No. 8 Loyola Chicago vs. No. 12 Oregon State
If your bracket had Loyola Chicago and Oregon State in the Sweet 16, chances are you are on your way to winning some money. Neither of these teams have had an easy path, but both have looked good in their two games and are definitely worthy of having made it this far. Starting with Oregon State, the Beavers have been led by their star senior guard Ethan Thompson who has led the way for an extremely potent offense that has been unstoppable so far. The senior from Los Angeles had a near triple-double in the first-round win against Tennessee, putting up 13 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists against a lineup that featured two former five-star recruits in freshmen guards Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer. Tennessee’s offensive woes definitely played a large part in the easy win for OSU, but the Beavers did what they had to do to put their talented opponent away. Two days later, Thompson and Oregon State matched up with Cade Cunningham and Oklahoma State. Ethan Thompson set the tone for the Beaver offense, notching 26 points and 7 rebounds in a dominant effort. The defense in this game was lacking and both offenses were humming, but Oregon State was able to hit 32-35 free throws, while Oklahoma State missed 12 of theirs, going 26-38. The missed free throws sealed the #4 seed’s fate and sent them home packing by way of an 80-70 loss to the Beavers. While many are shocked to see Oregon State make it this far, Loyola Chicago’s success comes to the surprise of far less. It was only in 2018 that the Ramblers shocked the world and became the fourth #11 seed to ever reach the Final Four. Only two players from that legendary team remain, but the impact the two seniors have on this team is unmatched. Lucas Williamson is a scrappy, defensive- minded 6’4 guard who will guard the other team’s best player, and do it well. He was named the Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year, thanks in large part to the 1.6 steals per game he averaged this season. His impact on the floor may go unnoticed sometimes, but he is always leaving his mark on the game. The other senior who was on that 2018 Final Four Team is big man and 2020-2021 Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year Cameron Krutwig. The 6’9, 255-pound mammoth of a man is extremely tough to defend when he gets to his spot in the low post, and has great touch around the rim. Krutwig’s 19 point, 12 rebound, 5 assist and 4 steal performance against Illinois star big man Kofi Cockburn proves he can play with any level of competition.
Prediction: While Oregon State’s run has been extremely impressive, I think Loyola Chicago has more momentum coming into this matchup after their huge win over #1-seed Illinois. The Lucas Williamson-Ethan Thompson matchup will be the deciding factor, as whichever senior is able to best the other in this game will give their team a major advantage. With that being said, the Ramblers still have Cameron Krutwig, who gives them the advantage and who I believe will lead his team to an Elite Eight appearance.
No. 2 Houston vs. No. 11 Syracuse
Houston dominated the relatively weak AAC this season, but have proved during their two games in the NCAA Tournament that they are skilled, yet gritty, and that balance allows them to play with anyone. The Cougars grittiness could be seen in their 63-60 win over Rutgers, as impact player DeJon Jarreau fought through constant hip pain to help will his team to the victory. Kelvin Sampson’s team also has Quentin Grimes, who will be the most skilled scorer on the floor for the Sweet 16 matchup again Syracuse. Grimes lit up a tough Rutgers defense for 22 points and 9 rebounds, and will need to hit shots once again for Houston to have any chance of advancing.
Past NCAA Tournaments have proved that whenever Syracuse is in the tournament, they are always a threat to go on a run, regardless of their seeding. This year is no different. The Orange have been absolutely on fire in their first two games, shooting 29/58 (50%) from behind the arc, which has helped them reach the 70-point mark in each contest. Buddy Boeheim has arguably been the best player in the entire field so far, averaging 27.5 points per game so far and hitting 57% of his shots from three. With Boeheim taking the reigns as the leading scorer, the door has opened for other talented players to find their roles behind him, as three of the five Orange starters scored in double figures in the opening round against San Diego State and four of the five starters scored in double figures in the round of 32 against a stingy West Virginia defense.
Prediction: Both teams come into this matchup with tons of momentum, but I think Houston has the slight advantage in this one, especially if DeJon Jarreau can recover quickly. Houston is as tough and gritty as any team left, so Syracuse will need to match their intensity as well as find ways to slow down Quentin Grimes if they want to have any chance. The Grimes-Boeheim matchup will be fun to watch, as the two will likely be trading buckets all game and will likely be the deciding factor as to who will be dancing and who will be heading home after the final buzzer.