College basketball fans don’t have to look at the 2013 NCAA tournament bracket for long to realize something is a little off; the Midwest is significantly more loaded than any other region in this year’s competition.
Louisville is deservedly the top overall seed in the field, but even the mighty Cardinals will struggle to come out of this portion of the bracket. Duke is the No. 2 seed, and the Blue Devils have the talent and experience to challenge any of the No. 1 seeds in this tournament.
But after that, there are still a few teams capable of making an impressive run to the Final Four.
Here are my dark-horse picks to come out of the Midwest region.
No. 3 Michigan State
As long as Tom Izzo is on the sidelines, the Spartans can never be counted out as a Final Four team.
Izzo is one of the elite coaches in college basketball and has five Final Four appearances on his résumé. Coaching is incredibly important in March, and this gives the Spartans an advantage.
But there is also enough talent on this team to push them through to Atlanta. Keith Appling and Gary Harris form an excellent backcourt tandem, and quality guard play is another key component to a deep tournament run.
The pieces are in the place for Michigan State, and although their road through the Midwest region will be full of daunting challenges, there is no dark-horse Final Four team with a better chance to shock college basketball fans.
No. 4 Saint Louis
According to stats guru Nate Silver, Saint Louis is roughly half as likely to reach the Final Four as Michigan State:
Nate Silver @NateSilver538
Midwest Final 4 Odds: Louisville 53%, Duke 18%, MSU 11%, St Louis 5%, Creighton 3%, Mizzou 3%, Memphis 2%, OK St. 2%3/18/2013, 3:20:31 AM
The odds are stacked against the Billikens, but this is normal for a small school in the NCAA tournament. Saint Louis knows that they will be the underdogs once the Sweet 16 arrives, and this team is not unfamiliar with adversity.
The players on the roster had to deal with former head coach Rick Majerus passing away in December, and the team has turned around and delivered a fantastic season.
Saint Louis has exceptional balance, shares the ball and believes in its offensive system. A deep run will be a true team effort, and the Billikens’ biggest advantage is that they will not have to rely on just one player to lead them through the Midwest region.
No. 7 Creighton
While Saint Louis’ balanced offense ensures that a single poor individual performance will not lead to a disappointing defeat, Creighton is heavily reliant on star forward Doug McDermott.
But having a leader to rally around can be a major advantage. Although Silver puts the team’s chances to advance at just three percent, this team has similar elements to the 2010 Butler team that came a shot away from a national title.
Gordon Hayward was the crafty forward who could score from anywhere on the floor for those Bulldogs, while McDermott plays that role for Creighton. If the junior can deliver a stretch of fantastic performances, the Bluejays are capable of making a deep run.
While Michigan State and Saint Louis have a better chance to be a surprise Final Four team, Creighton should not be slept on.
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