NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship

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Soccer Roundup – 2018 World Cup: Sweden’s height advantage gets to South Korea in World Cup

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NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia (AP) — Sweden’s height advantage got to South Korea.

In an effort to compensate for the disparity, South Korea coach Shin Tae-yong decided to use a backup player in goal because he is the tallest of the team’s three keepers.

The gamble worked, but a penalty still gave the Swedes a 1-0 victory on Monday at the World Cup.

“We evaluated all of our goalkeepers and we felt like with the very tall Swedish players, we thought Jo Hyeon-woo would be the best and we thought he’d be a little bit quicker,” Shin said. “So we chose him.”

At 1.89 meters (6-foot-3), Jo is tallest of the South Korean goalkeepers. But he is normally No. 3 on the list when it comes to playing time.

Shin is well-known for pulling surprises.

In World Cup warm-up matches, he switched the numbers of his players around, arguing Swedish scouts would be confused because he says “it’s very difficult for westerners to distinguish between Asians.”

Shin mentioned Sweden’s height advantage about a dozen times after the match. He even acknowledged his players “were a little bit psychologically concerned about the height of the Swedish players.”

Sweden’s starting players averaged about 1.90 meters (6-3), while South Korea’s starters averaged about 1.83 meters (6 feet).

Shin also started with Kim Shin-wook as his primary striker. He is the tallest player on South Korea’s team at 1.97 meters (6-5 1/2).

Jo did his job in goal, making a half-dozen sprawling saves until he was beaten on a second-half penalty by Sweden captain Andreas Granqvist.

Asked to name South Korea’s most important player, Sweden coach Janne Andersson didn’t hesitate.

“I think definitely,” Andersson said, “the goalie was their best.”

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The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia is upon us, so it’s time to start thinking about the future before the end of the group stage on June 28. Who has the easiest path to the knockout stage? Is it Lionel Messi and Argentina, with Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria in their group? What about Neymar and Brazil, paired with Serbia, Poland and Costa Rica? Nobody knows for sure, but that’s why it is always fun to guess.

So who makes a deep run at the 2018 World Cup? And which nation lifts the trophy? Visit SportsLine now to get the complete optimal bracket for the World Cup, and see which favorites fail to advance past the quarterfinals, all from the model that’s returned an 1800 percent profit on bookmakers’ closing odds.

Below you’ll find the standings and schedule broken down by each group:

Group A

Thursday, June 14: Russia 5, Saudi Arabia 0
Friday, June 15: Uruguay 1, Egypt 0


Tuesday, June 19: Russia vs. Egypt, 2 p.m. ET, Fox
Wednesday, June 20: Uruguay vs. Saudi Arabia, 11 a.m. ET, Fox


Monday, June 25: Saudi Arabia vs. Egypt, 10 a.m. ET, FS1
Monday, June 25: Uruguay vs. Russia, 10 a.m. ET, Fox


Group B

Friday, June 15: Iran 1, Morocco 0
Friday, June 15: Portugal 3, Spain 3


Wednesday, June 20: Portugal vs. Morocco, 8 a.m. ET, FS1
Wednesday, June 20: Iran vs. Spain, 2 p.m. ET, Fox


Monday, June 25: Iran vs. Portugal, 2 p.m. ET, Fox
Monday, June 25: Spain vs. Morocco, 2 p.m. ET, FS1


Group C

Saturday, June 16: France 2, Australia 1
Saturday, June 16: Denmark 1, Peru 0


Thursday, June 21: Denmark vs. Australia, 8 a.m. ET, FS1
Thursday, June 21: France vs. Peru, 11 a.m. ET, Fox


Tuesday, June 26: Australia vs. Peru, 10 a.m. ET, FS1
Tuesday, June 26: Denmark vs. France, 10 a.m. ET, Fox

Group D

Saturday, June 16: Argentina 1, Iceland 1
Saturday, June 16: Croatia 2, Nigeria 0


Thursday, June 21: Argentina vs. Croatia, 2 p.m. ET, Fox
Friday, June 22: Nigeria vs. Iceland, 11 a.m. ET, Fox


Tuesday, June 26: Iceland vs. Croatia, 2 p.m. ET, FS1
Tuesday, June 26: Nigeria vs. Argentina, 2 p.m. ET, Fox

Group E

Sunday, June 17: Serbia 1, Costa Rica 0
Sunday, June 17: Brazil 1, Switzerland 1


Friday, June 22: Brazil vs. Costa Rica, 8 a.m. ET, FS1
Friday, June 22: Serbia vs. Switzerland, 2 p.m. ET, Fox


Wednesday, June 27: Serbia vs. Brazil, 2 p.m. ET, Fox
Wednesday, June 27: Switzerland vs. Costa Rica, 2 p.m. ET, FS1

Group F

Sunday, June 17: Mexico 1, Germany 0
Monday, June 18: Sweden 1, South Korea 0


Saturday, June 23: Germany vs. Sweden, 11 a.m. ET, Fox
Saturday, June 23: South Korea vs. Mexico, 2 p.m. ET, Fox


Wednesday, June 27: South Korea vs. Germany, 10 a.m. ET, FS1
Wednesday, June 27: Mexico vs. Sweden, 10 a.m. ET, Fox

Group G

Monday, June 18: Belgium vs. Panama, 11 a.m. ET, FS1
Monday, June 18: Tunisia vs. England, 2 p.m. ET, FS1


Saturday, June 23: Belgium vs. Tunisia, 8 a.m. ET, Fox
Sunday, June 24: England vs. Panama, 8 a.m. ET, FS1


Thursday, June 28: England vs. Belgium, 2 p.m. ET, Fox
Thursday, June 28: Panama vs. Tunisia, 2 p.m. ET, FS1

Group H

Tuesday, June 19: Colombia vs. Japan, 8 a.m. ET, FS1
Tuesday, June 19: Poland vs. Senegal, 11 a.m. ET, Fox


Sunday, June 24: Japan vs. Senegal, 11 a.m. ET, Fox
Sunday, June 24: Poland vs. Colombia, 2 p.m. ET, Fox


Thursday, June 28: Japan vs. Poland, 10 a.m. ET, FS1
Thursday, June 28: Senegal vs. Colombia, 10 a.m. ET, Fox


Round of 16

Saturday, June 30
Match 50: Group C winner vs. Group D runner-up 10 a.m. ET Kazan Fox
Match 49: Group A winner vs. Group B runner-up 2 p.m. ET Sochi Fox
Sunday, July 1
Match 51: Group B winner vs. Group A runner-up 10 a.m. ET Moscow Fox
Match 52: Group D winner vs. Group C runner-up 2 p.m. ET Nizhny Novgorod Fox
Monday, July 2
Match 53: Group E winner vs. Group F runner-up 10 a.m. ET Samara FS1
Match 54: Group G winner vs. Group H runner-up 2 p.m. ET Rostov Fox
Tuesday, July 3
Match 55: Group F winner vs. Group E runner-up 10 a.m. ET Saint Petersburg FS1
Match 56: Group H winner vs. Group G runner-up 2 p.m. ET Rostov Fox

Quarterfinals

Friday, July 6
Match 57: Match 49 winner vs. Match 50 winner 9 a.m. ET Nizhny Novgorod FS1
Match 58: Match 53 winner vs. Match 54 winner 1 p.m. ET Kazan FS1
Saturday, July 7
Match 60: Match 55 winner vs. Match 66 winner 9 a.m. ET Samara Fox
Match 59: Match 51 winner vs. Match 52 winner 1 p.m. ET Sochi Fox

Semifinals

Tuesday, July 10
Match 61: Match 57 winner vs. Match 58 winner 1 p.m. ET Saint Petersburg Fox
Wednesday, July 11
Match 62: Match 59 winner vs. Match 60 winner 1 p.m. ET Moscow Fox

Third-place match

Saturday, July 14
Match 63: Match 61 loser vs. Match 62 loser 9 a.m. ET Saint Petersburg Fox

World Cup final

Sunday, July 15
Match 64: Match 61 winner vs. Match 62 winner 10 a.m. ET Moscow Fox

2018 NBA mock draft 3.0: Michael Porter Jr. vaults up board; Cavs nab Trae Young

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(PhatzRadio Sports / USA TODAY SPORTS)   —   A week away from the draft, while it looks like the No. 1 pick is set, teams are still gathering information and having players in for workouts.

Big men Marvin Bagley and Mo Bamba recently worked out for the Atlanta Hawks, and Jaren Jackson Jr. had a stellar workout for the Phoenix Suns. Many lottery teams are still gathering information on Michael Porter Jr., whose medical history is integral to this process.

At this point it’s important to be wary of smokescreens, and remember, trades are still possible.

USA TODAY Sports canvassed multiple league executives in shaping its latest mock draft. The actual NBA draft will be held next Thursday in New York.

1. Phoenix Suns – Deandre Ayton

Arizona • Center • Freshman

Height: 7-1 • Weight: 250

The Suns worked out several of the top prospects likely as due diligence, but it’s going to be Arizona center Deandre Ayton. Suns GM Ryan McDonough called Ayton’s workout “phenomenal,” and it would be a shock if they went another route.

2. Sacramento Kings – Michael Porter Jr.

Missouri • Forward • Freshman 

Height: 6-11 • Weight: 211

The Kings are known to be enamored with Porter but are still trying to gather the latest medical information. If they’re convinced that he’s fully healthy, he could be the combo-forward they’ve been searching for. A trade down could also be possible if they believe they could get him lower, as the Kings have no first rounders in 2019.

3. Atlanta Hawks – Marvin Bagley III

Duke • Forward • Freshman

Height: 6-11 • Weight: 234

If Bagley learns to rely on his three-pointer a bit more, he’ll be a matchup nightmare for opposing big men. The Hawks would get immediate offensive help with this pick, and Bagley would be afforded time to improve his defense.

4. Memphis Grizzlies – Luka Doncic

Real Madrid • Guard

Height: 6-8 • Weight: 220

The Grizzlies are several pieces away from contending for the postseason, but Doncic, the EuroLeague MVP, is the most polished and accomplished prospect among the elites. He immediately gives Memphis another primary ballhandler and someone capable of stretching the floor.

5. Dallas Mavericks – Jaren Jackson Jr.

Michigan State • Forward • Freshman

Height: 6-11 • Weight: 236

Viewed as perhaps the prospect with the most room to grow both physically and offensively, Jackson Jr. is an immediate asset on the defensive end. His length and timing are outstanding, and given his comfort from the perimeter, he could be the prototypical NBA big man in a few years.

6. Orlando Magic – Mo Bamba

Texas • Center • Freshman

Height: 7-1 • Weight: 225

Similar to Jackson, Bamba is already NBA-ready on the defensive end, and there’s a question as to how far he’ll be able to stretch the floor when he’s not demoralizing defenses with his patented alley-oop finishes. Bamba, who will have the longest wingspan in the NBA at 7-10, is the kind of physical freak teams may regret passing on.

7. Chicago Bulls – Wendell Carter Jr.

Duke • Forward • Freshman

Height: 6-10 • Weight: 251

Carter Jr. represents a safe, solid pick with low risk. He’s a polished, but not plodding, big man with great footwork and high basketball IQ.

8. Cleveland Cavaliers – Trae Young

Oklahoma • Guard • Freshman

Height: 6-2 • Weight: 177

Is anyone surprised that Young wasn’t able to maintain his furious scoring pace for an entire season? The Cavs may benefit because other teams tried to poke holes in his obvious talent.

9. New York Knicks – Collin Sexton

Alabama • Guard • Freshman

Height: 6-2 • Weight: 183

Sexton is an aggressive, confident scorer who could thrive as the lead guard. The guard-depleted Cavs are known to be interested in Sexton as well.

10. Philadelphia 76ers – Mikal Bridges

Villanova • Guard • Junior 

Height: 6-7 • Weight: 210

Given Bridges’ experience and strengths, he’s likely an immediate contributor at the next level, filling a wing position that nearly every team covets.

11. Charlotte Hornets – Miles Bridges

Michigan State • Forward • Sophomore 

Height: 6-7 • Weight: 220

The Hornets need help all over, and Bridges is a position-less wing who could play small forward and power forward in smaller lineups. He’s a bit of a tweener in terms of ideal fit, but his raw athleticism and stature make him lottery worthy.

12. Los Angeles Clippers – Lonnie Walker

Miami • Guard • Freshman

Height: 6-5 • Weight: 196

The Clippers are in a unique position to draft back-to-back lottery players, affording them a chance to make a riskier move with one of their picks. Walker, a raw, physical guard, offers them a scoring mindset combined with a versatile profile on the defensive end.

13. Los Angeles Clippers – Robert Williams

Texas A&M • Center • Sophomore 

Height: 6-10 • Weight: 241

As for that risk, it comes in the form of Williams. Athletic and rim-running, Williams has tantalizing tools at center for the modern NBA. He also doesn’t have much of an offensive arsenal anywhere outside of the paint, and the 47% free throw percentage is scary.

14. Denver Nuggets – Kevin Knox

Kentucky • Forward • Freshman 

Height: 6-9 • Weight: 215

Not many forwards can create offense off the bounce like Knox, and it’s impossible to ignore his versatility. He’s needs to add muscle to his frame and any team must be patient with him, but there’s significant upside as he continues to develop.

15. Washington Wizards – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Kentucky • Guard • Freshman

Height: 6-6 • Weight: 180

Give him a few years to develop more of an offensive repertoire, and Gilgeous-Alexander is an ideal NBA point guard. His length, passing and defense are all intriguing, but don’t expect him to orchestrate an NBA offense as a rookie.

16. Phoenix Suns – Zhaire Smith

Texas Tech • Guard • Freshman 

Height: 6-4 • Weight: 198

Smith is a freak athlete without much more that teams can bank on. He’s stunning in transition and finishes dunks that hardly look feasible. His defensive instincts are there, too, but teams will have to grapple with what else he’s able to create on offense.

17. Milwaukee Bucks – Aaron Holiday

UCLA • Guard • Junior 

Height: 6-1 • Weight: 185

Holiday would be less of a risk than the Bucks are typically accustomed to drafting. He’s a poised, crafty ballhandler, and with two brothers already in the league, he’s got an obvious NBA pedigree.

18. San Antonio Spurs – Troy Brown

Oregon • Forward • Freshman 

Height: 6-7 • Weight: 208

There’s potentially a lot of value in Brown, who does a lot of things well but nothing great. His defensive instincts are probably his best asset, and with the right coaching and system, he could develop a more enhanced offensive game.

19. Atlanta Hawks – Elie Okobo

Pau-Orthez (France) • Guard

Height: 6-3 • Weight: 180

The lefty guard has good outside touch, a quick first step and a deft midrange game. There usually aren’t many potentially starting-caliber guards left this late in the draft.

20. Minnesota Timberwolves – Dzanan Musa

Cedevita (Croatia) • Forward

Height: 6-9 • Weight: 195

Musa needs to add significant bulk to his frame, not necessarily to compete offensively but because he could be a liability on defense. He’s a rangy shooter and a creative finisher with good vision; offenses won’t stall with him in the rotation.

21. Utah Jazz – Kevin Huerter

Maryland • Forward • Sophomore

Height: 6-7 • Weight: 190

No one helped themselves more at the NBA draft combine than smooth-shooting forward Kevin Huerter, who excelled in the scrimmage portion. There is a belief that Huerter may have secured a promise, which could have swayed his decision to stay in the draft.

22. Chicago Bulls – Chandler Hutchison

Boise State • Guard • Senior 

Height: 6-7 • Weight: 197

There’s also a belief that Hutchison, who pulled out of the NBA draft combine, may have a first-round promise from Chicago. If that’s the case, the athletic, four-year wing would fit the bill of prospects the Bulls have drafted in the past.

23. Indiana Pacers – Donte DiVincenzo

Villanova • Guard • Sophomore

Height: 6-5 • Weight: 200

DiVincenzo parlayed his strong Final Four and draft combine showing into a likely first-round pick. He’s a downhill scorer, crafty finisher from multiple angles and someone who makes his teammates better.

24. Portland Trail Blazers – Keita Bates-Diop

Ohio State • Forward • Junior

Height: 6-8 • Weight: 223

Bates-Diop has good mobility, anticipation and athleticism, and his face-up game was an asset in college. As a redshirt player, there are legitimate questions as to how much he’ll improve.

25. Los Angeles Lakers – De’Anthony Melton

Southern California • Guard • Sophomore 

Height: 6-3 • Weight: 193

Despite withdrawing from USC earlier this season, Melton remains an intriguing prospect thanks to his defensive intensity and transition ability. At the draft combine he also mentioned how special it would be for him to play for his hometown Lakers.

26. Philadelphia 76ers – Jerome Robinson

Boston College • Guard • Junior

Height: 6-5 • Weight: 188

It’s not hard to see what scouts like about Robinson. He’s a poised, steady guard with good size who can occasionally explode to the rim. He’s a comfortable scorer who could easily command a second unit off the bench.

27. Boston Celtics – Josh Okogie

Georgia Tech • Guard • Sophomore

Height: 6-4 • Weight: 213

Okogie has good size and a great motor, but his offensive instincts can feel a little hectic at times. He should immediately be able to hold his own on the defensive end.

28. Golden State Warriors – Khyri Thomas

Creighton • Guard • Junior 

Height: 6-4 • Weight: 200

Steady and with great length, Thomas is a low-risk, heady guard who won’t make unforced mistakes and can immediately stretch the floor with his offense.

29. Brooklyn Nets – Jacob Evans

Cincinnati • Guard • Junior 

Height: 6-6 • Weight: 210

With good size and strength for his position, Evans can be an immediate contributor on the defensive end and should have no trouble in a switch-heavy defense. His three-point shooting ability could be a bonus.

30. Atlanta Hawks – Mitchell Robinson

Chalmette High School • Center

Height: 7-0 • Weight: 233

Robinson might be the most enigmatic prospect in the draft, with a range as high as just outside the lottery all the way until the second round. The size and talent are there, but teams could have questions about his drive and commitment after skipping his lone year in college basketball.

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Follow USA TODAY Sports’ NBA insiders Jeff Zillgitt, Sam Amick and Michael Singer on Twitter. 

2018 NBA DRAFT: Suns win NBA draft lottery, right to pick No. 1 next month

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CHICAGO (AP) — Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough was on stage moments after the NBA draft lottery ended, talking about the future of the Suns and mentioning how they had the best odds of picking No. 1 overall.

And then he stopped to correct himself.

“We have No. 1,” McDonough said. “I’ve got to adjust to that.”

It’s an adjustment that he and the Suns will happily be making.

The worst team in the league this season will pick first in the NBA draft on June 21, after the Suns won the draft lottery on Tuesday night. It’s the first time the Suns will have the chance to make the first overall selection.

“It’s great for our franchise,” said McDonough, whose club went 21-61 this season and missed the playoffs for an eighth consecutive year. “It’s something that you say coming into it, you don’t have any control over it so you’re not going to get nervous. And I was here dying. I could barely breathe. I needed an oxygen tank.”

The Suns have three great candidates for No. 1, all with ties to either Arizona or new Phoenix coach Igor Kokoskov. Arizona freshman center Deandre Ayton is widely expected to be a strong candidate to go No. 1 overall, and he was at the lottery to watch the Suns win the pick. So was Duke’s Marvin Bagley III, an Arizona native.

And Kokoskov is particularly familiar with Slovenia’s Luka Doncic, who will be coming to the NBA from Real Madrid. Kokoskov coached Slovenia — and Doncic — to the gold medal at the European championships last summer.

“We have a small target grouping in mind, but we’re not going to rule anything out at this point,” McDonough said. “I think we’ll have a great choice, no matter who we select.”

The Suns were big winners.

So were Sacramento and Atlanta.

Sacramento will pick No. 2 and Atlanta got the No. 3 pick — both of them moving up and bucking some odds to get there. The top three spots were determined by the lottery, and then spots 4-14 fell in line of reverse order of record.

Sacramento had a 18.3 percent chance entering the lottery of moving into the top three, while Atlanta’s move-up was really just a slightly bigger upset than a coin-flip — the Hawks came into the night with a 42.3 percent chance of getting picks 1, 2 or 3.

“No big deal. It’s a deep draft,” Kings vice president and general manager Vlade Divac said. “We’re going to do our job and obviously, I’m glad that we played the last two years to develop guys and try to win games. You cannot develop guys if you don’t teach them how to win.”

The Hawks, like the Suns, got their lottery result one day after introducing a new coach. Lloyd Pierce is taking over in Atlanta, with a reputation of helping great young talent develop — he’s worked with Joel Embiid, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and LeBron James, among many others.

“For Hawks fans, it’s a big deal,” said Hawks owner Jami Gertz, who represented the franchise on stage at the lottery. “I say to Atlanta, we are on our way. Championships down the road, sooner than later. Let’s go.”

The rest of the slots, in order, went to No. 4 Memphis, No. 5 Dallas, No. 6 Orlando, No. 7 Chicago, No. 8 Cleveland, No. 9 New York, No. 10 Philadelphia, No. 11 Charlotte, No. 12 and No. 13 Los Angeles Clippers, and No. 14 Denver.

The draft is June 21 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

The lottery has been around since 1985, was tweaked to a weighted system in 1990 and will be changing again next year in an effort to discourage teams from tanking.

Going forward, the three teams with the worst regular-season records will all have 14 percent chances of winning the No. 1 pick, the fourth-worst team will have a 12.5 percent chance and the fifth-worst 10.5 percent. So there will still be a benefit to being bad, but the odds will be so similar among the bottom five teams — a 3.5 percent differential in the race for No. 1, instead of the 16.2 percent gap like this year — that the reward for losing might be lessened.

“I don’t like that word, what is it, tanking?” Divac said. “I hate it.”

Josh Jackson, who just completed his rookie season with Phoenix, represented the Suns on the stage, for the public announcement of what was drawn in secret about an hour earlier. Only a handful of team representatives, NBA officials and media knew the outcome of the lottery before it was revealed publicly and they were all sequestered until the results were aired.

Jackson said he thinks the Suns need a big man. That means his vote, for now anyway, is Ayton.

“He’s got so much potential,” Jackson said.

The Suns feel the same way about themselves. They have three picks in the first 31 in this draft, plus have some cap room to work with this summer. The plan, McDonough said, is to add some veterans to mold what will be a young core led by the likes of Devin Booker, Jackson and potentially whoever the No. 1 pick is next month.

With some more luck, Jackson won’t be going to more lotteries.

“Hopefully we won’t be sitting up here too much longer,” Jackson said.

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More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

NCAA Men’s National Championship: Wildcats roll to second championship in three years

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SAN ANTONIO –The Villanova Wildcats treated the Michigan Wolverines pretty much the same way they treated the rest of their NCAA Tournament opponents: like a practice squad.

The Wildcats defeated the Wolverines 79-62 on Monday in the NCAA championship game at the Alamodome.

Michigan had a fast start and led through the early part of the first half before Villanova’s Donte DiVincenzo rallied the Wildcats, scoring 12 points off the bench before halftime.

Villanova led 37-28 at the break and after a hot start to the second half all that was left to do was cut down the nets for the second time in three years.

DiVincenzo was so hot in the first half that someone updated his Wikipedia page with his performance. He finished with 31 points.

The Wildcats went 31 years between their first title in 1985 and their second one two years ago in Houston. Coach Jay Wright and Villanova didn’t have to wait very long for another one.

Villanova won all six of its NCAA Tournament games by double figures.

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Somewhere between all those heart-stoppers and tearjerkers, all the upset-riddled brackets and things we’d never seen before, the best team in college basketball was hiding in plain sight.

How could anyone have missed Villanova?

Sparked by a 31-point night off the bench from Donte DiVincenzo, the Wildcats defeated Michigan 79-62 on Monday night to cap one of the most dominating NCAA Tournament runs ever seen.

They won all six games by double digits, joining the rare air of great teams such as Michigan State in 2000, Duke in 2001 and North Carolina in 2009.

They won both their Final Four contests by 16 or more, joining the 1968 UCLA team that was in the midst of its 10-title dynasty.

They became only the fourth program since UCLA to win two titles in the span of three years — joining Duke (1991-92), Kentucky (1996, 98) and Florida (2006-07).

“I knew we were good, but you don’t think we can win this,” said Villanova’s Jay Wright, who became the 14th coach in history to win multiple titles. “It’s a struggle in your mind, up until three minutes to go in the game tonight.”

It was over earlier than that.

DiVincenzo made it so by scoring nine straight points for his team, capping it with an NBA-range 3 that he punctuated by turning back downcourt and winking toward the TV guys on the sideline.

“I did not think I was going to have this kind of night,” he said, “because every night I come into a game, I just try to bring energy.”

This story lines that dominated this tournament were all about unpredictability and craziness — all made better by a 98-year-old nun who provided the perfect counterbalance to the win-at-all-costs culture in college basketball. Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt cheered 11th-seeded Loyola-Chicago all the way to a spot in the Final Four.

March Madness featured the first-ever 16 vs. 1 upset, a pair of No. 9 seeds in the Elite Eight and one region that didn’t advance any of its top four seeds to the Sweet 16. No. 3 seed Michigan became the first team to make the title game without having to play a single team seeded in the top 5.

It was madness all right — except when Villanova walked on the court.

The top-seeded Wildcats (36-4) won by margins of 26, 23, 12, 12, 16 and 17.

They won with great shooting on some nights — the Final Four-record 18 3s in the semifinal against Kansas — great defense on others — holding Texas Tech to 33 percent shooting in the Elite Eight — and, in the finale, a virtuoso performance from a sixth man who, for one magical night, turned Villanova’s brand of team ball into a one-man show.

They won by making an NCAA-record 464 3-pointers over the season — putting an official end to the notion that this game must be played from inside out, while perhaps sparking debate as to whether the 3-point line needs to be scooted back.

Most importantly, at least in their coach’s estimation, they won not by trying to become one of the best teams in history, but simply by trying to get better every game.

“I don’t think these kids will even think that we dominated the tournament,” Wright said. “They’ll just think we played Villanova basketball.”

Part of that involves a ferocious competition in the practice gym — the fruits of which have now delivered two more titles to go with the one Rollie Massimino’s team won back in 1985. That one was considered a miracle. These ones were not.

That DiVincenzo badly wanted to crack this starting lineup illustrates how deep this team really is.

There are no “One-and-Dones” on this roster, but there are a handful of players we’ll be watching in the NBA: Brunson, Mikal Bridges (19 points), Omari Spellman and, quite possibly, DiVincenzo one day.

His name won’t show up in any box score from Villanova’s run through the tournament two years ago, but he played as big a role as anyone in bringing that championship back to Philly. He ran the scout team in practice, and legend has it that DiVincenzo did a better job playing the role of Oklahoma star Buddy Hield than Hield did himself.

“Sometimes I think about whether I’m a good defender, because in practice, he makes me look bad,” Bridges said.

Imagine how Michigan must have felt trying to stop DiVincenzo.

Imagine how the rest of college basketball must have felt trying to stop Villanova.

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More AP college basketball: https://collegebasketball.ap.org ; https://twitter.com/AP_Top25 and https://www.podcastone.com/ap-sports-special-events

NCAA Men’s Final Four: Villanova will meet Michigan for the Championship

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(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)   —   SAN ANTONIO – To sum things up, Villanova was feelin’ it Saturday night.

Like every night that ends in “Y” for the Wildcats.

Like all these games where they walk away with a “W” and leave their opponents shaking their heads.

Villanova moved within a win of another title, sinking a Final Four-record 18 3-pointers, while cementing itself as the most-prolific 3-point-shooting team in college history in a 95-79 runaway over Kansas.

“Well, that was just one of those nights,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said.

Normally the third or fourth option on a team full of shooters, junior wingman Eric Paschall led the barrage, going 4 for 5 from 3, 10 for 11 overall, and finishing with a career-high 24 points.

But the hoop was as wide as the Alamodome for pretty much everyone in a Wildcats jersey.

Seven `Nova players made 3s. Villanova tied the Final Four record for 3s in game with 3:45 left in the first half. The Wildcats shot 45 percent from 3 – 5 points higher than their season average, which ranked 15th in the nation this season.

Next up is Michigan, which will try to guard the perimeter Monday night when Villanova (35-5) goes for its second title in three seasons.

Good luck with that.

Nobody has had much success this season, and in what turned out to be an unexpectedly lopsided matchup between top seeds, Kansas (31-8) certainly didn’t Saturday night. AP Player of the Year Jalen Brunson made three 3s and finished with 18 points. Omari Spellman made three, as well, in a 15-point, 13-rebound monster game.

“As good a team as I’ve played against that I can remember,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We got spread out on defense. The game plan went to crap. You get caught in between on defense, and it’s the worst thing you can do.”

About a minute into the second half, Paschall drained a 3 for Villanova’s 14th of the game, breaking a Final Four record first set by UNLV in 1987.

Much earlier, at about the 13-minute mark of the first half, Collin Gillespie spotted up and swished for `Nova’s sixth 3 of the game, which gave it the NCAA record for 3s in a season, with 442.

VMI set that record in 2007. Very few remember that team, though, because even though the importance of the long shot has grown as the decades have passed, it’s never been thought of as a guaranteed way to win consistently.

Wright’s team is laying waste to that theory and, at times, making other teams look bad while doing it.

On Saturday, the typical Villanova possession involved working the ball down low on the wing, then a skip pass across the bottom of the paint, followed by one, two or three passes around the arc until somebody got open. It usually worked. Against both the Jayhawks’ man defense and their zone. Most of `Nova’s 18 makes barely skimmed the net.

“We knew they’d have to miss some pretty decent looks, but they got anything they wanted early, and they knocked everything down,” Self said.

Villanova attempted 40 shots from 3, and only 25 from 2.

Gillespie’s record-setter gave Villanova a 22-4 lead, and at that point, Kansas had as many turnovers as points and had taken as many timeouts as it had field goals.

Self did what he could, urging his 7-foot center, Udoka Azubuike, out of the paint and into the faces of this group of hybrid forward-guards, all of whom can shoot. The big fella couldn’t get there.

The Jayhawks, back in the dome where they cut down the nets 10 years ago after their last title, made mini runs. But the deficit never got below double digits.

Devonte Graham, the senior guard who has been the glue in this Final Four season, led Kansas with 23 points. Malik Newman, who pushed his game into overdrive during the postseason, had 21. They combined to make 6 of 13 3-pointers themselves, but didn’t get much help.

Much of that was credit to the Villanova defense. Wright and co. spent more time in the postgame talking about defense and rebounding than the shooting clinic they put on.

“If we didn’t get stops, it was getting back to being a five- or six-point game,” Wright said.

But they did.

And it didn’t.

About the only drama in the second half was whether the Wildcats would top Loyola Marymount’s NCAA Tournament record of 21 3-pointers in a game (against Michigan in 1990). Didn’t happen, mainly because they didn’t need it too.

But there’s still Monday.

“They’ll be hard for anyone to deal with,” Self said, “if they shoot the ball like that.”

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MICHIGAN 69, LOYOLA-CHICAGO 57

SAN ANTONIO – Staring down a 10-point, second-half deficit against an underdog that seemed nothing short of blessed during the madness of March, Moe Wagner and Michigan clamped down on Loyola-Chicago and ended one of the most memorable NCAA Tournament runs ever.

Wagner scored 24 points, Charles Matthews added 17 and the Wolverines rallied to beat the Ramblers 69-57 Saturday night in the Final Four.

The third-seeded Wolverines (33-7) will take a 14-game winning streak, the longest in the nation, into their first national championship game appearance since 2013, and second under coach Jon Beilein.

“We’re not done yet,” Michigan senior Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman said.

Michigan became the first team to reach the national title game without beating a top-five seed along the way. That changes Monday night at the Alamodome. No. 1 seed Villanova stands in the way of the Wolverines’ first NCAA title since 1989.

Lovable Loyola (32-6), with superfan Sister Jean courtside and their fans behind the bench standing for pretty much the entire game, could not conjure another upset. The Ramblers were the fourth 11th-seeded team to make it this far and like the previous three, the semifinals were the end of the road.

Coach Porter Moser said he was proud of players Ben Richardson, Aundre Jackson and Donte Ingram for holding it together during a postgame news conference, answering questions with red eyes and long faces.

“But it was as tough a locker room as I’ve seen because they believed they belonged and they believed like they wanted to advance,” Moser said.

Loyola had no answers for the 6-foot-11 Wagner, and its offense, so smooth and efficient on the way to San Antonio, broke down in the second half and finished with 17 turnovers.

Wagner, playing in front of his parents who made the trip from Germany, had 15 rebounds and was 10 for 16 from the field. Matthews, the Kentucky transfer and Chicago native, had a run-out dunk with 1:33 left that made it 63-53. And that was that.

Wagner became the third player in the last 40 years with a 20 and 15 game in a Final Four game , joining Hakeem Olajuwon of Houston in 1983 (then known as Akeem) and Larry Bird of Indiana State in 1979.

“Wow. If you put it like that, it’s probably cool,” Wagner said. “But to be honest, I kept looking possession by possession. We had trouble scoring the first half. We scored 22 points and that was kind of the only way we found our way to the basket, grab offensive rebounds and get second-shot opportunities.

“And I honestly just tried to do my job.”

Or, as Michigan guard Jaaron Simmon, put it: “He was a beast tonight.”

Wagner also went flying off the elevated court, chasing a loose ball, avoiding injury but taking out CBS commentator Bill Raftery’s eye glasses. It was a full night.

As the seconds ticked off, Wagner pumped his fist to the many Michigan fans who made the trek to San Antonio, while Loyola’s Jackson, who got the Ramblers rolling with a late game-winning 3 in the first round against Miami, looked toward the roof and shook his head.

Cameron Krutwig, Loyola’s big man, scored 17 points and Clayton Custer had 13 of his 15 after halftime. But facing one of the best defensive teams in the country, the best defensive team Beilein has ever had in 11 seasons in Ann Arbor, the Ramblers scored just 16 points in the final 14 minutes.

“Their length. They close the gap of opportunity really fast,” Moser said.

Custer scored seven straight points for Loyola at one point to put the Ramblers up 41-31 with 14:08 remaining.

“I don’t know if they had magic on their side,” Beilein said. “They’re good.”

Michigan refused to fade, even with point guard Zavier Simpson – whose solid play has been critical to the Wolverines’ late-season surge – playing terribly. Simpson had no points and four turnovers.

Simmons, Simpson’s backup, made a 3 and Duncan Robinson hit another a few minutes later and the deficit was down to 45-42 with 10 minutes left.

“Not dropping our heads, that was the main thing,” Simmons said. “We haven’t been down in a game for a long time. So not dropping our heads was one of the main adjustments we had to make.”

Wagner hit a 3 from right in front of the Michigan bench with 6:50 left to tie it, and moments later the Wolverines were back on top, 49-47, when Jordan Poole made two free throws.

Loyola turned it over on three straight possessions and Wagner tipped in a miss by Poole, was fouled and converted the 3-point play to put Michigan up 54-47 with just under five minutes left.

The Ramblers’ 14-game losing streak is over, along with an incredible feel-good story at a time that college basketball, engulfed in a corruption scandal, could truly use one. Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt and her favorite team , the Missouri Valley Conference champions, making their first NCAA appearance since 1985, will return to Chicago as heroes, regardless.

“It’s special to see kind of what stage we were able to get to,” said Richardson, a senior who grew up in Kansas with Custer and then convinced his friend to transfer from Iowa State to Loyola. “Despite going out this way, were going to never forget this. I think a lot of people will remember this run for a long time.”

Michigan has more work to do. The Wolverines, unranked to start the season and sitting at 19-7 in early February, will now resume the underdog role they have played much of the season, trying to win their second NCAA championship.

“This team’s had no attention at all,” Beilein said. “Until we went up to beat Michigan State we weren’t nationally ranked. Now we’re playing on Monday night.”

A guide to the teams, players and coaches in the Final Four

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The maddest of Marches is winding down, the college basketball season now headed into April. All those upsets, crazy finishes and stellar performances have brought us to San Antonio, where a Cinderella and its telegenic nun join three power programs in the Final Four.

Based on the way the bracket has gone so far, don’t be surprised if there is more madness in store.

To get you ready, we’ve got a rundown of the teams, the top players, the coaches and other tidbits about this year’s Final Four.

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THE TEAMS

Villanova. The Wildcats shoot 3-pointers like no other, play suffocating defense and have that look — the one they had winning a national title two years ago.

Kansas. The other No. 1 seed to get through, the offensively gifted Jayhawks are back in San Antonio, where Bill Self won his only title in 2008.

Michigan. Stingy D or raining 3s, these scrappy Wolverines find ways to win.

Loyola-Chicago. Sister Jean gets much of the attention, but the Ramblers have rambled into the Final Four with a free-flowing, nothing-to-lose style.

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TOP PLAYERS

Jalen Brunson, Villanova. The Wildcats’ unassuming leader is racking up player of the year awards — and possibly a second national championship.

Devonte’ Graham, Kansas. Similar attributes as Brunson, only with an added dash of dynamic-ness.

Moritz Wagner, Michigan. The big German is crafty inside, can step out to hit 3s, can guard multiple positions — a matchup nightmare.

Clayton Custer, Loyola. The sharpshooting guard gets mistaken for a non-player off the court, and is often the best in the game on it.

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KEY CONTRIBUTORS

Cameron Krutwig, Loyola. The burly freshman gives the little Ramblers the presence they need inside at both ends.

Malik Newman, Kansas. The athletic sophomore has become dynamic No. 2 option to Graham.

Mikal Bridges, Villanova. Bridges and Brunson may be the Final Four’s best 1-2 punch.

Charles Matthews, Michigan. His late-season emergence is a big reason the Wolverines reached San Antonio.

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THE COACHES

Bill Self, Kansas. This may be the best coaching job of his career.

Jay Wright, Villanova. The coolest — and best-dressed — coach in college basketball has changed the game and put the Wildcats in position for a second national title in three years.

John Beilein, Michigan. Redefined his team and himself by turning the Wolverines into one of the nation’s top defensive teams.

Porter Moser, Loyola. A nation of college basketball fans are learning what everyone at Loyola already knew: Moser can flat-out coach.

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NUMBERS

4 — No. 11 seeds to reach the Final Four: LSU (1986), George Mason (2006), VCU (2011) and Loyola (2018).

29 — Years since Michigan’s lone NCAA title.

43.2 — Percentage of Michigan’s shots taken from 3-point range.

55 — Years since Loyola’s lone NCAA championship.

77.2 — Shooting percentage of Kansas big man Udoka Azubuike, leading the nation.

86.6 — Points per game by Villanova, tops in Division I.

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FAMOUS ALUMNI

Michigan: Actors James Earl Jones, Gilda Radner, Lucy Liu; H&R Block founder Henry R. Bloch; iPod inventor Tony Fadell; Walgreen’s founder Charles Walgreen; playwright Arthur Miller; Nobel Prize winner Stanley Cohen; singer Madonna; NFL player Tom Brady; MLB player Derek Jeter; President Gerald Ford.

Villanova: Actors Bradley Cooper and Maria Bello; country singer Toby Keith; singer Jim Croce; second lady of the United States Jill Biden; Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell; Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland; NFL Hall of Famer Howie Long.

Kansas: Actors Paul Rudd, Jason Sudeikis, Scott Bakula and Mandy Patinkin; NBA Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain; NFL Hall of Famer Gale Sayers; Kansas Sen. Bob Dole; FBI Director Clarence Kelley; basketball inventor Dr. James Naismith; golfer Gary Woodland.

Loyola: Actors Bob Newhart, Leslie David Baker and Jennifer Morrison; Chicago Bears owner George Halas Jr.; Chicago Cubs owner Todd Ricketts; Disturbed singer David Draiman; Smashing Pumpkins and Perfect Circle guitarist James Iha; Dr. Scholl’s founder William Scholl; US Secretary of Commerce William M. Daley.

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The high-motion, position-less offenses are the shiny objects of this Final Four. Crisp passing, alley-oop dunks, cavalcades of 3-pointers — what’s not to like?

Behind the eye-catching, highlight-reel-inducing sparkle is a gritty underbelly.

Yep, defense.

One of sports’ deepest-rooted clichés is defense wins championships. Tired and not necessarily true, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

The Final Four of Villanova, Kansas, Michigan and Loyola-Chicago all play different brands of D and it will be worth watching that side of the ball when they hit the floor Saturday in San Antonio.

A rundown:

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MICHIGAN

The Wolverines had been the type of team that tried outscoring teams by raining 3-pointers. Defense was what always held them back.

No more.

Coach John Beilein has made defense a point of emphasis in recent years, and Michigan has become better for it. With the help of former Illinois assistant and defensive guru, Luke Yaklich, Beilein has transformed the Wolverines from one of the Big Ten’s worst defensive teams to one of the nation’s best.

While most teams have one, maybe two strong on-the-ball defenders, Michigan has three: Charles Matthews, Zavier Simpson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman.

The trio is quick, physical and good with their hands, making every move by ball handlers and cutters a chore.

German big man Moe Wagner is by no means a hulking presence inside, but he’s active, athletic and moves his feet well, allowing him to keep smaller players in front or soar in for backside blocks.

The Wolverines are No. 3 nationally in defensive efficiency and completely shut down an athletic Florida State team to reach the Final Four.

“If you do play good defense, it will give you a chance to win every day,” Beilein said.

VILLANOVA

The Wildcats lost a few games during the regular season they probably would like to have back, in part because their defense was nowhere near their uber-efficient offense.

Villanova’s run to a second Final Four in three years can be attributed, at least in part, to its increased ability to shut opponents down.

The Wildcats have long, athletic players with mostly interchangeable skills, allowing them to switch on screens a majority of the time. Mikal Bridges and Eric Paschall are versatile, so they can guard multiple positions and players of varied skills.

Big man Omari Spellman has become a better post defender and is more active after reshaping his body.

The Wildcats are holding teams to 36 percent shooting in the NCAA Tournament and are 14th in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com.

“They were so efficient offensively and picked up so many things that we were teaching offensively, that I thought it might be really tough to get them to be a good defensive team,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “They stuck with it and they’re becoming one of our best defensive teams, which I would have never thought midway through the season.”

LOYOLA-CHICAGO

As a mid-major team, the Ramblers are almost always undersized when going against Power Five schools.

They make up for it with discipline, tenacity and a commitment to coach Porter Moser’s methods.

Loyola’s perimeter players are active, have quick hands and often switch on the perimeter. The Ramblers also like to switch on ball screens and keep freshman center Cameron Krutwig, their last line of defense, in the paint.

Loyola is a superb transition defensive team because it rarely sends players to the offensive glass and triggers its own run-outs and transition 3-pointers with aggressive defense.

The Ramblers are 19th in adjusted defensive efficiency and have held their last 10 opponents to 68 points or less.

“It’s five guys, about being connected, working together to get a stop,” said Loyola guard Ben Richardson, the Missouri Valley Conference defensive player of the year. “We’re outsized in a lot of positions, but we have a lot of techniques to tap into to make up for the size.”

KANSAS

The Jayhawks, on paper, are the worst defensive team left in the bracket, coming in at 40th in adjusted D.

Kansas is exceptionally strong in one defensive area: Defending without fouling.

Because they don’t have a lot of depth, the Jayhawks can’t afford to foul a lot, but that also limits the number of easy points opponents get from free throws.

Udoka Azubuike is a load in the post at 7-foot, 280 pounds, and can soar in for backside blocks if a teammate gets beat. Svi Mykhailiuk showed off his defensive chops in the Elite Eight, when he repeatedly knocked Duke All-American Marvin Bagley III off the block and beat the freshman to his spots.

The Jayhawks also are playing harder after coach Bill Self called them soft midseason.

“I probably had verbally gotten after this team more and been more critical in some ways,” Self said. “But also with that being said, I think I’ve also made it real clear in many ways I’m more proud, too, because we have altered our personality traits to the point that it’s given this team the best chance.”

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More AP college basketball: https://collegebasketball.ap.org ; https://twitter.com/AP_Top25 and https://www.podcastone.com/ap-sports-special-events

NCAA Women’s Final Four: Notre Dame beats UConn /Miss State beats Louisville

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Arike Ogunbowale etched her name in Notre Dame lore with the shot that lifted the Irish over rival UConn.

Ogunbowale’s jumper from the corner with a second left gave Notre Dame a 91-89 overtime victory Friday night, handing the Huskies their second straight stunning and sudden end to an undefeated season in the national semifinals.

She finished with 27 points and Jackie Young had a career-high 32 to lead the Irish back to the championship game for the first time since 2015.

“I know I just had to shoot it at the last minute,” Ogunbowale said. “I didn’t want to give them a chance to get the ball. I went into Mamba mentality. Kobe’s here, so that’s what I tried to channel.”

It’s the second consecutive year an undefeated UConn team lost in the Final Four on a last-second shot in overtime. Last time it was Mississippi State and Morgan William, ending the Huskies’ 111-game win streak.

“There’s nothing you can say to a college kid after experiencing this two years in a row that’s going to make them feel any better about, you know,” Geno Auriemma said. “We had an amazing run for five months. That’s just the way it is. One weekend in March gets to decide your season.”

The Irish will face the Bulldogs — who won again in OT earlier Friday — on Sunday night in the title game. Muffet McGraw’s squad will be looking for its second national championship to go with the one the Irish won in 2001.

Ogunbowale had a chance to seal the game in the final minute of overtime, but she missed two free throws. Crystal Dangerfield then hit a 3-pointer to tie it at 89, setting up the fantastic finish. The Huskies threw the ball down the court after the 3, but didn’t get a chance to tie it.

“We were a little dejected at the end of regulation, but Arike I think was madder than anyone,” McGraw said. “She wanted the ball in her hands and we put it there for the end of the game.”

This was the latest chapter in the greatest current rivalry in women’s basketball. The sellout crowd that included Lakers great Kobe Bryant, who was sitting behind the Huskies bench with his wife and daughters, saw quite the show with epic comebacks from both teams. Bryant later tweeted at Ogunbowale, “Big Time shot Arike!”

Notre Dame has never beaten the Huskies in the national championship game. They now have won four of the five meetings in the Final Four, including twice in overtime.

“It was the second or third time we beat them in the semifinal, that’s been our lucky charm,” McGraw said. “We can’t seem to beat them in the final. To have a big lead, squander that and come from behind, this one is really special. It’s got to be the best one.”

UConn was down five with under a minute to go in regulation before Napheesa Collier hit a 3-pointer with 15 seconds left and Kia Nurse had a steal for a layup a few seconds later to tie it. After Notre Dame turned it over with 3.6 seconds left in regulation, Gabby Williams’ runner was short, sending the game to overtime.

The teams traded shot for shot in overtime before the Irish led 86-84 with 2:37 left in the extra period. Young then made three free throws over the next 2 minutes to give the Irish a five-point lead with 43 seconds left.

Collier then scored to make it a three-point game. Ogunbowale missed her two free throws a few seconds later. She atoned 37 seconds after a Notre Dame timeout with the shot that set off a wild celebration from the Irish faithful that made the trip.

“I practice this all the time,” Ogunbowale said. “It’s everyone’s dream to get a game-winning shot, so you practice this in the gym when you’re by yourself. So I was prepared for this moment.”

This might be one of the most improbable NCAA runs by McGraw’s team, despite being a No. 1 seed. The Irish lost four players over the course of the season to ACL injuries. With only seven healthy scholarship players left, the Irish rallied from second-half deficits in the last three NCAA games.

Just like their regular-season meeting, Notre Dame started out hot. The Huskies trailed 24-11 late in the first quarter before Katie Lou Samuelson hit a 3-pointer just before the end of the period. That began a 28-6 run over the next 9 minutes to give the Huskies a 39-30 advantage. Azura Stevens had 10 points during the run as UConn took over, much to the delight of the sellout crowd of nearly 20,000 fans.

The Huskies (36-1) led 41-34 at the half before Notre Dame rallied. The teams traded the lead in the third quarter before the Huskies went up 60-57 heading into the fourth quarter.

Collier finished with 24 points for the Huskies. Stevens added 19.

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Members of Mississippi State celebrate after defeating Louisville in the semifinals of the women’s NCAA Final Four college basketball tournament, Friday, March 30, 2018, in Columbus, Ohio. Mississippi State won 73-63 in overtime. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)(Photo: The Associated Press)

MISS. STATE 73, LOUISVILLE 63

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Once Roshunda Johnson hit the tying 3-pointer with seven seconds left in regulation and Teaira McCowan forced a miss on the other end, Mississippi State knew it was in good shape.

“We know we’re an overtime team,” All-American guard Victoria Vivians said.

Especially in the Final Four.

McCowan had 21 points and a Final Four-record 25 rebounds, Vivians scored 25 points, and Mississippi State reached the national championship game for the second straight year with a 73-63 OT win over Louisville on Friday night.

After Johnson’s jumper, Louisville’s Myisha Hines-Allen then drove the length of the floor but missed a layup with McCowan defending her.

In overtime, the Bulldogs asserted themselves and Morgan William, who hit the game-winning shot in OT last year in the Final Four to end UConn’s 111-game winning streak, made two free throws in the last minute to help Mississippi State (37-1) pull away.

Louisville (36-3) managed just one basket on 10 shots in the extra period.

McCowan broke the rebounding mark set by Charlotte Smith of North Carolina in 1994 when Mississippi State’s 6-foot-7 center grabbed her 24th board.

“She’s done that all year against the best competition,” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. “She did it again tonight on the biggest stage.”

The Cardinals were hurt when center Sam Fuehring was called for a technical foul with 2:42 left in the fourth quarter when she slapped the floor after getting called for a foul. That technical fouled her out of the game. The Cardinals were down 54-53 and William hit both free throws to give the Bulldogs a three-point lead.

“It’s a shame it has to come down to that,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “It was a five-point swing. So it impacted the game.”

Louisville came back to take a 59-56 advantage on Hines-Allen’s layup with 11 seconds left, setting up the exciting finish in regulation.

Asia Durr scored 18 for Louisville (36-3), which was making its third appearance in the Final Four. Jazmine Jones added 15 in a game in which the lead changed 15 times.

“It was really tough,” Jones said. “They have great guards up and down their team. Victoria (Vivians), she’s a great player. She was an All-American. It was really tough guarding her. And their 3-point shooters, because they can spread out the floor while driving. So it was really tough tonight.”

BIG PICTURE

LOUISVILLE: The Cardinals won the ACC regular season and conference tournament for the first time in school history. They also earned the first No. 1 seed in program history, but couldn’t get shots to fall in OT or keep McCowan off the boards all night.

“What a great ballgame,” Walz said. “I mean, back and forth runs by both teams. It was a great ballgame. I thought we competed, we played our hearts out. I thought they played their hearts out.”

MISSISSIPPI STATE: The Bulldogs fell short after their upset of UConn last year, falling to South Carolina in the championship game.

“I just feel like this year we have execute and finish it out,” Vivians said.

RECOGNITION

Schaefer took time out to accept an award a few hours before the women’s Final Four tipped off. Schaefer was honored as the National Coach of the Year by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. Schaefer thanked his family, including twins Blair and Charles Logan. Blair is a senior guard for the Bulldogs.

“You know what? She’s had a little bit to do with this today,” Schaefer said.

REBOUND MACHINE

McCowan also set the overall NCAA Tournament record for rebounds with 92, breaking the mark of 75 set by Janel McCarville in 2004.

3s ARE SCARCE

Neither team shot well from beyond the arc. Mississippi State was 4 for 15, and Louisville was just 4 for 20, with Durr getting three of them.

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Follow Mitch Stacy at http://twitter.com/mitchstacy

Final Four will be mix of traditional powers, one amazing upstart

(PhatzRadio Sports / AP / USA Today Sports)    —-   LOS ANGELES – Two weeks of mayhem – a tumult of historic upsets, buzzer-beaters and at least one celebrity nun – have brought the NCAA Tournament to a crossroads.

The Final Four in San Antonio this weekend will feature favorites and underdogs, traditional programs and a brash upstart.

Which begs the question: Will this tournament ultimately revert to form or deliver true madness?

As the coach of surprising contender Loyola-Chicago put it: “Why not us?”

In the aftermath of this weekend’s regional finals, the oddsmakers apparently can think of a few reasons. They have made third-seeded Michigan an early favorite over the 11th-seeded Ramblers and figure Villanova should handle Kansas in a more conventional matchup of No. 1 seeds.

But the past two weeks have proved that seedings and pedigree don’t necessarily matter.

“Just if you look at the story of teams,” Michigan coach John Beilein said, “they just get hot.”

Saturday, one side of the bracket – East versus Midwest – will represent the status quo.

Villanova looks like the team to beat if only because the Wildcats, in the Final Four for the second time in three seasons, have found a variety of ways to win.

After racing through much of the tournament with offensive punch, Villanova made only 33 percent of its shots – and about 17 percent of its 3s – against Texas Tech on Sunday.

The Wildcats’ 71-59 win had everything to do with defense and free throws.

“We played a really tough basketball team that had us scouted extremely well, took away our 3s, really tested our ability to play tough and ugly,” coach Jay Wright said.

They now face a Kansas squad that defeated Duke 85-81 in a battle of blue bloods that stretched into overtime, the Jayhawks advancing beyond their region after near-misses the past two seasons.

Their matchup at the Alamodome pits two of the nation’s top players – Villanova junior Jalen Brunson versus Kansas senior Devonte’ Graham – in a game that will send one team to the final as a clear favorite.

Kansas coach Bill Self said he was “happy for these guys because they deserve to experience what the best of college basketball is, and that will be what takes place Saturday and Monday.”

The other side of the bracket – West versus South – is more unorthodox, thanks to a string of upsets that left countless office pools in tatters.

Though Michigan is a reasonably high seed, the Wolverines spent much of the season looking ordinary. Turning things around after a February loss at Northwestern, they have forged a 13-game winning streak on equal parts hustle and grit.

That type of effort was essential in the West final against a Florida State team that deploys wave upon wave of bench players, hoping to exhaust opponents.

“We understood we can’t control if shots go in or not, but we’ve got to control our energy and effort,” redshirt sophomore Charles Matthews said. “And we did that on the defensive end.”

If there has been anything traditional about this tournament, it has been the notion that defense wins championships.

Even after Virginia – surrendering a nation-best 53.4 points a game – lost a first-round shocker to Maryland-Baltimore County, becoming the first top seed to fall to a No. 16 in NCAA history, the idea of shutting down opponents remained a popular theme.

Villanova and Michigan weren’t the only teams crediting defense for their regional wins. Loyola-Chicago, which shot a healthy 57 percent in the South final, talked about limiting Kansas State to 35 percent.

“Our defense dictates everything,” coach Porter Moser said.

If nothing else, the allure of the underdog should make the Ramblers, winners of 14 games in a row, a fan favorite in San Antonio.

The Midwestern school also has something of a pop culture phenomenon in Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the 98-year-old nun and team chaplain. Television cameras have made a habit of showing her on the sideline and a bobblehead has been rushed into production.

“I just know you see her all over social media,” Michigan guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman said.

Only three other 11th seeds have made the Final Four; none has made it to the championship game. So the Wolverines understand that much of the nation is rooting for this unusual tournament to produce a fittingly quirky end.

They also appreciate that anything can happen.

“I don’t think any of us cares about rankings, seedings or none of that,” forward Moritz Wagner said. “It’s about who is going to play better.”

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Former UConn men’s basketball coach Jim Calhoun said this year’s Final Four teams represent a shift from the one-and-done era in college basketball and that the success of veteran-laden teams such as Loyola-Chicago illustrate how experience can lead to the best product.

“If you look at the top 10 players in America, six or seven of them are usually freshmen,” Calhoun told USA TODAY Sports. “But the best teams almost always have experience. Some of the best teams I’ve had, like my ’99 (national championship) team that went 34-2, that was because some of my best players came back (instead of turning pro).

“Experience makes a difference. There are subtle things you see on game tape that you don’t see in the box score. Older guys are smarter, and make better decisions. If you watch Kentucky, John (Calipari) does a great job coaching them but they’re all kids. That eventually shows. If you look at Duke, they had (four-year-senior) Grayson Allen but their (lack of experience) was there in the Elite Eight (an overtime loss to Kansas).”

Calhoun, who led the Huskies to a national championship in 2011 the same year mid-majors VCU and Butler reached the Final Four, also had his top-seeded UConn team get stunned by Cinderella George Mason in the 2006 Elite Eight — which sent the 11th-seeded Patriots to the Final Four. The Hall of Fame coach, who spent 26 seasons guiding the Huskies, raved about Loyola-Chicago’s Cinderella season.

“They’re so fun to watch and they’ve really got the entire package,” Calhoun said of the Ramblers. “It’s not an exact (comparison), but they sort of remind me a little bit of Hoosiers. They have that feel about them. Sometimes when a team gets (to the Final Four), they’re good. But the way they run their offense, and dive after every loose ball, there’s something extra. They’re such a fun group.”

And Calhoun said what’s on display with programs like George Mason (in 2006), VCU and Butler (in 2011) and Loyola-Chicago this season is partially an experience factor.

“When you keep guys in the program, you see that better parity in (the NCAA tournament),” Calhoun said. “That’s my explanation for how (Loyola-Chicago got to the Final Four). They’ve been there before. Maybe not in the NCAA tournament, but the game is the game, and three or four years of playing it — being in different basketball situations — is better than one or two. I think that’s why Kansas is tough. And Villanova speaks for itself because they’ve got a nice blend of talent and experience.”

Calhoun, a cancer survivor, will be in San Antonio to watch the Final Four, as well as serve as a head coach for the Hardwood Heroes Game alongside former Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan. The game, played Friday, benefits Coaches vs. Cancer and the American Cancer Society, and will be two 20-minute halves with cancer survivors on both squads.

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The Final Four – Men’s: Villanova stamps itself as nation’s elite in Final Four run

VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) — The Final Four had been set for decades: Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and Kentucky were crowned as college basketball’s royalty.

They are the bluebloods of basketball — where deep NCAA Tournament runs are the norm, NBA prospects play, hardwood rules the sports landscape and an air of superiority reigns in programs rich in tradition and with alumni rich enough to help fund state-of-the-art practice facilities or arenas.

Grandpa might tell you UCLA or Indiana should still be in the mix. Maybe the kids like Michigan State or Arizona.

But a fifth team has firmly crashed the field: Villanova. Its fans turn up their noses at the Philly schools while the team turns up the heat in the Big East and is positioned for a second national championship in three years.

The road to the best program in hoops may start where the original rules of the game are housed at Kansas, hit Tobacco Road, head to the home of the one-and-done prospect in Lexington but it ends on the Main Line, a wealthy stretch of Philadelphia suburbs home to Villanova.

Let’s take a look at the Wildcats’ resume by the numbers headed into Saturday’s Final Four game against Kansas (31-7).

— 134. Wins (and counting). The most by any program over a four-year span.

— 30. The magic number for Villanova. The Wildcats have won 33, 35, 32 games the previous three years and are 34-4 this season.

— 6. Sweet 16s under Wright.

— 3. Final Fours since 2009.

— 1. National championship under coach Jay Wright in 2016.

— 420. Wins under Wright, the most in team history.

There’s another number worth noting: $60 million. It’s the expected cost of the renovation funded by donors of Villanova’s on-campus arena when it reopens next season. The Wildcats played this season at the home of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, the Wells Fargo Center — where they went a sparkling 11-1.

Any way you count it, the Wildcats decade of dominance has turned their blood as blue as their “V” logo.

“We consistently had very good players,” Wright said. “It’s a part of guys staying healthy, guys staying in the program, good recruiting, getting lucky in recruiting over a period of time.”

The Wildcats soared to the top of the AP Top 25, earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and won another Big East Tournament title without a senior on the roster. Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth, Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo carried the Wildcats in stretches in tournament wins over Radford, Alabama, West Virginia and Texas Tech. Brunson was named Tuesday to the AP All-America team.

The 2016 team trumps the underdog ’85 champs that shocked the sport for best in Nova history.

With two more wins, this year’s team should stand alone.

KU-Villanova is regarded as a real title game of sorts before the winner plays Loyola or Michigan on Monday in San Antonio.

“The good thing is, I think our guys have a good understanding and respect for everybody in this tournament, so I don’t think they would even think that this is the national championship game,” Wright said. “Our guys wouldn’t think that way.”

Villanova might have seem more worthy of a spot alongside the Blue Devils, Tar Heels, Jayhawks and Kentucky Wildcats to the causal fan had it not been for some upsets as a single-digit seed in the tournament. The Wildcats lost in the first weekend as a 1 or 2 in 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2017. Surely another Final Four or two would have made them a more popular pick to win it all in office pools rather than a potential target as an upset special.

But it can’t be ignored that Wright has brought the program to heights that not even his mentor and 1985 championship coach Rollie Massimino could achieve.

The idea of christening a dazzling new arena with a championship banner raised to the rafters would be appropriate — hanging in the rarified air as college basketball’s top team.

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The Final Four – Women’s: All 4 No. 1 seeds reach women’s Final Four

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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The women’s Final Four is set, and it’s one exclusive party.

UConn, Louisville, Mississippi State and Notre Dame are headed to Columbus, Ohio, marking the fourth time in tournament history that four No. 1 seeds made it to the national semifinals.

It’s the 11th consecutive Final Four appearance for the Huskies, breaking a tie with John Wooden and the UCLA men’s team for the Division I record. UConn is into the national semifinals for the 19th time overall, snapping a tie with Tennessee for the most in women’s basketball history.

The Huskies will face former Big East rival Notre Dame on Friday night. The Cardinals will play the Bulldogs in the other game.

UConn’s 111-game winning streak was stopped at this point last season when Mississippi State won their semifinal on a last-second shot by Morgan William in overtime. The Huskies are undefeated again after knocking out defending national champion South Carolina in the Albany Region final.

“Every team starts the season saying that’s our goal to go to the Final Four. For us, it’s an opportunity to go back to where we felt like we didn’t really give our best effort,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “We lost to a really good team. Happened in a way that was really, really disappointing. I know that we were anxious to go back and put ourselves in that same situation and see how much we’ve changed since last year.”

The Irish and Huskies have a storied history on the game’s biggest stage. The teams met early in December and UConn had to rally from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to stay unbeaten.

This might be one of the best coaching jobs by Muffet McGraw at Notre Dame. She lost four players over the course of the season to ACL injuries, but the Irish find themselves back in the Final Four after rallying from a six-point halftime deficit to beat Oregon 84-74 on Monday night.

It’s Notre Dame’s first trip to the national semifinals since 2015.

“This one’s just so rewarding because I think even though we’re a No. 1 seed, it’s a little unexpected,” McGraw said.

The Bulldogs have lost only one game this season, falling to the Gamecocks in the final of the Southeastern Conference Tournament. They are back in the Final Four for the second straight season led virtually by the same group that got them to their first national semifinal last year.

“They’ve lived all year with a bull’s eye on their backs. That’s hard to do, y’all,” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. “These kids are special.”

Louisville has had its own special season, winning the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament titles for the first time in school history. They entered the NCAAs as a No. 1 seed for the first time and are back in the Final Four for a third time under coach Jeff Walz.

The Cardinals are led by Asia Durr and Myisha Hines-Allen. Louisville also made the Final Four in 2009 and 2013. The team advanced to the title game both times before losing to UConn.

They understand the task in front of them facing Mississippi State.

“They’re a really good team and we’ll have to be well-prepared against them,” Walz said.

Other tidbits from the Final Four:

ALL-AMERICAN TALENT

Three of the five members of The Associated Press women’s All-America team are in the Final Four. Mississippi State’s Victoria Vivians, Durr and UConn’s Katie Lou Samuelson all reached Columbus.

SEEING CHALK

The last time four No. 1 seeds made the Final Four was 2015. It also happened in 2012 and 1989.

CONFERENCE SUPREMACY

The ACC has two teams in the Final Four. It’s the fourth time in the past six years that a conference had two teams in the national semifinals.

NCAA Men’s Tournament Roundup: Newman leads Kansas past Duke 85-81 in OT for Final Four bid

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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Kansas is going back to the Final Four.

It’s hard to argue that Duke shouldn’t be headed there as well after the most riveting show of the NCAA tournament.

Malik Newman and the top-seeded Jayhawks got past their Elite Eight road block Sunday, knocking off second-seeded Duke 85-81 in overtime to clinch the program’s first trip to the Final Four since 2012.

Newman scored all 13 of the Jayhawks’ points in OT and finished with a career-high 32 to lead Kansas (31-7).

The Jayhawks will face fellow top seed Villanova on Saturday in San Antonio — the site of KU’s last title over Memphis in 2008 — after snapping a two-game losing skid in the regional finals.

“Everything we’ve been through…we do it for moments like this,” Kansas star Devonte’ Graham said. “Especially after the last two years, getting over the hump. It just feels (perfect).”

This was college basketball at its best, two blue bloods trading blows for 45 minutes in what was arguably the best game of March so far, one that featured 18 lead changes and 11 ties.

Had Grayson Allen’s bank shot to end regulation gone half an inch in a different direction, it might be Duke heading to South Texas.

But it didn’t, and instead the Jayhawks are moving on.

“It was an honor to play in this game,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who remained tied with UCLA legend John Wooden with 12 Final Four performances. “I think both teams were deserving of winning.”

Newman, a redshirt sophomore who came on late this season, drilled his fifth and final 3 from the corner to make it 81-78 with 1:49 left. Newman followed with four straight free throws, and the Jayhawks’ defense stiffened enough to knock the favored Blue Devils out of the tournament.

Trevon Duval scored 20 points, two shy of a career high, for Duke. Freshman star and future lottery pick Marvin Bagley added 16 points and 10 rebounds in what could have been his final game for the Blue Devils (29-8), who fell shy of their first Final Four trip since winning the national title in 2015.

Allen had 12 points for the Blue Devils, but the senior’s try at the regulation buzzer went in and then out and then off the rim before spinning away to force overtime.

“I was trying to drive right, he cut me off. Went back left. Their big stepped into help. I had to get a shot up over him. I tried to bank it in and it about went in,” said Allen, who finished his brilliant career with 1,996 points.

VILLANOVA 71, DUKE 59

BOSTON (AP) — With all of the underdogs and upsets that have upended the NCAA tournament, no one has managed to come close to Villanova.

The 2016 national champions are headed back to the Final Four, thanks to a fourth straight double-digit victory in a month of March where they’ve played every bit like the No. 1 seed they earned.

“This tournament’s a crazy tournament. Anybody can beat anybody,” guard Jalen Brunson said after the Wildcats beat Texas Tech 71-59 in a cold-shooting East regional championship on Sunday to send Villanova back to the Final Four for the second time in three years.

“The underdog mentally, they may have it. But, honestly, they believe they’re good. That’s why they’re in that position. That’s (also) why we’re in that position,” Brunson said. “We’re a good team, and we believe we can keep getting better.”

The Wildcats (34-4) will play fellow No. 1 seed Kansas, which beat Duke 85-81 in overtime later Sunday. They will join 11th-seeded Loyola-Chicago and its telegenic nun , along with No. 3 seed Michigan in the national semifinals on Saturday in San Antonio.

Sister Jean, get ready for Father Rob.

“I very much look forward to meeting Sister Jean,” said the Rev. Rob Hagan, the priest on the Villanova bench. “I was 12 years of Catholic School and taught by the nuns. I have great respect for the Nuns. Usually what Sister says is what goes.”

But if these two Catholic schools — one Jesuit, one Augustinian — meet in the national championship game, the Wildcats won’t be without spiritual support of their own.

“He’s our rock,” said guard Donte DiVincenzo, who scored eight points. “He keeps us level-headed to make sure we don’t get too high or too low. So to be able to share that moment with him was actually real fun.”

Eric Paschall had 12 points and a career-high 14 rebounds, Brunson scored 15, and DiVincenzo also had eight of the Wildcats’ season-high 51 rebounds. After starting four guards, Texas Tech (27-10) grabbed just 33 boards and shot just 18 free throws compared to 35 for Villanova to miss a chance to play for a championship in its home state.

“We knew they were a great 3-point shooting team and talented players, but we also knew how tough they were,” Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said. “We knew the identity of their team was the toughness and physicality, and that proved to be true.”

The teams matched each other with 33 percent shooting from the floor — Villanova’s lowest since 2015— and the Wildcats made just 4 of 24 from beyond the arc. One of the most prolific 3-point shooting teams in NCAA history, they need seven to set a Division I single-season record.

They’ll get that chance in the Final Four.

“Wasn’t really a pretty offensive game. But we played pretty good defensively too,” said Villanova coach Jay Wright, whose team spent eight weeks in two different stints as the No. 1 team in The Associated Press Top 25 this season.

“That’s why I give Texas Tech credit, they did a great job,” Wright said. “But we don’t rely on our shooting. There’s a lot more to the game. Our guys take pride in that. We never worry about missing shots. It’s fun when they go in, but we don’t worry about missing them.”

NCAA Men’s Tournament Roundup: No. 11 Loyola beats Kansas State 78-62

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ATLANTA (AP) — Porter Moser stood in front of the scarf-clad Loyola cheering section, a bit dazed but beaming from ear to ear.

“Are you kidding me! Are you kidding me!” the Ramblers coach screamed over and over.

No kidding.

Loyola is headed to the Final Four .

An improbable NCAA Tournament took its craziest turn yet Saturday night, when Ben Richardson scored a career-high 23 points and the 11th-seeded Ramblers romped to a 78-62 victory over Kansas State to cap off a stunning run through the bracket-busting South Regional.

The Ramblers (32-5) matched the lowest-seeded team ever to reach the Final Four, joining LSU (1986), George Mason (2006) and VCU (2011). Those other three all lost in the national semifinals.

Don’t bet against Loyola, which emerged from a regional that produced a staggering array of upsets. The South became the first regional in tournament history to have the top four seeds — including overall No. 1 Virginia — knocked out on the opening weekend.

In the end, it was the Ramblers cutting down the nets.

After three close calls, this one was downright easy.

“We believed that we could do something like this — do something really special — because we knew we had such good chemistry and we’ve got such a good group,” said Richardson, who was named MVP of the regional. “Everyone would say we were crazy. If we said this was going to happen, people would call us crazy, but you’ve just got to believe.”

No one believes more than their 98-year-old team chaplain, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt , who led a prayer in the locker room before the game. When it was done, she was pushed onto the confetti-covered court in her wheelchair to join the celebration.

Sister Jean donned a Final Four cap — she even turned it around backward, just to show she’s hip to the kids — and gave a gleeful thumbs-up.

She’s already looking forward to a bigger game next weekend.

“I’m going to San Antonio,” she said. “That’s going to be great.”

Also joining the celebration were several players from the Ramblers’ 1963 national championship team , which played one of the most socially significant games in college basketball history on its way to the title. It was known as the “Game of Change,” matching the Ramblers and their mostly black roster against an all-white Mississippi State team at the height of the civil rights movement, setting up an even more noteworthy contest three years later when Texas Western, with five African-American starters, defeated Kentucky in the national championship game.

Les Hunter, a member of that ’63 team, said these Ramblers are capable of bringing home another title.

“I think they’re the best right now,” Hunter said. “They work so well together. They can play with anybody — anybody — right now.”

Even with a title on its resume, this Loyola performance came out of nowhere. The Ramblers had not made the tournament since 1985 until they broke the drought by winning the Missouri Valley Conference.

Then, as if benefiting from some sort of divine intervention, the Ramblers won their first three tournament games by a total of four points .

Finally, with the Final Four on the line, they turned in a thoroughly dominating performance against the ninth-seeded Wildcats (25-12), the other half of the first 9-vs.-11 matchup in tournament history.

Not the least bit intimidated, Loyola came out in attack mode right from the start against a Kansas State team that rode a stifling defense to the regional final. Moving the ball just as you’d expect from a veteran squad with two seniors and two fourth-year juniors in the starting lineup, the Ramblers kept getting open looks and bolted to a 36-24 halftime lead.

“They jumped out to that big lead and it was tough for us to come back,” said Xavier Sneed, who led Kansas State with 16 points. “They kept their foot on the gas.”

The Ramblers shot 57 percent against a team that is used to shutting opponents down, including 9 of 18 from 3-point range.

Kansas State hit just 35 percent from the field — 6 of 26 beyond the arc.

Early on the second half, Richardson swished a 3-pointer as he was fouled by Kamau Stokes , winding up flat on his back, flashing a huge smile with his arms raised above his head. He knocked down the free throw to complete the four-point play, stretching the lead to 44-29.

Loyola led by as many as 23.

“We’re just a bunch of guys that everybody laughed at … when we thought we were going to play Division I basketball,” Clayton Custer said. “Nobody thought we could do any of this.”

They do now.

MICHIGAN 58, FLORIDA STATE 54

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Michigan is headed to its first Final Four in five years with another upset-minded opponent waiting.

The Wolverines (32-7) have tamped down three consecutive teams with designs on pulling surprises — No. 6 seed Houston, No. 7 Texas A&M and No. 9 Florida State.

Now they’ll face the most improbable opponent of all — 11th-seeded Loyola-Chicago in San Antonio.

“I don’t think any of us cares about rankings, seedings or none of that,” forward Moe Wagner said. “It’s about who is going to play better. They must be a really good team, that’s why they’re in the Final Four, and that’s all that matters.”

The third-seeded Wolverines withstood their own poor shooting to beat Florida State 58-54 and win the West Region title on Saturday night for their 13th straight victory. They haven’t lost since Feb. 6 against Northwestern.

Loyola (32-5) made a stunning run through the South, beating Kansas State 78-62 in the regional final to equal the lowest-seeded team ever to reach the Final Four.

The Ramblers have Sister Jean, too. Their 98-year-old team chaplain, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, has been a social media and TV sensation during the tournament.

Not that West Regional Most Valuable Player Charles Matthews had a clue.

“I don’t know who Sister Jean is, no disrespect,” he said.

Not so for Wagner, the 6-foot-11 forward plucked out of Germany by coach John Beilein.

“I know that she didn’t have Loyola-Chicago in the Elite Eight,” Wagner said. “I know that.”

Wolverines forward Isaiah Livers knows one of Loyola’s players, having played AAU basketball against each other in Chicago.

“I’ve been watching them. They’re a really good team,” he said. “From now on, you’re going to play nothing but good teams. They’re here for a reason.”

So are the Wolverines, whose NCAA Tournament victories have involved wild swings.

They scored 99 points in the regional semifinal and 58 in the final, a 41-point swing that is the largest two-game scoring difference by any team in this year’s tournament.

After beating No. 14 Montana by 14 points in the first round, Michigan escaped by 1 against Houston on Jordan Poole’s 3-pointer at the buzzer.

The Wolverines trounced Texas A&M by 27 points in the regional semifinals, hitting 10 of their 14 3-pointers in the first half.

Michigan got into a close one against the Seminoles, clinging to a 55-52 lead with 1:14 remaining. The Wolverines made 3 of 5 free throws in the closing seconds to hang on for their school-record 32nd win.

“I feel like we all believe in one another, but that is the special thing about this group of guys,” Matthews said. “We just take everything one day at a time and we stay connected through it all. When you have guys like that who are truly your brothers, anything’s possible.”

After playing in front of 19,665 mostly pro-Michigan fans in Los Angeles, the Wolverines can likely expect much of the country to be rooting against them in San Antonio.

“Loyola-Chicago, those people should be so proud of that team and come out strong,” Beilein said. “Loyola’s going to sell every ticket they can get. Well, Michigan’s going to sell every ticket we can get, too.”

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March Madness: What is Saturday’s NCAA tournament Elite 8 schedule?

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports / AP)   —   After starting with 68 teams, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is down to just eight.

The Elite Eight.

The March Madness upsets continued through the Sweet 16, with Cinderella No. 11 Loyola-Chicago staying out for at least one more dance after defeating No. 7 Nevada, followed by No. 9 seeds Florida State and Kansas State.

Here is everything you need to know regarding coverage for Saturday’s game, along with must-read stories as one of the wildest NCAA tournaments in recent memory continues.

No. 9 Kansas State vs. No. 11 Loyola-Chicago

Time, TV: 6:09 p.m. ET, TBS

RADIO CALL: Listen to the game via TuneIn 

Why Kansas State will win: What the Wildcats lack in post presence with leading scorer Dean Wade still sidelined, they make up for with moxie, physicality and a knack for timely plays. Guard Barry Brown, Jr., is a beast on the defensive end — just look at what he did to Kentucky’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — and they’re also getting unexpected contributions from players like guard Mike McGuirl, who averaged just 3.2 points in the regular season, and Xavier Sneed, who made five 3-pointers against Kentucky.

Why Loyola-Chicago will win: If the Ramblers can beat a physical, defensive-oriented team like Tennessee, why not a team like Kansas State that was a lesser version of the Vols for most of the season? Loyola will probably do the one thing Kentucky couldn’t: Make perimeter shots. The likes of Clayton Custer (46% from the 3-point line), Donte Ingram (39.6%) and Marques Townes (38%) make it easy for the Ramblers to play small if they have to, and freshman big man Cameron Krutwig will be hard to handle given Kansas State’s lack of post depth.

No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 9 Florida State

Time, TV: approx. 8:49 p.m. ET, TBS

RADIO CALL: Listen to the game via TuneIn 

Why Michigan will win: When the offense clicks like it did Thursday in a rout of Texas A&M, the Wolverines are going to be hard to beat. They blew the game open in the first half by shooting better than 60% from three-point range — led by Moritz Wagner — and they ended up shooting better than 60% from the field on the day. Michigan, which has won 12 in a row, also has stepped it up on defense, allowing opposing teams to score only 63 points a game. That’s a winning combination.

Why Florida State will win: The Seminoles, who did not close the regular season with any particular fire, happen to be on a roll in the NCAA tournament. After beating Missouri in the opening round, they rallied from 12 down to beat top-seeded Xavier, then took out No. 4 Gonzaga in dominant fashion. Florida State has size, depth and knows how to share the ball.

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — In a wild NCAA Tournament full of upsets, it’s somehow appropriate that the first ticket to the Final Four will go to a No. 9 or No. 11 seed.

And the second could go to another 9-seed.

Welcome to the madder half of the March Madness bracket. The Elite Eight games Saturday in the South and West lack the Selection Sunday favorites and instead feature a surging 3-seed (Big Ten champion Michigan), two teams who were power-conference also-rans (No. 9 seeds Florida State and Kansas State) and the upstart (11-seed Loyola-Chicago).

The Wildcats and the Ramblers meet in the first regional final to wrap up the South bracket in Atlanta, then the Wolverines and Seminoles meet in Los Angeles.

Further down the line, one of those teams will end up playing for the national championship in San Antonio.

It’s quite a feat considering three of those teams faced at least some bubble uncertainty in the final month of the regular season. And that was particularly true of the Ramblers (31-5) , who went 15-3 in their Missouri Valley Conference but could have easily been left out of the field of 68 had they not won the league tournament.

Yet, the Ramblers beat 6-seed Miami 64-62 in the first round on 3-pointer by Donte Ingram with 0.3 seconds left. Then came a 63-62 second-round win against third-seeded Tennessee on another late shot, this one a jumper from Clayton Custer with 3.6 seconds left. And finally, they held off No. 7 seed Nevada 69-68 in the Sweet 16, putting them a win away from the national semifinals for the first time since winning the 1963 national title .

Whew.

“I think there’s a lot of parity in the game, and I love it for our league,” Ramblers coach Porter Moser said. “There was a lot of talk that we weren’t going to get in if we didn’t win the tournament, and we know in the Missouri Valley how good a league it is from top to bottom. And for us to get in here, I think it’s going to spark conversation about this, and I know the committees have such a hard job.”

Now they’re meeting the Wildcats in the first 9-vs-11 game in NCAA Tournament history.

Kansas State (25-11) caught a break when UMBC pulled the first 16-vs-1 upset of top overall seed Virginia, allowing the Wildcats to avoid the Cavaliers in the second round. Kansas State beat UMBC then took out Kentucky’s latest crop of touted freshmen to reach its first regional final since 2010 and second since 1988.

“We know that every team right now is trying to make history,” Kansas State guard Barry Brown Jr. said.

Here are things to know about the NCAA Tournament’s second week:

ROLLING AGAIN: For the second straight season, the Wolverines (31-7) got hot late in the year to win the Big Ten Tournament title and reach the NCAA regional rounds. Now they’re the closest thing to a favorite in their half of the draw.

Last year’s team lost by one to Oregon in the Sweet 16, but Michigan blew out Texas A&M on Thursday to reach its third regional final in six seasons.

“I’d prefer more games like that,” coach John Beilein said afterward. “I don’t think we’ll see any more, but I’d prefer it.”

For the record, Michigan has won 12 straight and hasn’t lost since falling at Northwestern on Feb. 6 .

LONG WAIT: The last time Florida State was in a regional final, two-sport point guard Charlie Ward was months away from claiming the Heisman Trophy as the Seminoles’ quarterback, the Fab Five ruled at Michigan — and the Seminoles were blown out by a Rick Pitino-coached Kentucky team featuring Jamal Mashburn.

That was 1993.

The balanced Seminoles (23-11) got here by upending 1-seed Xavier then beating a 32-win Gonzaga team in the Sweet 16.

“We just don’t care who plays or who scores the basket, as long as everybody’s happy,” FSU’s Braian Angola said. “We buy into the system, and that’s what we’re doing right now.”

SEMBLANCE OF ORDER: The other half of the bracket looks much closer to form.

In the East, Jalen Brunson was fantastic in leading top-seeded Villanova past Press, umm, West Virginia in Friday’s Sweet 16. That pushed the Wildcats — the highest overall seed left — into Sunday’s regional final in Boston to face third-seeded Texas Tech, which beat 2-seed Purdue.

And in the Midwest, bluebloods Kansas and Duke advanced to a chalk regional final in Omaha, Nebraska. Neither had an easy time of it, with the top-seeded Jayhawks holding off fifth-seeded Clemson while the second-seeded Blue Devils beat No. 11 seed Syracuse in an Atlantic Coast Conference-heavy doubleheader.

CONFERENCE BREAKDOWN: The Big 12 and ACC are leading the way entering the Elite Eight.

The Big 12 earned seven bids and has three teams (Kansas, Texas Tech and Kansas State) still alive to go with an 11-4 tournament record (.733). The ACC tied its own record with nine bids and has two left (Duke and FSU) to go with a 12-7 record (.632).

The Big East (Villanova), Big Ten (Michigan) and Missouri Valley Conference (Loyola-Chicago) have the other spots.

FAIL: ESPN says there were 17.3 million entrees into its bracket contest. And zero —as in nary a one— got the Elite Eight teams correct. So maybe you don’t have to feel so badly about your up-in-smoke picks?

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Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

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March Madness: What is Friday’s NCAA tournament Sweet 16 schedule?

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports)   —-  Loyola-Chicago and its game-planning nun are headed to the Elite Eight. So too are Kansas State, Florida State and Michigan in this maddest of Marches.

Day 2 of the Sweet 16 has Villanova’s Jalen Brunson vs. West Virginia’s Jevon Carter, Duke’s athletes trying to solve Syracuse’s zone and the arm brace saga of Purdue’s Isaac Haas. Oh, and all those athletes between Kansas and Clemson.

No wonder sports fans love this time of the year so much.

The marquee matchup comes in the East Region Friday in Boston, where Villanova, one of two No. 1 seeds remaining, faces Press Virginia.

The Wildcats have been on a tear while everyone has been tearing up their brackets, making 31 combined 3-pointers in lopsided opening NCAA Tournament wins over Radford and Alabama. Villanova (32-4) has been even better on defense, holding its first two opponents to 37 percent shooting and less than 60 points per game.

West Virginia (26-10) is known for its defense, but rode its hot-shooting offense into the Sweet 16 for the third time in four years. The Mountaineers shot at least 50 percent in their NCAA opening wins over Murray State and Marshall, averaging 84 points per game. They also play that relentless, pressure-all-time defense that gives teams fits, especially this time of year.

“The matchup with West Virginia, it’s what you get at this point in the tournament,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “Sweet 16, you’re going to play a great team that’s playing on all cylinders. You can’t get this far unless you’re really clicking right now.”

The game also will have two of the nation’s top players at the top of their games: Brunson and Carter.

Brunson is a front-runner for national player of the year. Carter is one of the nation’s top one-on-one defenders. Could be the best individual match-up of the bracket right there.

“What makes him tough? He’s smart. He’s very smart,” Carter said of Brunson. “He’s crafty. He knows how to use his body well. He knows about angles and stuff.”

BLUE DEVILS VS. ORANGE ZONE: Syracuse was not exactly an offensive juggernaut in the NCAA Tournament, scoring 60 points once in three games. The Orange (23-13) reached the Sweet 16 behind coach Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone, which has limited teams to 54 points per game and limited No. 3 Michigan State to 26 percent shooting to reach the Sweet 16.

Syracuse faces its toughest test yet against the Blue Devils (28-7) in Omaha. Duke has a superb inside-out game with super frosh Marvin Bagley III in the middle and is averaging 85 points per game in the NCAA Tournament.

Something has to give.

HAAS AND THE BRACE: Purdue suffered a huge blow when Hass, the Boilermakers’ 7-foot-2 match-up nightmare, broke his right elbow in its opener against Cal State-Fullerton. Haas has not given up on the season just yet, though.

The senior big man tried to wear a brace in Purdue’s round of 32 game against Butler, but the NCAA nixed it because the brace had metal in it.

In steps Purdue’s engineering students. Given NCAA guidelines by the Purdue staff, the engineering whizzes worked through the night Monday to create a one-of-a-kind brace to hold Haas’ elbow in place.

Even with his new elbow accessory, Boilermakers coach Matt Painter all but ruled Haas out for Friday’s game against Texas Tech. Haas is still holding out hope.

“If I did play, it would just be really short minutes, I’m sure,” Haas said. “But I’ll play as many as I’m asked of.”

TIGERS AND JAYHAWKS: Kansas (29-7), the No. 1 seed in the Midwest, won its record 14th straight Big 12 title and opened the NCAA Tournament by beating Penn and Seton Hall behind a stingy defense. The Jayhawks have one of the biggest stars left in the bracket in Devonte Graham, but fifth-seeded Clemson (25-9) is on a roll, coming off a 31-pont thrashing of No. 4 seed Auburn, the third-largest win by a lower seed since 1979.

“I think we have moments where we don’t play very tough, but I also think we have some moments where our experience and our toughness definitely shows,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.

SEC OUT: The SEC had the second-most teams in the NCAA Tournament with eight. Now there are none.

With Kentucky’s 61-58 loss to Kansas State Thursday night, the SEC does not have a team left in the bracket through the first half of the Sweet 16. The Wildcats were the conference’s last team standing after Texas A&M was blown out by Michigan earlier Thursday.

NEW FINAL FOUR: With Gonzaga’s loss to Florida State, this year’s Final four is guaranteed to have four different teams than last season.

Defending national champion North Carolina, which beat the Zags in the title game a year ago, lost its second-round game against Texas A&M. South Carolina and Oregon did not make this year’s NCAA Tournament.

No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 5 Clemson

7:07 p.m. ET, CBS

Listen: Hear game via TuneIn

Why Kansas will win: A balanced offense (all five starters average at least 12 points) could be fully functional. After missing the Big 12 tournament and playing limited minutes in the first two rounds while nursing a sprained knee, sophomore center Udoka Azubuike is expected to return to the starting lineup. When Azubuike is healthy, he complements a four-guard lineup that is a very difficult matchup for defenses.

Why Clemson will win: The Tigers blew out Auburn in the second round with a superlative defensive performance to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1997. Clemson’s interior defense has been very good all season, and led by junior Marcquise Reed, its trio of athletic guards will be a handful on both ends for Kansas’ perimeter players.

No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 5 West Virginia

7:27 p.m., TBS

Listen: Hear game via TuneIn

Why Villanova will win: Much is made of Villanova’s offense, and rightly so. Its 86.9 points is almost a point more — .8, to be exact — than anyone else averaged this year, and it has made 12 or more three-pointers in 21 of its 36 games, including 17 in the second-round win vs. Alabama. But the Wildcats have become a much better defensive team throughout the season, limiting their last five opponents to 70 points or fewer. Radford and Alabama, its first two opponents in the NCAA tournament, were held to 37% shooting and 59 points.

Why West Virginia will win: Sagaba Konate. Second in the country with 113 blocks, he changes the game around the basket. Avoid the rim, and your shooting percentage is going to suffer. Go at him, and you risk drawing an offensive foul. Making him all the more difficult is that Villanova hasn’t faced a player like him yet this season. The Wildcats will be figuring out how to deal with him on the fly.

No. 2 Duke vs. No. 11 Syracuse

Approx. 9:37 p.m. ET, CBS

Listen: Hear game via TuneIn

Why Duke will win: Despite its youth — four freshman starters — Duke might be the most talented team in the Sweet 16. That starts with freshman big man Marvin Bagley III, who led the ACC in scoring (21.2) and rebounding (11.3). After struggling defensively during the first half of the season, the Blue Devils went almost exclusively to zone — a la Syracuse — and have won nine of 11. It plays into Syracuse’s weakness (32% three-point shooting). In the teams’ regular-season meeting, Duke allowed 44 points and won by 16.

Why Syracuse will win: The Orange barely made it into the NCAA tournament but won a play-in game, then two more with Jim Boeheim’s trademark zone — which held Michigan State to 25.8% shooting. When it’s operating well, it doesn’t just cause opponents trouble, it frustrates them, which leads to more bad shots and further frustration. Although Syracuse lost the earlier meeting, it held Duke to 60 points, its lowest offensive output. Sophomore guard Tyus Battle (19.3-point average) hasn’t really gotten going in the tournament, but has potential for a big game.

No. 2 Purdue vs. No. 3 Texas Tech

9:57 p.m., TBS

Listen: Hear game via TuneIn

Why Purdue will win: Isaac Haas hopes a brace made for him by Purdue’s mechanical engineering students will allow him to play a week after breaking his right elbow, but coach Matt Painter made it sound unlikely. That’s a blow, no question. But the Boilermakers figured out how to make do without their second-leading scorer in the second-round win against Butler, and the confidence and reassurance that gives them — freshman Matt Haarms in particular — is no small thing.

Why Texas Tech will win: The Red Raiders are crafty defensively. Jarrett Culver, Keenan Evans and Zhaire Smith each average more than a steal per game, giving them a chance to disrupt a Purdue offense that’s still adjusting to the loss of Haas. Also, the Red Raiders have come back from deficits in each of their first two games, so they aren’t out until the final buzzer sounds.

___

1. Michigan shows up as the title contender we’ve been looking for. Finally, the Wolverines that looked so fabulous in the Big Ten tournament, notching wins over Michigan State and Purdue, have returned. And it’s a team that’s got national title written all over it. Michigan hammered Texas A&M, a team that beat defending champ North Carolina convincingly last weekend, by 27 points on Thursday.

Coach John Beilein’s team was firing on all cylinders. A team that needed a thrilling buzzer-beater to get to the Sweet 16 due to a stale offense, now looks like a title favorite right alongside Duke and Villanova. An exceptional defensive team, the Wolverines proved how unstoppable they can be when their offense is really clicking — shooting 62% from the floor and 58% from beyond the arc. Mo Wagner broke out of a mini slump with 21 points, while guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman cashed in with 24 points and seven assists.

NCAA TOURNAMENT BRACKET: See how the field of 68 has been trimmed

2. Loyola-Chicago is the most balanced clutch team left in the Dance. Loyola-Chicago is the ultimate Cinderella of 2018’s March Madness, advancing to the Elite Eight on three consecutive last-second, game-winning jumpers — over No. 6 Miami, No. 3 Tennessee and No. 7 Nevada, respectively. Except there’s no Steph Curry on this upstart mid-major. And that’s what makes the sum-of-all-the-parts Ramblers so unique and fun to watch. There’s no superstar (outside of Sister Jean, of course), but a handful of sharpshooters who can come up clutch.

In Thursday’s 69-68 win over Nevada, it was Marques Townes with the dagger with six seconds left to help Loyola punch its Elite Eight ticket. His three-pointer, assisted by Clayton Custer, shows how many weapons coach Porter Moser has at his disposal.

SportsPulse: Loyola-Chicago continues to dance in the NCAA tournament and will make an Elite Eight appearance for the first time since 1963. USA TODAY Sports

3. Kentucky choked big time. This was one of the most disappointing losses in the John Calipari era at Kentucky, as the fifth-seeded Wildcats crumbled against a Kansas State team that played tougher and with more drive. Kentucky had a red carpet rolled out to get to the Final Four, with No. 1 Virginia, No. 2 Cincinnati, and No. 4 Arizona all gone. But poor free-throw shooting and defensive blunders (especially on a Barry Brown game-winning lay-up) cost this freshman-laden group against a KSU team that was playing without its best player and had major foul trouble down the stretch.

4. Kansas State continues to silence doubters. Coach Bruce Weber made sure his K-State players knew where his Wildcats were ranked on Sweet 16 boards before Thursday’s tip. He wanted them to go out and play with a chip on their shoulder. Mission accomplished. The Wildcats were impressive in their win over Kentucky, getting just enough offense and imposing their defensive will on a heavily-favored UK squad (KSU’s allowing just 51 points a game in NCAAs). Bruce Weber has put forth one of the most impressive coaching jobs in the tournament this March.

5. Florida State is a No. 9 seed playing like a No. 2. Coach Leonard Hamilton’s team was the aggressor from the get-go against a very sound Gonzaga squad and FSU used its press to frustrate the offensively potent ‘Zags. More than that, the Seminoles are stellar in transition and used a balanced offensive attack (five FSU players scored seven points or more) to advance to their first Elite Eight since 1993.

A seemingly inconsistent team that went 9-9 in ACC play has found its groove at just the right time, knocking off Xavier in the second round and using Thursday’s Sweet 16 stage to prove it belongs and is far from the No. 9 seed it earned from a back-and-forth regular season.

“Every time we thought we had something going forward, they took it right back and got a big stop or a big bucket,” Gonzaga forward Corey Kispert told reporters of FSU after the game. “A credit to how tough they are.”

March Madness: What is Thursday’s NCAA tournament Sweet 16 schedule?

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA TODAY SPORTS)   —    It’s called March Madness for a reason.

After an upset-filled opening weekend, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament rolls on Thursday, where the first four teams will look to advance to the Elite Eight.

While we won’t be seeing a No. 1 seed play on the opening day of the Sweet 16, Thursday’s action will feature the underdogs: Sister Jean and No. 11 Loyola-Chicago, No. 9-seeds Florida State and Kansas State and No. 7-seeds Texas A&M and Nevada.

Here is everything you need to know regarding coverage, along with must-read stories as one of the wildest NCAA tournaments in recent memory continues.

No. 7 Nevada vs. No. 11 Loyola-Chicago

7:07 p.m. ET, CBS

Listen: Hear the game via TuneIn

Why Nevada will win: One of the best offensive teams in the country, the Wolf Pack’s ability to score means a game is never over — even if you put them in a 22-point hole, as Cincinnati did in the Round of 32. Four starters average at least 13 points, and they’re all 6-7, which can create matchup issues. Kendall Stephens set the Mountain West record for three-pointers in a season (126) and has made five or more in a game 13 times.

Why Loyola-Chicago will win: The power of Sister Jean is strong, but the real story of the Ramblers’ Sweet 16 run is that they’ve won 19 of their last 20 games. They rank third nationally in field goal percentage (50.6%) and have beaten three Power Five teams this season in Florida, Miami (Fla.) and Tennessee. They’re for real. Guard Clayton Custer, who hit the winner against the Vols, is shooting 46% for the season from three-point range.

No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 7 Texas A&M

7:37 p.m. ET, TBS

Listen: Hear the game via TuneIn

Why Michigan will win: The Wolverines, a popular Final Four sleeper pick, know how to play defense. They haven’t shot the ball great in the tournament but held their first two opponents, Montana and Houston, to a combined 34.5% from the field. They also only allow opposing teams to score 63.1 points a game, which makes them the eighth best scoring defense in the country. The hero of the second round, freshman Jordan Poole, averages 6.2 points and 12.8 minutes per game — was Houston merely a breakout game for him? Regardless, Michigan will need Moritz Wagner (14.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg) to play well to advance.

Why Texas A&M will win: They’re huge. Three starters —Tyler Davis, Robert Williams and D.J. Hogg — are taller than 6-9. Davis (6-9, 270 pounds) and Williams (6-10, 241 pounds) in particular take up a lot of space. It’s tough for opposing teams to score just because of A&M’s length. Not to mention five players average double figures, which means they have a balanced attack. The Aggies team everyone was predicting in the preseason to make a deep tourney run seems to have finally showed up; it helps that they’re finally healthy and suspension-free.

No. 5 Kentucky vs. No. 9 Kansas State

Approx. 9:37 p.m. ET, CBS

Listen: Hear the game via TuneIn

Why Kentucky will win: No matter what you think of the Wildcats’ inconsistency or how this roster stacks up to previous teams John Calipari has had, they’re the prohibitive favorite to get out of this region because they have lots of five-star talent who are starting to play their best basketball. Freshman point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 23 points and 6.5 assists in the NCAA tournament, lifting a team whose offensive production was in question at various points this season.

Why Kansas State will win: The size, physicality and age of Kansas State’s team could make this a sneaky tough matchup, especially if big man Dean Wade (16.5 points, 6.3 rebounds) is healthy enough to play. He sat out last weekend with a stress fracture in his foot. The Wildcats aren’t pretty on offense, but they were a top-20 defensive team this season and Bruce Weber will have a good scheme to contain penetration and force Kentucky to hit outside shots.

No. 4 Gonzaga vs. No. 9 Florida State

Approx. 10:07 p.m. ET, TBS

Listen: Hear the game via TuneIn

Why Gonzaga will win: The guy who is arguably their best pro prospect, 6-8 sophomore forward Rui Hachimura (11.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg), comes off the bench. This team might have lost a lot from the Final Four but they also returned some very good — and improved — players, led by 6-10 sophomore forward Killian Tillie (12.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg). They’re balanced, they know how to score (84.2 ppg, 10th in the country) and won’t be intimidated by the stage. Mobile 6-9 forward/center Johnathan Williams (13.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg) provides matchup problems for pretty much everyone.

Why FSU will win: The Seminoles will hardly be intimidated by Gonzaga’s seed; they got to this point in part by going on a 31-14 run against Xavier in the second round to advance to the Sweet 16. They’re balanced, too, with seven players who average at least seven points, led by 6-8 senior forward Phil Cofer (12.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg); that means anyone could go off at any time. Against Missouri in the second round, it was 6-9 redshirt freshman Mfiondu Kabengele, who came off the bench to score 14. And while their 9-9 conference record is somewhat underwhelming, they are battle-tested after going through the ACC.

NCAA tournament Sweet 16: Most important players for every March Madness team

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports)   —   Basketball is undoubtedly a team game, but March Madness always has room for star players who can take over with highlight-reel, buzzer-beating heroics.

Now that we’re down to 16 teams in the NCAA tournament, there will be players who are crucial for their team’s advancement to the Elite Eight — either because of their takeover abilities or game-changing style of play.

Some might be stars, some might be unsung heroes. USA TODAY Sports tracks every Sweet 16 team’s most important player (in no particular order).

Cameron Krutwig, Loyola-Chicago. There’s no star player on the Ramblers’ roster, and that’s what makes them so dangerous. There’s a plethora of weapons at coach Porter Moser’s disposal. But for the hot-shooting guards to be successful on the perimeter, there has to be a little inside-out game. That’s where 6-9 center Krutwig (10.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg), a true freshman who plays like a senior, comes in. His passing skills are exceptional for a big man, and his defense against the athletic bigs of Miami and Tennessee paved the way for this Cinderella’s buzzer-beating wins.

Cody Martin, Nevada. Caleb Martin has been the Wolf Pack’s leading scorer and alpha dog all season, but in the team’s stunning 22-point comeback against Cincinnati, it was twin brother Cody Martin (13.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 4.7 apg) who sparked the resurgent Wolf Pack. Martin does a little of everything to help this team win and he’ll likely be the player to step up if his brother and elite scorer Jordan Caroline aren’t on their A-game against Loyola.

SWEET 16: Ranking teams based on title potential

Tyler Davis, Texas A&M. Davis pairs with Robert Williams to make the Aggies’ twin towers presence for this team’s formidable frontcourt. But it was Davis’ offense (18 points, nine rebounds) that fueled a dominant win over North Carolina in the second round. He’ll need another big performance against Michigan.

Mortiz Wagner, Michigan. Jordan Poole’s buzzer-beater helped the Wolverines prevail over Houston, but in order for Michigan to get to the Elite Eight it’s going to need better production from the 6-11 big man. Wagner is averaging just 8.5 points in the tournament.

Dean Wade, Kansas State. The Wildcats survived without their leading scorer in wins over Creighton and UMBC to get to the Sweet 16. But Wade, who said he’s “98% sure” he will play against Kentucky after dealing with a foot injury, could give this team enough offensive firepower to pull off a big upset over the heavily-favored Wildcats. He averages 16.5 points and 6.3 rebounds.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky. The Wildcats guard came up big with 27 points, six assists and six rebounds in Kentucky’s second-round win over Buffalo. He also was huge in UK’s SEC tournament title game against Tennessee, finishing with 29 points and seven assists. The better Gilgeous-Alexander plays, the better Kentucky plays.

Terance Mann, Florida State. The junior guard wasn’t expected to play against Xavier due to a groin injury. However, he opted to play and came up big for FSU by scoring 10 points, including some crucial baskets to help the Seminoles take down a No. 1 seed.

Zach Norvell Jr., Gonzaga. The freshman guard put the team on his back in a second-round win over Ohio State, finishing with 28 points and 12 rebounds. Norvell is really blossoming as a playmaker in March. He’ll also draw a tough defensive assignment in trying to slow Florida State’s guards in the ‘Zags’ Sweet 16 matchup against the Seminoles.

Gabe DeVoe, Clemson. The 6-3 senior guard helped pilot a 31-point blowout win vs. Auburn in the second round, finishing with 22 points. He and the rest of the Tigers’ backcourt will be tasked with slowing Big 12 player of the year Devonte’ Graham, an elite scorer who usually needs to play well for Kansas to win.

Udoka Azubuike, Kansas. Coach Bill Self put it out bluntly following the Jayhawks’ win over Seton Hall in the second round. “If Udoka wasn’t able to come back from his injury, we don’t win.” The 7-foot big man missed Kansas’ three Big 12 tournament games with a knee injury. His re-emergence was crucial in helping KU get to the Sweet 16. His presence in the paint, for an undersized team, can be a difference-maker against Clemson.

Jevon Carter, West Virginia. The All-American guard is the Mountaineers’ best offensive catalyst, averaging 17.4 points and 6.6 assists. He also is a tenacious ballhawk on the defensive end. To beat Villanova, Carter will have to frustrate national player of the year Jalen Brunson in the same fashion he did Oklahoma’s Trae Young during Big 12 play.

Donte DiVincenzo, Villanova. Brunson and NBA talent Mikal Bridges will dominate most of the attention, but DiVencenzo’s offense and three-point shooting will be key for the Wildcats to escape West Virginia. His ball handling also will be needed for WVU’s press.

Tyus Battle, Syracuse.  The Orange only has three capable scorers (and Battle is one of them) and relies heavily on its effective 2-3 zone. So, Battle will have to take on the scoring load and hit clutch shots — as he did against Michigan State in the second round, for this No. 11 seed to keep its unexpected tourney run going.

Trevon Duval, Duke. The Blue Devils’ point guard doesn’t demand the same type of attention as All-Americans Marvin Bagley III or Grayson Allen, but it’s Duval who has the ball in his hands a lot in close-game situations. His playmaking can be a difference-maker by getting into the seams of Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. Duval averages 10.2 points and 5.6 assists, and he’s given coach Mike Krzyzewski a true point guard that he was lacking last season when the Blue Devils bowed out in the second round.

Keenan Evans, Texas Tech. The senior guard hasn’t been at 100% while dealing with a turf toe injury, but he’s been a warrior and the spark plug during the Red Raiders’ advancement. In TTU’s close win over Florida, it was Evans who drained a tie-breaking three-pointer with 2½ minutes left and assisted Zhaire Smith for an alley-oop with 30 seconds remaining. If it’s close late in the game, Texas Tech will have the ball in his hands.

Matt Haarms, Purdue. With Isaac Haas sidelined with an elbow injury, backup 7-footer Haarms is the next man up and will have the most important role in Purdue’s Sweet 16 clash against Texas Tech. A 7-3 freshman, Haarms played well through 29 minutes to help the Boilermakers advance past Butler. He’s certainly not as good as Haas, but he probably can do enough to help Purdue advance.

Follow Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson

NCAA Men’s Tournament Roundup: Underdog UMBC falls to Kansas State 50-43

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — PJ Savoy made a 3-pointer with 1:08 left to give Florida State its first lead of the second half, and the Seminoles rallied from a 12-point deficit to beat top-seeded Xavier 75-70 on Sunday night in the second round of the West Region.

The Seminoles, on their way to the NCAA Tournament’s round of 16 for the first time since 2011, made Xavier the second No. 1 seed ousted in the first weekend, sending the Musketeers out along with Virginia. Now Florida State (22-11) will play fourth-seeded Gonzaga on Thursday night in Los Angeles.

Savoy also hit a pair of free throws with 21.6 seconds left putting Florida State up 73-70. Kerem Kanter shot an air ball from beyond the arc at the top of the key with 7 seconds to go for Xavier, and CJ Walker added a pair of free throws with 6.4 seconds remaining. Terance Mann picked off a long pass by Paul Scruggs off Xavier’s inbound pass before running in front of Seminoles’ fans to start the party.

KANSAS STATE 50, UMBC 43

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Barry Brown scored 18 points, and Kansas State ended UMBC’s brief, but historic run in the NCAA Tournament.

Two nights after UMBC became the first 16 seed to beat a No. 1, the Retrievers ran out of magic against the Wildcats.

The Wildcats (24-11) move on to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2010 when they lost in the Elite Eight to Butler. They will face Kentucky on Thursday night.

UMBC (25-11) had only had two field goals in the final six minutes and shot just 29.8 percent for the game.

UMBC’s scrappy defense forced 18 turnovers, but managed just three points off those. They finished 6 of 22 from 3-point range two nights after lighting up Virginia, and 9 of 18 from the free throw line.

TEXAS A&M 86, NORTH CAROLINA 65

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — T.J. Starks scored 21 points and Texas A&M overpowered North Carolina inside, upsetting the reigning national champions to mark the second straight year a title holder missed the Sweet 16.

The seventh-seeded Aggies (22-12) did everything they had to do to hand the Tar Heels a rare loss in a home-state NCAA game. They dominated the glass. They used their size to control the paint and block shots. And they pounced when UNC’s small-ball lineup couldn’t make an outside shot.

Robert Williams finished with 13 rebounds, helping the Aggies take a 50-36 edge while shooting 52 percent — including 10 of 24 from 3-point range.

Joel Berry II scored 21 points in his final game for the second-seeded Tar Heels (26-11), who were trying to reach their third straight Final Four. But they ended up falling to 34-2 in NCAA games in their home state, the only other loss coming in 1979.

PURDUE 76, BUTLER 73

DETROIT (AP) — Dakota Mathias sank a 3-pointer with 14.2 seconds left and second-seeded Purdue, minus star center Isaac Haas, held off 10th-seeded Butler to reach the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive year.

The Boilermakers (30-6) led by as many as 10 points in the second half, but Butler (21-14) cut the deficit to two and had the ball in the final minute. Kalen Martin missed a 3-pointer, and the shot by Mathias at the other end made it 76-71.

Martin scored with 2.1 seconds remaining, and P.J. Thompson missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving Butler another chance. The Bulldogs called a timeout with 1.8 seconds left, and Kamar Baldwin’s shot from near midcourt hit the rim — although it may have been waved off on a review even if it had gone in.

Vincent Edwards scored 20 points despite early foul trouble for Purdue, and Matt Haarms filled in capably for the injured Haas. The Boilermakers set a school record for victories in a season and are in the regional semifinals for the fourth time under coach Matt Painter. Purdue faces third-seeded Texas Tech on Friday in Boston.

SYRACUSE 55, MICHIGAN STATE 53

DETROIT (AP) — Tyus Battle had 17 points and Oshae Brissett scored 15, lifting 11th-seeded Syracuse into the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.

Cassius Winston missed an opportunity to win the game for the Spartans with a shot from about 45 feet just before the buzzer. The Spartans, flummoxed by Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, didn’t make a basket in the last 5:41.

The Orange (23-13) forced the Spartans (30-5) to settle for 3-pointers all afternoon and it worked brilliantly for Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim against Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo.

The Spartans took a school record 37 shots beyond the arc, making just eight of them.

Syracuse has won three straight since being sent to Dayton for the First Four as what the selection committee chairman acknowledged was the final team to receive an at-large bid.

Paschal Chukwu connected on one free throw with 2.4 seconds left and the miss gave Michigan State a chance to win in dramatic fashion, but Winston couldn’t make a long shot to be hailed in his hometown.

NEVADA 75, CINCINNATI 73

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Josh Hall converted an offensive rebound for the tiebreaking basket with 9.1 seconds left as Nevada erased a 22-point deficit in the final 11 minutes.

Nevada’s stirring comeback — the second-largest in tournament history — came just two days after the seventh-seeded Wolf Pack rallied from 14 points down to beat Texas 87-83 for its first NCAA victory since 2007.

The Wolf Pack (28-7) move on to an all-upstart South Region semifinal matchup with 11th-seeded Loyola-Chicago (30-5) on Thursday night.

Cincinnati, the No. 2 seed, never trailed until Hall’s tiebreaking basket but watched its lead disintegrate as it failed to make a basket in the final 5:45.

With the game tied in the closing seconds, Hall got a rebound off a missed shot by Cody Martin. Hall made a move in the paint and then hit the winning basket. Cincinnati (31-5) never got off a shot before the buzzer. Cane Broome briefly lost control of the ball and then passed to the area of Gary Clark as the final seconds ticked away.

CLEMSON 84, AUBURN 53

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Gabe DeVoe scored 22 points and Elijah Thomas had 18 points and 11 rebounds for Clemson, which closed the first half with a 25-4 run that helped it beat cold-shooting Auburn.

In a matchup between Southern schools better known for football, the No. 5 seed Clemson Tigers proved far more adept on the hardwood than the No. 4 seed Auburn Tigers.

The blowout win put Clemson (25-9) into the Sweet 16 for the fourth time overall and the first since 1997, earning it a spot against Kansas in the regional semifinal.

Auburn, which played this season under the cloud of a federal investigation into corruption in college basketball, finished 26-8.

The final 10½ minutes of the first half were a nightmare for Auburn, which made only 6 of 33 shots (18.2 percent) in the first half and 17 of 66 overall (25.8 percent).

March Madness – Bark Bracket: Retrievers become top dogs, boosted by UMBC

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Ramblers are moving on. Are the Retrievers ready to run with them to the Sweet 16?

Loyola-Chicago kept its feel-good story going with a one-point win over third-seeded Tennessee in the second round Saturday as the little guys kept making more noise in the NCAA Tournament. The victory allowed 11th-seeded Loyola-Chicago to keep pace with the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, a commuter school in Baltimore which — before Friday night — was best known as a master of the game of chess by those who actually knew of the school.

UMBC etched its name in sports lore when it beat Virginia , the top seed in the men’s tournament, by 20 points, becoming the first No. 16 seed to accomplish the feat in 136 tries. Now, it’s time to see if the Retrievers can put all those post-victory texts and congratulatory calls in the rearview mirror when they play No. 9 seed Kansas State on Sunday with a Sweet 16 berth at stake.

“Yeah, we’re not satisfied,” UMBC guard K.J. Maura said. “We go in tomorrow with the mentality we’re going to win another game. We’re hungry for more.”

So, too, is Loyola, whose prayers again were answered in the waning seconds when Clayton Custer’s winning basket bounced up off the front of the rim, lightly touched the backboard, and dropped softly back down before slipping through the net with 3.6 seconds left . Custer’s winner came two days after Donte Ingram’s buzzer-beating 3 from the March Madness logo beat Miami.

“We know that we can play with these teams,” Custer said. “We play hard, we play together, and we play defense. I don’t think a lot of these teams know how hard we’re going to play when we show up. I know they got off to a good start, but coach challenged us to respond to it.”

Call it divine providence for a team making its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 33 years.

With a twist, that is.

Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the team’s 98-year-old team chaplain and occasional coach , has been watching and praying from her wheelchair on a platform near the main TV cameras courtside. But her bracket doesn’t have her favorite team advancing past the Sweet 16.

“We’re going to have to prove Sister Jean wrong on this one,” Custer said.

MOUNTAIN MADNESS: These are heady days for the state of West Virginia, which really can’t lose Sunday when 13th-seeded Marshall meets Bob Huggins and his West Virginia Mountaineers for a berth in the regional semifinals. They’re the only two Division I colleges in the state that play the men’s game.

“Half of the state’s population is probably flying out here right now for the game,” Marshall guard Jon Elmore said. “The attention West Virginia is getting, shoot, half the media doesn’t even know we’re a state.”

Unfortunately, this game might have to suffice as far as the rivalry goes because the teams no longer play each other. Under Huggins, the Mountaineers have become a force in the Big 12 and no longer think scheduling the Thundering Herd is worthwhile despite pleas from fans and even the brief discussion of state legislative action to force the series to resume.

“We are on one end of the state. They are on the other end of the state. We don’t really cross,” Huggins said. “From our standpoint, it’s not what you want to make it out to be — Duke-North Carolina. It’s not that. It’s not that at all.”

CREAM RISES: Despite the upsets, top seeds Villanova and Kansas , second-seeded Duke , third-seeded Texas Tech and Michigan , fourth seed Gonzaga and fifth seed Kentucky are moving on to the Sweet 16 — the Zags for the fourth straight year — but they’re still wary considering what’s happened.

“Our biggest takeaway from just watching and being involved is that anything can happen,” Duke’s Marvin Bagley III said. “You know, every team is here for a reason and every game is — anybody could win it. We can’t assume anything … take it one day at a time because tomorrow’s never promised in this tournament.”

Top-seeded Xavier, second seeds North Carolina, Purdue and Cincinnati, and third-seeded Michigan State will try to advance Sunday.

ZONED IN: The state of New York singlehandedly took care of the Pac-12 in the NCAA Tournament, with Syracuse beating Arizona State and St. Bonaventure defeating UCLA in the First Four and Buffalo dominating Arizona in the first round.

Heading into Sunday’s matchup against Michigan State, the Orange are the only one of four New York teams still standing. Duke crushed Iona and the Bonnies fell to Florida in the first round, and Kentucky pulled away late to beat Buffalo 95-75 in the second round Saturday.

Syracuse, the tallest team in the country, has prevailed because of coach Jim Boeheim’s zone defense. It held Arizona State to 56 points and beat TCU 57-52 in the first round . Talk about being zoned in — that was 31 points below the season average for the Horned Frogs.

“If we’re playing the zone the correct way, we’re moving, active, talking, we definitely frustrate a lot of teams because we’re so long and athletic and with shot blockers down low,” guard Tyus Battle said. “And when you finally get that open shot, you start second-guessing it because you haven’t got an open shot the whole game. So it makes things tough on the opposing team.”

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1. Michigan gave us the best play of March Madness. Freshman Jordan Poole’s 30-foot buzzer-beater lifted the Wolverines over Houston in a 64-63 thriller. It’s a play that coach John Beilein designed and practiced but it took the guy with utmost confidence to hit the dagger on the big stage.

“He has an overdose of swag,” Beilein said on TBS after the game.

After Houston’s Devin Davis missed two free throws with 3.9 seconds left, Michigan called timeout and set

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Ramblers are moving on. Are the Retrievers ready to run with them to the Sweet 16?

Loyola-Chicago kept its feel-good story going with a one-point win over third-seeded Tennessee in the second round Saturday as the little guys kept making more noise in the NCAA Tournament. The victory allowed 11th-seeded Loyola-Chicago to keep pace with the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, a commuter school in Baltimore which — before Friday night — was best known as a master of the game of chess by those who actually knew of the school.

UMBC etched its name in sports lore when it beat Virginia , the top seed in the men’s tournament, by 20 points, becoming the first No. 16 seed to accomplish the feat in 136 tries. Now, it’s time to see if the Retrievers can put all those post-victory texts and congratulatory calls in the rearview mirror when they play No. 9 seed Kansas State on Sunday with a Sweet 16 berth at stake.

“Yeah, we’re not satisfied,” UMBC guard K.J. Maura said. “We go in tomorrow with the mentality we’re going to win another game. We’re hungry for more.”

So, too, is Loyola, whose prayers again were answered in the waning seconds when Clayton Custer’s winning basket bounced up off the front of the rim, lightly touched the backboard, and dropped softly back down before slipping through the net with 3.6 seconds left . Custer’s winner came two days after Donte Ingram’s buzzer-beating 3 from the March Madness logo beat Miami.

“We know that we can play with these teams,” Custer said. “We play hard, we play together, and we play defense. I don’t think a lot of these teams know how hard we’re going to play when we show up. I know they got off to a good start, but coach challenged us to respond to it.”

Call it divine providence for a team making its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 33 years.

With a twist, that is.

Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the team’s 98-year-old team chaplain and occasional coach , has been watching and praying from her wheelchair on a platform near the main TV cameras courtside. But her bracket doesn’t have her favorite team advancing past the Sweet 16.

“We’re going to have to prove Sister Jean wrong on this one,” Custer said.

MOUNTAIN MADNESS: These are heady days for the state of West Virginia, which really can’t lose Sunday when 13th-seeded Marshall meets Bob Huggins and his West Virginia Mountaineers for a berth in the regional semifinals. They’re the only two Division I colleges in the state that play the men’s game.

“Half of the state’s population is probably flying out here right now for the game,” Marshall guard Jon Elmore said. “The attention West Virginia is getting, shoot, half the media doesn’t even know we’re a state.”

Unfortunately, this game might have to suffice as far as the rivalry goes because the teams no longer play each other. Under Huggins, the Mountaineers have become a force in the Big 12 and no longer think scheduling the Thundering Herd is worthwhile despite pleas from fans and even the brief discussion of state legislative action to force the series to resume.

“We are on one end of the state. They are on the other end of the state. We don’t really cross,” Huggins said. “From our standpoint, it’s not what you want to make it out to be — Duke-North Carolina. It’s not that. It’s not that at all.”

CREAM RISES: Despite the upsets, top seeds Villanova and Kansas , second-seeded Duke , third-seeded Texas Tech and Michigan , fourth seed Gonzaga and fifth seed Kentucky are moving on to the Sweet 16 — the Zags for the fourth straight year — but they’re still wary considering what’s happened.

“Our biggest takeaway from just watching and being involved is that anything can happen,” Duke’s Marvin Bagley III said. “You know, every team is here for a reason and every game is — anybody could win it. We can’t assume anything … take it one day at a time because tomorrow’s never promised in this tournament.”

Top-seeded Xavier, second seeds North Carolina, Purdue and Cincinnati, and third-seeded Michigan State will try to advance Sunday.

ZONED IN: The state of New York singlehandedly took care of the Pac-12 in the NCAA Tournament, with Syracuse beating Arizona State and St. Bonaventure defeating UCLA in the First Four and Buffalo dominating Arizona in the first round.

Heading into Sunday’s matchup against Michigan State, the Orange are the only one of four New York teams still standing. Duke crushed Iona and the Bonnies fell to Florida in the first round, and Kentucky pulled away late to beat Buffalo 95-75 in the second round Saturday.

Syracuse, the tallest team in the country, has prevailed because of coach Jim Boeheim’s zone defense. It held Arizona State to 56 points and beat TCU 57-52 in the first round . Talk about being zoned in — that was 31 points below the season average for the Horned Frogs.

“If we’re playing the zone the correct way, we’re moving, active, talking, we definitely frustrate a lot of teams because we’re so long and athletic and with shot blockers down low,” guard Tyus Battle said. “And when you finally get that open shot, you start second-guessing it because you haven’t got an open shot the whole game. So it makes things tough on the opposing team.”

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up the sequence — an inbounds pass from Isaiah Livers hit Muchammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman near midcourt. After two dribbles, he found Poole lined up from deep on the right wing. He let it fly. And Pandemonium ensued.

NCAA TOURNEY BRACKET: Meet the Sweet 16 teams

“We practiced (the play) a countless number of times in practice,” Poole said. “By the grace of god I made the shot. …It’s ridiculous. I’m speechless.”

And so are the Houston Cougars, who had the Sweet 16 within their grasp. These NCAAs will miss Rob Gray and his manbun, while Michigan remains a Final Four contender.

2. Kentucky is hitting its stride. The Wildcats flushed giant killer Buffalo by 20 points on Saturday and look like the favorites to come out of the South Region and get to San Antonio (with no disrespect to No. 2 Cincinnati) now that Virginia and Arizona are gone. Coach John Calipari has this group peaking in March and guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (27 points, six assists) gives this team an invaluable weapon that will matter big-time in close-game situations. His 29 points in UK’s SEC tourney title game win over Tennessee proved to be the difference-maker then.

3. Duke and Villanova look like our title favorites. Kansas looked alright in its survival win over Seton Hall on Saturday. But the second-seeded Blue Devils looked like the No. 1 seed in the cluttered Midwest Region based on the way they completely dismantled a really solid Rhode Island team. Marvin Bagley III is on his A-game and the rest of the supporting cast make game-planning for this team look impossible.

Meanwhile, Villanova took over in the second half against Collin Sexton and Alabama — to avoid the second-round upsets that have plagued the program in recent years. Jay Wright’s group has a very clear path to the Final Four and should be considered the best No. 1 seed now that UVA is at home. While national player of the year Jalen Brunson is this team’s lightning rod and Mikal Bridges provides NBA talent, the player to watch is Donte DiVincenzo, who gives this team instant offense off the bench.

4. Loyola looks like VCU and George Mason more than FGCU. The Ramblers’ last-second 63-62 victory over SEC regular-season champion Tennessee proved coach Porter Moser’s team is no one-hit wonder. And closer inspection at Loyola shows this isn’t your typical Cinderella, either — buzzer-beaters aside. Loyola’s got the makeup and moxie of a team that can do more than bottom out in the Sweet 16. The recipe includes an unselfish cast that lives for the extra pass, a balanced offense that leans on a different hot handed player each game, and a top-five defense nationally.

5. Gonzaga continues to shed its underachieving label.  On Saturday, Gonzaga showed poise and fight down the stretch in a 90-84 win over Ohio State. With the game tied 67-67 with five minutes left, the ‘Zags staged an 11-2 run to put the game out of reach and handily fend off Ohio State’s counter-punches. This team isn’t as good as last year’s Final Four team talent-wise. But the difference between good teams and good programs is that NCAA tournament success usually rewards the latter. No longer is Gonzaga a team that can’t get past the second round — as it was considered four years ago.

Men’s NCAA Tournament Roundup: Poole’s buzzer-beater sends Michigan past Houston 64-63

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(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)   —-    Results from the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday:

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WEST REGION

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Michigan freshman Jordan Poole drained a long 3-pointer at the buzzer after Houston squandered a chance to lock up a spot in the Sweet 16, giving the third-seeded Wolverines a heart-stopping victory.

Devin Davis had a chance to seal the win, but the Cougars’ gritty forward missed a pair of foul shots with 3.6 seconds left. The Wolverines (30-7) called timeout to set up a final play, and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman found Poole on the wing, and the shot hit nothing but net.

The officials reviewed it to make sure, but Poole had clearly gotten the shot away.

Michigan advanced to Los Angeles for a West Regional semifinal against North Carolina or Texas A&M next week.

Rob Gray scored 23 points and Davis finished with 17 for the Cougars (27-8), who were trying to reach their first Sweet 16 since the last of the Phi Slama Jama teams went to the Final Four in 1984.

GONZAGA 90, OHIO STATE 84

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Zach Norvell Jr. had 28 points, Rui Hachimura added 25 and Gonzaga reached the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight season.

Norvell hit the late tiebreaking 3-pointer against UNC-Greensboro in the opening round to help the Zags (32-4) advance. The confident freshman made 6 of 11 from beyond the arc against Ohio State.

The Bulldogs jumped out to a big early lead, withstood a second-half Ohio State charge and made the big plays down the stretch to earn a spot in the West Region semifinals against the Xavier-Florida State winner in Los Angeles.

The resilient-all-season Buckeyes (25-9) rallied from an abysmal start and an 11-point halftime deficit to take a brief second-half lead before Gonzaga went on an 11-0 run to snatch it back. Keita Bates-Diop had 28 points for Ohio State, and Kam Williams finished with 19.

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SOUTH REGION

LOYOLA OF CHICAGO 63, TENNESSEE 62

DALLAS (AP) — Clayton Custer made a go-ahead jumper with 3.6 seconds left, sending 11th-seeded Loyola of Chicago to the Sweet 16.

Custer’s winner, which took a friendly bounce off the rim, came two days after Donte Ingram’s buzzer-beating 3 for Loyola against Miami, surely to the delight of Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the 98-year-old nun, team chaplain and primary booster watching from her wheelchair on a platform near the main TV cameras.

The Ramblers (30-5) broke the school record for wins set by the 1963 NCAA championship team. The small Catholic college in the heart of Chicago will play the Cincinnati-Nevada winner in the regional semifinals Thursday in Atlanta.

No. 3 seed Tennessee (26-7) took its only lead of the second half on a three-point play by Grant Williams with 20 seconds remaining.

After Loyola almost lost the ball on an out-of-bounds call confirmed on replay, Custer took the inbounds pass with 10 seconds left, dribbled left and then right, pulled up and let go of the winner.

KENTUCKY 95, BUFFALO 75

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 27 points and Kentucky pulled away for the victory.

Gilgeous-Alexander went 10 for 12 and made both of his 3-point attempts to send fifth-seeded Kentucky (26-10) to the Sweet 16 for the second straight season.

Coming into the day, the basketball world was still reverberating from Maryland-Baltimore County’s 16 vs. 1 stunner over Virginia the night before. Villanova and Duke both rolled early; the evening slate started with Kentucky, and the Wildcats, with their all-freshman starting lineup, trailed only once: 2-0.

It wasn’t a runaway until the last 7 minutes.

Buffalo (27-9), which got here with a 21-point blowout over Arizona, twice trimmed a double-digit lead to five midway through the second half.

Gilgeous-Alexander answered both times — once with a 3-pointer to extend the lead to eight, then again a few minutes later with a three-point play that started a 12-2 run and put the game away.

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EAST REGION

VILLANOVA 81, ALABAMA 58

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Mikal Bridges scored 23 points, helping No. 1 seed Villanova to an impressive victory.

The Wildcats (32-4) are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since they won the 2016 national championship. Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth — and yes, The Big Ragu — look every bit the favorite to make it two in three years.

Villanova plays Friday in Boston against the Marshall-West Virginia winner.

Collin Sexton led Alabama (20-16) with 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting. The star guard has to decide if he’ll join the ranks of the one-and-done freshman.

TEXAS TECH 69, FLORIDA 66

DALLAS (AP) — Keenan Evans made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 2 1/2 minutes left, sending Texas Tech to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005.

Evans finished with 22 points, and Zhaire Smith had 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. The third-seeded Red Raiders (26-9) will face Purdue or Butler next Friday night in Boston.

Jalen Hudson scored 23 points for Florida (21-13). Egor Koulechov had 12 points, and Chris Chiozza finished with 11.

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MIDWEST REGION

KANSAS 83, SETON HALL 79

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Malik Newman scored 28 points, Udoka Azubuike stood toe-to-toe with Seton Hall’s bruising Angel Delgado, and No. 1 seed Kansas advanced to its third consecutive Sweet 16.

Svi Mykhailiuk added 16 points and Lagerald Vick had 13 for the Jayhawks (29-7), who converted on every crucial play down the stretch to advance to the semifinals of the Midwest Region.

They’ll take on the winner of Sunday’s game between Auburn and Clemson in Omaha, Nebraska.

Delgado finished with 24 points and 23 rebounds in a virtuoso effort for the No. 8 seed Pirates (22-11), who snapped a four-game NCAA Tournament skid in the opening round.

Khadeen Carrington finished with 28 points, many of them on 3-pointers in the closing minutes, and Myles Powell added 14 as the pair of guards tried in vain to keep Seton Hall alive.

DUKE 87, RHODE ISLAND 62

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Marvin Bagley had 22 points and nine rebounds, leading Duke to its 26th trip to the Sweet 16.

It was Mike Krzyzewski’s 1,099th victory, breaking a tie with late Tennessee women’s coach Pat Summitt for the most wins by a basketball coach in NCAA history.

Duke shot 57 percent (29 of 51) from the floor and finished with 20 assists. The Blue Devils (28-7) will play either Michigan State or Syracuse in the Midwest Region semifinals in Omaha, Nebraska next Friday.

E.C. Matthews led Rhode Island (26-8) with 21 points but the Rams looked confounded at times by Duke’s much improved zone defense. A weakness during a mini-swoon in late January, the Blue Devils are no longer treating defense like a chore they’re forced to complete before getting the ball back in their hands.

Men’s NCAA Tournament Roundup: UMBC first No. 16 seed to defeat a No. 1

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(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)    —-   Results from the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday:

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EAST REGION

PURDUE 74, CAL STATE FULLERTON 48

DETROIT (AP) — Purdue center Isaac Haas broke his right elbow during a win over Cal State Fullerton and will miss the rest of the NCAA Tournament.

The 7-foot-2, 290-pound senior went down while taking a hard foul midway through the second half. Haas, who averaged 14.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, had nine points and 10 rebounds in the first-round victory.

The second-seeded Boilermakers (29-6) will play Butler on Sunday.

Kyle Allman scored 21 for the Titans (20-12).

MARSHALL 81, WICHITA STATE 75

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Jon Elmore scored 27 points and 13th-seeded Marshall toppled fourth-seeded Wichita State for its first NCAA Tournament victory.

The Thundering Herd (25-10) had been 0-5 in the tourney, with its last appearance in 1987.

Marshall became the second No. 13 seed to win this week. Buffalo did it Thursday night, beating Arizona.

Conner Frankamp scored 27 points for Wichita State (25-8).

WEST VIRGINIA 85, MURRAY STATE 68

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Jevon Carter scored 21 points, had eight assists and six steals as No. 5 seed West Virginia overwhelmed 12th-seeded Murray State.

The Mountaineers (25-10) advanced to the round of 32 for the third time in the past four seasons. Next up for West Virginia is a Mountain State showdown with 13th-seeded Marshall far away from home.

Terrell Miller scored 27 points for Murray State (26-6).

BUTLER 79, ARKANSAS 62

DETROIT (AP) — Kelan Martin scored 27 points and Kamar Baldwin added 24 to lift 10th-seeded Butler over seventh-seeded Arkansas.

The Bulldogs (21-13) raced to a 21-2 lead in the opening minutes. Although Arkansas wiped out that entire deficit before halftime, Butler took control again early in the second.

The Bulldogs now play an in-state rival, second-seeded Purdue.

Jaylen Barford scored 15 points for Arkansas (23-12).

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SOUTH REGION

UMBC 75, VIRGINIA 54

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — It finally happened — a 16 ousting a 1 in March Madness.

Senior guard Jairus Lyles scored 28 points, and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County pulled off the most shocking upset in NCAA Tournament history, defeating Virginia 74-54 on Friday night to become the first No. 16 seed ever to beat a No. 1 seed.

Virginia entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed after going 31-2 this season, including 20-1 in ACC competition.

But the Cavaliers couldn’t get anything generated on offense and the nation’s top-ranked defense couldn’t contain American East Conference champions.

The 74 points were the most Virginia had allowed this year.

Lyles was the catalyst.

He diced up Virginia’s defense in the second half, getting the hole easily on six different occasions and making easy layups. He also knocked down a pair of 3-pointers as UMBC built a 16-point lead.

Lyles finished with 23 of his points in the second half and Joe Sherburne finished with 14 points.

The game was tied at halftime, but the Retrievers came out confident and motivated in the second half and built a double-digit lead that Virginia could never erase.

Sherburne scored on an and-one drive and then knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key after a behind-the-back pass from KJ Maura. After Virginia made a foul shot, the shifty 5-foot-8, 140-pound Maura drove the lane for uncontested layup.

A Tony Bennett timeout couldn’t stop the bleeding, as Lyles hit two more 3’s and Sherburne hit one to extend UMBC’s lead to 14 with 14:57 left in the game. Lyles was fouled on a 3-point shot and suddenly the Retrievers led by 16.

A corner 3-pointer and a layups off a fastbreak by Arkel Lamer gave UMBC its biggest lead at 67-48. From there, the party was on as chants of “UMBC” rang through the arena.

It was yet another early exit for the Cavaliers in a season that seemed to hold so much promise.

Big picture

UMBC: Despite being undersized and unknown, they shocked the world and made history with an epic game.

Virginia: This isn’t the first time Virginia has struggled as the No. 1 seed. The Cavaliers trailed by five at halftime in 2014 to Coastal Carolina but went on to win 70-59.
Up next

UMBC: Will face No. 9 seed Kansas State on Sunday in the second round.

CINCINNATI 68, GEORGIA STATE 53

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Jarron Cumberland set career highs of 27 points and 11 rebounds as Cincinnati recovered after blowing a 10-point lead in the second half.

The second-seeded Bearcats (31-4) advanced to play seventh-seeded Nevada.

After trailing 42-32 early in the second half, 15th-seeded Georgia State (24-11) rallied to take a pair of one-point leads, its last one coming on a driving bank shot from D’Marcus Simonds with 9:30 left.

NEVADA 87, TEXAS 83, OT

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Caleb Martin scored 18 points and made two huge 3-pointers in overtime as seventh-seeded Nevada rallied for its first NCAA Tournament victory since 2007.

Nevada (28-7) erased a 14-point, second-half deficit and tied it at 68 when Jordan Caroline hit one of two free throws with 3.8 seconds left in regulation. The Wolf Pack trailed by four early in an overtime period that featured 34 total points.

Kerwin Roach II had a career-high 26 points for Texas (19-15).

KANSAS STATE 69, CREIGHTON 59

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Barry Brown scored 18 points and ninth-seeded Kansas State never trailed despite playing without top scorer Dean Wade.

Mike McGuirl added 17 points for the Wildcats (23-11). Wade had been expected to play after suffering a stress fracture in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament, but never got on the floor.

Marcus Foster, thrown off the Kansas State team after the 2015 season for multiple violations of team rules, finished with five points on 2-of-11 shooting for Creighton (21-12).

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MIDWEST REGION

CLEMSON 79, NEW MEXICO STATE 68

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Shelton Mitchell scored a season-high 23 points, Gabe DeVoe had 22 and Clemson beat New Mexico State to out a perfect first round for No. 5 seeds.

The 5-12 line is usually one of the top spots for March Madness upsets, but Clemson (24-9) shot 56 percent from the field while advancing out of the first round for the first time since 1997. It was the Tigers’ first win in the NCAA tourney since the First Four in 2011.

Clemson was nearly flawless at the offensive end against the 12th-seeded champions of the WAC. It made 9 of 11 shots during one stretch on its way to a 12-point lead at halftime.

Zach Lofton led New Mexico State (28-6) with 29 points.

SYRACUSE 57, TCU 52

DETROIT (AP) — Marek Dolezaj scored 17 points before fouling out and 11th-seeded Syracuse shut down sixth-seeded TCU.

The Orange (22-13) won for the second time in the tournament, holding off the Horned Frogs with another impressive defensive effort. Both teams shot under 40 percent from the field.

TCU (21-12) is still without an NCAA Tournament victory since 1987, when coach Jamie Dixon was a player. This was the school’s first appearance since 1998, and it was short-lived.

There was little doubt who won the much-anticipated matchup between TCU’s excellent offense and Syracuse’s zone defense. The Horned Frogs were held 31 points below their season average.

MICHIGAN STATE 82, BUCKNELL 78

DETROIT (AP) — Miles Bridges outlasted Zach Thomas, scoring 29 points and grabbing nine rebounds to help third-seeded Michigan State beat Bucknell.

Thomas fouled out on a technical with 6:06 left and finished with 27 points. He put on a show in the first half, scoring 20 points and making all three of his shots beyond the 3-point arc.

The Spartans (30-4) made the most of playing about 75 miles from campus.

Leading by 15 points with 2 minutes left, Michigan State won by a slim margin after Bucknell (25-10) made a late flurry of long-range shots.

AUBURN 62, COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON 58

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Jared Harper made a clutch 3-pointer with 1:17 to go — his only basket of the game — and Auburn held off No. 13 College of Charleston.

The Tigers (26-7) avoided being the second No. 4 seed to be upset at Viejas Arena. Marshall beat fourth-seeded Wichita State earlier in the day.

Auburn, playing under the cloud of a federal investigation, survived a poor shooting performance to win in its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2003.

Jarrell Brantley scored 24 for the Cougars (26-8), the CAA champs who made their first NCAA Tournament since 1999.

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WEST REGION

FLORIDA STATE 67, MISSOURI 54

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Ninth-seeded Florida State has lots of guys who can score, and the Seminoles used that depth to win their fourth straight NCAA Tournament opener.

Mfiondu Kabengele scored 14 points, and Florida State beat No. 8 seed Missouri.

PJ Savoy had 12 points and Phil Cofer scored 11. A total of 10 Seminoles scored at least two points apiece — by halftime — as they wore out Missouri, which had only eight healthy players available.

This was the first trip to the tournament for every player on the roster for Missouri (20-13). Even with new players and a new coach in Cuonzo Martin, the Tigers head home from their first NCAA trip since 2013 with the program’s fourth straight loss in a first round.

XAVIER 102, TEXAS SOUTHERN 83

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Xavier looked every bit like a No. 1 seed its first time around in the role at an NCAA Tournament.

J.P. Macura scored 18 of his career-high 29 points in the first half, and Xavier routed No. 16 seed Texas Southern in its tournament opener.

Trevon Bluiett added 26 points and Kerem Kanter had 24 for the Musketeers (29-5).

Texas Southern (16-20) came in having won the first NCAA Tournament game in program history, a First Four win over North Carolina Central in Dayton on Wednesday night.

NORTH CAROLINA 84, LIPSCOMB 66

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kenny Williams scored 18 points and defending national champion North Carolina took its time before opening up to beat Lipscomb.

Theo Pinson had 15 points and flirted with a triple-double for the second-seeded Tar Heels (26-10). North Carolina next plays Texas A&M.

Playing for the first time in the NCAA tourney, the 15th-seeded Bisons (23-10) held an early six-point edge. They led 33-31 with under four minutes left in the first half before North Carolina went on a 12-1 run to take control by the break.

TEXAS A&M 73, PROVIDENCE 69

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Admon Gilder scored 18 points to help Texas A&M hold off Providence.

Robert Williams and Tyler Davis both had double-doubles for the seventh-seeded Aggies (21-12). The teams were tied at 50 with about 9 minutes left but Texas A&M responded with a 12-2.

Rodney Bullock scored 22 points for the 10th-seeded Friars (21-14).

2018 NCAA tournament: The best games to watch Thursday

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports / AP)    —   All the action on the hardwood can be overwhelming if you’re new to the March Madness experience. With as many as four NCAA tournament games going on simultaneously at some points in the day, it might be difficult to prioritize where to focus your attention. We’re here to help.

Of course, you’ll want to keep an eye on the scoreboard, and make sure you follow our @SportsPSA account on Twitter so you don’t miss any close finishes. But to get you started, here’s a chronological list of what we think will be the most compelling match-ups on the Thursday slate in the round of 64.

No. 7 Rhode Island vs. No. 10 Oklahoma, Midwest Region, 12:15 p.m. ET, CBS

The first tip of the day from Pittsburgh is a good place to begin. The Sooners and freshman sensation Trae Young struggled mightily in the latter half of the Big 12 campaign and must now try to regain their early-season form. But the Rams have a veteran lineup and should be ready for the big stage.

No. 6 Miami (Fla.) vs. No. 11 Loyola-Chicago, South Region, 3:10 p.m. ET, truTV

It’s been quite a while since the Ramblers went dancing. The last time, in fact, they got as far as the Sweet 16 before falling to Patrick Ewing and Georgetown in 1985. Now that they’re back, they have the makings of a team that could stick around. The Hurricanes, however, have been through the grind of an ACC schedule and won’t be troubled by Loyola’s solid record.

No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 12 South Dakota State, West Region, 4 p.m. ET, TNT

The Buckeyes’ finish near the top of the Big Ten was somewhat unexpected. The Jackrabbits’ dominance of the Summit League was anything but. South Dakota State has experience, talent and a whole lot of fan support. But Ohio State’s first-year coach Chris Holtmann is familiar with March success and should have his Buckeyes ready.

No. 5 Kentucky vs. No. 12 Davidson, South Region, 7:10 p.m. ET, CBS

Even Kentucky coach John Calipari expects a tough battle in this all-Wildcats showdown. Davidson not only got hot at the right time of the season to claim the A-10 title, but it might just have the best player on the floor in this match-up. Kentucky has its usual collection of top recruits, but Davidson’s Peyton Aldridge can take over a game.

No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 14 Montana, West Region, 9:50 p.m. ET, TBS

This contest could keep things interesting in the late-night session. The red-hot Wolverines should be well rested after blazing through the earlier-than-usual Big Ten tourney. They must now hope rest doesn’t turn into rust, as the Big Sky champion Grizzlies are capable of springing a surprise.

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The first major slate of NCAA Tournament games is set to begin as fans scramble to fill out brackets and get ready for a marathon of college hoops.

Sixteen games are scheduled for Thursday, starting with Oklahoma’s Trae Young, the nation’s leader in scoring and assists, leading the 10th-seeded Sooners against No. 7 seed Rhode Island.

The other early games match Tennessee against Wright State, Gonzaga vs. UNC-Greensboro and Penn against Kansas.

Two No. 1 seeds play Thursday: Kansas in the Midwest Region and Villanova in the East Region. Villanova opens against Radford at 6:45 p.m. Eastern.

Fans across the United States get in on March Madness like no other set of playoffs in sports, filling out brackets and joining office pools that challenge them to pick the winner of all the games.

Syracuse, St. Bonaventure, Texas Southern and Radford won their way into the round of 64 by winning First Four games in Dayton, Ohio.

Half the remaining field plays Thursday and another 16 opening round games will be played Friday.

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More AP college basketball: https://collegebasketball.ap.org ; https://twitter.com/AP_Top25 and https://www.podcastone.com/ap-sports-special-events

March Madness – Men’s: Syracuse rallies for 60-56 win over ASU / Texas Southern routs NC Central

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DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — Freshman Oshae Brissett had his 13th double-double while leading Syracuse’s second-half comeback, and the Orange — the last team to make the NCAA Tournament — held on for a 60-56 victory over Arizona State on Wednesday night in the First Four.

The 11th-seeded Orange plays No. 6 seed TCU (21-11) on Friday in Detroit in the Midwest Region.

Syracuse (21-13) had to sweat out Selection Sunday and wound up as the last one to make the bracket, relegated to the First Four.

Arizona State (20-12) scored a season low in points — only the third time it’s been held under 70 all season. The Sun Devils’ previous low was 64 points.

Brissett overcame a hard fall in the first half, scored 23 points and had 12 rebounds. He had a three-point play and a step-back jumper as the Orange overcame a seven-point deficit with 7 minutes left.

With a chance to take the lead, Arizona State’s Shannon Evans II missed a 3-pointer with 2 seconds to go. Frank Howard got the rebound, was fouled and made both free throws to clinch it. Kodi Justice had 15 points for Arizona State, which hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2009.

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TEXAS SOUTHERN 64, NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL 46

DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — Damontrae Jefferson scored 25 points and pulled down eight rebounds as Texas Southern got its first ever NCAA Tournament win, a 64-46 rout of North Carolina Central in a First Four game.

Jefferson, a sophomore, along with Miami’s Chris Lykes is the shortest player in the tournament at 5-foot-7.

No. 16 seed Texas Southern (16-19) also became the first team with a losing record to win a tournament game. The Tigers started the season 0-13 — the worst start for a tournament team in NCAA history — and didn’t win a game until Jan. 1. Now they’re moving on to face No. 1 seed Xavier on Friday.

Donte Clark had 18 points and Trayvon Reed added 10 points and eight boards for Texas Southern, a historically black college in Houston that won the Southwestern Athletic College Tournament. Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament winner N.C. Central, another historically black school was making its second straight appearance in Dayton for a play-in game.

N.C. Central (19-16) was led by Raasean Davis with 19 points, part of a starting five that included a pair of true freshmen guards and a walk-on.

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RELATED: Compete in an NIT bracket challenge here

2018 NIT: Scores, results

FIRST ROUND

Tuesday, March 13

  • FINAL: No. 1 Baylor 80, No. 8 Wagner 59 | Box score
  • FINAL: No. 2 Louisville 66, No. 7 Northern Kentucky 58 | Box score
  • FINAL: No. 3 Middle Tennessee 91, No. 6 Vermont 64 | Box score
  • FINAL: No. 4 Western Kentucky 79, No. 5 Boston College 62 | Box score
  • FINAL: No. 2 Oklahoma State 80, No. 7 Florida Gulf Coast 68 | Box score
  • FINAL: No. 1 Notre Dame 84, No. 8 Hampton 63 | Box score
  • FINAL: No. 1 Saint Mary’s 89, No. 8 SE Louisiana 45 | Box score
  • FINAL: No. 3 Oregon 99, No. 6 Rider 86 | Box score
  • FINAL: No. 1 USC 103 No. 8 UNC Asheville 98 (2OT) | Box score

Wednesday, March 14

  • FINAL: No. 3 LSU 84, No. 6 Louisiana 76 | Box score
  • FINAL: No. 2 Marquette 67, No. 7 Harvard 60 | Box score
  • FINAL: No. 4 Penn State 63, No. 5 Temple 57 | Box score
  • FINAL: No. 4 Mississippi State 66, No. 5 Nebraska 59 | Box score
  • FINAL: No. 2 Utah 69, No. 7 UC Davis 59 | Box score
  • FINAL: No. 3 Stanford 86, No. 6 BYU 83 | Box score
  • FINAL: No. 5 Washington 77, No. 4 Boise State 74 | Box score

2018 NIT: Schedule, TV channels

SECOND ROUND

  • No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 4 Penn State | 12 p.m. ET on Saturday, March 17 | ESPN
  • No. 2 Marquette vs. No. 2 Oregon | 4:30 p.m. Sunday, March 18 | ESPN2
  • No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 4 Mississippi State | 12 p.m. Sunday, March 18 | ESPN
  • No. 2 Louisville vs. No. 3 Middle Tennessee | 6:30 p.m. Sunday, March 18
  • No. 1 USC vs. No. 4 Western Kentucky | 11:30 p.m. on Monday, March 19 | ESPN2
  • No. 2 Oklahoma State vs. No. 3 Stanford | 7 p.m. Monday, March 19 | ESPNU
  • No. 1 Saint Mary’s vs. No. 5 Washington | 11 p.m. Monday, March 19 | ESPNU
  • No. 2 Utah vs. No. 3 LSU | 9 p.m. Monday, March 19 | ESPNU

RELATED: Compete in an NIT bracket challenge here

The first three rounds of the NIT are played at campus sites at the higher-seeded team. The semifinals and championship will be played at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

  • First Round: Tuesday, March 13 and Wednesday, March 14
  • Second Round: Friday, March 16 through Monday, March 19
  • Quarterfinals: Tuesday, March 20 and Wednesday, March 21
  • Semifinals: Tuesday, March 27
  • Championship: Thursday, March 29

NIT 2018: Seeds, teams

  • No. 1: Baylor, Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s, USC
  • No. 2: Louisville, Marquette, Oklahoma State, Utah
  • No. 3: LSU, Middle Tennessee, Oregon, Stanford
  • No. 4: Boise State, Mississippi State, Penn State, Western Kentucky
  • No. 5: Boston College, Nebraska, Temple, Washington
  • No. 6: BYU, Louisiana, Rider, Vermont
  • No. 7: Florida Gulf Coast, Harvard, Northern Kentucky, UC Davis
  • No. 8: Hampton, SE Louisiana, UNC Asheville, Wagner

2018 NCAA tournament: Previewing Wednesday’s First Four games / Some Dark Horses

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(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports)   —   Wednesday’s First Four games in Dayton:

No. 16 North Carolina Central (19-15) vs. No. 16 Texas Southern (15-19)

West Region

Time, TV: 6:40 p.m. ET, truTV

Why N.C. Central will win: Several Eagles players are familiar with this venue from a year ago and hope that experience will produce a better result this time. One of the guys who is not is freshman point guard Jordan Perkins, but he hands out more than five assists a game and gets plenty of support from the upperclassmen.

Why Texas Southern will win: After mixed success in head coaching stints at Indiana and UAB, Mike Davis has found his footing as he leads the Tigers into the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in six seasons. The catalyst is Demontrae Jefferson, a 5-7 point guard who averages 23.7 points and 4.5 assists and isn’t afraid to take on bigger defenders.

No. 11 Arizona State (20-11) vs. No. 11 Syracuse (20-13)

Midwest Region

Time, TV: 9:10 p.m. ET, truTV

Why Arizona State will win: The Sun Devils are built from the outside, which means they could be well-suited to generate open shots over the top of the Syracuse zone . Even if they aren’t hitting a majority of their shots, Syracuse probably doesn’t have the scoring depth to pull away. If it’s close at all late, ASU should like its chances.

Why Syracuse will win: With few threats on the ASU interior, the Orange might be able to extend their zone and limit the open looks from the arc. While the shooting can be spotty, Syracuse’s size advantage could translate into second-chance opportunities.

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USA TODAY Sports dissected the field of 68 and selected six teams that aren’t expected to be in San Antonio but could get there — based on matchup path, late-season momentum and overall strength.

Wichita State Shockers

The Shockers’ showing in the American Athletic Conference’s regular-season finale (a loss to Cincinnati) and AAC tournament (a semifinal loss to Houston) didn’t go as planned, but a year of playing in a power conference instead of the Missouri Valley will suit Gregg Marshall’s team well in this tournament. It’s already paid off as WSU is a No. 4 seed this year, compared to a No. 10 last year as a 30-win club. In the East Region, experts described how easy Villanova’s path to the Final Four might be. Not if WSU has anything to do with it. Third-team All-American Landry Shamet came alive in last year’s Dance, and he’ll need to do the same this year for a run to San Antonio.

Syracuse Orange

Syracuse did not deserve to make the tournament. But Jim Boeheim’s team could go on a deep run reminiscent of his 2016 team with similar long odds. The difficult task in facing the Orange is limited time to prepare and simulate their zone in a few practices. It’s much different than ACC foes who see Syracuse frequently. Syracuse is limited offensively, but Tyus Battle is a go-to player who can carry the load. The Midwest is stacked with Kansas, Duke and Michigan State. But consider 11th-seeded Syracuse a dark horse in the bracket’s toughest region. First, it needs to get past Arizona State in Dayton.

BOLD PREDICTIONS: 10 dreams we have about the NCAA tournament

BRACKET TIP SHEET: Ultimate guide to March Madness

SURGING: Eight hottest teams of the Big Dance

TCU Horned Frogs

If there is such a thing as a Big 12 sleeper, look no further than Jamie Dixon’s sixth-seeded Horned Frogs, who finished .500 in the toughest conference in the country and have enough ammunition for an unexpected run in the loaded Midwest Region. The same group that won the NIT last season has virtually all of its players back, and this is an extremely balanced offense fueled by 6-foot-11 big man Vladimir Brodziansky’s 15.1 points a game. TCU lost a one-possession road game to Texas Tech late in the season and fell by two points to Kansas State in overtime at the Big 12 tourney.

Alabama Crimson Tide

Can Collin Sexton channel Shabazz Napier in 2014 — the last time a high seed won it all? (UConn was No. 7 that year when Napier steered an improbable run.) While Oklahoma freshman Trae Young has fizzled out late in the season, Sexton has come on strong, helping the Tide shoot off the bubble for a No. 9 seed. The 6-3 guard hit a buzzer-beater to lift Alabama past Texas A&M in the SEC tourney before scoring 31 in a quarterfinal win against Auburn. Sexton also scored 40 points in an early season loss to Minnesota. Can Avery Johnson’s team get all the way to the Final Four? With a player like Sexton on that side of the bracket, Villanova should be concerned.

Creighton Bluejays

Like Syracuse, Creighton maybe didn’t deserve to be in the field of 68. But unlike Syracuse, the Bluejays got a nice No. 8 seed in an interesting South Region. Now with Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter out with an injury, there’s a chance Creighton’s high-octane offense gets the best of the nation’s best defense. Yes, that means the top overall seed in the bracket would go down in the second round to an unlikely Big East team. Coach Greg McDermott’s team does a lot of things well, ranking fifth nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio and 10th in scoring offense (84.3 points a game) and field-goal percentage (50%). Marcus Foster (20.3 ppg) is the X-Factor.

St. Bonaventure Bonnies

Look, if VCU and George Mason can get to the Final Four, there’s got to be a mid-major on this list of the Bonnies’ stature. Winners of 20 of 21 games, St. Bonaventure is playing excellent basketball, evidenced by a solid win over UCLA on Tuesday in Dayton. St. Bonaventure faces tall odds, as it draws a dangerous No. 6 seed Florida in the first round and then would likely have to beat a team like Purdue to reach the Elite Eight. But for Cinderella’s sake, this team has the ingredients to shock better-seeded teams thanks to the 1-2 punch of Jaylen Adams (19.4 ppg) and Matt Mobley (18.4 ppg).

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POSSIBLE ANOTHER FIVE TO LOOK AT:

Missouri: Michael Porter Jr.’s late-season return makes the Tigers one of the most intriguing teams in the NCAA tournament, but his unimpressive outing in the SEC tourney — which resulted in an early exit to Georgia — likely will raise questions about the Tigers’ irhythm. Don’t listen to that noise. Porter was able to get some of the rust off in that first game back and coach Cuonzo Martin has  chip-on-their-shoulder players who had to prove themselves without their star freshman. Expect for Missouri to make a surprise run.

More: Cincinnati and Tennessee are two underrated teams that demand March respect

Bubble Watch: Winners and losers from championship weekend

More: Dan D’Antoni lectures on ‘damn analytics’ as Marshall earns Cinderella NCAA bid

Florida: Another SEC team, the Gators have a lot of nice ingredients to make some noise in March, starting with a dynamic backcourt that can fill it up. Jalen Hudson (15.3 ppg), Egor Koulechov (13.6 ppg), KeVaughn Allen (11.3 ppg) and Chris Chiozza (11.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg) give  coach Mike White a four-guard offense that will be tough for NCAA opponents to stop. Florida had an unexpected SEC tourney exit to Arkansas, but before that had major statement wins over Auburn and Kentucky. Look for UF to outplay its seeding line, and perhaps replicate last year’s Elite Eight finish.

Texas Tech: A Big 12 tournament loss to West Virginia in the semifinals and a late-season rough patch — dropping five of seven — might tell a misleading story about the Red Raiders and disguise the potential of a sleeping giant poised for a deep tourney run. Texas Tech is just getting fully healthy and will surely benefit from being battle-tested in the country’s toughest conference. Whichever team draws TTU will be getting a defensively sound opponent. Chris Beard’s group ranks in the top-20 nationally in points allowed (under 65 a game) and field goal percentage defense (40%). Keenan Evans serves as the key, averaging 17.5 points a game.

Seton Hall: The Pirates, a preseason top-15 team, underachieved most of 2017-18 . No matter. They’ve still got all the dimensions to go on a deep run. This is a veteran group led by great guard play (the three-headed monster of Desi Rodriguez, Myles Powell and Khadeen Carrington) and a double-double machine in Angel Delgado. Seton Hall has started to hit its stride late, and nail-biting losses to Villanova and Butler conceal how surging this squad really is.

Houston: Overshadowed by Cincinnati and Wichita State, potential Final Four teams, the Cougars maybe didn’t get the love they deserved in building a solid all-around tourney profile and finishing tied for second in the AAC,  (seventh among conferences in RPI). Houston has beaten the Bearcats and Shockers and can easily play spoiler in the tournament against a similarly tough (and better-seeded) opponent. Coach Kelvin Sampson has a veteran group, fueled by Rob Gray (18.1 points and 4.7 assists per game), that utilizes a deep bench and plays with grit — key for teams that fare well in the Dance.

NCAA BRACKETS

March Madness – Men’s: St. Bonaventure stuns UCLA 65-58 / Radford downs LIU Brooklyn

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(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)   —   DAYTON, Ohio – The basketball was still high in the air – flung to start the celebration – when the buzzer sounded and the Bonnies’ long-awaited March celebration commenced. Players chest-bumped on court. Coach Mark Schmidt jumped and waved his arms.

The crowd at the University of Dayton Arena – a place where St. Bonaventure is usually booed – got caught up in the moment, too. And why not? It had been 48 years since anyone saw something like this out of St. Bonaventure.

Courtney Stockard returned from a hamstring injury and scored 26 points, and Jaylen Adams hit a jumper and three free throws in the final minute Tuesday night, rallying the Bonnies to a 65-58 victory over UCLA and their first NCAA Tournament victory since 1970.

At long last, it was time to party in March .

“It can’t get better,” Schmidt said.

They’ll have more chances. The 11th-seeded Bonnies (26-7) will play sixth-seeded Florida (20-12) in Dallas on Thursday night in the East region. They did interviews, showered and headed for a flight to their next destination.

“Florida’s got four or five days on us, so we’ll be watching tape on the plane,” Schmidt said. “We’ve got a 2 a.m. flight, but it couldn’t be a better flight. Ever.”

St. Bonaventure set a school record with its 26th win. Stockard got the Bonnies in position for the drought-busting tournament victory by leading a late 12-0 run. Adams – who missed 14 of his first 15 shots – closed it out in the final 49 seconds.

“I’m still not 100 percent,” Stockard said, “but I’m feeling way better than when I did when I left the Richmond game. So I can’t really let an opportunity like this pass.”

UCLA (21-12) was surprised that it got relegated to the First Four for the first time in its history – the Bruins have been to 18 Final Fours. They had trouble making shots against the Bonnies’ zone defense and matched their season high with 20 turnovers, a disappointing ending to a season that started with an international incident .

Freshmen Jalen Hill, Cody Riley and LiAngelo Ball were accused of shoplifting during a trip to China in November. All three were suspended for the season, and Ball left the school.

UCLA’s Aaron Holiday led the Pac-12 in scoring but couldn’t put his touch on the First Four game. He scored 20 points but had 10 turnovers, including three in the final 29 seconds as the game slipped away.

“I felt like we matched them pretty well,” Holiday said. “We just turned the ball over too much.”

Adams is the Bonnies’ all-time leading scorer as a guard but had a rough time as well until the final minute. He finished with eight points on 2-of-16 shooting.

RADFORD 71, LIU-BROOKLYN 61

DAYTON, Ohio – Carlik Jones had a substantial and loud cheering section at University of Dayton Arena, a lot of folks traveling about an hour up Interstate 75 from his Cincinnati hometown to see him play for Radford in a First Four game.

Jones didn’t disappoint them. The redshirt freshman guard was the engine that drove the Highlanders, scoring 12 points to go with career highs in rebounds with 11 and assists with seven as Radford beat LIU Brooklyn 71-61 on Tuesday night to get its first-ever NCAA Tournament win.

“It’s just big to be able to come back home and perform in front of my family and friends that haven’t been able to see me play,” Jones said. “And it’s just been a good feeling.”

Radford didn’t play its prettiest game, but the team from rural southwest Virginia will celebrate briefly before heading to Pittsburgh to play No. 1 seed Villanova on Thursday. The Big South champion Highlanders are making their third tournament appearance and first since 2009.

Ed Polite Jr. had 13 points and 12 rebounds, and Travis Fields Jr. also scored 13 for Radford.

Despite hitting just 7 of 23 shots from the floor in the second half, LIU Brooklyn managed to stay within striking distance, even taking the lead briefly early in the second half. The Northeast Conference champion Blackbirds got to within a point with five minutes left, but a 9-1 surge by the Highlanders opened up the lead.

“We remained calm,” Polite said. “Basketball is about a game of runs. So we knew they’re a good team, so they’re going to make shots. So we just had to remain focused and go with the game plan. And that’s to pressure them even though they’re a fast-paced team and don’t give them any easy baskets.”

The Blackbirds went without a field goal in the last seven minutes of the game and shot 30.4 percent in the second half. Each team committed 15 turnovers.

“I thought (Radford) did a nice job grinding it out on the offensive end of the floor and taking time off the clock to where we couldn’t get moving.” LIU Brooklyn coach Derek Kellogg said.

Jashaun Agosto scored 16 points and Raiquan Clark added 14 for LIU Brooklyn, which is winless in seven trips to the tournament.

Radford led 30-28 at the end of a sloppy first half after leading by as many as nine. The Blackbirds scored 11 of their points on nine turnovers by Radford but were just 3 for 13 from beyond the 3-point line in the half.

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