NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Pittsburgh
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After Thursday's East and West Regional semifinals we turn our attention to the right side of the NCAA Tournament bracket and Sweet 16 action in the South and Midwest Regions on Friday. By the time the night closes, the 68-team field that was announced back on March 17 will be cut down to the Elite Eight as teams will be just one win away from a coveted Final Four berth. 

The stakes and impact of that potential Final Four bid weigh heavy in the regional semifinals; every team involved has already proven themselves by battling through an opening weekend pod to get to this stage in the tournament. For some, like No. 1 seed Houston in the South or No. 1 seed Purdue in the Midwest, advancing to Sunday's regional final falls in line with pre-tournament expectations. For others, like No. 11 seed NC State, the opportunity to advance further extends what has been an ever-growing set of expectations as to what can be accomplished.

So, whether it's the pressure to meet expectations or the opportunity to keep the ride alive, everyone involved in Friday night's regional semifinals has an angle that brings extra drama and intrigue to the matchup. Now let's dive a little bit deeper, with some of the storylines to know for Friday's Sweet 16 action. 

Purdue playing at an elite level 

The Boilermakers started the 2024 NCAA Tournament with an opportunity to shed any remaining stains from last year's first round loss to FDU, which made Purdue just the second-ever No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in the first round. While the players and coaches insist that disappointment was put in the past long ago, the storyline around this team has been how it would redeem last season's missed opportunities in March Madness. Purdue made a resounding statement in the opening weekend, beating Grambling by 28 points and then taking down Mountain West regular-season champions Utah State by a whopping 39 points. The offensive efficiency was through the roof and as good as it had been in nearly a month. The defense also took a step forward from where the team had been near the end of the regular season. 

This Purdue team has put the past the behind it, so now what? Well, the Boilermakers take aim at making the Final Four for the first time since 1980 when they take on Gonzaga in one of two Midwest Regional semifinals. Matt Painter has made the Sweet 16 five times in Purdue's last seven NCAA Tournament appearances but have advanced to the Elite Eight just once (2019). The 2024 Purdue Boilermakers have their own narratives to deal with after last year's tournament, but Painter also carries the weight of regularly making the tournament yet failing to advance to the tournament's final stages. If Purdue can continue the elite level of play it showed in the first weekend, the Boilermakers can not only push further to the Elite Eight but potentially reach the Final Four for the first time in the Matt Painter era.  

NC State looks to extend magical run 

The opening game of Friday night's Sweet 16 action features the closest thing we have left to a Cinderella as No. 11 seed NC State takes No. 2 Marquette in the first of two South Regional semifinals from Dallas. The Wolfpack won seven games in 12 days between five ACC Tournament wins and their opening-round victories, which saw a first-round upset of No. 6 seed Texas Tech and then an overtime thriller against No. 14 seed Oakland in the second round. This is NC State's first Sweet 16 appearance since 2015, but to advance further, it would make this one of the top postseason runs of a generation; the Wolfpack have not reached the Elite Eight since 1986.

Of course, the opponent has its own motivations as both Marquette and Shaka Smart have to feel validated following a breakthrough win in the second round. The Golden Eagles are a No. 2 seed for the second year in a row and in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2013. Smart is making his first Sweet 16 appearance as a head coach since leading VCU from the First Four to the Final Four in 2011. Led by star point guard Tyler Kolek, Marquette is not looking to be a bit player in NC State's storybook run and instead seems laser focused on the opportunity to reach the Final Four for the first time since the Dwyane Wade-led run of 2003. 

But, if you do want some unique connections for NC State and its chances to keep rolling in Dallas, look no further than its company in the South Regional. Marquette is the program NC State defeated for its first-ever national championship in 1974, Houston is the program that Jim Valvano and the Cardiac Pack upset to win it all in 1983 and Duke is not only one of the programs the Wolfpack regularly butt their heads against in the Triangle but also the team they defeated in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals that gave this magical run some real life.  

Houston's tournament experience an X-factor 

No. 4 seed Duke was one of the most impressive teams in the entire tournament in the second round, imposing its will on a tough James Madison squad that had just knocked off Wisconsin and cruised to a 93-55 win. The white-hot Blue Devils knocked down 14 of their 28 3-point attempts, and between the second half of the Vermont win and the victory against the Badgers, you could argue those 60 minutes were some of the best basketball Duke has played all year. Now, second-year coach Jon Scheyer faces one of the toughest challenges of his young career going head-to-head with Kelvin Sampson and No. 1 Houston. 

Sampson has already extended the program record with a sixth straight NCAA Tournament appearance, and the Cougars have shown success not only making the Big Dance but advancing with regularity. Houston has appeared in five straight Sweet 16's — one of only 10 programs ever to do so — and on Friday night the Cougars are seeking their third Elite Eight appearance in the past four years. After breaking through to the Final Four in 2021, this has been one of the most consistent tournament programs in the country. Much of that is a credit to Sampson and how he not only runs his program but prepares his teams for these kind of high-stakes games. Houston not only has an edge in coaching experience but tournament experience as a well with a veteran-led group and a core that has been a part of many tournament wins. Duke, on the other hand, has just one player in its top seven who have ever played an NCAA Tournament game beyond the second round. The big question is whether Duke's hot streak from the first weekend can overcome that experience edge that Houston holds on the court and on the sideline. 

Check out the full TV and streaming schedule for Friday's Sweet 16 games below.

Time (ET)GameTV / Stream
7:09 p.m.(11) NC State vs. (2) Marquette
CBS (watch live)
7:39 p.m.(5) Gonzaga vs. (1) Purdue
TBS (watch live)
30 minutes after Game 1(4) Duke vs. (1) Houston
CBS (watch live)
30 minutes after Game 2 (3) Creighton vs. (2) Tennessee
TBS (watch live)