As people begin to fill out their NCAA tournament brackets for the local office pool or just entertainment, much of the focus seems to be placed on the big-picture predictions. After all, everyone wants to know who is going to the Final Four.
While those predictions are certainly worthwhile, it can also be interesting to take a deeper look at the individual regions.
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With that in mind, let’s dig into some predictions for the Midwest Region.
The No. 11 and 12 Seeds Will Advance to the Round of 32
The No. 12 seeds upsetting the No. 5 seeds is always a popular upset pick, but there is a reason that is the case.
Just last year alone, three of the four No. 12 seeds advanced to the round of 32 over the likes of Oklahoma State, Wisconsin and UNLV. The Midwest Region will contribute to the No. 12-seed pattern in 2014 when the winner of the North Carolina State and Xavier matchup advances past No. 5 seed Saint Louis.
Who is the more dangerous underdog?
Both the Musketeers and Wolfpack have elite-level superstars on the roster in the form of Semaj Christon and T.J. Warren, respectively. NCAA tournament games often come down to the final possessions in half-court situations, and having a consistent go-to scorer to create his own shot is a tremendous advantage.
The thought here is NC State beats Xavier and then receives a formidable performance from Warren, who beat out the likes of Jabari Parker for ACC Player of the Year, to upset the Billikens.
As for the No. 11 seed, if Iowa beats Tennessee in the first round, it matches up favorably versus No. 6 seed Massachusetts, as Stephen Bardo of the Big Ten Network points out:
I think Iowa has decent shot to advance if they can beat Tenn. Matchup well v. UMass. #btn— Stephen Bardo (@stephenbardo) March 17, 2014
The Hawkeyes are an offensive juggernaut that ranked fourth in Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted offensive efficiency ratings at the end of the season. Massachusetts, which ranks 94th in the same ratings, will not be able to score enough points to hold off the Hawkeyes.
Wichita State Eliminates the Freshmen
It is normally not much of a stretch to say the No. 1 seed will beat the No. 8 seed in the round of 32, but when that No. 1 seed is from the Missouri Valley Conference and the No. 8 seed is mighty Kentucky, it becomes a little more interesting.
The Wildcats had national title aspirations before the season started but failed in dramatic fashion to live up to that bar. However, John Calipari’s squad certainly has talent between Julius Randle, the Harrison brothers, James Young and Willie Cauley-Stein and almost upset Florida in the conference title game.
Who wins if this matchup happens?
Despite the talent that is there on paper, the Shockers will handle the Wildcats with relative ease.
Kentucky makes too many mistakes with the basketball (Randle and Andrew Harrison combine for more than five turnovers a game as just a tandem), and the opportunistic Shockers defense will turn those errors into easy points.
In fact, only Louisville and Wichita State ranked in the top 10 in both pace-adjusted offense and defense this year, per Pomeroy. The Shockers are simply better on both ends of the floor.
The Defending Champs Return to the Final Four
Speaking of Louisville, expect the defending national champions to emerge from the Midwest Region and reach the Final Four yet again.
In addition to the aforementioned fact that the Cardinals thrive on both ends of the floor, they are also coming into this tournament with a bit of a chip on their shoulder. Coach Rick Pitino thought they should have been a No. 1 seed before the bracket was released, via Jeff Greer of The Courier-Journal, so a No. 4 seed probably isn’t sitting well:
I judge it from the eye test. Understand something: Every analyst has an agenda, every coach has an agenda ... Do I think we should be? Yes. Do I think we will be? No.
That being said, if you ask me who is the best college basketball player in America, I would say Russ Smith. If you ask me who is the best power forward, I would say Montrezl Harrell ... I’m impressed with our guys and what they have done to win a regular-season and conference tournament (title). The way we have done it, in the fashion we have done it, fits the eye test.
With 12 wins in the past 13 games, Louisville is entering the tournament on a tear.
The Cardinals have momentum, a Hall of Fame coach and two superstars leading the way on the perimeter (Smith) and in the paint (Harrell). Nobody in the Midwest Region will be able to stop them from reaching Arlington for the Final Four.
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