NCAA Sweet 16: Big 10 teams lead the way in East and West regions
Thursday night, there are two games each in the East and West regions of the NCAA tournament. In the East: Miami vs. Marquette and Indiana vs. Syracuse. In the West: Ohio State vs. Arizona and Wichita State vs. La Salle.
Big 10 conference representatives Indiana and Ohio State, seeded No. 1 in the East and No. 2 in the West respectively, look to continue their quest for another collegiate championship this week. The NCAA men's basketball tournament is down to the final 16 schools that will play in four regional sites. We didn't forget that both Michigan and Michigan State, fellow Big 10 members, also remain very much alive in the tourney.
But for our purposes here, we'll take a look at the East region games, taking place Thursday night at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. This is the only one of the four regions where the top four seeds reached the round of 16, just as the men's basketball tournament selection committee drew it up almost two weeks ago.
Miami vs. Marquette
Game one of the evening will pit second seed Miami of Florida against Marquette, the region's third seed. The Hurricanes, out of the Atlantic Coast Conference, defeated both Pacific and Illinois on their way to our nation's capital. Point guard Shane Larkin, son of Baseball Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, runs the show for Miami. Unfortunately for the 'Canes, they will be without the services of center Reggie Johnson, who injured a leg against Illinois according to a school statement.
Miami head coach Jim Larranaga, who led George Mason University to the 2006 Final Four, has a great deal of respect for Marquette's defense.
"Well, we've watched them throughout the Big East ... and they're just a very hard-nosed defensive team. They play ... maybe harder than anybody we've played against all season," Larranaga told reporters on Tuesday.
The Golden Eagles have used that strong defense to survive and advance, coming from behind to edge Davidson in the second round and hanging on to nip Butler in Round 3. Marquette guard Vander Blue is one of the top scorers in the NCAA tournament, averaging 22.5 points per game.
Indiana vs. Syracuse
Thursday night's second game features East top seed Indiana and fourth seed Syracuse. The Hoosiers, who spent 10 weeks ranked No. 1 in the country, cruised past James Madison, then overcame a second half deficit to defeat Temple.
The Orangemen crushed Montana by 47 points in their first tournament game. But things weren't so easy against California in the next round, as the Golden Bears made Syracuse work for a six-point victory.
The last time Syracuse played Indiana in the NCAA tournament, IU beat the Orange for the 1987 NCAA title in New Orleans.
Ohio State vs. Arizona
Things are a little bit crazier out in the West region, after a few upsets along the way. Left in the aftermath are second-seeded Ohio State and sixth seed Arizona.
Arizona had it a little easier in their first two games, defeating Belmont and then running past upstart Harvard in the third round. The Wildcats are led in scoring by Mark Lyons, Solomon Hill, and Nick Johnson, all averaging double figures.
Arizona head coach Sean Miller, who was an assistant under Matta at Xavier, knows the players at Matta's current school aren't lacking in confidence when it comes to the NCAA tournament.
"This is Ohio State's fourth straight Sweet 16, and you think about some of the players on their team, they have incredible NCAA tournament experience, and they were in last year's Final Four. They're used to big arenas and the big stage, and that's one of the things that makes them such a great team," Miller said Monday.
Wichita State vs. La Salle
The West region nightcap will feature a pair of teams from conferences considered one step below the Big 10s and Pac-12s of the world. But Wichita State of the Missouri Valley and La Salle from the Atlantic 10 have played like prime-time performers so far.
The ninth-seeded Shockers defeated Pittsburgh in the second round, then knocked off West No. 1 seed Gonzaga last weekend.
Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall has been down this road before. He previously coached Winthrop to an upset of Notre Dame in the 2007 NCAA tournament. Marshall says that his team's hard work this season is paying off.
"The stars are aligned for the Shockers right now," Marshall said this week during a conference call.
13th-seeded La Salle, which won the 1954 NCAA championship, has won three tournament games so far. The Explorers began with a play-in victory over Boise State, then an upset of fourth seed Kansas State followed by a two-point win over Mississippi.
The four games Thursday evening will be televised by CBS and TBS, beginning at 7 p.m. Eastern time.