What we learned: Houston survives close call with foul trouble


If anything, Sunday’s action taught us that it’s really not over – until it’s over. Houston had cruised to what appeared to be an easy win over Texas A&M before a combination of bad decisions, missed shots and foul trouble forced the Cougars to unravel before they salvaged the game in overtime. Baylor made a late run in a loss to Clemson. Grand Canyon did the same against Alabama and Colorado nearly caught Marquette, too.

But Purdue and UConn emerged from the final day of the second round as juggernauts in the field. Some of the other squads that stamped their tickets to the Sweet 16, however, were not as convincing. But they’ve survived. And that’s what matters.

Scroll to read our breakdown of every game of the second day of the men’s round of 32. Find our takeaways to the first day here. Check your bracket here.

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Is Houston healthy enough to keep it rolling? A fairly large red flag appeared for the Cougars on Sunday: foul trouble. The Cougars had four players foul out and another finish one short of joining them. Coach Kelvin Sampson traced the blowout loss to Iowa State in the Big 12 championship to a battered lineup and compressed conference tournament timetable, but a significant pile of fouls and a short bench almost sent the Cougars packing Sunday. There were times when J’Wan Roberts, who Sampson has called “probably our most important guy,” was limping through plays. Roberts, who has dealt with a shin injury of late, and Ramon Walker, who has returned to the lineup in the tournament after dealing with a right knee injury, added just enough depth in a game they barely advanced past. Houston watched a 13-point lead with 3:39 to play evaporate, showing just how thin their margin of error could be if the whistles come again, especially with the in-your-face tenacity the Cougars like to play with on defense. The backcourt of Jamal Shead and L.J. Cryer was defensively disruptive as usual and they were smooth on offense, combining for 41 points and 14 assists — but they both fouled out. Emanuel Sharp, who also fouled out, led the Cougars with 26 points, including six 3-pointers.

What the win means for Houston: The Cougars’ (32-4) great escape and second win over the Aggies this season — they defeated Texas A&M, 70-66, Dec. 16 — means they move on to Dallas, where they will face Duke (26-8) in the Sweet 16. Shead’s defensive wizardry — Texas A&M coach Buzz Williams said in Memphis that Shead could “guard anybody in the United States, no matter how old they are, no matter how much money they’re getting paid through NIL or through the National Basketball Association” — is a major factor moving forward. Texas A&M point guard Wade Taylor IV was 0-for-6 in the first half Sunday, 5-of-27 for the game with Shead doing most of the defending. Taylor had seven 3-pointers in the Aggies’ win Friday over Nebraska.

What the loss means for Texas A&M: It took a bit for Williams to find the sweet spot with his lineup this season. But when he added Manny Obaseki more into the mix –Obaseki played at least 20 minutes in nine of the final 10 games — things got better. Once the pain wears off of being so close to knocking off a No. 1 seed, the Aggies can turn the page to next season when Obaseki could certainly a big part of the plan. Taylor, however, is a senior and guard Tyrece Radford, who led the Aggies with 27 points in the loss, has closed out his career as well. — Jeff Legwold

When it was all falling apart, Houston turned to Jamal Shead: Just when it appeared that Houston was headed to another Sweet 16 after the Cougars had enjoyed a double-digit lead late, Texas A&M made a ridiculous run at the end of regulation to tie the game. Andersson Garcia’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer sent the game into overtime. And that was the good news. At least Houston had more time. But they didn’t have more players. In overtime, three Houston players had fouled out, including a pair of players (Emanuel Sharp and LJ Cryer) who’d combined to score 50 points in the game. Wade Taylor IV had started 2-for-17 from the field but he had made big shots late. Jamal Shead, however, was fearless, despite the circumstances. He hit key free throws and a big shot in the final minute of overtime to send his team to the Sweet 16. Talent matters this time of year. Coaching matters, too. But Houston just needed a leader and Shead (21 points) accepted the role before he eventually fouled out with 18.2 seconds to play. The maturity on Sampson’s roster helped his squad win the game after it had unraveled at the end of regulation. It’s not easy to find your way again in those moments. But Houston did with Shead’s help. — Myron Medcalf

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Why has Clemson suddenly become everybody’s tournament problem? Clemson has an NBA prospect in the post with PJ Hall and a willingness to run its offense off the block with others as well. Baylor coach Scott Drew had said Saturday “most teams are lucky to have one to play in the post, they’ve got four, five guys they can run [into the post].” That already gave the Tigers a slightly different profile from many teams in the bracket. But when the Tigers (23-11) shoot like they did early on Sunday from beyond the 3-point line as well, that makes them a migraine. They were 6-of-11 on 3-point attempts in the first half Sunday. Toss in the Tigers’ defensive efforts during their two games in Memphis (held New Mexico to 29.7% shooting in the first round, Baylor to 38.9%) and a Clemson team that came into the tournament having lost three of its past four games suddenly has loads of confidence. Chase Hunter led the Tigers with 20 points and Joseph Girard III added 13.

What the win means for Clemson: The Tigers were on wobbly legs down the stretch as they almost let a 15-point lead with 6 minutes, 41 seconds to play slip away, but they are now in the Sweet 16 for the first time since the 2017-18 season. They move on to Los Angeles where they will face Arizona (27-8) on Friday. Clemson has moved this deep into the bracket without its usual output from Hall. The 6-foot-10 senior got into foul trouble against New Mexico in the first round and again against Baylor, finishing with nine and 11 points, respectively. If Hall cranks up the offense to his usual output — he led the Tigers in scoring this season at 18.7 points per game — Clemson could give the Wildcats plenty to handle.

What the loss means for Baylor: Drew had spoken on Saturday to the difficulty of matching the makeup, consistent effort and injury luck it takes to get into position to win a national championship. After a tough shooting night ended this year’s run, Drew could face significant roster makeover. Jalen Bridges and RayJ Dennis are seniors and freshmen Yves Missi and Ja’Kobe Walter are on the NBA’s radar as potential first-round prospects. — Legwold

Baylor’s flaws exposed when the shots stop falling: Drew’s Baylor squad played in a Big 12 this season that was even more competitive than it had been in the past with Houston and BYU joining the league. But the Bears owned the most efficient offense in the league and hit 3-pointers at 39.3%, third in the country. They also boasted a pair of projected first-round picks, Walter and Missi. In recent weeks, however, the 3-pointers stopped falling. Outside of a stellar effort in the win over Colgate in the first round (53%), the Bears entered Sunday with a 15-for-64 success rate in three previous games and couldn’t find a rhythm against Clemson, either. Once they were no longer an elite 3-point shooting team, Baylor’s defensive pressure — they finished at the bottom of the Big 12 in efficiency — was insufficient to stop Clemson, despite a late rally. The Bears finished 6-for-24 from beyond the arc in the loss. It was another example of how everything can change fast, for better or worse, in March. — Medcalf

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Can Alabama reach the Final Four?: The short answer: yes. Coach Nate Oats has the Tide playing with confidence and they believe deeply in their maximum-tempo offense that resulted in the nation’s highest scoring average. What they learned Sunday was that even when they struggle to get good looks and finish like they’re accustomed to, they can grind things out in a high-stakes environment. Don’t be fooled by Grand Canyon’s lack of history. The Lopes play like a high major power and have multiple players who will play professionally for a long time overseas. Even so, a more convincing win would have inspired more confidence about a potential run but going through this kind of a game can pay dividends. If guard play is one of the keys in March, then the performance of Mark Sears is particularly encouraging. He has been one of the best players in the tournament, scoring 26 points against GCU following his 30-point night against Charleston.

What the win means for Alabama: Upsets avoided; a blue blood awaits. After going through No. 13 Charleston and No. 12 Grand Canyon, the Crimson Tide will have a role reversal as the underdog against No. 1-seeded North Carolina in Los Angeles. The Tar heels have won 10 of their past 11 games and won convincingly against Michigan State on Saturday to advance. It will be Alabama’s third trip to the Sweet 16 in four seasons, but the Tide have just one Elite Eight trip in program history (2004).

What the loss means for Grand Canyon: The best season in school history has come to an end. After recording their first-ever NCAA tournament win against No. 5 Saint Mary’s on Friday, the Lopes’ athleticism advantage was no longer there against Alabama. After reaching the tournament for the third time in four years under coach Bryce Drew, GCU has established itself as an up-and-coming, mid-major force in the West. The next step for GCU — and this can be difficult — is to line up a more challenging nonconference schedule, as it doesn’t get enough games in the WAC to truly prepare the school for the rigors of the tournament. — Kyle Bonagura

With Mark Sears, Alabama emerges from the chaos: To anyone who watched Alabama for the first time Sunday night in its win over Grand Canyon, you did not see anything new. All season, Alabama has been a team with phenomenal scoring talent, sufficient for a top-five mark in efficiency. But the Crimson Tide also have a sub-100 defense that you can’t trust. That’s why Sunday’s win was important. Alabama has been in those scenarios multiple times this season, but it hasn’t always survived. Yet, Mark Sears (26 points), the Ohio transfer, carried this team to back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances even as everything appeared to be working against the Crimson Tide. Grand Canyon shot 37 free throws. Alabama lost Latrell Wrightsell Jr. to a head injury in the first half. And Oats’ squad finished 8-for-31 from the 3-point line. In those circumstances, the Tide had to find out if they could finally win one of those ugly affairs. On Sunday, they did. — Medcalf

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Who can play with the Huskies? Northwestern was a team that took Purdue, a No. 1 seed, to overtime twice and won one of those games. It still never really stood a chance against UConn on Sunday at the Barclays Center. The Huskies were too big, too athletic and too talented for the Wildcats. It makes you wonder just who can play with the defending national champs if they bring their A-game. The Huskies (33-3) have now won their last eight games in the NCAA tournament by double digits. It’s the second-longest streak of all time, one shy of the great 2000-01 Michigan State team. Connecticut will be heavy favorite in the Sweet 16. It would have to play a total dud to lose there, with Iowa State (2) or Illinois (3) potentially its only real test before the Final Four. With the way that sophomore center Donovan Clingan (14 points, 14 rebounds, 8 blocks) is playing, it’s possible this UConn team is actually better than last year’s national champs. That is trouble for everyone else on their road to a potential repeat.

What it means for UConn: The defending champs remain the heavy favorites to win it all. They just waltzed into the Sweet 16 while barely breaking a sweat against Stetson and Northwestern. UConn showed they can do it in so many different ways. They led by as many as 30 against the Wildcats despite hitting just 3 of 22 three-pointers (14%). But the Huskies defense was once again suffocating. They allowed less than 60 points in their first two games of this tournament and their size is making it tough on everyone. Northwestern’s Boo Buie, the school’s all-time leading scorer, didn’t even record his first made field goal until his 11th attempt midway through the second half on Sunday.

What it means for Northwestern: Their season once again comes to an end before the Sweet 16. That has been the case in each of the school’s only three tournament appearances, the first being in 2017 after coach Chris Collins took over. There is no shame in losing to Connecticut though. Join the club. The Huskies were the better team, and that showed from start to finish. The Wildcats (22-12) were completely out of sorts offensively until midway through the second half after winning a tough first-round game over FAU in overtime. Northwestern’s top two scorers, Buie and Brooks Barnhizer, combined to shoot 0-for-14 in the first half against UConn. The Wildcats will be a different looking team next season without Buie and grad transfer Ryan Langborg. — Jordan Raanan

History and the Huskies: UConn is trying to become the first team to win two consecutive national championships since Florida defended its title in 2007. By making it as far as the Sweet 16, the Huskies have already outperformed most champions of the last 17 years. Five defending champions since 2007 have reached a regional semifinal: Kansas in 2009, Duke in 2011, Louisville in 2014, the Blue Devils again in 2016 and now UConn. No defending champion has advanced to the Elite Eight since the Gators in 2007.

The Huskies have also avoided another pitfall. Of the four post-2007 champions that earned No. 1 seeds the following year, three were upset in the Round of 32: Villanova lost to Wisconsin in 2017, Baylor fell to North Carolina in 2022 and Kansas was defeated by Arkansas last year. — John Gasaway

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Can Jaedon LeDee keep carrying the Aztecs?: In his first four seasons of college basketball at Ohio State (2018-19), TCU (2019-20, 20-21) and SDSU (2022-23), Jaedon LeDee scored a total of 601 points. Fresh off his 26-point performance in the win against Yale, LeDee is at 754 just this season. Few players ever have made this kind of year-over-year jump. He’s a posterchild for development in college basketball. College basketball legacies, however, are truly made this time of year. This is the first time SDSU has ever reached back-to-back Sweet 16s, so it is already in rarified air. LeDee will always be associated with that. If the Aztecs win again? That ensures legendary status.

What the win means for San Diego State: After reaching the championship game last year, this is a stage of the tournament that the Aztecs expected to reach — especially once Yale upset Auburn. But now the stakes are raised: SDSU has to travel to Boston to play UConn, the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed and the team that beat them to win the national title. History repeats. Last year, SDSU was a No. 5 seed, beat the No. 12 (Charleston), then a No. 13 (Furman) before squaring off with the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed (Alabama). For that reason, it would be silly to write off the Aztecs.

What the loss means for Yale: Yale got its moment. Its players will remember the win against Auburn forever, a win that is arguably the best in program history. Against SDSU, the Bulldogs had an off night against a better team that was on its game. A nightmare combination. They can take solace in the fact that as their game wound to a close there was only 17 teams remaining in the tournaments. They’ll continue to be a force in the Ivy League, which has shown well in the tournaments the past two years. — Bonagura

Can San Diego State pull off a repeat of last season? San Diego State is in the same exact spot in the bracket as last season. Top-left region, 5-seed, about to play against the overall 1-seed in the Sweet 16. Last time around, the Aztecs erased a nine-point second-half lead to topple Alabama and made a run all the way to the national championship. On Thursday, San Diego State will have a rematch against the team that beat them in that title game as overall 1-seed UConn awaits in Boston. Sunday’s win over Yale provided some optimism that the Aztecs’ vaunted defense hasn’t totally disappeared. Entering the weekend, San Diego State ranked No. 73 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency over its past six games — a far cry from the top-10 units that have regularly been produced under coach Brian Dutcher. But on Sunday, SDSU held Yale to 37% shooting and 57 points, their best defensive performance in weeks. — Jeff Borzello

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Is Jared McCain the best freshman in the tournament? He’s at least in the conversation, and might even be at the top of the list after Colorado’s Cody Williams got sent home Sunday. McCain, a 6-3 guard, came into the tournament as Jonathan Givony’s 20th-ranked prospect for the 2024 NBA draft. If anything, he has improved his stock, especially with the first half he had in Sunday’s second-round blowout of a good James Madison team. McCain scored 22 points in the first half against the Dukes, hitting 7 of 11 shots and 6 of 8 3-pointers. He finished with 30 points, going 8-of-11 from beyond the arc, despite sitting the final seven-plus minutes. It was quite the performance, the most points by any player during the first half of this year’s tournament. It came on the heels of a 15-point, six-rebound performance in the opening round against Vermont. McCain was a few inches from that being a big scoring night as well. He had two or three 3-pointers halfway down before they popped out in that contest. This is what the Blue Devils need from McCain to make a big run in the tournament.

What it means for Duke: The Blue Devils reached their 29th Sweet 16 since it officially began in 1975. Only North Carolina (31) has more. Duke goes into the Sweet 16 with confidence after blitzing James Madison with a dominant effort, led by McCain. But it was more than that. Duke outrebounded the Dukes 21-13 in the opening half, moved the ball well while assisting on 11 of 17 field goals and played suffocating defense that resulted in five steals. That continued in the second half as the Blue Devils’ lead ballooned to as much as 38. Some of that was from hitting 14 of 28 from beyond the arc in this game. If this version of Duke shows up the rest of the way, it’s probably capable of winning a national championship.

What it means for James Madison: The Dukes’ dream season concludes with 32 wins. They had their second 14-game win streak of the year end Sunday in the second round of the tournament at the hands of a national powerhouse. From the start, nothing went right for James Madison. Leading scorer Terrence Edwards Jr. picked up two fouls in the opening two minutes. Even though the Dukes (32-4) failed to reach their first-ever Sweet 16, this remains one of their most successful seasons in school history. — Raanan

Duke shows youth can still win in 2024: When Kentucky was upset by Oakland in the round of 64, Wildcats head coach John Calipari said the sport of college basketball has changed. “All of a sudden, it’s gotten really old,” he said. “So we’re playing teams — our average age is 19. Their average age is 24 and 25.”

Calipari was correct in saying UK was young this year, with an average age weighted for minutes of 20.7 years.

Coincidentally, Duke is the same age: 20.7. The Blue Devils are going to the Sweet 16 two years after reaching the 2022 Final Four with an average weighted age of 20.0.

Youth is no longer the default approach in the portal era. But when a rotation is both young and talented, it can still win in March. — John Gasaway

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Is Purdue built for a deep run? The Boilermakers are more than center Zach Edey. Sure, Edey had a monstrous opening weekend and another 20-point, 10-rebound performance Sunday. But Purdue also knocked down a ton of shots from behind the arc. Purdue was 11-of-23 on its 3-point shooting. Myles Colvin hit three 3s coming off the bench and guards Fletcher Loyer, Braden Smith and Lance Jones each had at least one 3-pointer, including the one Jones banked in right before halftime. That kind of shooting will keep teams honest as they try to figure out how to stop Edey, who has been as dominant as advertised.

What the win means for Purdue: On Sunday, the Boilermakers confirmed what they had been saying all weekend in Indianapolis. This is indeed a better team than last year’s group that lost in the first round as a No. 1 seed. Purdue thoroughly dominated a Utah State team that thumped TCU in the first round. Now, the Boilermakers will advance to the Sweet 16 and face a tough fifth-seeded Gonzaga team in Detroit.

What the loss means for the Utah State Aggies: On Saturday, Purdue coach Matt Painter praised first-year Utah State coach Danny Sprinkle for his team’s communication. Painter initially called Sprinkle one of the best young coaches in the game before removing the age qualifier. The consensus appears to be that Utah State’s program is in good hands with the 47-year-old after winning its first NCAA tournament game in 23 years. — Ben Baby

Sprinkle’s next job will be …: Though the final game of the season won’t be remembered fondly, Sprinkle produced an incredible first-year coaching performance at Utah State. The Aggies didn’t return a single point per game from last season, but Sprinkle led them to their first Mountain West regular-season title in program history and then their first NCAA tournament win since 2001. This was Sprinkle’s third consecutive trip to the Big Dance, after he went back-to-back with Montana State. But it’s likely to be only a one-year layover in Logan for Sprinkle. He has been strongly linked to the vacancy at Washington, although athletic director Troy Dannen departing for Nebraska could leave the door open. If Sprinkle does leave, can Utah State strike gold again with its next coaching hire? The Aggies’ past three hires were Craig Smith, Ryan Odom and Sprinkle — who all led the program to the NCAA tournament very quickly and were pursued by bigger schools almost immediately. — Borzello

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Is Tyler Kolek the best guard in the country? Perhaps. When Marquette needed a spark in the second half, it went to Kolek every time. As Colorado clawed back from an 11-point halftime deficit and forced the Golden Eagles to take the lead back, Kolek assisted or scored on nearly every trip down the floor. He finished with 21 points and 11 assists, his second double-double in as many games this weekend. If Kolek is scoring and creating at this level, Marquette will be in every game for the rest of the tournament.

What the win means for Marquette: The Golden Eagles are headed to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2013. For the second straight year, Marquette was a 2-seed in the tournament. This time, however, coach Shaka Smart’s team avoided being bounced during the first weekend. Marquette will face 11-seed NC State in the Dallas Regional and will try to cool off the Wolfpack, who went on a run to win the ACC tournament and are now trying to be the latest double-digit seed to wreak havoc on the bracket.

What the loss means for Colorado: The Buffaloes were a few buckets away from reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time in the modern era. Freshman Cody Williams, who battled injuries all year, is likely headed to the NBA as a potential lottery pick. But if KJ Simpson returns for another season, Colorado will have an important player for a potential tourney run in 2025. — Ben Baby

Marquette’s guards give them a chance to get to Phoenix: There might not be a pair of guards in the country playing better than Kolek and Kam Jones. Jones has been on an incredible offensive run over the past month, averaging 23.8 points and shooting 52.2% from 3-point range in his past 10 games — including three 30-point outings. In the first half Sunday, he scored 16 points in 14 minutes before foul trouble forced him to the bench. But that simply allowed Kolek to take over. His second half was a masterclass in manipulating the defense, getting to his spots and constantly finding ways to use his left hand for finishes in the lane.

The six games Kolek sat because of an oblique injury have been hugely beneficial; he’s averaging 19.5 points and 11.0 assists in his two NCAA tournament games. If Kolek and Jones continue playing like this, they can get Marquette to its first Final Four since Tom Crean and Dwyane Wade managed the feat in 2003. A Kolek vs. Jamal Shead battle in the Elite Eight would be a matchup between the two best point guards in the country. — Borzello



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