NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest RegionPosted by BHayes on March 25th, 2013
Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent.
The Midwest Regional begins Friday night in Indianapolis with Louisville vs. Oregon followed by Duke vs. Michigan State. The East Region Reset and West Region Reset published earlier today, and be sure to look out for the South Region Reset later this afternoon. Also make sure to follow RTCMWRegion for news and analysis from Indy throughout the week.
New Favorite: #1 Louisville. When you are the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, win your first two games by a total of 57 points, and now have to travel just 115 miles to the regional site, you aren’t going to lose your pole position. The Cardinals are still the team to beat in Indianapolis.
Horse of Darkness: #12 Oregon. It’d be hard enough to make a case for a #1, #2, or #3 seed as a dark horse, and harder yet when the programs occupying those seed-lines are Louisville, Duke, and Michigan State. So while Oregon certainly fits the bill here, they also are winners by default. We knew the Ducks were underseeded and dangerous on that #12 line, and they went out and played like it last week. At this point, nobody would blink an eye if the seed next to the Ducks’ name was a #4 instead. Louisville would be advised to view Dana Altman’s team through that lens, because Oregon is talented enough to knock off the Cardinals, even in their own backyard.
Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): #4 Saint Louis. Clearly, this wasn’t the good kind of surprise. Saint Louis entered this NCAA Tournament as a legitimate Final Four sleeper. They played along with the hype in the Second Round, where they clinically dispatched New Mexico State in winning by 20. At that point, a deep run still felt very possible and at least one more win a near-certainty, which made the resounding defeat they suffered at the hands of Oregon a bit of a shock. Let’s keep in mind that this was a Saint Louis team that had lost just once in regulation since November, and the 17-point margin of defeat to the Ducks was the Billikens’ largest of the season. 2012-13 was a proud, inspiring season for SLU, but few could have predicted the abruptness with which it would end.
Completely Expected (1st Weekend): #3 Michigan State. Chalk prevailed almost across the board in this region (thank god for Oregon!), so take your pick here, but I’ll go with the Spartans. Armed with a virtual home court advantage in Auburn Hills, Tom Izzo’s crew made quick work of Valparaiso before dismantling Memphis in the Third Round. These wins were completely expected not only because it’s Sparty playing March basketball in its home state, but also because both their opponents loomed as favorable match-ups for this Michigan State team. As expected, Valpo was outmanned and Memphis not tough enough. The result, equally anticipated, is another Spartans visit to the Sweet Sixteen.
I’m Exceptionally Smart and Prescient: My lock of the first weekend was a Michigan State-Duke Sweet Sixteen match-up, and that regional semifinal has come to pass with little fanfare. Michigan State handled Valparaiso and Memphis with ease, while Duke got by Albany and Creighton with minimal corresponding issues. Sure, both teams were expected to be in this position, but there was no perspiration last week for this bold prognosticator – my lock felt safe from the moment we tipped off Thursday.
Except When I Make Stupid Predictions: Oregon made me look dumb. Perhaps more accurately, Oklahoma State and Saint Louis made me look dumb. The Ducks clearly exceeded my expectations in soundly defeating both the Cowboys and Billikens (I predicted neither), but those losses were about more than just Oregon. Oklahoma State’s youth showed in a dysfunctional performance that never really saw Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash kick it into high gear, while two Billikens’ weaknesses (three-point shooting and rebounding) were exposed and proved impossible to overcome in their Round of 32 loss. Of course, Oregon had a lot to do with all of the above issues, which is why the Ducks will continue a run to Indianapolis that I never saw coming.
First Weekend MVP: Russ Smith, Louisville. Apologies to Derrick Nix and Seth Curry here, but Russdiculous was the headliner of the Midwest’s first weekend. The Cardinals’ star totaled 50 points and 10 steals while never relinquishing his unofficial title of Minister of Chaos for a defense that never let North Carolina A&T or Colorado State feel comfortable. Smith’s efforts not only helped Louisville to another Sweet Sixteen, but also reinforced a message we have heard before from the Cards – there really will be no sleep until this team gets to Atlanta. Watch out, Ducks.
Breakout Star: Damyean Dotson, Oregon. The Ducks’ sweet-shooting freshman took a star turn on the NCAA Tournament stage, leading Oregon in scoring in each of its two wins last week. He led the way with 17 against Oklahoma State before catching fire against the Billikens, going 5-of-6 from three-point range en route to a game-high 23 points. A bright future lies ahead for Dotson, but he showed this week that he is already capable of shooting the Ducks to victories. Honorable mention to Arsalan Kazemi and his 33 rebounds last week – is there a higher-IQ player in this Tournament?
More Home Cooking: #1 Louisville, 114 miles from Indianapolis. The race for the #1 overall seed was an important one, as both Indiana and Louisville craved it for the short drive to the Indianapolis regional. Of course, Louisville won that battle, and will now reap the reward in the sea of red that is sure to appear at Lucas Oil Stadium this weekend. The Louisville faithful should be joined by a good-sized Michigan State contingent, with East Lansing only a nice afternoon drive away from Indy (260 miles).
Best Regional Semifinal Game: #2 Duke vs. #3 Michigan State (Friday, March 29, 9:45 PM ET on CBS). The Midwest was resoundingly celebrated as the toughest region in this field, so it stands to reason that it generates a Sweet Sixteen match-up of high, high caliber. With apologies to Kansas-Michigan, this is likely the game to look forward to in the Round of Sixteen. Two Hall of Fame coaches bring teams that have expectations that run far beyond an Elite Eight appearance, but one will be headed home Friday night. The clash of styles will be interesting to watch, as the tough, bruising Spartans will attempt to slow down a Duke offense that has had few problems scoring the ball this year. As Mike Krzyzewski said after his team’s win over Creighton on Sunday — this one will just be a great college basketball game.
Best Regional Final Game (projected): #1 Louisville vs. #2 Duke (Sunday, March 31). We are almost there. Michigan State will have plenty to say (and Oregon a peep or two, perhaps) about preventing this one, but from the moment the bracket was released, this was a regional final that you had to get excited just thinking about. If it comes to fruition, the winner of this November rematch will almost certainly be a favorite to advance all the way to the title game. My favorite part of this game? It’s a bit of a throwback match-up with all the veteran talent on these teams. We have come to know players like Siva, Plumlee, Curry, Smith, Dieng, and Kelly very well over the years (important plural there), something we don’t get enough in this college basketball era. If these two teams take care of business on Friday, we could be in for the game of the year on Sunday afternoon.
Top Storyline: Coaching Royalty. When it comes to star power on the sideline, I assure you it does not get any better than what you will find in Indianapolis this weekend. Mike Krzyzewski, Tom Izzo and Rick Pitino (no offense to Dana Altman, but not quite there yet) have a total of 23 Final Fours between them (I’d imagine this is some sort of record, could we get the RTC stats department on this?), and are three of the top four active coaches when it comes to Final Four appearances (Roy Williams the other). And as if there isn’t enough at stake next weekend, Coach K will be looking to tie John Wooden’s all-time record of 12 Final Four appearances.
Top Storyline for Contrarians: Keith Appling’s shoulder. If you are the shoulder of a Michigan State starting guard, there’s a good chance this hasn’t been a good year for you. While Gary Harris has battled shoulder issues of his own all year, Appling re-injured his nagging shoulder problem in the second half against Memphis. Appling insists that it won’t pose any sort of issue to either his availability or effectiveness for Friday’s game with Duke, but Spartan fans have to be a bit uneasy with the health of their leader in question.
My Pick: Duke. I took the Blue Devils to emerge from the Midwest before the NCAA Tournament began, so I will stick with them. With Appling ailing, I think Michigan State’s offensive limitations will finally catch up with them in a close battle with the Blue Devils, and in a game that could go either way (I must admit, it is hard to pick against Louisville right now!), I like Coach K and company to win an epic regional final with the Cardinals.