On Thursday evening, the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 play will begin, meaning we’ll be four days away from finding out who the four teams are that will be playing for the national title in Atlanta. And in case you spent the past four days living under a rock or on a really, really long flight that didn’t have WiFi, here’s what you missed in the Midwest Region.
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WHERE: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
WHAT HAPPENED?: As many expected, No. 2 Duke rolled through Albany and Creighton in the first two rounds of the tournament, moving on to play No. 3 Michigan State, who handled Valparaiso and Memphis fairly easily, in Indy on Friday night. That’s not a surprise. What was a surprise, however, was that No. 12 Oregon not only knocked off both No. 5 Oklahoma State and No. 4 St. Louis, but that they did it in dominating fashion, winning both games handily. No. 1 Louisville was also a bit of a surprise, not due to the fact that they made the Sweet 16, but because they did so while absolutely dominating a good Colorado State team.
FAVORITE: Louisville Cardinals
Louisville was the most impressive team in the tournament’s first weekend, as they crushed North Carolina A&T and followed that up with a dominating performance in Rupp Arena, beating CSU by 26 points. Russ Smith was the best player in the Midwest Region in the first two rounds, averaging 25.0 points and 5.0 steals while shooting 17-31 from the floor. If their defense continues to swarm the way it has since the second half of the Big East tournament title game, Louisville is going to win a national title.
KEY PLAYER: The point guards
Peyton Siva and Russ Smith are the engine that makes the Louisville machine got, on both the offensive end of the floor and the defensive end of the floor. How will Dominic Artis and Jonathan Loyd handle the constant pressure they are going to be facing on Friday? Can Quinn Cook slow down Keith Appling, who is the x-factor in Michigan State’s offensive attack? Is Appling’s shoulder healthy enough to be a contributor offensively?
WHY AN UNDERDOG WILL WIN: Oregon is really the only underdog in this conference, and I think that it is safe to say that the only way that they can beat Louisville is if Loyd and Artis are able to handle that press. But if they are, the thing to remember about the Ducks is that they have a ton of size and a ton of versatility up and down their lineup. They’re as athletic as any team in the region, and if their threes are going down, they are going to be a tough out.
No. 1 LOUISVILLE CARDINALS
How they got here: Beat No. 16 North Carolina A&T 79-48 and No. 8 Colorado State 82-56.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2012
Next up: No. 12 Oregon, 7:15 p.m. ET, CBS
No. 2 DUKE BLUE DEVILS
How they got here: Beat No. 15 Albany 73-61 and No. 7 Creighton 66-50.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2011
Next up: No. 3 Michigan State, 9:45 p.m. ET, CBS
No. 3 MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
How they got here: Beat No. 14 Valparaiso 65-54 and No. 6 Memphis 70-48.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2012
Next up: No. 2 Duke, 9:45 p.m. ET, CBS
No. 12 OREGON DUCKS
How they got here: Beat No. 5 Oklahoma State 68-55 and No. 4 Saint Louis 74-57.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2007
Next up: No. 3 Michigan State, 7:15 p.m. ET, CBS
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.