(image courtesy of the NCAA)
March Madness has not been the same without our beloved Kentucky Wildcats, but it as been one of the more unpredictable tournaments in recent memory. The proof of that statement can be seen in the Midwest region where only one of the top seven seeds made it to the second weekend in second-seeded Houston. Meanwhile, the other three teams represented in the region are eight-seeded Loyola-Chicago, eleven-seeded Syracuse, and twelve-seeded Oregon State. This is without a doubt the most wide open region remaining in the NCAA Tournament, so anything is possible.
(12) Oregon State vs. (8) Loyola-Chicago
After upsetting Illinois in the round of 32, the Ramblers are once again one of top stories of the tournament and are very much in play for another Final Four run. Porter Moser’s team will be going up against an Oregon State team that pulled off the PAC-12 tournament run that Kentucky fans hoped for in the SEC tournament. The Beavers had to win their conference championship to receive a bid to the tournament and they have done that and a lot more. This matchup is a clash of two of the hottest teams in the country and a team in Loyola-Chicago that is ranked in the KenPom top 10 and a legitimate threat to make a run at a championship. The Ramblers’ defense slowed down one of the top duos in the country with Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn. Due to Loyola’s offensive and defensive efficiency, I’ll take the Ramblers in a 78-69 victory to advance to their second elite eight in the past three tournaments.
(11) Syracuse vs. (2) Houston
It’s all about the Boeheims for Syracuse in their run to the sweet sixteen. Legendary head coach Jim Boeheim’s zone is once again causing problems in March Madness as teams not in the ACC are not used to his style of defense. Unlike a lot of recent Syracuse teams, the Orange have a player who can light it up from outside in coach Boeheim’s son Buddy. Boeheim leads the team with an average of 18 PPG and has scored 25 and 30 in two games so far in the tournament. On the other end of the court, Kelvin Sampson has built a very solid program at Houston and was able to avoid an upset that other highly ranked teams in this region have fallen to. This will be the Cougars’ second consecutive appearance in the sweet sixteen as their last appearance ended in a loss to Kentucky. Houston is led by Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes who is averaging 18.1 PPG. I expect this game to be more of a defensive matchups with one of the best defenses in the country (Houston) and one of the more confusing defenses in the country (Syracuse). When the buzzer sounds, the Cougars will still be dancing with a 68-64 victory over Syracuse.