The Sweet 16 survivors wear jerseys with names long a part of the NCAA Tournament mystique, and the seeds played out mostly to form — a sub-par development if you like to cheer for the little guys.
But the teams still dancing survived a four-day set of first- and second-round games chock full of compelling and competitive thrillers.
The winners set up powerhouse showdowns for the regional semifinals and finals. No. 5 Purdue and No. 12 Arizona are the only seeds below No. 4 still playing.
Here’s a look at the remaining teams, along with picks of who will emerge from each region to make it to Detroit for the Final Four:
MIDWEST AT INDIANAPOLIS
Terrence Williams helped the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed survive a serious challenge from 9-seed Siena in the second round. Williams took over at times, totaling 24 points, 15 rebounds and four assists.
2. Michigan State
Getting this far is already a habit under coach Tom Izzo, with MSU making its eighth appearance in the Sweet 16 in 12 years. MSU knows its upcoming opponent already — having defeated Kansas, 75-62, in January in East Lansing.
It would’ve been a disappointment for Jayhawks everywhere to miss their third straight Sweet 16 after facing North Dakota State and Dayton in the opening rounds. Cole Aldrich recorded a rare triple-double (13 points, 20 rebounds, 10 blocks) Sunday against the Flyers.
The Wildcats’ advancement doesn’t change their pre-tournament resume — but Arizona couldn’t care less now. Behind interim coach Russ Pennell and guard Nic Wise, a Houston-area product, the Cats knocked off Utah and surprised 13-seed Cleveland State.
And the winner is…
The Cardinals and Rick Pitino are experienced, tough, tournament-tested, and the best-equipped to win in Indy.
EAST AT BOSTON
This is the Panthers’ fifth trip to the Sweet 16 in eight years, but they haven’t advanced. This time Pitt might finally break the curse. Wing Sam Young, who had 32 points and forward DeJuan Blair (10 points, 12 rebounds) pushed Pitt through against OSU.
Coach K’s guys are finding their way, hitched to the offense of wing Gerald Henderson and reliant on the composure that held off Texas in the second round and helped Duke win the ACC tournament.
The Wildcats beat Pitt during the regular season and could face it again in the regional final. Led by Dante Cunningham’s 18 points in a blowout win over UCLA on Saturday, Villanova is making its fourth trip to the Sweet 16 in five years.
The X-men may be overmatched in the East. But, then again, the Musketeers have proven people wrong plenty of times before. The Atlantic 10 regular-season champs are in their second straight Sweet 16 after shutting down Wisconsin and Portland State.
And the winner is…
Nothing about the Panthers is pretty. But grit is aplenty, and it makes the difference in March.
WEST AT GLENDALE, ARIZ.
The Huskies, behind guard A.J. Price, forward Jeff Adrien and 7-3 Hasheem Thabeet, could be chugging toward an epic regional final matchup with No. 2 seed Memphis. UConn hasn’t yet been tested in all-encompassing victories over Chattanooga and Texas A&M.
Sure, the Tigers lost Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts from last season’s national runner-up squad. But here they are anyway, powered by defense, balance, freshman guard Tyreke Evans and coach John Calipari’s aplomb. The Tigers are in their fourth straight Sweet 16.
Mike Anderson and Mizzou became the third Big 12 team to advance to the Sweet 16 after fighting their way through a thriller Sunday against Marquette. The Tigers, the Big 12 tournament champions, have restored a program ravaged by NCAA violations and off-the-court issues.
Purdue is back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2000. JaJuan Johnson is making a name for himself when it matters most, scoring 22 points and making two key blocks at the end of the Boilermakers’ 76-74 win over No. 4-seed Washington.
And the winner is…
Memphis has the goods to get back to its second straight Final Four.
SOUTH AT MEMPHIS, TENN.
1. North Carolina
The incessant focus on point guard Ty Lawson’s big right toe won’t lessen this week. Sure, speedy Lawson scored 23 points in Saturday’s win over LSU, but the toe was already swelling and causing the junior discomfort in postgame interviews.
Blake Griffin, most everybody’s player of the year, seems to only get better. He powered his way to 61 points and 30 rebounds in the first two rounds. With Griffin’s potency and guards Willie Warren and Austin Johnson’s return to form, OU looks like it’s solved the issues that caused a late-season slide.
Syracuse showed it had plenty left after seven overtime periods in the Big East tournament. Guard Jonny Flynn is an ironman, and guard Eric Devendorf has scored 20 or more points in four of his last five games. 4. Gonzaga
Gonzaga, winner of 11 straight, has its tournament mojo back, reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006. But the Zags haven’t advanced in their last three appearances.
And the winner is …
As long as Ty Lawson’s toe holds up, Carolina’s experience pushes it to its 18th Final Four.