The Sweet 16 begins on Thursday with the Midwest and West Regionals and as is usually the case, there are basically nothing but heavyweight programs left from the original field of 68 teams in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament that started last week. These two particular regions didn’t have many upsets as only No. 2 Louisville from the Midwest and No. 3 Florida State from the West are no longer alive in terms of the top four seeds. In their place is No. 7 Michigan (26-11) in the Midwest and No. 11 Xavier (23-13) in the West, two teams with proud histories.
No. 3 Oregon (31-5) and the Wolverines kick things off on Thursday (7:09 p.m., CBS) in Kansas City. I believe that this will be the most entertaining game of the four and Las Vegas seems to agree with me since it has the closest point-spread (Michigan is favored by one point). Oregon survived a major scare by Rhode Island in the second round, 75-72. The Rams were up eight points at halftime but the Ducks were able to scrape by thanks to a game-high 27 points, five rebounds and three steals from sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey. Michigan has played two very close games as they outlasted Oklahoma State 92-91 in a first round track meet and then upset Louisville 73-69 in the second round. German sophomore forward Moritz Wagner had a game-high 26 points versus the Cardinals while sophomore forward D.J. Wilson has seen his draft stock rise with 19 points versus Oklahoma State and 17 against Louisville.
No. 1 Gonzaga (34-1) finally faces a legitimate test in No. 4 West Virginia (28-8) after they dispatched of South Dakota State 66-46 in the first round and tournament newcomer Northwestern 79-73 in the second round. It feels like Mountaineers head coach Bob Huggins’ teams always step up in March and they got here by beating Bucknell 86-80 in an entertaining opener and they notched an impressive 83-71 victory versus Notre Dame in the second round. The Bulldogs don’t really have a go-to guy which could hurt them although junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss had 20 points, eight rebounds and two steals against the Wildcats. West Virginia is paced by junior point guard Jevon Carter who had 24 points against the Irish.
No. 1 Kansas (30-4) vs. No. 4 Purdue (27-7) is an intriguing Big 12 vs. Big 10 matchup. It has the highest projected point total of the night (156.5 points) which should make for a nice high-scoring contest. Jayhawks freshman swingman Josh Jackson was impressive in Kansas’ 90-70 demolition of Michigan State in the second round with a game-high 23 points, two blocks and two steals. His athleticism was on full display, why he’ll be a top three pick this summer in the NBA draft. Boilermakers sophomore power forward Caleb Swanigan is a double-double machine, he had 20 points and 12 rebounds in their 80-76 second round win over Iowa State.
Finally, No. 2 Arizona (32-4) vs. No. 11 Xavier (23-13) at least on paper looks like the only game on Thursday that could be a mismatch. Then again, the Muskateers destroyed No. 3 Florida State 91-66 in the second round so it’s hard to completely overlook them. The Wildcats dropped 100 on North Dakota (who scored 82) in the first round while they struggled to put away St. Mary’s in the second round before eventually winning 69-60. If Xavier is going to upset their former head coach Sean Miller and his club, they’ll need another huge game from junior guard Trevon Bluiett who scored 21 in their first round upset of Maryland then 29 against Florida State.
Follow Metro Boston sportswriter Richard Slate on Twitter @RichSlate