Breaking Down the Bracket: Midwest Region

David CohenSenior Analyst IMarch 17, 2009

The long road to Detroit and ultimately a national championship won’t be any easier this year. The tournament is loaded with teams that can blow up your bracket if they actually show up.

The selection committee actually did a great job overall for once. If Wisconsin was out and St. Mary’s was in, I’d have no major problems.

With that said it’s on to the bracket and bragging rights with your buddies.


First Round

Now for the other big issue I have with the committee this year. Louisville as the overall No. 1 seed might have to play Ohio State in Ohio in the second round, which is absurd.

Even playing virtually at home, Ohio State might not make it to Louisville.

Siena is a scrappy team and are looking to win a game in the tournament for the second year in a row. They have played hard against several teams in the field. They lost by 13 at Pittsburgh and by seven at Kansas.

The issue with the Saints is that they haven’t beaten anyone in the field. They lost by 14 to Tennessee at home and by nine against Oklahoma State on a neutral court.

Both of these teams play similar in their ability to block shots and not foul very often. Both teams also shoot the ball well.

If Siena is to pull off an upset in this one, it will be because of their guard play, where they have a huge edge. Their ability to pressure while limiting turnovers themselves will keep them in the game against the Buckeyes.

When push comes to shove, I think the home-court advantage is the only thing saving Ohio State from a first-round out.

Arizona is going to be the “sexy” pick as the mandatory 12 seed to advance to the next round. They have good wins on their resume, highlighted by wins at home against Gonzaga and Kansas.

They have also lost five of their last six and seem to once again be the underachieving team coming into the tournament.

Utah has also beaten Gonzaga at home and destroyed LSU by 30 at home. They are led by a 7’2” center, which is why I’m disappointed they won’t play UConn at some point in the tourney.

Both of these teams have the same major problem. They struggle away from home. Neither has any good win on the road all season. Utah at least won the conference tournament but didn’t have to play either BYU or UNLV to get the title.

Arizona is tempting because they are one of the most talented teams in the field, but they clearly aren’t being coached very well.

Any team with forwards Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill, and guard Nic Wise has no excuse for playing this poorly. It’s clear their current coach is nothing more than a figurehead.

Utah shoots it better and defends it better. They move on.

Boston College is a team which can go on the road and beat North Carolina and then lose at home to Harvard. They beat Duke and FSU at home but lost at Saint Louis. They are very talented but come and go with point guard Tyrese Rice.

USC is a tough team which has run into trouble this year because of their lack of an ability to blow people out. They have four very talented players on their team and can play very good team defense. They beat UCLA in L.A. in the Pac-10 tournament but lost early in the year at Seton Hall.

They lost at Oklahoma by a point.

In a coin-flip game, I’m going with the better shooting and better defending team. USC has the athleticism to slow down Rice, and with him go the Eagles out of the Big Dance.

Kansas is sliding a bit and now face a 14-seeded team named the Bison. The Jayhawks lost the last time they played the Bison in the tourney, but I think Kansas has enough talent to overcome an underrated North Dakota State team.

Cleveland State will give Wake Forest a good game as well but the loss of one of their starters will come back to haunt them against Wake’s athleticism.

First round winners: (1) Louisville, (8) Ohio State, (5) Utah, (4) Wake Forest, (6) West Virginia, (3) Kansas, (10) USC, (2) Michigan State


Second Round

Ohio State is getting practically a home game, so their fans can suffer just a little more when Louisville wipes the floor with them.

Wake Forest got off to a great start this season, but has fallen off significantly since mid-January. They won at BYU and Clemson and beat UNC and Duke at home.

Since mid-January, they’ve lost at Georgia Tech and North Carolina State. These are horrendous losses. Their vaunted defense has given up 101 to Duke and 88 to Clemson (to Wake’s credit, they won this game).

Their major problem is whenever they can’t get out on the open floor and get easy buckets off their athleticism. This team simply can’t shoot from the perimeter. Period. When they can run, they’re one of the best teams in the country. When they can’t, anyone can beat them. It’s a sign of their youth as a team.

Wake is beatable against the Utes because they haven’t played a big man all year as good as Utah center Luke Nevill. If Utah can deter shots from close range, they’ll stay in it.

With that said, take Wake to advance as Utah has no quality road wins, and Wake Forest isn’t the super underachiever Arizona is.

West Virginia, minus their win at Madison Square Garden against Pitt, has no impressive wins away from home on its resume. The best road win in the regular season is the beat down they put on Ohio State.

They beat Villanova at home, but 'Nova is also a relatively small team.

Kansas doesn’t have a ton of depth but they do have leadership in guard Sherron Collins and a solid big man in center Cole Aldrich. They won at Oklahoma late in the year but lost earlier in the year at Arizona and at Michigan State.

At home they beat Tennessee, Siena, Oklahoma State, Temple, Missouri, and Texas. They also beat Washington on a neutral court and lost in overtime to Syracuse on a neutral court.

Kansas has typically lost to teams which they should easily have beaten. When they show up in the big games and are focused, they’re a tough out. Since both teams have struggled on the road, I have to go with the team with more marquee wins. As long as Aldrich stays on the floor, Kansas has enough to move on.

Michigan State is a solid team which is not playing its best basketball at the end of the year. They have talent and are the best rebounding team in the nation.

However, I don’t like how forward Raymar Morgan is playing since his comeback, and the fact that they are primarily a half-court team facing a Trojans team which is more athletic when you look at both teams across the board.

Michigan State has played several neutral-court games. They were easily beaten by UNC and Maryland and barely beat Texas. All of these teams have multiple scoring threats, especially UNC and Texas. Multiple matchup problems can land Michigan State in hot water.

USC has that with forwards Taj Gibson and DeMar DeRozan, as well as guards Dwight Lewis and Daniel Hackett.

Easy buckets in a half court grind-it-out game will decide this one. The Trojans will have more opportunities so I’ll take them in one of the bigger upsets in the tournament.

Second round winners: (1) Louisville, (4) Wake Forest, (3) Kansas, (10) USC


Sweet 16

Louisville can pressure better than Wake Forest and can match their athleticism. They can defend one-on-one with Wake as well.

The Demon Deacons will have to shoot their way into this game and that’s why they are going to have a hard time against Louisville.

Kansas is a very young team but is also a great defensive team. Unlike Michigan State, they went out and played people and play in a better conference. They are battle tested.

USC is a solid team but won’t be the sleeper Elite Eight team.

Sweet 16 winners: (1) Louisville, (3) Kansas


Midwest Final

Louisville’s depth allows them to get by. They have bench players who would be getting 30+ minutes a game at Kansas.

The Cardinals also have a young F/C in Samardo Samuels to go at Aldrich and have the balance between guards and forwards to get by the Jayhawk defense. Forward Terrence Williams and G/F Earl Clark are going to be too much to handle for Kansas.


Midwest winner: (1) Louisville


Final Four

Louisville and Memphis are playing to be the national champion. Whoever wins this game will cut down the nets.

Louisville is absolutely staunch in how they go about their defense. Their issue throughout the year is their struggle at times on offense, which is a bit hard to understand.

All of their losses, except the beat down the healthy UConn gave them, were against teams which had no business on the same floor: Western Kentucky by 14, Minnesota by six on a neutral court, UNLV by one, and at Notre Dame by 33.

Since mid-February, this team hasn’t lost but didn’t have to play Pitt or UConn. They are playing better but still not up to their ability. A B-level Cardinals team won the Big East regular and postseason crowns.

If this team plays up to its full potential, their run in this tournament is going to be downright scary.

Memphis hasn’t lost since December, but with the exception of games at Tennessee and Gonzaga, they haven’t played anyone since December. It’s also interesting in that Memphis has lost to the two Big East teams it’s faced: Syracuse by seven at home and Georgetown by nine in overtime.

Tyreke Evans at the point has been magic for Memphis in their terrific run. Unlike Louisville, Memphis has found their A-game and has left a path of destruction against most of the teams it’s played.

In a game destined to become an instant classic, the only place I truly see an advantage is low-post scoring. The Tigers get a lot of their points inside on offensive rebounds and hustle plays, while Louisville has players in the frontcourt like Earl Clark and Samardo Samuels who can create offense for themselves in a half-court set.

That gives the slightest of edges to Louisville.

In the other semifinal, it’s a complete contrast in philosophies.

Pittsburgh is the Rottweiler which smells blood and wants to rip you limb for limb, while North Carolina is the winner of the Westminster Dog Show.

In this game, Pitt’s fatal flaw emerges. They don’t get enough scoring out of their guards and don’t have any reliable shooting game to speak of. This makes it even more imperative that DeJuan Blair stay out of foul trouble.

And therein lies the problem. With the aggressiveness of Ty Lawson and Tyler Hansbrough, it’s almost a foregone conclusion for Blair to get stuck on the bench.

With him a nonfactor the Panthers simply don’t have the firepower to hang with the Tar Heels.

Advancing to the final: Louisville, North Carolina


National Championship

Louisville can provide the defense while having the balanced scoring threats all over the floor to take down the Tar Heels. Clark and Williams are going to have a field day against G/F Danny Green and Wayne Ellington.

Hansbrough will have a big game himself in his last as a college player but UNC will still come up a bit short. The North Carolina team which started the season may have won this one. The injury to Marcus Ginyard killed their backcourt depth off the bench.

Louisville’s depth in the backcourt will net them a national championship.

In a way, since UNC is the team where everyone returned to get the title, this game will be what should’ve happened in last year’s final.

Louisville is playing as Memphis and this time a three pointer at the end won’t make any difference.

2009 National Champion: Louisville