The Midwest Region is pretty cut and dry.
Headlined by the No. 1 overall seed Louisville, there are few matchups that appear to have upset potential. There is one matchup that should be giving bracket pickers headaches, but there should be few other surprises coming out of the Midwest.
West Virginia (6) vs. Dayton (11) should be the most intriguing first round matchup in this bracket.
The Mountaineers (23-11, 10-8) have been inconsistent all year. They lost twice to Pitt, yet beat Pitt in the Big East Tournament. They fell to Louisville twice, but beat Villanova by 21. WVU has the offensive firepower to compete, but their streaky shooting could have them heading home early.
WVU is only 2-7 against the top 25 on the season. The tournament is played at an elite level, and the Mountaineers' futility against the nation’s top teams does not bode well for them. Da’Sean Butler will need to come up big for West Virginia, and Devin Ebanks will need to win the rebounding battles down low.
Dayton (26-7, 11-5) has not been tested as much as WVU. Coming out of the A-10, the competition was not on the same level as the Big East. Dayton split their season series with Xavier, defeated Marquette, and got hammered by Creighton.
The Flyers’ struggles began with the loss of Rob Lowery, who went down for the season on Feb. 11. The team has been barely above .500 since. Chris Wright and Marcus Johnson will need to come up big for Dayton if they plan on advancing past the first round.
The Midwest features three coaches with a national title under their belts in Rick Pitino, Tom Izzo, and Bill Self. Add in Bob Huggins and Thad Matta, and you have five coaches with Final Four experience.
Michigan State (26-6, 15-3), the bracket's No. 2 seed, is the best rebounding team in the country. They are also getting healthy at the right time. The Spartans will have added motivation for getting to the Final Four: It will be in their backyard in Detroit, Michigan.
While they could be a chief threat to Louisville in the bracket, a 35-point loss to North Carolina early in the season exploited some of the Spartans' weaknesses.
Kansas (25-7, 14-2), the No. 3 seed, and Wake Forest (24-6, 11-5), the No. 4 seed, are among the most talented teams in the country. Kansas lost four starters from last year’s championship squad but managed to reload with legitimate talent. Wake Forest has three players in Jeff Teague, Al-Farouq Aminu, and James Johnson that could go in the first round of the NBA draft if they were to declare.
Kansas has shown their inexperience at times this season and has been very “Jekyll and Hyde” with their play. Kansas scored a big win over Oklahoma towards the end of the season, but also suffered losses to Syracuse and Michigan State before conference play began.
Kansas has had a great season, but their inexperience will hurt them the deeper they go. This will be a valuable learning experience for the Jayhawks. They will be a very formidable team come next year’s tournament.
Wake Forest ascended to the nation’s No. 1 ranking earlier this year. They quickly fell and suffered several setbacks along the road. They split their season series with Duke, beat North Carolina, and dismantled Florida State. This is a young and very athletic team that plays great transition basketball.
The Demon Deacons are great perimeter defenders, but they don’t shoot well from the outside on the offensive end. They are a team capable of steamrolling to the Final Four, but they are also a team capable of suffering a hiccup along the way, particularly to an emotionally driven team with everything to gain and nothing to lose.
A second round matchup with Utah or Arizona could spell trouble for Wake Forest.
Speaking of emotionally driven schools...
North Dakota State (26-6, 16-2), in their first year of eligibility in Division I basketball, debuts as a 14 seed. They will face off against defending champion Kansas. The Bison have been among the nation’s best in field goal percentage, as well as three-point percentage. If they get hot, they could pose a lot of problems for the Jayhawks.
Arizona (19-13, 9-9) managed to squeak into the dance as a 12 seed, extending their NCAA record of consecutive tourney appearances to 25. The Wildcats live and die by the three-pointer. Arizona will face a strong Utah (24-9, 12-4) team in the first round that features three players shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc.
If Arizona is to have any chance of winning they will need to contain Luke Nevill, the Utes' seven-footer, underneath the hoop. The Wildcats will be playing with a chip on their shoulder, as no one thought they deserved a spot in the tourney.
Expect ‘Zona to raise their level of play. They have shown what they are capable of with victories over Kansas, Washington, and UCLA. If they play on a level similar to the level that guided them to these upsets, this is a 12 seed that could go a long way.
The 8-9, Ohio State vs. Siena, and 7-10, Boston College vs. USC games could shape up to be some of the best of the tourney.
Ohio State (22-10, 10-8) got hot towards the end of the season and will be playing with a lot of confidence after upsetting Michigan State in the Big Ten tourney.
They played Purdue down to the wire in the championship game, and much like in the Big Ten tournament, will rely on Evan Turner to carry the load. The Buckeyes are among the nation’s leaders in field goal percentage.
Siena (26-7, 16-2) returns virtually their entire core of players from a team that upset Vanderbilt in the first round last year. They thrive off of turnovers and play very efficient half-court defense. They played Pitt, Kansas, and Oklahoma State tough in out-of-conference showdowns early in the season.
Boston College (22-11, 9-7), like any good young team, can suffer a lapse in concentration. Tyrese Rice is the only senior on the roster, and despite sacrificing points to make the flex offense work, he can hit the big shot when needed. The Eagles scored big wins over North Carolina and Duke during conference play.
USC (21-12, 9-9) made a great run in their conference tournament after a 1-6 February to secure a spot in the “Big Dance.” They showed their potential during the conference tourney run, but they are not a deep squad, and this could hurt them against a faster, more athletic team in BC.
The Midwest is probably the most likely conference to send their top four seeds to the Sweet 16.
Louisville is clearly the class of the region and is playing its best basketball at the right time. Their biggest threat in the bracket could be the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest. This potential matchup could be one of the most exciting games we would see.
Michigan State has more motivation than any team to get to Detroit. Kansas has a legit chance to reach the Final Four but will face a tough matchup in Louisville or Wake Forest should things play out. Wake Forest may be the most talented team in the region but needs to hope they don’t get in their own way.
North Dakota State will be an interesting team to watch. Four seniors redshirted their freshman year for a shot at this tournament appearance. If they can get past Kansas in the first round, we may be looking at this year’s George Mason.
With all of that being said, expect Louisville to continue their hot play and reach the Final Four.
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