NCAA Bracket 2017: Complete Guide to the Midwest Region
Here we go.
The Kansas Jayhawks fell into a thorny draw in the Midwest Region of the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship. Their prize for that Big 12 quarterfinals loss to TCU was the top seed in a snake den including Louisville at No. 2 and the Oregon Ducks at No. 3. That's not what a top seed wants to see.
Ah, but you know what? That makes for solid storylines and a level of competitive, tensile strength that simply cannot be derived from some luge lesson of a draw.
So why don't we go ahead and break it all down? Let's dive into the Midwest Region in every way, shape and form imaginable.
1st-Round Schedule and TV Info
Thursday, March 16
(Games in Milwaukee)
Purdue (25-7) vs. Vermont (29-5), 6:27 p.m. (truTV)
Iowa State (23-10) vs. Nevada (28-6), about 8:57 p.m. (truTV)
Friday, March 17
(Games in Indianapolis)
Michigan (24-11) vs. Oklahoma State (20-12), 11:15 a.m. (CBS)
Louisville (24-8) vs. Jacksonville State (20-14), about 1:45 p.m. (CBS)
(Games in Tulsa, Oklahoma)
Kansas (28-4) vs. N.C. Central-UC Davis winner, 5:50 p.m. (TNT)
Miami (21-11) vs. Michigan State (19-14), about 8:20 p.m. (TNT)
(Games in Sacramento, California)
Oregon (29-5) vs. Iona (22-12), 1 p.m. (TBS)
Creighton (25-9) vs. Rhode Island (24-9), about 3:30 p.m. (TBS)
No. 6 Creighton Bluejays vs. No. 11 Rhode Island Rams
This is a tale of two teams moving in different directions. After a gangbusters start to the season, Creighton (25-9) backed into this tournament after losing point guard Maurice Watson; they're 7-8 since then. Rhode Island (24-9), meanwhile, just won the A-10 tournament to cap an eight-game winning streak.
No. 7 Michigan Wolverines vs. No. 10 Oklahoma State
Who among the neutral parties isn't rooting for Michigan?
After the Wolverines' plane crash scare, they circled the wagons and messed around and won the Big Ten tournament. That's a fun story no matter how you slice it. Unfortunately for Wolverines fans and bandwagoners, though, Oklahoma State is a score-in-bunches kind of team that can run you off the floor. We'll see if Michigan really got its rest.
Can Kansas Recover?
That 85-82 loss to TCU, sans suspended superstar Josh Jackson, may have dealt a serious psychological blow to the Jayhawks. Or maybe it didn't. With the Jayhawks facing the winner between UC Davis and North Carolina Central, the gratification may come with a bit of a delay in this case.
Did I Mention Michigan?
There's no need to put too fine a point on it. After the plane incident, which thankfully saw no one hurt, the Wolverines are everyone's sentimental favorite in cases where there wasn't a sentimental favorite already. Whoever wanted an easy seat on any kind of March Madness-related bandwagon now has one.
Upset Victims Seeking Revenge
Top-seeded Kansas, second-seeded Louisville, third-seeded Oregon and fourth-seeded Purdue all felt the sting of the underdog in their respective conference tournaments. Can they overturn that trend over the tournament's first weekend?
"I'm still confident in my group for the NCAA tournament," Purdue guard P.J. Thompson said after his team's loss in the Big Ten tournament, per Nathan Baird of the Indianapolis Star. "We can't control our seeding, but we can control what we do on the basketball court."
They'll all have another chance to prove that in the coming days.
Stars to Watch
Dillon Brooks, Oregon Ducks
Brooks finished sixth in the Pac-12 in scoring with 16.3 points per game and 10th with a 41.4 percent clip from deep. But he's more than that. The junior forward is the trash-talking heart of the Ducks, and he has the desire to back it up. He's beaten UCLA and California with buzzer-beaters this season.
Josh Jackson, Kansas Jayhawks
It will certainly be fascinating to see how Jackson responds to that benching. I don't want to be UC Davis or NC Central right about now. This is a guy who hoovers up 51 percent of his shooting opportunities and is a favorite target for Frank Mason and Devonte Graham. They're the spark, but Jackson is the engine.
Monte Morris, Iowa State Cyclones
Leading ISU in points (16.3) and assists (6.1), Monte Morris is the Cyclone to key on. He's the senior leader this season and surely remembers Iowa State's recent early exits.
Favorites Most Likely to Fall
As previously noted, and as everybody realizes, Creighton isn't the same without Watson and his 12 points, 8.5 assists and immeasurable leadership per game. Marcus Foster and others have stepped up, but it may not be enough against a hot Rhode Island team, not to mention beyond.
Sophomore big man Caleb Swanigan leads the Big Ten in rebounds (12.6), defensive rebound percentage (33.2) and points produced (582), per Basketball Reference.
And that's to say nothing of the 80.1 points the team averages as a group per game, second best in the Big Ten.
And yet, losses like the one Purdue suffered to Michigan have a way of lingering.
Even if Vermont doesn't appear to pose a great challenge, assuming chalk holds, it would have a red-hot (and slight underdog) Iowa State team in the next round. Purdue is a big, strong team, but it is also an inconsistent one. That will come back to bite it again.
Most Likely Cinderella
No. 11 Rhode Island Rams
If you pay attention to the KenPom rankings, you know that Creighton is 10 spots above Rhode Island.
Look a little closer, and you also see that Rhode Island is seven spots better than Creighton on the defensive side of that column. That doesn't bode well for a Bluejays team that has encountered inconsistency, especially in its three-point shooting, in Watson's absence.
But the defense is the real story here, at least potentially. Don't forget the Rams' masterwork against Davidson earlier in the tourney, the one in which they held the great Jack Gibbs to a relatively meager 17 points.
The Rams certainly have to hope for this kind of defensive effectiveness. They only have three guys—E.C. Matthews, Hassan Martin and Jared Terrell—who score in double figures.
It's the classic "who wants it more" kind of contest. Here's guessing the answer goes to Rhode Island.
Who Will Make the Sweet 16?
Kansas Jayhawks (No. 1)
That TCU loss might have been a blessing in disguise, serving to refresh the team after a long season. Although, assuming chalk, the Jayhawks would have to hold off a decent Miami team, there doesn't seem to be a reason that a team adding Jackson—the team that won eight straight Big 12 games before TCU—wouldn't be up to the task.
Iowa State Cyclones (No. 5)
Iowa State ended up shooting 40.2 percent from three-point range, per NCAA statistics. It is also a deep team, with nine guys playing at least 11 minutes. Winning the Big 12 tournament over West Virginia—the only team to deal it a loss since Feb. 7—must have made it extra sweet. Nevada looks beatable in the Cyclones' first game, as does Purdue in the second.
Oregon Ducks (No. 3)
Oregon didn't lose much stock after an outstanding effort in that loss to Arizona. The Ducks are still an elite team that rode an eight-game win streak into the Arizona game; their last loss before that was UCLA.
A win over Iona and then a frisky upstart in Rhode Island is not the world's tallest order, either.
Louisville (No. 2)
Louisville is where the Michigan story comes to an end. The Cardinals are sixth in KenPom's adjusted defensive rankings. The Wolverines are No. 69.
Led by Mangok Mathiang and Anas Mahmoud down low—they combine for 10.1 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game—Louisville is second in the ACC with 39.7 rebounds per game and 27th nationally with a 5.8 rebounding margin.
And, it must be said, Michigan has to dump its adrenaline some time. If Michigan can get this far after winning the Big Ten tournament unexpectedly, it will have held that off for longer than most people might have expected.
The Elite Eight Matchup Will Be...
Iowa State is a great shooting team. It is also a very deep team, with nine guys playing at least 11 minutes.
With Morris at the helm, the Cyclones are also an experienced and poised group of players. Would it be a shock if Iowa State reached this game and won it? No.
And yet, I don't quite have the guts to pull the trigger.
Frank Mason and Jackson understandably absorb most of the headlines. They will always get theirs, and Mason and Graham are as good a floor-leading tandem as there is in the sport this season. But the post play of Landen Lucas could be an additional key as things tighten up and possessions fetch a premium.
When focused, Oregon can play with anyone. If Rhode Island pulls the upset, the Ducks should be able to shoot over the Ram defense and cruise to a fairly easy Sweet 16 berth.
The same applies to a potential matchup with Louisville, which has great defense but not necessarily the kind of offensive firepower to hang with Brooks, Tyler Dorsey and the rest of the Ducks.
And the Final Four Team Is...
The Kansas Jayhawks.
At 28-4 coming out of a rocky Big 12 conference, the Jayhawks have shown they can respond to a loss. The KU stock dropped after an admittedly surprising setback against TCU, but it was only an 85-82 defeat and came as the team shot 45 percent from the field.
Did we also mention Josh Jackson? Yes, the Jayhawks didn't have him.
So now he's back, and the Jayhawks have the extra cylinder, offensively and defensively, that they need to excel past pretty much anyone else. The Midwest Region has its share of difficulty, but Kansas will overcome.