Sweet 16 games ranked by watchability in 2024 men’s NCAA tournament


The 2024 NCAA Tournament has plenty of great matchups to watch during the Sweet 16. The first weekend featured a lack of major upsets and a true Cinderella story. But the flip side to a chalk-filled bracket is a second weekend filled with college basketball’s elite teams.

This is only the fifth time all four No. 1 and No. 2 seeds advanced to the Sweet 16 and the first time since 2019. And that doesn’t even include consistent NCAA tournament veterans like Duke, Gonzaga, Tennessee, and Alabama.

It should make for a very fun few days of college hoops. Here’s a look at each of the eight Sweet 16 matchups ranked in terms of watchability.

8. No. 1 UConn vs. No. 5 San Diego State, East Regional, Thursday, 7:39 p.m. ET

Outside of being a rematch of last season’s national championship game, there isn’t much intrigue to this Sweet 16 matchup. The Huskies won last season’s title game by 17 points. Unless you were a UConn fan, or winning a pool, it wasn’t particularly enjoyable to watch. While the rosters for each team feature some differences, this is still the most lopsided matchup of the Sweet 16.

UConn is favored by double-digit points. San Diego State is going to need star forward Jaedon LeDee to have a big night against a UConn frontline that is elite at stopping players on the interior. Both teams also play on the slower side and value longer possessions. This game has the potential to get ugly early if UConn continues to take care of business.

7. No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 6 Clemson, West Regional, Thursday, 7:09 p.m. ET

The draw for this matchup is two top-25 offenses and a decent big-man matchup between Clemson’s PJ Hall and Arizona’s Oumar Ballo. Hall has battled foul trouble throughout the NCAA tournament and is hoping to get a more generous whistle in the Sweet 16 to stay on the floor.

Clemson’s defensive intensity and backcourt play have picked up the slack with Chase Hunter acting as the team’s leading scorer in both of the Tigers’ tournament wins. Arizona’s backcourt should be a handful to defend. Caleb Love is already familiar with the Tigers from his ACC days at North Carolina and he could be poised for another big game. This isn’t a bad Sweet 16 matchup and could be a fun matchup. It just shows how loaded this year’s draw is when a matchup of two solid teams gets relegated to this spot.

Colorado v Marquette

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6. No. 2 Marquette vs. No. 11 N.C. State, South Regional, Friday, 7:09 p.m. ET

This Friday matchup has star power, a fun NCAA double-digit seed, and an interesting contrast in styles. It wouldn’t be right to classify a proud ACC program like N.C. State a “Cinderella” but it’s hard to ignore what the Wolfpack have accomplished over the last two weeks. With its NCAA tournament fate hanging in the balance, N.C. State reeled off seven straight must-win games including five in five days in Washington D.C. at the ACC tournament.

During that run, Wolfpack basketball has drawn plenty of attention. The backcourt of D.J. Horne and Casey Morsell is experienced and wide-bodied big men D.J. Burns Jr. has turned into the latest March cult hero for fans of post-play.

Marquette counters with an offense that can border on electric with a healthy Tyler Kolek running the show. Thankfully, Kolek has looked healthy during the NCAA tournament so far and his pick-and-roll prowess should be on full display in this one. Big man Oso Ighodaro and his sound skill level should also offer a fun contrast to Burns’ power game in the post.

N.C. State has made a habit of overtime games and huge upsets during its March run. Is there perhaps one more big win left in the tank?

5. No. 1 Purdue vs. No. 5 Gonzaga, Friday, Midwest Regional, Friday, 7:39 p.m. ET

Purdue and Gonzaga are the only two programs in college basketball to make at least the Sweet 16 in five of the last seven seasons. Unfortunately, a solid matchup on paper lacks excitement compared to other matchups.

This will be the third time college hoops fans have seen this matchup on a neutral court in the last two seasons. The Boilermakers won each of the first two matchups by double figures after dismantling the Bulldogs in the PK80 last season and winning again at the Maui Invitational this season.

National Player of the Year Zach Edey has proven to be unguardable for most of the country but he seems to have a particular affinity for facing Gonzaga. The 7-foot-4 big man averaged 24 points, 10.5 rebounds, and three blocks per game facing the Zags the past two years.

Unless Purdue gets more NCAA tournament jitters — which could happen given the programs’s propensity for untimely early exits — then this matchup doesn’t offer as much excitement as some of the others.

4. No. 2 Creighton vs. No. 3 Tennessee, Midwest Regional, Friday, 10:09 p.m. ET

This one comes down to some fun individual matchups. Namely, Tennessee All-American and deluxe scorer Dalton Knecht facing the talented Creighton perimeter led by Trey Alexander and Baylor Scheierman.

All three players can take over a game with hot perimeter shooting and all three also have the green light to attempt some of the more crazy three-point attempts seen in the tournament.

Creighton leads NCAA tournament teams in three-pointers. They’ll attempt a healthy number to combat a physical Tennessee defense. If the shots aren’t falling then Ryan Kalkbrenner is a veteran presence on the interior for the Bluejays.

The Volunteers desperately need consistent scoring outside of Knecht and junior big man Jonas Aidoo. If the shots are falling, this could be a fun back-and-forth. But this also has great potential to turn into a rock fight if Tennessee’s tough perimeter defense shuts down Creighton and slows the game down.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round-Duke vs James Madison

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3. No. 1 Houston vs. No. 4 Duke, South Regional, Friday, 9:39 p.m. ET

On paper, this might be the best overall matchup of the Sweet 16. KenPom currently has both of these teams in the top six in the country. Both teams boast top-15 offenses and top-20 defenses in terms of efficiency metrics.

But this won’t be the most aesthetically pleasing contest.

Houston and Duke are both okay with running long possessions and grinding things out. And the Cougars, in particular, might need to really muck this game up to avoid the Blue Devils having the advantage of 7-footer and national villain Kyle Filipowski on the interior.

The backcourt battle of Houston’s Jamal Shead and L.J. Cryer against Duke’s Jeremy Roach, Tyrese Proctor, and Jared McCain should be intense. Shead willing the Cougars to victory in the second round over Texas A&M will be one of this tournament’s marquee moments. McCain’s red-hot shooting lifted Duke to a comfortable second-round win over James Madison. But this game will be very slow compared to some other Sweet 16 matchups so hasn’t generated as much buzz.

2. No. 2 Iowa State vs. No. 3 Illinois, East Regional, Thursday, 10:09 p.m. ET

This is the type of high-intensity matchup that fans of the NCAA tournament clamor for. Illinois has the nation’s No. 1 offense facing Iowa State’s No. 1 defense. Both teams are entering this matchup red hot after the Fighting Illini won the Big Ten Tournament title and the Cyclones claimed the Big 12 Tournament title.

And the guard play will be incredibly high level. Iowa State’s Tamin Lipsey and Keshon Gilbert will get their crack at slowing down potential first-round pick Terrance Shannon Jr. and fellow senior guard Marcus Domask.

Illinois scored over 84 points in each of the first two NCAA tournament games. So Iowa State might have no choice but to put up points to match the Fighting Illini. Both of these programs (and fan bases) are desperate for a deep March run. In a Sweet 16 loaded with intrigue, this matchup has the potential to steal the show with so much high-octane talent on the floor.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round -Grand Canyon vs Alabama

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1. No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 4 Alabama, West Regional, Thursday, 9:39 p.m. ET

If a shaky Alabama defense can hold up, this matchup will be a ton of fun to watch. Both teams are top 17 in the country in offense and these are two of the three fastest-tempo teams left in the NCAA tournament. Alabama leads the nation in scoring at just over 90 points per game while North Carolina paced the ACC in scoring at 81 points a game.

There will be points and there’s the potential for a lot of points to come in a hurry.

A primo perimeter battle is locked in as North Carolina senior R.J. Davis faces Alabama senior Mark Sears. Both guards are All-American sharpshooters who act as catalysts for elite offenses. The key for this one could come down to Alabama’s secondary guys matching up with North Carolina. Armando Bacot is a consistent interior threat for the Tar Heels while the Crimson Tide will turn to a committee to help ease the scoring burden on Sears.



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