Ahead of this weekend’s men’s Sweet 16 games, we’re breaking down why each of the remaining teams will and won’t make the Final Four. We’re going region-by-region, moving now to the Midwest (click here for East, here for South), where Houston looks to hold off a trio of lower-seeded contenders in Loyola Chicago, Syracuse and Oregon State as they compete for a spot in college basketball’s final weekend.
No. 8 Loyola Chicago vs. No. 12 Oregon State, Saturday 2:40 p.m. ET, CBS
How it got here: Beat No. 9 Georgia Tech, 71–60; beat No. 1 Illinois, 71–58
Why it will make the Final Four: Loyola is the most technically-sound and disciplined team left in the field. The Ramblers’ win against Illinois was a basketball purist’s dream: Loyola ran crisp offensive sets and disrupted everything Illinois wanted to do when it had the ball. Its defense is No. 1 in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency metric for a reason: Not only do the Ramblers do a great job schematically of forcing tough twos, they also have a pair of elite perimeter defenders in Lucas Williamson and Aher Uguak. Williamson drew the Ayo Dosunmu assignment Sunday and shut him down better than any player had all season long. Add in Cameron Krutwig’s ability to control the game from the post, and Loyola is the favorite to win this region.
Why it won’t make the Final Four: First off, the path is not as easy as the numbers indicate. The Ramblers have to beat an Oregon State that has major “team of destiny” vibes, then get past a Houston team loaded with athletes or a Syracuse team that can’t miss from three. The other concern: Loyola has been known to get into extended scoring ruts, whether that be in the second half of the Drake game (Loyola’s last loss) or in Missouri Valley games they found a way to win. The Ramblers probably can’t win a game in the 50s like they did against Southern Illinois or Valparaiso.
How it got here: Beat No. 5 Tennessee, 70–56 and No. 4 Oklahoma State, 80–70
Why it will make the Final Four: Nothing about this Oregon State run makes sense. Picked last in the preseason in the Pac-12, the Beavers finishing a respectable fifth in the conference was a nice story. But a Sweet 16? That was beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. To keep the run going, the Beavers will need elite play from senior point guard Ethan Thompson, who poured in 26 points against Oklahoma State. OSU also needs unlikely contributors to keep stepping up: Maurice Calloo’s emergence from end-of-bencher to 15 points in two of his last three games has been huge, and big man Roman Silva’s 16 points on 8-for-8 shooting helped the Beavers get by Tennessee.
Why it won’t make the Final Four: Until two weeks ago, the idea of Oregon State even being in the NCAA tournament seemed preposterous. This is the same team that lost to Portland and Wyoming earlier this season. Eventually, the clock will strike midnight on this Cinderella story … right?
No. 2 Houston vs. No. 11 Syracuse, Saturday, 9:40 p.m. ET, TBS
How it got here: Beat No. 15 Cleveland State, 87–56 and No. 10 Rutgers, 63–60
Why it will make the Final Four: Houston plays with incredible intensity on both sides of the ball. The Cougars are a terror on the offensive boards, really get into you defensively and have guards who can make big plays late in games. It’s such a tremendous luxury to have the likes of DeJon Jarreau and Quentin Grimes to fall back on in late-game scenarios, and freshman Tramon Mark has also made some huge shots recently.
Why it won’t make the Final Four: Houston’s record this season against NCAA tournament-caliber competition isn’t stellar— the Cougars trailed late in both meetings with Memphis, needed a major comeback to beat Rutgers and lost on the road against Wichita State in its four most recent major tests. There’s also the question of Jarreau’s health as the senior deals with a painful hip pointer. He may not be at 100% for the team’s (potential) two games this weekend.
How it got here: Beat No. 6 San Diego State, 78–62 and No. 3 West Virginia, 75–72
Why it will make the Final Four: Beyond the fact that it’s hard to bet against Syracuse in March, the Orange have played really high-level basketball lately. The biggest reason why has been shooting: Syracuse has made a combined 29 threes in its two NCAA tournament games. That charge has been led by Buddy Boeheim, who has scored 55 points and made 13 threes in the two games. With “Buddy Buckets” and the rest of the Orange feeling it from deep and the zone confounding opposing teams with less familiarity with it than ACC foes, Syracuse has a real shot here.
Why it won’t make the Final Four: The old adage is that if you live by the three, you die by the three. Eventually, the Orange will have a game where they shoot more like 6 for 27 instead of 15 for 27 from beyond the arc. Can Syracuse win in March if they don’t shoot the cover off the ball? There’s also the issue of matchups: the Syracuse 2–3 zone is notoriously vulnerable to giving up second chances on the glass, and Houston is one of the best teams in the country at getting offensive boards.