NCAA Tournament

NCAA Bracket 2014: Complete Guide to Midwest Region

Scott HenryFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2014

NCAA Bracket 2014: Complete Guide to Midwest Region

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    The Midwest Region of the 2014 NCAA tournament could charitably be called treacherous.

    Undefeated Wichita State has a rocky path to the Final Four in Arlington, Texas, with three of last season's other Elite Eight programs hovering in its bracket. Dangerous foes like Kentucky, UMass, Iowa or Saint Louis could also figure into the Shockers' road to perfection.

    Read on for all the information and some key predictions on the region that will send a team from Indianapolis into immortality.

     

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Round of 64 Schedule and TV Info

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    BILL BOYCE/Associated Press

    Thursday

    (Games in Orlando, Fla.)

    No. 4 Louisville (29-5) vs. No. 13 Manhattan (25-7): 9:45 p.m. ET on TNT

    No. 5 Saint Louis (26-6) vs. No. 12 N.C. State (21-13) or Xavier (21-12): 7:15 p.m. ET on TNT

    (Games in Milwaukee)

    No. 2 Michigan (25-8) vs. No. 15 Wofford (20-12): 7 p.m. ET on CBS

    No. 7 Texas (23-10) vs. No. 10 Arizona State (21-11): 9:30 p.m. ET on CBS

     

    Friday

    (Games in St. Louis)

    No. 1 Wichita State (34-0) vs. No. 16 Cal Poly (13-19) or Texas Southern (19-14): 7 p.m. ET on CBS

    No. 8 Kentucky (24-10) vs. No. 9 Kansas State (20-12): 9:30 p.m. ET on CBS

    (Games in Raleigh, N.C.)

    No. 3 Duke (26-8) vs. No. 14 Mercer (26-8): 12 p.m. ET on CBS

    No. 6 UMass (24-8) vs. No. 11 Iowa (20-12) or Tennessee (21-12): 2:30 p.m. ET on CBS

Must-See Games in Round of 64

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    (4) Louisville vs. (13) Manhattan

    The coaching battle between teacher (Louisville's Rick Pitino) and pupil (Manhattan coach and former UK player Steve Masiello) is the selling point, but these are also two teams that like to put pressure on their opponents.

    Manhattan draws .559 free throw attempts per field-goal try, the second most in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy. Meanwhile, Louisville sits second in the nation in defensive turnover percentage, so Jaspers point guard Michael Alvarado will have his hands full with Russ Smith, Chris Jones, et al.

     

    (5) St. Louis vs. (12) N.C. State or Xavier

    Saint Louis seemed to be stumbling badly at the end of the season, losing three out of four that includes defeats against Duquesne and St. Bonaventure. The Billikens' No. 5 seed seems a gift from the committee.

    At least, it looked that way until their opponent was announced. On one hand, SLU could face Xavier, whose coach, Chris Mack, has reached the Big Dance in four of his five seasons. Guards Semaj Christon and Dee Davis constitute a tough matchup for the SLU backcourt.

    Alternatively, SLU could run into the one-man buzzsaw known as T.J. Warren. The N.C. State forward is third in the nation at 24.8 points per game, working on a string of 17 consecutive 20-point outings. Saint Louis fans are likely still waiting for a third option.

Top Storylines to Follow

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Wichita State's Bracket of Death

    The Shockers are being forced to pay the freight for their cakewalk through the Missouri Valley Conference. The top four teams in this region all figured in last season's Elite Eight, with three in the Final Four.

    A third-round game against either Kentucky or Kansas State sets the tone early on, and that's coming on the heels of a potential meeting with former La Salle and West Virginia big man Aaric Murray of Texas Southern. The 6'10" journeyman averaged 21.2 points and 7.7 rebounds for the Tigers this season.

    Survive either of those freshmen-led teams and a Sweet 16 battle could loom with Louisville—one of the nation's hottest teams from New Year's Eve on—or Saint Louis, a team that stormed through its first 12 Atlantic 10 games before hitting a late skid.

    Duke and Michigan are the big names on the other side of the bracket, but the likes of UMass and Arizona State are also on hand.

     

    Louisville's Drop

    Considered part of the No. 1 seed conversation until the bitter end, Louisville's fall to fourth in the Midwest seems surprising. Like Wichita State, Louisville is paying for scheduling sins, but the Cardinals' were of their own making.

    The Cards played three games against potential tournament teams in their nonleague season, but could only defeat Southern Miss, which finished on the wrong side of the bubble. Every team to beat the Cards, including conference foes, is in the dance, but the committee hammered UL for its subpar scheduling.

     

    Kentucky Lurking

    A Kentucky team that will likely go down as one of the most overhyped in history has a chance to redeem itself in this region.

    If the Cats can get past the other set of Wildcats from Manhattan, Kan., a matchup between a 35-0 team and one that was supposed to be 35-0 will capture more eyes than any that the third round could possibly produce. John Calipari's "overanalyzed" team should relish the rare opportunity to face a more scrutinized bunch than itself.

    Break Wichita's perfect run, and the Cats could draw Louisville in a rematch of December's Kentucky victory, but Indianapolis will prove a less comfortable venue than Rupp Arena. Win there, and Duke or Michigan would both sternly test a UK defense that contests shots, but doesn't harass ball-handlers as strongly as it could.

Stars to Watch

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    G Marcus Foster, Kansas State

    Foster is a threat to take over every game that he's in. He's averaged 19.6 points per game in his last 11, scoring 20-plus against five different tournament teams (Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Baylor, Iowa State). No freshman outside of Lawrence, Kan., had a greater impact on the Big 12 season.

     

    F Montrezl Harrell, Louisville

    The last time anyone held Harrell below 50 percent from the field was February 15, when he made only one of seven shots against Rutgers. In the nine games since, he's averaged 18.6 points and 8.0 rebounds per game.

     

    G Nik Stauskas, Michigan

    Speaking of guys finishing strong, Stauskas is averaging an even 20 PPG over his last eight, but he did shoot a shaky 38 percent in the Big Ten tournament. Duke and UMass could await in the Sweet 16, and both are among the top 40 three-point defensive teams in the nation.

     

    F T.J. Warren, N.C. State

    Yes, him again. There may be no one man more instrumental to his team's presence in the tournament. Without Warren, the Wolfpack are a 10-win team. He'll face a tough matchup in Xavier just to make it to Orlando.

Favorites Most Likely to Fall Early

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    Laurence Kesterson/Associated Press

    UMass

    The Minutemen have scuffled to an 8-7 record since Jan. 22, giving up 80 points or more to Dayton, George Washington and...George Mason?!? Iowa and Tennessee both crush the offensive glass, and UMass big man Cady Lalanne will have his hands full with either team's complement of interior horses.

     

    Texas

    The Longhorns and Arizona State are two teams that boast dangerous shot-blockers, so the inside game will be an adventure. The Sun Devils, unlike UT, have outside shooters like Jahii Carson, Jermaine Marshall and Jonathan Gilling. If those long jumpers are falling, ASU can end Texas coach Rick Barnes' stirring comeback season early.

Cinderella Story Waiting to Happen: Arizona State

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    Karl Massdam/Associated Press

    As mentioned one slide prior, Arizona State holds a winnable matchup in the round of 64 against Texas.

    Michigan poses a daunting task in the third round, but the Sun Devils are a team with every capability of shutting down a hot perimeter team. ASU held Arizona and Oregon to 25 percent three-point shooting in back-to-back February wins.

    State didn't finish strong in that regard, allowing a combined 47 percent from deep in losses to Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford, but the Texas game may help them get confidence back.

    The Sun Devils could face two sharply contrasting styles in the Sweet 16, with perimeter-oriented Duke and hard-charging teams like UMass or Iowa potentially looming. The Minutemen tend to get a lot of shots swatted, which will make Arizona State big man Jordan Bachynski—the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year—salivate.

    ASU star Jahii Carson is one of the fastest men in basketball, and if he gets consistent support from the rest of his team, the team from Tempe could cause some serious tournament trauma for opposing fanbases.

Who Will Make the Sweet 16?

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Wichita State

    Look for the Shockers to continue their "Play Angry" mantra, taking the stacking of their region as a supreme kiss-off from the selection committee. Wichita's veterans have been here before, but Kansas State star Marcus Foster and Kentucky's entire team have not.

     

    Louisville

    Rick Pitino doesn't lose to his former pupils very often, but Steve Masiello's aggressive Manhattan squad could keep that second-round game interesting. The Cards' potential third-round foes are either turnover-prone (Saint Louis) or too reliant on one star player (N.C. State with T.J. Warren; Xavier with Semaj Christon). Neither is a condition that an opponent can get away with against Louisville.

     

    Duke

    The Blue Devils, as usual, don't have to cross state lines to reach the Sweet 16. That aside, Duke wasn't done a ton of favors as pertains to their opponents, but they should have enough weapons to outgun Mercer. Iowa, UMass and Tennessee all like to get their points in the paint—and could do so against Duke—but none can really prey on Duke's point guards and force a ton of turnovers.

     

    Arizona State

    To make this run, ASU will need Jermaine Marshall to spread defenses for Jahii Carson's kamikaze drives and Jordan Bachynski to channel Jeff Withey circa 2012, blocking everything in sight. Both are doable against Texas and Michigan.

The Elite Eight Matchup Will Be…Louisville vs. Duke

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Louisville and Wichita State could be a great Final Four matchup, but in the selection committee's impatience, they'll likely give it to us in the Sweet 16. A team with several key contributors who've been through two Final Fours and a national championship won't sweat the spotlight that comes with facing an undefeated team in the regional semifinals.

    Duke has enough shooters to stretch out any defense. If Arizona State is its opponent in the Sweet 16, the biggest key will be whether Jabari Parker and Marshall Plumlee can beat Jordan Bachynski to the boards.

And Your Final Four Team Is…Louisville

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    Al Behrman/Associated Press

    Louisville's Luke Hancock gets a chance to re-enact last season's Final Four heroics as the fourth-seeded Cardinals storm to their third consecutive Final Four.

    An Elite Eight rematch with Duke hopefully won't involve any repeats of a gruesome injury like Kevin Ware's last season. What it should involve is an epic tussle between Montrezl Harrell and Jabari Parker. If the more muscular Harrell gets Parker into foul trouble, Duke comes up missing a big chunk of its rebounding presence.

    Rasheed Sulaimon will be put under tremendous pressure, as he may be called upon for a majority of the point guard minutes. Duke will have a difficult time trusting Quinn Cook to guard Russ Smith or Chris Jones for 30-plus minutes, while Tyler Thornton seemingly only gets three-point shots when Duke is on life support—see the late minutes against Syracuse.

    Experience gets served again, as the hardened Cardinals keep it together in the spotlight better than postseason rookies like Parker and Rodney Hood.

Prediction for Louisville in the Final Four

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Rick Pitino may give a thumbs-up to his team in the national semifinals.

    Expect a matchup against Arizona in the Final Four, a battle between two of the most dangerous defensive teams in the nation. Where the Wildcats hold an advantage is on the glass, as Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kaleb Tarczewski are all potent offensive rebounders. Aside from Montrezl Harrell, the Cardinals can struggle to contain those caroms.

    Louisville has a depth advantage, as Arizona has had to take guards Gabe York and Elliott Pitts out of their packaging to juice up the offense in the wake of Brandon Ashley's injury. Even so, the Cats' rotation usually only goes seven deep.

    The point guard matchup will be enormous, as UA's T.J. McConnell has to face down All-American Russ Smith. He gives it a valiant effort here, but Arizona comes up just short.

    In the national title game, the Cards' repeat effort falls short against Florida. UF has the slashers (Wooden Award finalist Casey Prather), shooters (45.5 percent gunner Michael Frazier) and steady playmakers (SEC Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin) to frustrate even the best defenses in the nation.

    Senior Patric Young will embrace his mission of shutting down Harrell, and sixth man Dorian Finney-Smith creates a severe matchup problem for any of the Cardinals' wings.

     

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