After an exciting first weekend, the 2016 NCAA Tournament heads to the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 rounds this weekend.
In the Midwest regional, the action shifts to Chicago, Illinois. Regional semi-final games will be played at the United Center on Friday, March 25, followed by the final on Sunday, March 27. The Midwest regional consists of Virginia Cavaliers, Iowa State Cyclones, Syracuse Orange, and Gonzaga Bulldogs.
While Virginia and Iowa State feature the top seeds in their portion of the bracket, the other half of the regional semifinals feature two double-digit seeds. Despite their low seeds, both Gonzaga and Syracuse are seasoned teams with quite a bit of post-season experience. As the No. 1 seed in the region, Virginia may be picked by many to make their first Final Four appearance in more than 30 years.
The following is game previews of the two Sweet 16 match-ups.
Virginia reached the Sweet 16 by defeating No. 16 Hampton in the first round and No. 9 Butler in the second round. The Cavaliers are a physically-demanding team that can play stifling defensively, embodied by their star Malcolm Brogdon. The 6-5 senior guard from Atlanta, Ga., scored a team-high 22 points with seven rebounds in their win over Butler, adding five rebounds to go along with a block and two steals. The Cavaliers are as far as they’ve been under coach Tony Bennett, reaching the Sweet 16 for the second time in three years – both times as No. 1 seed. Experience could benefit Virginia and propel the team past the Sweet 16, especially with two seniors and a junior among the starting line-up.
Iowa State reached the Sweet 16 by defeating No. 13 Iona in the first round and No. 12 Arkansas-Little Rock in the second round. The Cyclones have relied on senior Georges Niang, who’s scored 28 points in both victories. In making the Sweet 16 for the second time in three years, the Cyclones will need more than their all-everything 6-8 forward to continue past this round. Offensively, Iowa State needs Matt Thomas to continue his hot shooting from beyond the arc as he’s hit 7-of-15 in the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
Syracuse reached the Sweet 16 by defeating No. 7 Dayton in the first round and No. 15 Middle Tennessee State in the second round. While many experts predicted Syracuse could be one of the first teams left out of the 2016 NCAA Tournament, the Orangemen have made the most of their experience. The run into the Sweet 16 marks the first since the team went to the Final Four in 2013. Defense has keyed the Orangemen’s run to the Sweet 16 as the Syracuse signature 2-3 zone has held opponents to 50.5 points in the first and second round games. Offensively, Michael Gbinije has poured in 33 points and nine rebounds through his first two games combined.
Gonzaga reached the Sweet 16 by defeating No. 6 Seton Hall in the first round and No. 3 Utah in the second round. The Bulldogs have relied on their 6-11 forward Domantas Sabonis during the 2016 NCAA Tournament. Sabonis has secured a double-double in both victories thus far, leading the team in both points (40) and rebounds (26). The team’s leading scorer in the regular season – University of Kentucky transfer Kyle Witljer – returned to form in the team’s 23-point drubbing of Utah, going 7-of-10 from the field for 17 points. For Gonzaga to advance beyond the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive year, the team will need strong offensive performances from players beyond Sabonis and Wiltjer.
To view the Sweet 16 East preview, click here.
To view the Sweet 16 South preview, click here.
To view the Sweet 16 West preview, click here.
Which team from the 2016 NCAA Tournament Midwest Region do you expect to advance beyond the Sweet 16 and make a Final Four run this season? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
[Photos by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images]