The Elite Eight for the Midwest Region is already assured of having a double-digit seed, as No. 11 Gonzaga and No. 10 Syracuse are set to square off in the Sweet 16 on Friday. This feat has only been accomplished nine times, with two No. 11 seeds eventually making it to the Final Four. No team has ever made it into the national championship game from this position, but don’t think for a second that the Orange or Bulldogs are worried by that.
In the other regional semifinal there is a showdown of teams that were expected to be there, with No. 1 Virginia facing No. 4 Iowa State. The style of play exhibited by these two teams could not be more opposite, but the dearth of talent and senior leadership that makes up their respective identities is very much alike.
Here’s a look at the Midwest Regional at the United Center in Chicago.
No. 4 Iowa State (23-11) vs. No. 1 Virginia (28-7)
7:10 p.m. ET, CBS
No. 11 Gonzaga (28-7) vs. No. 10 Syracuse (21-13)
9:40 p.m. ET, CBS
Top Five Players
1. Malcolm Brogdon, G, Virginia
2. Georges Niang, F, Iowa State
3. Domantas Sabonis, F, Gonzaga
4. Michael Gbinije, F, Syracuse
5. Kyle Wiltjer, F, Gonzaga
Team to Beat — Virginia
A collective sigh of relief could be heard in Charlottesville following Middle Tennessee’s shocking upset of Michigan State in the first round. The Cavaliers have been knocked out of the Big Dance by the Spartans each of the past two years by a combined eight points, so Virginia fans were not looking forward to a potential third matchup. The Selection Committee knew exactly what it was doing by putting No. 2 Michigan State in the same region as No. 1 Virginia for the third straight year. Nevertheless, the desired showdown of bitter rivals was not meant to be. Virginia must lean on its smothering defense and efficient offense that runs through Wooden Award hopeful Malcolm Brogdon if the Cavaliers wish to finally make the deep March run they are capable of.
Team with Nothing to Lose — Syracuse
Syracuse players were not allowed to contact head coach Jim Boeheim in any way, shape or form through the first half of the regular season. After a tidal wave of NCAA violations came crashing down at the conclusion of 2015, and with an embarrassing loss to St. Johns (finished 8-24) early in the year, 2016 seemed like a season Syracuse would quickly want to forget. After dropping five of their last six contests, the Orange failed to reach the 20-win plateau for only the fourth time in Boeheim’s 39 seasons at Syracuse. None of that matters now. Michael Gbinije and company have come into this Tournament fired up and already have two blowout victories. Syracuse is one of six ACC teams in the Sweet 16, which ties the NCAA Tournament record for one conference. The other teams in this region all have the pressure of high expectations resting on their shoulders. The Orange are just crashing the party.
All-ACC Final Four
As I mentioned above, the ACC set a new record by sending six teams to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Plenty of history can still be made going forward, including the possibility of an all-ACC Final Four. The No. 1 seeds and favorites to win in both the Midwest and the East region are Virginia and North Carolina, respectively. Even if the Cavaliers and Tar Heels fail to advance, Syracuse and Notre Dame have a chance to represent the conference in their place. No. 4 Duke in the West and No. 3 Miami in the South have tough roads ahead of them on their way to the Final Four, but anything is possible this time of year.
"I think I was crouched down and was a little dehydrated and blacked out a little bit, but I'm OK."
– Virginia head coach Tony Bennett, who briefly collapsed on the sideline during Virginia’s 81-45 convincing victory over No. 16 Hampton. The head coach is completely fine and was able to coach the remainder of the game.
– Legendary singer and performer Tony Bennett, whose Twitter account was flooded with well wishes after the incident.