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Resetting the Tournament Field for the Sweet Sixteen

In a tournament with a historic amount of upsets, the field is set for this weekend’s Sweet 16.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-UC Santa Barbara at Creighton Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

There has been a limited amount of fans in attendance and no true buzzer-beaters through 52 games (53 if you count the canceled Oregon-VCU matchup), it has felt like something is missing from this year’s NCAA tournament. What isn’t missing is the pure chaos of March Madness.

Shocking upsets by Oral Roberts, North Texas, and Abilene Christian, to name a few, have highlighted a tournament filled with more upsets than we have ever seen in March Madness. Through it all Gonzaga, Baylor, and Michigan remain. Let’s examine who is left from the carnage in each of the regions as well as expectations for the future.

West Region: Gonzaga vs. the Field

Gonzaga came into the tournament as the preemptive favorites and has not indicated for anyone to think otherwise. They steamrolled Norfolk St. and Oklahoma. They will face an uninspiring Creighton squad coming off of a blowout win over a clearly fatigued Ohio team. Creighton survived UCSB in the first round by the skin of their teeth in arguably the best game of the tournament so far. Gonzaga should have no trouble dispatching the Bluejays.

You would not be alone if you did not take that Pac-12 all that seriously this season. All of us are eating crow, as the conference put four teams in the Sweet 16. USC comes in as hot as anyone, having handled a solid Drake team and then crushing the Kansas Jayhawks. They will face an Oregon Ducks team that benefited from a VCU forfeit due to COVID-19 and a barnstorming offensive performance against Iowa. Whether it be the fresh legs or the hot shooting, Oregon looked every bit as good offensively as Iowa and even better defensively. Bill Walton would agree that USC vs. Oregon could be one of the best games of the tournament.

East Region: The Closest Thing to Chalk

By now I’m sure you’ve read plenty on our site about Michigan’s path through Texas Southern and LSU. The Wolverines will face a gargantuan Florida State team that boasts as much height and length as any team in the country. The Seminoles fought off a pesky UNC Greensboro team in the first round and dispatched a hot Colorado team in the round of 32. As the only chalk Sweet 16 matchup, this game will be highly anticipated.

On the other side of the bracket, Alabama faces off against UCLA, who emerged from the First Four and has found a rhythm of late. Be sure to check out Kyle Yost’s preview of these two teams here. I’m predicting a rather comfortable win for Alabama setting up a 1 vs. 2 matchup in the Elite Eight.

South Region: Oral Roberts! (And Teams Who Can Beat Oral Roberts)

Oral Roberts has been the darling of the NCAA tournament. Beating Ohio State will always endear you to Michigan fans, but the heroics of Max Abmas and Kevin Obanor have taken it to a whole new level. As just the second-ever 15 seed to make it to the second weekend of the tournament (after Florida Gulf Coast in 2013), the Golden Eagles now face an Arkansas team that has some firepower. I believe Oral Roberts’ Cinderella run is about to come to a close. Here’s to hoping I’m proved wrong.

Not to be upstaged by Gonzaga, Baylor has also proven it belongs in the top echelon of the sport this year. After crushing Hartford and Wisconsin, Baylor shows no signs of slowing down. Next up is Jay Wright’s Villanova squad. The Wildcats were a trendy upset pick to begin the tournament as their best player, Collin Gillespie, went down for the season. However, their tournament experience would not be denied as Villanova easily dispatched both Winthrop and North Texas. It’s tough to envision Baylor being upset by a Villanova team not at full health. Give me the Bears to win the region.

Midwest Region: Utter Chaos

Before the tournament, Kofi Cockburn and Illinois were a trendy pick to win the whole tournament if Gonzaga didn’t. Cameron Krutwig and Loyola-Chicago shut down that narrative just as quickly as it started. What was most shocking was watching the Ramblers dominate every facet of the game. It did not even feel like an upset and it looked like the better team won. Next up for Loyola is an equally unlikely story in Oregon State. The Beavers handled Tennessee in the first round, however that might be more of an indictment against Tennessee than it did at inspiring confidence in Oregon State. Sending Cade Cunningham and Oklahoma State packing was much more legitimate. I like Loyola’s chances to advance on the back of Krutwig.

Lastly, we have the Houston Cougars vs. the Syracuse Orange. Houston didn’t inspire much confidence after they struggled mightily to overcome Rutgers, however the Scarlet Knights proved to be a pesky team down the stretch. However, as the only top-7 seed in the Midwest remaining, many believe they have the easiest path to the Final Four. Do not tell that to hot-shooting Buddy Boeheim and Syracuse, whose zone has once again proven to give team fits. I like the upset here as the zone continues to be hard to gameplan for.

The top three teams in the field remain along with a handful of intriguing wild-cards. Chaos ensued amongst the second tier of championship contenders and reduced them to rubble. Sit back and enjoy the wild ride. As we learned last year, this tournament is a privilege, not a guarantee.