A Sweet 16 primer on the teams in East, West

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We’re through the early madness of the men’s NCAA tournament and onto the regional semifinals, just two games away from the Final Four. We saw three massive upsets, eight games on Saturday and Sunday that came down to the final minute and one of the favorites lose their most important player.

So what’s the field look like?

The average team record is 28-8. The average seed still remaining is 4.6 (slightly more wacky than the historical average). Toughest region, according to average record and seed is the East (29-7/3.25).  The “easiest” according to record is the West (27-8/3.75), while the Midwest has the highest average seed (6.75) because of two remaining double-digit seeds.

Here’s a quick breakdown by regions and more on the teams playing Thursday:

EAST

No. 1 SYRACUSE ORANGE
Record: 33-2
How it got here: Beat No. 16 UNC Asheville 72-65; beat No. 8 Kansas State 75-59.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2010
Next up: No. 4 Wisconsin

Essential info: ‘Cuse doesn’t have Fab Melo, but it still features plenty of talent and balance. Seven guys played at least 15 minutes vs. K-State and four scored in double figures. More importantly, the 2-3 zone defense played much better on Saturday than it did Thursday against UNC Asheville, a sign that perhaps it’ll be fully adjusted to Melo’s absence for the Badgers.

No. 2 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
Record: 29-7
How it got here: Beat 15 Loyola (Md.) 78-59; beat No. 7 Gonzaga 73-66.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2011
Next up: No. 6 Cincinnati

Essential info: Forward Deshaun Thomas has been the Buckeyes’ man, scoring 31 points vs. Loyola and another 18 against Gonzaga. But all the defensive attention continues to focus on sophomore center Jared Sullinger, who now seems content to not force any shots unless absolutely necessary.

No. 4 WISCONSIN BADGERS
Record
: 26-9
How it got here: Beat No. 13 Montana 73-49; beat No. 5 Vanderbilt 60-57.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2011
Next up: No. 1 Syracuse

Essential info: The Badgers’ offense wasn’t as sharp vs. Vandy (41.8 percent from the field, 30 percent from 3) as it was vs. Montana, but the defense was better. They frustrated every Commodore except 6-11 center Festus Ezeli, player the Orange won’t be able to trot out. Wisconsin excels at not turning the ball over; Syracuse thrives at creating them. Who wins that battle?

No. 6 CINCINNATI BEARCATS
Record
: 26-10
How it got here: Beat No. 11 Texas 65-59; beat No. 3 FSU 62-56.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2001
Next up: No. 2 Ohio State

Essential info: Cincy was more physical than Florida State – no mean feat – and showed off some impressive defense and timely shooting Sunday. Guard Sean Kilpatrick was the man Sunday (18 points), but center Yancy Gates couldn’t be contained vs. Texas (15 points, 12 rebounds, 3 blocks). It now faces an in-state rival that it beat in two national titles games, back in ’61 and ’62.

WEST

No. 1 MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
Record
: 29-7
How it got here: Beat No. 16 LIU-Brooklyn 89-67; beat No. 9 St. Louis 65-61.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2010
Next up: No. 4 Louisville

Essential info: Senior forward Draymond Green followed up a triple-double with a 16 and 13 day vs. St. Louis that capped a win coach Tom Izzo called “one of the tougher games we’ve been in.” Considering the Spartans have faced UNC, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Duke and Michigan this season, that’s a statement. Now, can they handle Louisville’s pressure defense?

No. 3 MARQUETTE GOLDEN EAGLES
Record: 27-7
How it got here: Beat No. 14 BYU 88-68; beat No. 6 Murray State 62-53.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2011
Next up: No. 7 Florida

Essential info: Buzz Williams’ team just keeps rolling. The defense dominated Murray State and will have a size advantage – a rarity for Marquette – at most every spot against Florida. Knowing the Golden Eagles, they won’t waver from what’s worked. They’ll just continue forcing missed shots, the focus on sharing the ball and hitting 3s.

No. 4 LOUISVILLE CARDINALS
Record: 28-9
How it got here: Beat No. 13 Davidson 69-62; beat No. 5 New Mexico 59-56.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2009
Next up: No. 1 Michigan State

Essential info: No team remaining had closer games. Coach Rick Pitino exclaimed how “proud” he was of his team’s mental toughness and knack for winning games of late. Credit the defense, which hasn’t allowed an opponent to score more than .97 points per possession since Feb. 18. Offense, on the other hand, has been tough to come by.

No. 7 FLORIDA GATORS
Record: 25-10
How it got here: Beat No. 10 Virginia 71-45 and No. 15 Norfolk State 84-50.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2011
Next up: No. 3 Marquette

Essential info: The Gators had the easiest time reaching the Sweet 16 of any team, hitting 53 percent of its shots in both games. It also played two of the weakest seeds. They’ll probably still score – they’ve excelled at that this season – but defense will be the key vs. Marquette.

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