Sweet Sixteen kicks off Thursday night


The NCAA Tournament is down to the Sweet 16 and play commences Thursday night in the East and West regional semifinals in Syracuse and Salt Lake City.

Top-seeded Syracuse will not have center Arinze Onuaku available for its West Regional semifinal game against fifth-seeded Butler because of a right quadriceps injury. The Orange are aiming for their first Elite Eight appearance since 2003, the year they won the national championship. The Bulldogs have never made it to a regional final since the tournament expanded to 64-plus teams. The second game from Salt Lake City has No. 2 seed Kansas State taking on sixth-seeded Xavier. The same two teams met December 8 in Manhattan with the Wildcats posting a 71-56 victory behind a 16-point effort from Jacob Pullen, who is coming off a 34-point contest against BYU in the second round.

West Virginia will be short-handed when the Mountaineers face Washington in the East Regional semifinals from the Carrier Dome. Point guard Darryl "Truck" Bryant broke a bone in his right foot during practice on Tuesday for the second-seeded Mountaineers, who last made it to a regional final in 2005 before falling to Louisville. The Huskies, seeded 11th, have won nine straight games, but are 0-4 all-time in regional semifinals under the current tournament format. The second game will be a true David vs. Goliath battle as No. 1 seed and SEC powerhouse Kentucky faces 12th-seeded Cornell, the Ivy League champions. The Big Red upset Temple and Wisconsin in big fashion, coming to win their first two games by 31 points. The Wildcats have been the most impressive team thus far at the tourney, capturing their two contests by a combined 59 points. Should Cornell pull off the upset, the Big Red will become the first Ivy League team to advance to the Elite Eight since Penn in 1979. Kentucky aims for its 32nd Elite Eight appearance.

The University of Northern Iowa signed head men's basketball coach Ben Jacobson to a new 10-year contract on Wednesday, just four days after the Panthers pulled off an upset of No. 1 ranked Kansas to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The new deal will keep Jacobson through 2020 with an annual salary of $450,000 and annual increases of $25,000 through the term of the deal. Jacobson, 39, has been the head coach of the Panthers since March 2006 and has led the program to at least 18 wins in each of his four years at the helm.

Weber State University signed men's basketball coach Randy Rahe to a multi- year extension on Wednesday. The Wildcats, under Rahe, have won three Big Sky Conference titles in four years. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the contract keeps Rahe on the bench through the 2016-17 season.

There were a couple of other coaching announcements Wednesday. The University of Auburn named Tony Barbee as its next head men's basketball coach. Barbee is fresh off a trip to the NCAA Tournament with UTEP, which fell to Butler as a No. 12 seed in the first round of the tourney following its Conference USA regular-season title. Fordham University announced the hiring of Tom Pecora as its new head men's basketball coach.