Sweet 16 Matchups
1 Virginia vs. 4 Iowa State
10 Syracuse vs. 11 Gonzaga
The first round in the Midwest region contained five upsets, including the biggest upset of the entire tournament so far. No. 12 seed Arkansas-Little Rock took down No. 5 seed Purdue in a furious comeback, and No. 11 seed Gonzaga dominated No. 6 seed Seton Hall from beginning to end. Then, No. 15 seed Middle Tennessee shocked the country and defeated No. 2 seed Michigan State by shooting the lights out for the entire game. No. 1 seed Virginia looked convincing in its first two wins, defeating No. 16 seed Hampton and No. 9 seed Butler, and No. 4 seed Iowa State took care of business, taking down Iona and Little Rock on its way to the Sweet 16. Gonzaga pulled another upset in the second round, blowing out No. 3 seed Utah en route to a Sweet 16 matchup with Syracuse, who advanced to the second weekend after utilizing their 2-3 zone defense to defeat Dayton and then Middle Tennessee.
Best Game – 5 Purdue vs. 12 Arkansas-Little Rock
The No. 12 seed Little Rock Trojans were not a very popular upset pick for many people in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but they proved all of the doubters wrong by playing hard for 50 minutes. Purdue had a 31-28 lead at halftime, and their lead grew as high as 14 points with 4:06 to play in the game. Then, due to some clutch shooting from Little Rock and Purdue turnovers, the Trojans had the ball with 17 seconds to play, trailing 70-67. With five seconds to play, Little Rock senior guard Josh Hagins pulled up from almost Steph Curry-range and nailed a 3-pointer to send the game into overtime.
Little Rock went into overtime having outscored Purdue 18-5 over the final 3:33 of the game. The Boilermakers were able to hold on and send the game to a second overtime, but the Trojans had all of the momentum and won the game 85-83 in double overtime.
Biggest Upset – 15 Middle Tennessee State vs. 2 Michigan State
Michigan State was one of the most popular picks to win the NCAA Tournament. Many thought they should have been given a No. 1 seed, but ended up as a No. 2 seed. The Blue Raiders, the Conference USA champions, were given a 7.8 percent chance to win by kenpom.com. Middle Tennessee opened up shooting 6-for-6 from the field and grabbed a 15-2 lead just over four minutes into the game. Michigan State jumped back into the game quickly, but the Blue Raiders were able to hold onto a 41-35 halftime lead. The Spartans kept fighting back in the second half, even trimming the lead to one, but were never able to take the lead. Middle Tennessee led the entire game, and pulled away by hitting shot after shot down the stretch. The Blue Raiders shot 58 percent from three-point range in the game, and defeated Michigan State 90-81, completing one of the biggest upsets in tournament history.
Most Impressive Team – 11 Gonzaga
After winning the West Coast Conference tournament to secure a spot in the NCAA tournament, Gonzaga was given a No. 11 seed, despite being currently ranked 17th by kenpom.com. They drew a first round matchup with Seton Hall, who was red hot and coming off of a Big East tournament championship. The Zags quickly shut down the Seton Hall hype, defeating the Pirates 68-52 in a game in which Gonzaga dominated from beginning to end. The Zags then advanced to the second round to face a promising Utah team and dominated the Utes, winning 82-59 to advance to the Sweet 16. Gonzaga has played great offense so far, shooting 49.5 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from three so far in the tournament. They have also played stifling defense, allowing opponents to shoot only 36.8 percent from the field in the tournament. Neither Seton Hall nor Utah has challenged Gonzaga so far, and Gonzaga shouldn’t struggle in stopping a Syracuse team that is only averaging 70.4 points per game this season. The Zags look like the next No. 11 seed to make a Final Four run.
Most Disappointing Team – 5 Purdue
Although Michigan State could be considered the biggest disappointment because they were a serious national championship contender that was bounced in the first round, Purdue was more disappointing in the Midwest region. Michigan State was beaten by a Middle Tennessee team that was better on that given day, but Purdue blew a game that they should have won. The Boilermakers were favored against Arkansas-Little Rock in the first round, as they should have been. Purdue had a distinct size advantage, headlined by their two seven-footers, AJ Hammons and Isaac Haas. The Boilermakers did outrebound the Trojans overall, but Little Rock grabbed five more offensive rebounds than Purdue, which was a big reason why the pulled off the upset. Purdue also blew a 14-point lead in the final four minutes of the game. During that stretch, they played very poor defense, shooting 1-for-5 from the field, and they turned the ball over three times. The Boilermakers were a team that was poised to make a deep tournament run, but ended up choking that all away in the first round.
MVP – F Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga
Although the entire Gonzaga team has clicked in both games of the tournament, sophomore forward Domantas Sabonis has been the star for the Bulldogs. He has recorded a double double in both games and is averaging 20 points, 13 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game so far in the tournament. He is shooting 53.1 percent from the field in 35.5 minutes per game in the tourney. Sabonis has been a dominant force inside who can also step out and hit a jumper when needed. He has filled in well for Gonzaga’s injured center Przemek Karnowski, and presents a matchup problem for pretty much any team that Gonzaga faces. The Bulldogs can play Sabonis at the four, where he can back down most power forwards, or can play him at the five, where he can step out beyond the range that most centers can cover effectively. He can also defend three different positions, making him the most valuable player left in the Midwest region.
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