Good afternoon, all. I just sat down at press row at the AT&T Center. Time to rap out a few notes on the Sweet 16.
First, the Michigan-Villanova game.
Michigan (19-14) hopes to win and advance to the Elite Eight for the 15th time (16 if you include the 1993 game, which was vacated because of NCAA infractions).
The Wolverines have advanced to the Elite Eight round recently in 2018, when the John Beilein-coached team swept into the Final Four and lost the NCAA title game to Villanova, and last year under coach Juwan Howard. Last year, the UCLA Bruins beat the Wolverines by two in the R8 to deny Howard his first trip to the Final Four as a head coach.
If Michigan wins, it would be the second year in a row that an 11 seed has reached the Elite Eight but only the ninth time since 1985. Since ’85, only five 11 seeds have made it all the way to the Final Four.
The Wolverines started the season with high hopes but fell into a funk during Big Ten competition, going 4-4 leading into the postseason. After losing to Indiana in the first game of the conference tournament, Michigan entered NCAAs as a No. 11 seed and defeated six seed Colorado State (75-63) and three seed Tennessee (76-68).
Villanova (28-7) is shooting for its 16th trip to the Eight, 17 if you count the vacated 1971 tournament. The Wildcats have reached the R8 four times previously under Coach Jay Wright, advancing in 2006, 2009, 2016 and 2018. The Wildcats won NCAA championships in both 2016 and 2018. The ’18 title was claimed at the Alamodome with a victory over Michigan.
The Wildcats enter the Sweet 16 on a high. They’ve won seven straight. They’re also 12-1 in their last 13 games. Seeded second in the South, Villanova downed (15) Delaware 80-60 and (7) Ohio State 71-61.
In the second game of the night, it’s Houston vs. Arizona.
Houston (31-5) is hunting its 14th trip to the Elite Eight. The Cougars made the R8 last season on the way to its first Final Four trip in 37 years. The Quentin Grimes-led Cougars lost in the national semifinals to the Baylor Bears, who went on to claim the NCAA championship. It was Houston’s first Final Four since the 1983-’84 days of Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Phi Slama Jama.
Despite losing two star players around the first of the calendar year, the Cougars are hot coming into the Sweet 16. They have won five straight. In their last 12 games, they are 11-1. Houston won the AAC tournament in Fort Worth with victories over Cincinnati, Tulane and Memphis. Moving into the NCAA tournament, the Cougars drew a No. 5 seed and set out for Pittsburgh, where they downed the UAB Blazers, 68-53, and then knocked off four seed Illinois, 68-53.
Arizona (33-3) hopes to win and claim a 12th berth in the Elite Eight. The Wildcats last made it to the R8 in 2011, 2014 and 2015. Arizona is one of the hottest teams in the nation at the moment. The Wildcats have won seven straight. In their last 18 games, they are 17-1. Arizona defeated Wright State, 87-70, in the first round of the tournament at San Diego. The Wildcats outlasted the TCU Horned Frogs, 85-80, in overtime in the round of 32.