CLOSE

SportsPulse: After some stunning results in Thursday’s Sweet 16 games, the Elite Eight is beginning to take shape.
USA TODAY Sports

USA TODAY Sports recaps the key takeaways following Thursday’s four Sweet 16 NCAA tournament games. 

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. 

ELITE EIGHT: Kansas State vs. Loyola-Chicago sets up epic underdog battle

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. 

LOYOLA-CHICAGO: 5 things that make Elite Eight-bound Cinderella a contender

CLOSE

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.” 

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE SWEET 16

Autoplay

Show Thumbnails

Show Captions