Last year’s NCAA tournament was an epic ride for the underdogs, from UMBC’s historic takedown of No. 1 Virginia to Loyola-Chicago’s march to the Final Four.

This year, Cinderella stayed home to get some beauty sleep.

Top seeds and power programs only, please.

The top three seeds are still alive in each of the four regions of the Sweet 16 for just the second time (2009) since the bracket expanded in 1985. That’s too bad for the upstarts, but should make for some high-level basketball this weekend.

Here’s a rundown of what to look for when the ball goes up on Thursday:

TOP TEAMS

Duke. The Blue Devils had a scare against UCF, but are still the No. 1 overall seed and still loaded.

Virginia. No first-round exit this year. The Cavaliers won their first two games by a combined 27 points.

North Carolina. Coby White is dominating and Nassir Little is playing well at just the right time.

Gonzaga. The Zags zonked their first two opponents and look unstoppable.

Kentucky. The Wildcats won their first two games without PJ Washington. Now that he may be back, watch out.

STAR PLAYERS

Zion Williamson, Duke. Maybe you’ve heard of him.

Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga. Rui Hachimura gets all the attention, Clarke just gets it done – at both ends.

Coby White, North Carolina. His game is as great as his hair.

Grant Williams, Tennessee. Junior forward is loading up the stat sheet.

De’Andre Hunter, Virginia. Need a bucket, rebound, dish, stop? He’s your guy.

Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech. Dominates at both ends of the floor.

Carsen Edwards, Purdue. If he gets hot, forget about trying to guard him.

BEST MATCHUPS

Gonzaga vs. Florida State, West Region, Thursday. Rematch from last year’s Sweet 16 – the Seminoles won a year ago – will be filled with long, athletic players.

Virginia vs. Oregon, South Region, Thursday. Like defense? This is your game.

LSU vs. Michigan State, East Region, Friday. Tremont Waters against Cassius Winston? All day, every day.

North Carolina vs. Auburn, Midwest Region, Friday. Could be like watching a tennis match as the players race from one end to the next.

Michigan vs. Texas Tech, West Region, Thursday. Might be a few bruises after this one. First one to 50 wins?

INTERNATIONAL FLAVOR

The Sweet 16 has 28 international players on its rosters, with all but four teams having at least one player from outside the United States. Here are a few to keep an eye on:

R.J. Barrett, Duke. Zion, Zion, Zion. That’s all we seem to hear about, but this Canadian can fill it up.

Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga. Versatile Japanese big man is a matchup nightmare with his ability to post up, square up or put up 3s.

Mamadi Diakite, Virginia. Athletic forward from Guinea took up basketball because he grew too tall for soccer. It’s worked out.

Killian Tillie, Gonzaga. Versatile French forward spent most of the regular season injured. Healthy now, he makes the Zags legitimate title contenders.

Ehab Amin, Oregon. Only Egyptian in the bracket can heat up in a hurry, like he did at the Pac-12 tournament.


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