If you picked the Sweet 16 participants in the Midwest Region correctly, it might be time to buy a lottery ticket. This was easily the most unpredictable region, as we ended up with the no. 2, 8, 11, and 12 seeds advancing.
The Midwest Region saw the first no. 1 seed to exit the tournament. Surprisingly, Illinois was the first no. 1 seed to get knocked off. The Illini had been such an incredible run heading into the Big Dance, winning the Big Ten Tournament. They also showed no signs of complacency during a 78-49 win over Drexel in the First Round. However, everything came crashing down against Loyola-Chicago in the Round of 32. The Ramblers benefited from playing Georgia Tech without ACC Player of the Year Moses Wright in the First Round. But there was no luck required in a 71-58 win over Illinois. The Ramblers were outstanding defensively, limiting every Illinois player outside of Kofi Cockburn to 10 points or less while forcing 16 turnovers. On the offensive end, center Cameron Krutwig had 19 points, 12 rebounds, and five assists. He’s one of the few holdovers from Loyola’s Final Four team from 2018 and will now try to lead the Ramblers back to the Final Four.
Awaiting Loyola is no. 12 Oregon State, who wasn’t even on the radar for the NCAA Tournament a couple of weeks ago. The Beavers won the Pac-12 Tournament to get into the Big Dance and have stayed hot in Indianapolis. Against a tough Tennessee team in the First Round, Oregon State scored 70 points. That carried over into the Round of 32 against Oklahoma State, as Ethan Thompson took over by scoring 26 points. The Cowboys were considered a sleeper heading into the tournament after receiving a no. 4 seed. But 24 points from Cade Cunningham wasn’t enough to keep the Cowboys alive.
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In the bottom half of the bracket, no. 2 Houston are going back to the Sweet 16 for the second straight NCAA Tournament. The Cougars cruised past Cleveland State in the First Round but had a much harder time with Rutgers on Saturday night. The Scarlet Knights beat Clemson in the First Round, winning their first tournament game in three decades, and looked poised to upset Houston. But two Rutgers turnovers in the final minute gave the game to the Cougars, who survived 63-60.
The no. 11 seed Syracuse Orange will meet the Cougars in the Sweet 16 next weekend. After coming on strong late in the season, the Orange looked far better than a no. 11 seed against San Diego State in the First Round, dominating the Aztecs in a game that wasn’t even as close as the 78-62 score suggests. Syracuse had a closer game in the Round of 32 against West Virginia, a former Big East foe. Once again, the coach’s son, Buddy Boeheim was the star of the show. Boeheim couldn’t miss against San Diego State, scoring 30 points. He dropped in 25 more points against the Mountaineers, helping the Orange survive 75-72. It’s the third time Syracuse has reached the Sweet 16 as a double-digit seed since 2016 when they went to the Final Four.
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