East region reset: After wild weekend, is Michigan State the frontrunner?
The first weekend of the NCAA tournament is in the books, and 16 teams are still dancing. At the end of this weekend, we'll have our Final Four. Here's a look at how the West region fared in the Rounds of 64 and 32—and what to expect in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. You can also read about the Midwest, South and West regions.
Strongest Final Four contender: Oklahoma
The chaos that took place over the first weekend in this region—both No. 1 Villanova and No. 2 Virginia were sent home—threw any preconceived notions regarding favorites and underdogs out of whack. As such, it seems wise to look back on the regular season, during which the Sooners recorded a series of impressive wins in the nation’s toughest conference thanks to an efficient offense and an improved defense. Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard are one of top perimeter trios remaining in the field, and Oklahoma also gets strong interior play from Big 12 Newcomer of the Year TaShawn Thomas, a 6'8" transfer from Houston, and junior forward Ryan Spangler, one of the top rebounders in the conference.
The Sooners faced a pair of double-digit seeds (No. 14 seed Albany and No. 11 seed Dayton) in their first two games, but they’ve proven capable of handling tougher competition this season, beating each of the other six Big 12 teams to reach the NCAAs as well as UCLA and Butler. Expect the Sooners to avoid the fate that befell the pre-tournament favorites in this region.
Potential upset: N.C. State over Louisville
Few teams are more difficult to predict than North Carolina State. During ACC play, for example, the Wolfpack beat Duke at home and North Carolina on the road but fell to Boston College and Wake Forest. N.C. State played to its potential when it upset the Wildcats in the Round of 32, and expect a similar performance from Mark Gottfried’s team in the Sweet 16 against No. 4 seed Louisville, a team the Wolfpack beat by nine on the road last month. Given N.C. State's track record this season, there’s a significant chance that this pick backfires and the Cardinals easily advance to the Elite Eight.
Sleeper team: Michigan State
Is this really a sleeper team? That depends on your definition of the term. In any case, let this year serve as reminder not to pick against Spartans coach Tom Izzo in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. Sunday’s win over the Cavaliers improved the his record in Round of 32 games to 13-1. Michigan State can advance to the Final Four for the seventh time under Izzo by playing similarly tough defense—they allowed just 31.6% shooting from the floor and 19.4% from deep combined versus Georgia and Virginia— against Oklahoma and the winner of the N.C. State-Louisville game.
Player to watch: Terry Rozier
Rozier scored 25 points on 8-of-13 shooting, dished out seven assists and grabbed five rebounds while using 32% of available possessions to help the Cardinals get past No. 5 seed Northern Iowa in the Round of 32. Expect Louisville to lean heavily on Rozier again this weekend. Even if the 6'1" guard is unable to deliver similar results, the attention he will draw should open up opportunities for other offensive threats like junior power forward Montrezl Harrell, senior wing Wayne Blackshear and freshman guard Quentin Snider.
Oklahoma edges Michigan State on a late three-point shot from Hield, then beats Louisville in the next round to advance to the Final Four.