four. Even more impressive was the fact that 1 of them came during his first stint at Xavier. Other names worthy of being on the “best coach to have never made a Final Four” would be Leonard Hamilton, Jamie Dixon and probably a few others I’m forgetting. I suppose that’s not a fact. What is a fact about Miller? He’s actually 1 of 3 coaches to lead Xavier to the Elite Eight — he did so in 2008 — in the past 2 decades.
10. Texas is in the Sweet 16 for the first time in 15 (!) years
Remember how I mentioned those Rick Barnes March struggles? Well, it wasn’t just him. Chris Beard’s lone NCAA Tournament with the Longhorns was a Round of 32 loss. Shaka Smart couldn’t get past the Round of 32 at Texas, either. Go figure that it took interim coach Rodney Terry, who was on Barnes staff during that last Sweet 16 appearance, to finally end that drought after Beard’s arrest and firing.
11. Arkansas has 1 player who has been a part of all 3 Eric Musselman teams that reached the Sweet 16 … Devo Davis
If you don’t know the electric, high-energy guard, well, you should. He was brilliant in the stunner of defending champ Kansas in the Round of 32. Think this means a lot to Davis?
Man, seeing Devo Davis this emotional is everything March is about.
“This team has struggled and we figured it out. I’m glad we did at the right time, and hopefully we continue to do it.” pic.twitter.com/4EyjMEH0mI
— Connor O’Gara (@cjogara) March 19, 2023
The rest of Arkansas’ lineup, as it always is with Musselman, is loaded with transfers and sensational true freshmen. Davis is indeed 1 of 1. He’ll have a big say in whether Arkansas can get past UConn and reach its 3rd consecutive Elite Eight for the first time in program history.
12. UConn’s best player, Adama Sanogo, has quite the backstory
Besides the fact that he grew up in Mali and his family still lives there, Sanogo speaks 4 languages. He also didn’t start playing basketball until 2014. Go figure that was also the last time that UConn reached the Sweet 16. Sanogo was a huge part of that with his dominance against Iona in the opening round. In fact, he became the fastest player to reach 25 points and 10 rebounds in an NCAA Tournament game since 1984. Oh, and UConn is a perfect 18-0 when he scores 20 points.
13. Drew Timme is somehow still in college
I mean, you knew this. Just had to remind you when you inevitably turn on Gonzaga and realize that the mustached big is still out here dropping post moves at age 38 (he’s only 22 if you can believe it).
14. … and so are Jaime Jaquez and Tyger Campbell, who get potential revenge vs. Gonzaga
Remember the Jalen Suggs overtime buzzer-beater against UCLA in the Final Four 2 years ago? It was an all-time March moment that’s surely been on the minds of both fan bases since it sent the Zags to the national championship game in 2021. I have to image that’ll be on the minds of Jaquez and Campbell, both of whom had big nights in the devastating loss. Now, though, UCLA enters as the higher-seeded team instead of as the 11-seed that had to play in the First Four just to make the field of 64. Sure, it’s a different team, but this has “revenge game” written all over it for Mick Cronin’s squad.
15. Michigan State is the Big Ten’s last chance to end that national title drought, which is fitting
Golly. Another March went into the toilet for the conference. The Big Ten hasn’t taken home a hoops title since 2000 when Izzo’s “Flintstones” squad cut down the nets. I suppose it makes sense that the Spartans are the Big Ten’s last team left standing. Izzo is coaching in his 15th Sweet 16, which is just slightly different than his counterpart, first-year Kansas State head coach and longtime Baylor assistant Jerome Tang.
16. If you root for nobody else in the Sweet 16, root for Keyontae Johnson
If you don’t know Johnson’s story, here’s the Reader’s Digest version. The Kansas State star started his career at Florida, where he was a freshman sensation, and he was the preseason SEC Player of the Year in 2020 when he collapsed on the court in the middle of a game against Florida State. For those who remember the Hank Gathers tragedy at Loyola-Marymount, well, this could’ve been that. Johnson was in a medically induced coma for 3 days before awaking and responding to treatment. That sidelined him for the rest of the 2020-21 season and all of the 2021-22 season. At the end of the 2021-22 season, he transferred to Kansas State, where he became even better than the player he was before he collapsed.
On Dec. 12, 2020, Keyontae Johnson collapsed on the court during a game while at Florida.
Just over two years later, he’s back playing the game he loves and starring at Kansas State.
He reflects on his journey with @sportsiren: pic.twitter.com/c1gJ9gcyhj
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 13, 2023
Johnson even hit a dagger 3 to send Kentucky packing in the Round of 32. Regardless of what his future and life holds, Johnson’s comeback is a made-for-Hollywood story.