Sunday's Elite Eight: Creighton, San Diego State, Miami, Texas. Who will seize path to Final Four?
Florida Atlantic and Connecticut have already booked tickets for Houston. By the early evening Sunday, we’ll know which teams will join the Owls and Huskies in the Final Four.
The Elite Eight wraps up with South and Midwest regional finals:
In the South, No. 5 San Diego State meets No. 6 Creighton with both teams aiming to make the first Final Four in program history.
In the Midwest, No. 5 Miami takes on No. 2 Texas, the highest seed remaining in a tournament that has already made history as the first without at least one No. 1 seed in the Elite Eight.
Here’s what we learned from Elite Eight wins, what to expect Sunday and the important number to know about each team:
No. 5 San Diego State
One thing to know: San Diego State's defense is off the charts — just ask Alabama.
The foundation of the program's success for roughly two decades, the Aztecs' defense annually ranks among the nation's best. This year has been no different. Going up against the tournament's top overall seed, SDSU held the Crimson Tide to 32.4% shooting and completely bottled up future lottery pick Brandon Miller, who finished with just nine points on 3 of 19 shooting, including just one make in 10 attempts from deep.
But Creighton could put this defense to the test. The Blue Jays have scored at least 80 points in five of the past seven games and are shooting 50.6% from the field in tournament play.
Key number: 75.
SDSU has given up more than 75 points in regulation just three times all season and not since losing 76-67 to New Mexico on Jan. 14. The other two opponents to score 75 points were Ohio State on Nov. 21 and Arizona on Nov. 22.
No. 6 Creighton
One thing to know: Ryan Kalkbrenner could take this game over.
The Blue Jays' big man has scored at least 20 points in four of his past six games, including a career-high 31 points in an opening round win against No. 11 North Carolina State. He's the anchor of an inside-out scheme that took over in the second half against No. 15 Princeton, boosted by a combined 43 points from Kalkbrenner and senior guard Baylor Scheierman. While the Aztecs are very capable of harassing wing players into submission — they hold opponents to 28.2% from 3-point range, third in the country — SDSU is more susceptible inside, making Kalkbrenner the key to Creighton's attempt to reach the first Final Four in program history.
Key number: 72-69.
The score when these two programs met in the opening round of last year's tournament, with Creighton pulling out the overtime win. While personnel and styles have changed in the year since, the Blue Jays outrebounded SDSU (41-32) and shot 44.6% from the field.
No. 2 Texas
One thing to know: Please, just give Rodney Terry the job.
The work Terry has done as the Longhorns' interim coach has more than earned him the full-time position: Texas has gone 22-7 since he replaced Chris Beard in December and is in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2008 and just the second time since the tournament expanded from eight teams in 1951. For years, this has been a program defined by unachieved expectations; under Terry, the Longhorns have fought through off-court drama and injuries to peak at the right time.
So far, the focus on Terry's future — and the question of whether Texas will conduct a broader, national search for Beard's permanent replacement — seemingly hasn't weighed on the Longhorns, who are playing fast and loose heading into the regional final against the Hurricanes. But his candidacy for the full-time job is one of the underlying themes behind Sunday's matchup.
Key number: 455.
That's the number of career starts for the Longhorns' four leading scorers: guard Marcus Carr (156), forward Timmy Allen (150), guard Sir'Jabari Rice (77) and guard Timmy Hunter (72). All four started their college careers elsewhere and transferred to Texas, with Carr making stops at Pittsburgh and Minnesota before joining the Longhorns prior to last season.
No. 5 Miami
One thing to know: The three-headed backcourt is rolling.
Isaiah Wong struggled in the first round win against No. 12 Drake, tying his season low with just five points, but had 27 points and eight rebounds in the second round against No. 4 Indiana and another 20 points and six rebounds in Friday's win against No. 1 Houston.
Jordan Miller also scuffled against Drake but rallied with 19 points against the Hoosiers and another 13 points against the Cougars.
Nijel Pack has been on point since the start of tournament play, averaging a team-best 19.7 points per game and dropping a season-high 26 points to lead the Hurricanes into the Elite Eight.
After some early struggles, this backcourt has taken over games to help Miami earn a second trip in a row to the regional finals.
Key number: 14.3.
That's the number of fouls committed per game by the Hurricanes, good for 21st nationally and second among teams still alive in tournament play, trailing Creighton (13.2 fouls per game). Texas ranks 217th (17.3 per game). Miami is also 15th in free throw percentage (77.6%).
Follow colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What to know about Sunday's Elite 8 matchups: Fresh faces, new places