(8) Loyola Chicago vs (12) Oregon State
Line: Loyola Chicago –7
Time: Saturday 2:40 PM
In the usual slot of the 1 vs 4 match-ups, this region is featuring an 8 and 12 seed. The 8th seeded Loyola Chicago Ramblers are from the typical low seed. According to the KenPom ranking system, all teams seeded as 1 and 2’s were the top 8 teams. The 9th team was the Ramblers but instead of finding themselves as a 3 seed, they had to play the ACC champions Georgia Tech followed by 1 seed Illinois. They took care of both those teams thanks to their amazing team defense and the presence of third-team All-American Cameron Krutwig. Their only weakness can be their ability to score but whenever they need a bucket they dump it inside to Krutwig and let him bail them out. They don’t shoot many 3’s but look for their guards to get to the free-throw line or work the mid-range game.
The 12th seeded Oregon State Beavers have been hot ever since entering the Pac-12 tournament and show no signs of slowing down. They beat Tennessee in the first round and then just took down the likely number one overall pick, Cade Cunningham, and his Oklahoma State squad. The Beavers are going to have to face the best defense they have seen all year. They will rely on the guard duo of Jarrod Lucas and Ethan Thompson to get their offense going. After watching Ayo Dosunmo and the Illini get suffocated by the Ramblers it will be interesting to see what approach is taken against this ball-hungry defense.
(1) Baylor vs (5) Villanova
Line: Baylor –7.5
Time: Saturday 5:25 PM
Baylor enters this game after an impressive performance against Wisconsin. Their defense appeared to be back in peak form with high-pressure trapping and great rotations. Their trio of guards looks poised to make a run to the Final Four and the help off the bench from Matt Mayer is key. They will look to push the pace against Villanova and continue shooting the 3-ball at the best clip in the country.
Villanova entered this tournament with low expectations after losing their star player Colin Gillespie. A Sweet Sixteen appearance is a shock to some but Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Justin Moore have taken on the challenge of leading this team. They are playing well on both sides of the ball and will need to win a game in the 70’s or 80’s in this match-up. Baylor will likely have lockdown defenders Davion Mitchell and Mark Vital on Villanova’s two stars so they will have to look to others to produce. Watch for Caleb Daniels and Jermaine Samuels to put up a lot of shots.
(3) Arkansas vs (15) Oral Roberts
Line: Arkansas –11.5
Time: 7:35 PM
Although Arkansas’ seed indicates that they should be there, the real surprise in this matchup is 15 seed Oral Roberts. Both teams are on streaks, Arkansas is 11 of 12 and Oral Roberts has won all five of its games played on neutral sites, not to mention a seven-game win streak.
Averaging 82.4 points per game, the Razorbacks are an offensive powerhouse. Four players average more than 10 points per game, including freshman guard Moses Moody with 17.1 points per game. Furthermore, senior forward Justin Smith, junior guard JD Notae and senior guard Jalen Tate are averaging 13.9, 13.1, and 10.5 points per game respectively. Tate also had the distinction of being named the SEC Coaches Sixth Man of the Year. Arkansas will look to repeat their performance against the Golden Eagles from earlier in the year where they outrebounded them 54-29.
Oral Roberts is powered by junior forward Kevin Obanor who is averaging 29 points and a double-double in his two NCAA games this season. This is a noticeable step up from his regular-season average of 19 points and 9.6 rebounds. After an overtime win over heavy-favorites Ohio State and a comeback against Florida, Oral Roberts is punching above its weight and does not look to stop. Although their three-point attempts do not always connect, the Golden Eagles’ rapid pace allows them to take essentially as many shots as necessary to keep them in the game or win.
(2) Houston vs (11) Syracuse
Line: Houston –6.5
Time: Saturday 10:05 PM
The Midwest quarter of the bracket continues the surprises with 11 seed Syracuse facing off against two seed Houston. After routing San Diego State and scraping by West Virginia in the Round of 32, Syracuse now finds itself against the Houston team that came out of an intense battle against Rutgers in that three-point win.
Houston is led by two incredible players in Quentin Grimes and Dejon Jarreau. Grimes is the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year and Jarreau is the league’s Defensive Player of the year. Junior guard Grimes is averaging 18.1 points, 6 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game while Senior Guard Jarreau averages 10.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game. Arguably, the more important side of the ball for the Cougars is their defense, on average letting up only 57.9 points per game, second in the nation in that statistic. Syracuse will do their best to exploit that defense, however, and one possible point of attack will be Jarreau, who played through a hip pointer against Rutgers.
Syracuse has turned on the heat since the start of the ACC tournament and the man behind that fire is Buddy Boeheim, averaging 28.3 points while shooting 60 percent overall. Boeheim is not afraid to shoot from range either, scoring on 24 of 43 3-point attempts. Do not make the mistake of calling Syracuse a one–man show though, as Alan Griffin, Robert Baswell, and Quincy Guerrier all look to have big games against the Cougars. Griffin has had a disappointing NCAA tournament so far, despite being the team’s second-leading scorer during the regular season with 15.3 points per game and Guerrier intends to continue his form that saw a 12 point, seven-rebound, and five-block performance against West Virginia.