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 West Region.
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WHERE: Staples Center, Los Angeles
WHAT HAPPENED?: Madness. No. 1 Gonzaga lost to No. 9 Wichita State. No. 3 New Mexico lost to No. 14 Harvard. No. 4 Kansas State and No. 5 Wisconsin lost to No. 13 La Salle and No. 12 Ole Miss, respectively. When La Salle beat Ole Miss on Sunday, they became just the fifth No. 13 seed to make the Sweet 16, a fact that has been completely ignored thanks to that team from Dunk City, Florida. No. 2 Ohio State (barely) managed to survive No. 10 Iowa State, and will take on No. 6 Arizona on Thursday.
FAVORITE: Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State, at this point, has to be considered the favorite to win the West Region as every other contender in the region has been knocked off. There hasn’t been a hotter team in the country over the last month and a half, and OSU will be looking to ride that wave all the way to the Final Four. The key? LaQuinton Ross. He’s probably the best NBA prospect on the Buckeye roster, and he’s shown flashes of that ability during the tournament. Can he keep that up?
KEY PLAYER: Mark Lyons, Arizona
Sean Miller made the comparison over the weekend that Lyons is like a running quarterback on a football, and I think that’s a fair opinion. He’s not a standard issue point guard, but he’s talented, he’s gutty and he’s a veteran that has made big plays in big situations throughout his career. Arizona’s offense runs through him, but he’ll have his work cut out for him going up against Aaron Craft in the Sweet 16.
WHY AN UNDERDOG WILL WIN: I think both Wichita State and La Salle have a real chance to win this region, but for very different reasons.
– The Shockers are a relatively new team in that many of the pieces on the roster were either elsewhere last season or weren’t contributors. But thanks to some mid-season injuries to key players Carl Hall and Ron Baker, the Shockers are balanced and they are deep. You can’t go into a game thinking that you’re going to stop Carl Hall and win, because then Cleanthony Early, Baker and Fred VanVleet will light you up.
– La Salle is very talented. Ramon Galloway, Tyrone Garland and Tyreek Duren — their three-headed back court — could all be playing in the ACC or the Big East if they wanted to be. But they are at La Salle, and they give the Explorers an incredibly dangerous lineup because they force you to play their style. La Salle runs four guards out there, and they dare you to try and cover one of them with a big man. It’s risky, but La Salle creates the mismatches. That makes them dangerous, especially on the nights their big three ar playing well.
No. 2 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
How they got here: Beat No. 15 Iona 95-70 and No. 10 Iowa State 78-75.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2012
Next up: No. 6 Arizona, 7:47 p.m. ET, TBS
No. 6 ARIZONA WILDCATS
How they got here: Beat No. 11 Belmont 81-64 and No. 14 Harvard 74-51.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2011
Next up: No. 2 Ohio State, 7:47 p.m. ET, TBS
No. 9 WICHITA STATE SHOCKERS
How they got here: Beat No. 8 Pitt 73-55 and No. 1 Gonzaga 76-70.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2006
Next up: No. 13 La Salle, 10:17 p.m. ET, TBS
No. 13 LA SALLE EXPLORERS
How they got here: Beat No. 13 Boise State 80-71, No. 4 Kansas State 63-61, and No. 12 Ole Miss 76-74.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 1955
Next up: No. 9 Wichita State, 10:17 p.m. ET, TBS
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.