March Madness

Six players to watch in the Sweet 16 of the men's NCAA Tournament

A lack of upsets in the first two rounds means there are plenty of familiar faces in the Sweet 16

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So, this wasn't exactly Cinderella's year.

Of the 16 teams still standing in the men's NCAA Tournament, many storied programs remain due to the lack of upsets through the first two rounds. All No. 1 and No. 2 seeds advanced to the Sweet 16 for just the fifth time since 1979 when the NCAA Tournament began seeding.

Only one double-digit seed is still standing: NC State, which has won two national championships.

But since there wasn't all that much madness in March, there are a lot of familiar faces in the Sweet 16. Of the 15 players named to one of this year's Associated Press All-American teams, 12 are still competing in the NCAA Tournament.

Here are six players to watch in the Sweet 16...


Or as some people call him: Zachille O'Neal. Well, actually, only one person calls him that: Shaquille O'Neal. But that's high praise from an NBA legend, and well-deserved for the 7-foot-4, 300-pound senior who is expected to be named national Player of the Year for the second straight season.

Edey entered the tournament averaging a nation-leading 24.4 points and 11.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. He then had a 31-point, 21-rebound performance in the first round and then had 23 points and 14 rebounds in the second round. Edey became the first player in the NCAA Tournament with three straight games of 20-plus points and three-plus blocks guessed it, Shaquille O'Neal. 

Here are five things you should know about Purdue big man Zach Edey.   


When Dalton Knecht shoots, he often connects. The SEC Player of the Year averaged 21.1 points per game this season while shooting 46.5 percent from the field and 39.7 percent from 3. Knecht, a 6-foot-6 guard, transferred to Tennessee following two years at Northeastern Junior College and two years at Northern Colorado, leading the Big Sky Conference in scoring last season at 20.2 points per game.

In his NCAA Tournament debut last week, Knecht had 23 points on 8-for-15 shooting, including 4 of 8 from 3, in a first-round victory. He followed that up with an 18-point, 9-rebound performance, although he struggled with his shot (5-for-18). Knecht, who had 30-plus points in seven games this season, has the scoring ability to carry the Vols deep into March.   


The best player on the best team. Tristen Newton opted to return to UConn after winning a national championship last season to show what he could do as the team's first option and lead playmaker. The 6-5 guard, who spent his first three seasons at East Carolina, went on to lead the Huskies in scoring (15.2 points per game) and assists (6.0) and was second in rebounding (7.0).

Oh, and he also guided Connecticut to a 31-3 record and now has the team four wins away from becoming the first men's basketball team to win back-to-back NCAA Tournaments since Florida in 2007. Newton had 13 points and eight rebounds in a first-round rout, and 20 points and 13 rebounds in a second-round victory.


Jamal Shead made history this season in the Big 12 by becoming the first to win player of the year and defensive player of the year in the same season. He has a chance to make more history during the NCAA Tournament if he can lead the University of Houston to its first national championship.

The Cougars have reached the Final Four six times in program history, the most of any team to have never won the title. Shead was on one of Houston's semifinal teams as a seldom-used freshman. He has developed into a defensive anchor, averaging 2.3 steals for a team that entering the tournament leading the nation at 57 points allowed per game. The 6-1 guard also averaged 13.1 points and 6.2 assists per game during the season -- recording a double-double with 21 points and 10 assists in a 100-95 overtime win over Texas A&M in the second round. 


Caleb Love could be the focus of an Elite Eight revenge game. The 6-4 guard transferred to Arizona after three tumultuous seasons at North Carolina, in which he was part of the 2022 team that reached the national championship and 2023 team that disastrously missed the postseason while Love shot just 37.8 percent from the field on 15.1 attempts per game.

In his first season with the Wildcats, he was named Pac-12 Player of the Year after averaging a personal-best 18.1 points per game on 41.8% shooting, including 34.3% on 7.7 3-point attempts per. The green light stays on despite inconsistent efficiency, with Love recording an 18-point, 11-rebound double-double while shooting 6-for-17 from the field, including 3 of 12 from deep, in a first-round win over Long Beach State. Percentages slightly improved in his 19-point, five-assist performance in the second round. A win over Clemson could put Love and No. 2 Arizona in an Elite Eight matchup North Carolina.    


RJ Davis became the Tar Heels' top option with Caleb Love out of the picture and box score. The 6-foot guard went on to lead the ACC in scoring at 21.4 points per game, shooting 43.6% from the field, including 40.6% on 7.7 3-point attempts per.

He's boosted his efficiency through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, shooting 53.6% from the field and 50% from deep in two lopsided North Carolina wins.

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