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2023 NCAA Tournament: Ranking all 8 Sweet 16 games

The 2023 NCAA Tournament now heads to the Sweet 16 starting on Thursday. There were several upsets over the first four days of the tourney. That includes a 15th-seeded Princeton Tigers team winning both of its games.

Can Princeton take out Creighton for a rare appearance in the Elite 8? Meanwhile, Gonzaga and UCLA will go up against one another in a rematch from the Final Four a couple years back.

Here, Sportsnaut ranks all eight Sweet 16 games as the 2023 NCAA Tournament heads for its second weekend of action.

Related: Everything you need to know about the 2023 NCAA Tournament

8 — (9) Florida Atlantic vs (4) Tennessee

ranking sweet 16 games: tennessee vs florida atlantic
Russell Lansford-USA TODAY Sports
  • When: Thursday, March 23 at 9:00 PM ET
  • TV: TBS
  • Point spread: Tennessee (-5.0)

After barely surviving Louisiana in the first round, Tennessee made quick work of a then-red hot Duke team in the Round of 32. Olivier Nkamhoua was absolutely brilliant throughout the matchup, dropping 27 points on 10-of-13 shooting. This came after he scored just eight points in the opener.

With the Vols playing great basketball heading into this Sweet 16 matchup, we’re not sold on Florida Atlantic to keep this one close. The Owls defeated Memphis by a single point in Round 1 before taking out Fairleigh Dickinson in the second round. Size is going to be an issue for Dusty May’s squad, likely leading to a third-round exit inside Madison Square Garden.

7 — (5) Miami vs (1) Houston

sweet 16, ncaa tournament: houston cougars
Jake Crandall/ Advertsier / USA TODAY NETWORK
  • When: Friday, March 24 at 7:15 PM ET
  • TV: CBS
  • Point spread: Houston (-7.0)

Led by Isaiah Wong and Jordan Miller, Miami has pulled off some impressive wins heading into the Sweet 16. That included taking out Indiana by 16 points in the Round of 32. The Hurricanes were also 3-0 during the regular season against top-25 teams.

In no way does this mean Miami will have what it takes to defeat an athletic Houston squad that’s won 33 of 36 games and ranks No. 2 in the nation in points allowed. Kelvin Sampson’s squad identifies with on-ball defense. This came out in droves during an 81-64 win over Auburn last weekend. Houston held the Tigers to 38% shooting from the field, including a 31% mark from three-point range.

6 — (7) Michigan State vs (3) Kansas State

ncaa tournament, sweet 16
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK
  • When: Thursday, March 23 at 3:30 PM ET
  • TV: TBS
  • Point spread: Michigan State (-2.0)

Michigan State’s ability to remain alive in the NCAA Tournament will rely a great deal on Tyson Walker and Joey Hauser scoring. The two have combined to average north of 29 points per game on the season. They also showed up big time in a Round 2 win over Marquette, scoring a combined 37 points on 10-of-19 from the field. That included going to the charity stripe 15 times.

Unfortunately for the Spartans, it won’t come easy against a Kansas State squad that held Kentucky to 69 points last weekend. The Wildcats forced a whopping 16 turnovers. They also held Kentucky to 4-of-20 from three-point range.

The other major question here is whether star Kansas State guard Markquis Nowell can duplicate what we saw against Kentucky. The senior scored 27 points on 7-of-14 shooting. It was his best scoring output since back in early January.

5 — (8) Arkansas vs (4) Connecticut

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round-Arkansas vs Kansas
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
  • When: Thursday, March 23 at 4:15 PM ET
  • TV: CBS
  • Point spread: Connecticut (-3.5)

Eric Musselman just knows how to get his Razorbacks to play when it matters the most. Arkansas was a true bubble team heading into the SEC Postseason Tournament. But a win over Auburn punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Now, heading into the Sweet 16, there’s some who believe that a repeat of last year could be on the horizon.

Arkansas is coming off two consecutive Elite 8 appearances. It has experience with transfer Ricky Council leading the charge. Meanwhile, stud freshman Anthony Black performed well during the regular season. Unfortunately, he shot a mere 5-of-18 from the field in the Razorback’s first two tourney games. That must change.

UConn is also in an interesting situation right now. The Huskies have won 11 of 13 dating back to late January. This span has seen junior forward Adama Sanogo average north of 18 points and 7.9 rebounds on 66% shooting. He averaged 26 points in the first two tourney games. The three players mentioned here will play vital roles in who advances to the Elite 8 come Thursday afternoon in Las Vegas.

4 — (15) Princeton vs (6) Creighton

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round-Princeton vs Missouri
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
  • When: Friday, March 24 at 9:00 PM ET
  • TV: TBS
  • Point spread: Creighton (-9.5)

Let’s look at this from a logical perspective with Princeton finding itself as near double-digit dogs heading into the Sweet 16. Here’s a team that took out a true National Championship contender in that of Arizona back in Round 1. It then blew past Missouri by 15 points this past weekend.

Mitch Henderson’s squad has won six consecutive since a Feb. 18 loss to Yale. Seven of Princeton’s eight losses have either come by single digits or in overtime. The Tigers have not lost an NCAA Tournament game by double digits since 2004 under John Thompson. That now includes a span of five games.

The moral of this story? We fully expect Princeton to keep this one close and entertaining Friday evening in Lexington. Whether another upset win is in the cards remains to be seen, as we can’t discount what Creighton has also done this season. The team has been battle tested in a big way with 13 games against top-25 opponents thus far in 2022-23.

Related: Princeton’s cinderella story, other upsets define first weekend of NCAA Tournament

3 — (5) San Diego State vs (1) Alabama

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round-Maryland vs Alabama
Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports
  • When: Friday, March 24 at 3:30 PM ET
  • TV: TBS
  • Point spread: Alabama (-7.5)

There are several things to focus on when it comes to this huge Sweet 16 game come Friday evening in Kentucky. More than anything, the status of star forward Brandon Miller will play a role for Alabama. He was limited in the first round against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi due to a groin injury. Miller returned to roughly 80% in the second round, scoring 19 points on just 3-of-11 shooting against Maryland.

The top-seed Crimson Tide are not going up against Corpus Christi or an average Terps squad in this one. Instead, they’ll be tasked with taking on a lanky and athletic San Diego State squad that can go nine deep with six players standing at 6-foot-6 or taller.

A transfer from CAL, guard Matt Bradley could pose a major problem for Alabama. He’s hit on 9-of-18 from three-point range thus far in the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, senior forward Jaedon Ledee’s size and bulk (6-foot-9, 240 pounds) could provide a test for Miller. He had 10 rebounds back in Round 1 against Charleston.

2 — (3) Xavier vs (2) Texas

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round-Penn State vs Texas
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
  • When: Friday, March 24 at 9:45 PM ET
  • TV: CBS
  • Point spread: Texas (-4.0)

Texas is making its first appearance in the Sweet 16 since 2014 and is attempting to play in the Elite 8 for the first time since all the way back in 2008. As for Xavier, this represents the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2019. There’s a whole heck of a lot on the line with these teams meeting Friday evening in Missouri to close out Sweet 16 action.

The Longhorns made quick work of Colgate in the first round before being put to the test by Penn State this past weekend. Forward Dylan Disu’s 28-point performance on 14-of-20 shooting was the difference in that one. The senior is actually averaging 16.5 points and 7.4 rebounds over Texas’ past eight games.

With Xavier forward Zach Freemantle out for the season, it will be interesting to see how the frontcourt duo of Jerome Hunter and Jack Nunge perform against Disu. They combined for 32 points in last weekend’s second-round win over Pittsburgh.

Related: 9 greatest March Madness upsets in NCAA tournament history

1 — (3) Gonzaga vs (2) UCLA

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round-Northwestern vs UCLA
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
  • When: Thursday, March 23 at 9:45 PM ET
  • TV: CBS
  • Point spread: UCLA (-2.0)

Gonzaga and UCLA last played in the NCAA Tournament back in 2021 with the Bulldogs defeating the Bruins in the national semifinal. It was one of the best Final 4 matchups in recent college basketball history. Interestingly enough, UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez and Gonzaga’s Drew Timme took part in that epic game.

Both will play huge roles as these two west coast rivals decide who advances to the Elite 8. UCLA defeated its first two opponents in the NCAA Tournament by a combined 38 points. Though, Northwestern provided some fight in the Round of 32. Jaquez’s 24 points was the difference in that one.

Meanwhile, Timme went for 28 points as Gonzaga took out a game Texas Christian squad in the Round of 32. In fact, the big man is averaging 22.0 points and 7.3 rebounds in his past eight outings.

Outside of these two big-name players, the injury UCLA guard David Singleton suffered last round could play a big role in this one. While he’s likely to suit up Thursday evening, the ankle sprain he suffered is something to watch. Either way, this promises to be an absolutely elite matchup Thursday night inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

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