Men’s NCAA Tournament West Region Sweet 16 Game Breakdowns
And so we have reached the round of 16 – and how sweet were some of the upsets? Oh sure, your bracket looks like swiss cheese by now, but that’s the allure and the beauty of the NCAA tournament. You just never know what might happen come March. Now the action for these four teams shifts to Los Angeles, with one matchup sort of expected and the other one coming out of left field. Let’s take a look at the semifinal showdowns:
The Pac-12 Conference looked like it was spent at the end of the league tournament, but surprise! Two teams from the league are still involved in the tournament, including one that looked like it was on its last legs entering the NCAA tournament. Instead, Arizona dealt 11-seed Belmont an 81-64 setback and then watched with shock as Tommy Amaker’s Harvard squad stunned sleeper favorite New Mexico 68-62. All that was left for Arizona was to dispose of the Crimson, and with a 74-51 victory Arizona (27-7) reached the Sweet 16 for the third time in five seasons. A win by Arizona would put the Wildcats in the Elite Eight for the second time in three years and the 10th time in school history. A career-high 27 points from Mark Lyons helped seal the deal as Arizona opened on a 30-9 run.
Ohio State (28-7) needed a 3-point shot from Aaron Craft with 0.5 seconds remaining to beat Iowa State 78-75 and move on. Ohio State shot 25-for-49 (51 percent) as Deshaun Thomas led the way with 22 points and five rebounds. Ohio State is in the Sweet 16 for the fourth year in a row and is looking for its second straight Elite Eight trip.
This is the first meeting for the teams this season, and Arizona has not played any Big Ten teams. Ohio State beat Washington 77-66 in the third game of the season, and the Huskies barely lost to Arizona the first time around. Arizona has more points per game (73.3) than the Buckeyes (69.9), and the teams are comparable in field-goal percentage (around 45-46 percent). This game is a tossup. Arizona looks like it is playing better ball now that the Big Dance is here, and Ohio State almost fell victim to an upset on Sunday. Still, the Big Ten was not the best team in the conference for nothing this season, and that strength should allow Ohio State to prevail – but don’t be surprised if another last-second shot wins this game for the Buckeyes.
If you predicted this game in your bracket, you either cheated, picked teams because you liked the nicknames, adored their uniform colors… oh heck, who saw this game coming? Shockers is the nickname for Wichita State, and that’s exactly what happened. Wichita State first took down 8-seed Pittsburgh 73-55 in convincing fashion, but the best was yet to come as the Shockers sent top seed Gonzaga crashing to the ground in a 76-70 victory. This placed Wichita State in the Sweet 16 for just the fifth time in school history and the first time since 2006. If Wichita State wins this game, it will be in the Elite Eight for the first time since 1981. Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker each scored 16 points to deal Gonzaga an exit from the tournament as Wichita State overcame 26 points from Gonzaga standout Kelly Olynyk.
LaSalle (27-9) needed a layup from Tyrone Garland with two seconds to go in order to beat Ole Miss 76-74 and knock the Rebels from the tournament. LaSalle is one of those schools that you may have heard a lot about in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when it made the bulk of the trips to the NCAA tournament. This is the Explorers’ third trip to the Sweet 16, and should LaSalle pull off the victory it would reach the Elite Eight for the first time since 1955. Either way, a team that hasn’t been in the round of eight for quite some time is going to have its ticket punched. Ramon Galloway’s 24 points led the way for LaSalle, which is the last remaining team in the NCAA tournament from the Atlantic 10.
Wichita State did not face LaSalle this season, but it did face Atlantic 10 rival Virginia Commonwealth and emerged with a 53-51 victory. Like with the early game, this is a tossup. Both teams play in tough conferences, but having to face the likes of VCU, St. Louis and Butler means I give LaSalle a slight edge to make history.