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Sweet Success: How Did Last 16 Teams Standing Get to the March Madness Regionals

There are 16 different stories regarding the path the 16 remaining teams took to get to the regionals.

Two No. 1 seeds (Kansas and Purdue) and two No. 2s (Arizona and Marquette) didn’t make it out of the regionals, while the only double-digit seed to get there is Princeton, the No. 15 seed in the South as that has made plenty of college basketball news.

Nick Pringle #23 of the Alabama Crimson Tide
Nick Pringle #23 of the Alabama Crimson Tide - Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images/afp

When it comes to the teams with the longest winning streaks, Gonzaga leads the way with 11 straight victories, followed by Florida Atlantic with nine. Princeton, San Diego State and Texas have all won six games in a row, which is something that those making college basketball predictions might want to keep in mind.

Gonzaga is tied with Merrimack for the longest active winning streak. Merrimack won the regular season and tournament titles in the Northeast Conference. However, the Warriors are still transitioning from Division II to Division I, so the NEC determined that while they could play in the conference tournament, Merrimack could not represent the conference in the NCAA tournament. That opened the door for Fairleigh Dickinson to become the latest Cinderella to garner national attention with its upset of top-seeded Purdue.

When looking at the college basketball picks, teams favored by at least 10 points won 11 of the first 13 games but covered just five times.

According to the March Madness odds, Alabama (+375) and Houston (+400) lead the way in the best odds to win the national title. UCLA (+750), Texas (+850), Creighton (+1000), Gonzaga (+1000), UConn (+1000) and Tennessee (+1100) are other top contenders.

Here is a look at the various paths teams took to reach the Sweet 16.

Playing Like Champs

Only three teams have won both the first and second round games by double digits.

Alabama, the No. 1 overall seed, has had no trouble dispatching Texas A&M Corpus Christi and Maryland as the Crimson Tide has won the first two games by 21 and 22 points.

— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 19, 2023

Fellow No. 1 seed Houston topped Northern Kentucky by 11 points and Auburn by 17. No. 4 seed UConn had some rough patches in the first half of both games before pulling away to top Iona 87-63 and Saint Mary’s 70-55 to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2014.

Welcome Back

Houston is just one of the five teams that also advanced to the Sweet 16 a season ago.

Gonzaga leads the way by making its eighth straight trip to the regionals. That streak was in jeopardy when Texas Christian led by five points with 12:18 left to play.

After rolling past UNC Asheville in the tournament opener, UCLA got everything it could handle from Northwestern before emerging with a hard-earned 68-63 win.

Miami looked to be in trouble against Drake in the first round before rallying late for a seven-point win in a game much closer than the 63-56 indicates. The Hurricanes dominated at the beginning and end of the Round of 32 takedown of Indiana.

Arkansas delivered one of the biggest wins of the tournament so far by eliminating defending champion Kansas 72-71 in the second round thanks to five free throws by Ricky Council in the final 24 seconds.

Inflicting the Pain

Some of the remaining teams are missing players whose absence might have led some who bet online to undervalue them.

That list has to start with Tennessee, as the Volunteers were listed by the sportsbook as underdogs against Duke in the second round after stumbling down the stretch. One of the major concerns was how Tennessee would handle tournament play without injured point guard Zakai Zeigler.

There was plenty of uncertainty surrounding Houston’s leading scorer Marcus Sasser after he suffered a groin injury that resulted in him missing the American Athletic Conference championship game loss. The concerns only grew when he was pulled from the tournament opener against Northern Kentucky. He had 22 points in 31 minutes in the 17-point win over Auburn.

There wasn’t quite as much hesitation when it came to getting behind UCLA and Xavier, even if the Bruins are without Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Jaylen Clark and Xavier hasn’t had Zach Freemantle in the lineup since a Jan. 28 loss to Creighton.

Quick Exits for Tournament Champions

One consistent trend through the first two rounds of the March Madness bracket was that winning the conference tournament did little to help teams once the NCAA tourney got underway.

While Big 12 champion Texas and SEC tournament champion Alabama still are alive in their national title quest, the winners of the conference tournaments in the other top eight leagues, according to the Sagarin ratings, didn’t make it to the regionals.

ACC champion Duke fell to Tennessee, Memphis went from taking down Houston in the American Athletic Conference title game to falling to Florida Atlantic in the first round, while Purdue (Big Ten) and Arizona (Pac-12) both fell in the tournament openers.

Three Big East teams reached the Sweet 16, but regular season and tournament champion Marquette was not only that trio. The Golden Eagles fell to Michigan State in the second round.

The only conference champion among the top leagues that was an underdog coming into the March Madness bracket was Boise State, as the Broncos fell to Northwestern in the first round.

The Big East and SEC lead the way with three teams remaining, followed by the Big 12 with two. Not too many people who bet online likely had Miami and Michigan State as the last teams standing in the ACC and Big Ten.

Narrow Escapes

Survive and advance became all the rage when North Carolina State perhaps made the most improbable run to the national championship in 1983.

There are some of the remaining teams that borrowed a script from the Wolfpack by barely advancing in the opening round.

There were some disputed calls at the end of Xavier’s game against Kennesaw State, and Florida Atlantic needed a basket by Nick Boyd with two seconds left to edge Memphis in the first round.

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