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Texas A&M looking for ultimate payback vs. Houston with Sweet 16 berth on the line

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Houston’s Kelvin Sampson has the South Region’s No. 1 seed and the second-ranked team in the country.

The veteran coach knows neighbor Texas A&M has the locker room he’d rather be in Sunday night before the teams meet in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

“I would much rather be in theirs before the game because they have the advantage of revenge,” Sampson said of the ninth-seeded Aggies (21-14). “It’s not going to be hard to motivate their kids. They’re going to want to come in here and get some payback.”

Sampson and his Cougars beat Texas A&M 70-66 on Dec. 16 in Houston. With a Sweet 16 berth in Dallas on March 29 awaiting the winner, Sampson said these Aggies are much better now than in December.

He’s not wrong. The Aggies were 7-4 after that game, and they went through a five-game skid to end February, starting with a one-point loss at Vanderbilt. Coach Buzz Williams put Manny Obaseki into the starting lineup, and Texas A&M is 6-1 since, including a 98-83 rout of Nebraska on Friday night.

Sampson said he sees the Aggies as a better rebounding team than his Cougars (31-4). Texas A&M also knocked down 13 3s, and Sampson called the Aggies probably the best team in the Southeastern Conference.

“They’re a team that can get to the Final Four,” Sampson said. “They’re that good.”

Williams has been a longtime fan of Sampson’s. The Aggies coach knows Houston, which opened with a rout of No. 16 seed Longwood, is a popular pick to not only reach the national championship for the third time in the Cougars’ history but to win it all in their 25th tournament appearance.

“It’s two Texas teams trying to play in Texas next week,” Williams said. “We’re just doing it in Memphis. So our group has been somewhat used to playing road-game environments. And I anticipate that’s what it will be again.”

Folks wanting on the Aggies’ bandwagon also can stay off.

“We lost to Vanderbilt and we lost to all these teams, everybody was kind of counting us out,” guard Jace Carter said. “We’re here now, and it’s a different product now.”

BULLY BALL

Duke was bullied out of the NCAA Tournament in the second round last season by a Tennessee team that played a rough-and-tumble style of defense.

The fourth-seeded Blue Devils (25-8) are back in the round of 32 and again facing a similar style in 12th-seeded James Madison (32-3).

“I think we’re already lot more mentally prepared,” Duke big man Kyle Filipowski said. “We’re very lucky we get an opportunity be in the same position as we were last year, but now we get to change the outcome.”

The Dukes’ aggressive style made life miserable for fifth-seeded Wisconsin in the first round. The Badgers turned the ball over 13 times in the first half and shot 26%. By the time they settled in offensively in the second half, it was too late.

JMU also did a good job limiting chances for Wisconsin 7-footer Steven Crowl, who had 10 points and 11 rebounds but only took one shot in the second half.

The Dukes, with nobody taller than 6-9, hope to have similar success against the 7-foot Filipowski.

“Same game plan,” said JMU’s Jaylen Carey, whose brother Vernon played for Duke. “Deny and stuff like that. He’s a lot more skilled than the Wisconsin big, but it’s for sure going to be a challenge (Sunday) night.”

Filipowski is is coming off an unusual performance in Duke’s victory over Vermont. The sophomore missed his only shot from the field and scored three points, but had 12 rebounds and four assists.

He watched what JMU did to Crowl and believes his versatility should lead to more opportunities.

“I think just because of how versatile I am on the offensive end, whatever they try to take away something else is going to open up for me. That may be scoring the ball, it may not be. But something positive will come out of it,” he said.

RESTING CAN WAIT

Colorado will play its third game in five days Sunday, facing second-seeded Marquette (26-9) in the second round in Indianapolis. Factor in three games in as many days during last week’s Pac-12 Tournament, and the tally is six in eight days.

The 10th-seeded Buffaloes (26-10) actually seem to relish the grind.

“This is the biggest stage,” Colorado forward Tristan da Silva said. “This is what you want to play. … That kind of push pushes you through. You don’t really feel that tired.”

Colorado is proving it on the court. The Buffaloes cracked the century mark for the second time this season in Friday’s 102-100 thriller against Florida. KJ Simpson’s jumper that bounced around the rim before falling through was the difference.

Colorado has won 10 of 11, with the last four decided by single digits. Coach Tad Boyle says the schedule is no issue for his team.

“In the Pac-12, we play a lot of Thursday-Saturday, sometimes a Friday-Sunday-type thing,” Boyle said. “So, you’re used to those two games back to back against a different opponent with one day prep. This is no different to what we’ve been doing since January.”

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AP College Sports Writer Ralph D. Russo in New York and AP Sports Writer Gary B. Graves in Indianapolis contributed to this report.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness

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