Bracket Prep: Midwest Region Analysis

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCMWregion).

Midwest Region

Favorite: #1 Kentucky (34-0, 18-0 SEC). The unbeaten Wildcats enter the NCAA Tournament as not only the favorites in the Midwest Region but also for the entire tournament. John Calipari’s squad has been able to reach 34-0 due to its star power combined with its ability to play tremendously well as a unit. It will be utterly shocking if Kentucky is tripped up before reaching the Final Four. The reason why the Wildcats are such a lethal team is that they possess top-flight talent at each position. Their backcourt is loaded with sophomores Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison and freshmen Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis. The insanely long and athletic front line is led by junior Willie Cauley-Stein, sophomores Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee, and freshmen Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns. Toss in the fact that Kentucky’s veteran players have Final Four experience from a season ago and you will understand why the Wildcats are the overwhelming favorite to advance to Indianapolis.

Will John Calipari Be Smiling This Time Next Week? (AP)

John Calipari and the Wildcats have had a lot to smile about this season. (AP)

Should They Falter: #3 Notre Dame (29-5, 14-4 ACC). The ACC Tournament champion Fighting Irish enter the NCAA Tournament fresh off playing some of their best basketball of the year. Notre Dame possesses an elite offensive attack with multiple options that makes it a very tough team to defend. That attack is led by senior star guard Jerian Grant, an All-American senior who has the ability to take over a game each night out. Grant is the alpha dog star of Mike Brey’s team, but senior Pat Connaughton and sophomores Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia all strongly contribute to the Irish’s success. It will be a stunner if Kentucky loses at any point in this region, but if it does, look for Notre Dame to take home the Midwest Region trophy and advance to the Final Four.

Grossly Overseeded: #8 Cincinnati (22-10, 13-5 AAC). The Bearcats enjoyed a solid season but their résumé suggests that they should have been a double-digit seed. While Cincinnati had good victories over SMU (twice), San Diego State and NC State, it also had head-scratching losses to Nebraska, East Carolina and Tulane. The Bearcats finished the AAC season tied for third in the conference standings. Temple — the team they were tied with, and Tulsa, the team that finished one spot ahead of them — did not even earn bids to the NCAA Tournament. That’s not to suggest that Cincinnati didn’t deserve inclusion in the NCAA Tournament, but a #8 seed is very generous.

Grossly Underseeded: #7 Wichita State (28-4, 17-1 MVC). The Missouri Valley Conference does not provide many opportunities to pick up marquee victories, but Wichita State was able to pick up one on February 28 though when Gregg Marshall’s team got revenge from an early-season loss by topping Northern Iowa. The rest of the Shockers’ résumé was not very exciting, but they managed to win 28 games overall and only stumbled once in conference play prior to the MVC Tournament. Wichita State’s core is essentially the same (minus Cleanthony Early) as the one that started 34-0 last season. Gregg Marshall’s team is too talented and experienced to be a #7 seed and it would not be surprising at all to see it make a run to the second weekend.

Gregg Marshall was an easy choice for Coach of the Year. (USA TODAY Sports)

Make no mistake about it – Gregg Marshall’s crew is again a threat to go to the Final Four. (USA TODAY Sports)

Sweet Sixteen Sleeper (#12 or lower): #12 Buffalo (23-9, 12-6 MAC). Bobby Hurley’s team is a team that is capable of advancing to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Buffalo is among the hottest teams in the country, having won eight straight games and playing its best basketball of the season. Junior forward Justin Moss is a legitimate star, averaging 17.7 and 9.2 rebounds per contest. During their non-conference slate, Buffalo traveled to both Kentucky and Wisconsin, and while the Bulls did not win either of those games, playing competitive basketball against two of the best teams in the country gave them terrific experience. Hurley knows a thing or two about winning in the NCAA Tournament from his playing career at Duke, so it should be interesting to see how it goes during his first stint in coaching in it.

Final Four Sleeper (#4 seed or lower): #7 Wichita State. While Kentucky and Notre Dame are the two teams in this region with the best shot of advancing to Indianapolis, it would be illogical to discount Wichita State’s potential as a bona fide sleeper. The Shockers possess one of the better backcourts in the country with Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton. They are extremely opportunistic offensively and their perimeter defense is well above average. Wichita State advanced to the 2013 Final Four as a #9 seed, beating top-seed Gonzaga on the way, so Marshall’s program has the experience of advancing much further than its seed suggests.

Carmelo Anthony Award: Jerian Grant, Notre Dame (16.8 PPG, 6.6 APG). The USBWA All-America guard is one of the country’s most dynamic players. Grant’s profound ability to score and distribute the ball makes him the perfect candidate for this superlative. Notre Dame’s rise from being an unranked preseason team to an outfit that no one wants to play in the NCAA Tournament is one of the better stories of the season in college basketball. A lot of that rise has to do with Grant’s emergence from just a very good player to a great player. Expect him to be one of this year’s premier performers.

Stephen Curry Award: Fred VanVleet, Wichita State (12.7 PPG, 5.3 APG, 4.4 RPG). Wichita State has a balanced unit but the straw that stirs the drink for the Shockers is its point guard, Fred VanVleet. We have seen in the past how important point guard play is in this Tournament, so it is advantageous for Wichita State to have such a steady floor leader in the junior. If the Shockers again prove able to advance far into the bracket, VanVleet’s play will likely have a lot to do with it.

Home Cooking: #1 Kentucky, 76 miles to Louisville. It should come as no surprise that the unbeaten and overall top seeded Wildcats have the luxury of playing their first two NCAA Tournament games very close to home. Big Blue Nation has a much-deserved reputation for traveling in droves, so it would be wise to expect Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center to be filled with Kentucky blue on both Thursday and Sunday.

The impending battle down low between Roosevelt Jones and will be must see TV. (ZJB photograpy)

The impending battle between Roosevelt Jones and Texas forward Jonathan Holmes and will be must see TV. (ZJB photography)

Can’t Miss Second Round Game: #6 Butler vs. #11 Texas, 3/19 at 2:45 PM EST on CBS. Butler’s return to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence should be an intriguing one, as Chris Holtmann’s Bulldogs will do battle with a very talented but enigmatic Texas squad. The Longhorns are a #11 seed due to their mostly mediocre regular season, but there is no doubt that they have a great deal of talent and can be a thorn in the side of any team it may play. An individual matchup to watch in this one will be between Butler forward Roosevelt Jones and Texas forward Jonathan Holmes. Holmes is a great scorer, but Jones plays lockdown defense. Whoever gets the best of that battle should have a pretty substantial impact when it comes to which team ends up victorious.

Don’t Miss This One Either: #1 Kentucky vs. #16 Hampton/Manhattan, 3/19 at 9:40 PM EST on CBS. We have definitely reached a point in the season where it is necessary to watch every Kentucky game as it attempts to complete the season with an unbeaten record. The Wildcats are currently 34-0 and have an excellent chance of winning six games in the NCAA Tournament to finish with a 40-0 mark. While either Hampton or Manhattan will be at a significant talent disadvantage in this game, it is worth the time to tune in for this game because you should not bypass an opportunity to view greatness in action.

Lock of the Year: Kentucky will advance to the Final Four. The Wildcats will win four games in this regional and advance to Indianapolis. Kentucky enters the tournament at 34-0 for a reason and that reason is the elite level at which it plays each time the Wildcats step on to the court. That advantage will carry over to the NCAA Tournament and ultimately result in the Wildcats cutting down the nets in Cleveland before heading to the Final Four.

Juiciest Potential Match-Up: Purists: #1 Kentucky vs. #3 Notre Dame in the Elite Eight. Kentucky is one of the best defensive teams in the country. Notre Dame is one of the best offensive teams in the country. It will certainly be a contrast of styles if these two teams meet in the Elite Eight with a trip to the Final Four on the line. While the Wildcats would be considerable favorites in that game, it should be noted that Notre Dame has two wins this season over another extremely talented #1 seed in Duke, so there are no guarantees that the Wildcats would have a walk in the park with the Irish.

Bill Self Won Another Big 12 Title (Photo credit: AP Photo).

By Kansas’ standards, Bill Self and company have had an up-and-down year. Will their tournament play be the same? (AP)

Juiciest Potential Match-Up: Media: #2 Kansas vs. #7 Wichita State in the Round of 32. There has been a lot of talk about why Kansas and Wichita State will not play each other in the regular season and this chatter has resulted in the two programs becoming offcourt rivals without actually meeting on the hardwood. If the Jayhawks and Shockers are to meet in Omaha in the Round of 32, expect this battle of two Kansas schools to be a tremendously dissected matchup.

We Got Screwed: Every team that is not Kentucky. The undefeated Wildcats have been the best team in college basketball all season long and it does not appear that is going to change before the end of the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky is the heavy favorite to win both this region as well as the national title. We have to feel a little bit for every team harboring dreams of a Final Four that was put into the Midwest Region this year. But life is unfair sometimes.

Strongest Pod: Omaha. #2 Kansas, #7 Wichita State, and #10 Indiana are all interesting teams that will all take the court in Omaha this weekend. Wichita State vs. Indiana should be a very entertaining game, as both squads have star power in their backcourts: the Shockers with Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, and Tekele Cotton, and Indiana with James Blackmon Jr. and Yogi Ferrell. The winner of this game will advance to the Round of 32 where it will most likely battle #2 Kansas in a game that will undoubtedly be a fun battle.

Upset City: The two potential Round of 64 upsets to keep an eye on are #12 Buffalo beating #5 West Virginia and #11 Texas taking out #6 Butler. Buffalo forward Justin Moss is a fantastic player and his game is one that we will likely become familiar with later this week. Look for the Bulls to knock off the Mountaineers. Even if it’s maddeningly inconsistent, Texas has a lot of talent and that could definitely be a decider when it meets Butler.

So-Called Experts: Everyone at both CBSSports.com and ESPN.com has Kentucky taking this region and advancing to the Final Four, the Wildcats’ fourth in the last five seasons.

WCarey (299 Posts)


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One response to “Bracket Prep: Midwest Region Analysis”

  1. Mike B says:

    There doesn’t seem to be a lot of respect for WVU on this blog and I’m not sure why because the editors rarely give any reasoning for their stance. This is a WVU team that proved it can still compete in the Big 12 even without their two best guards and senior leaders. They’re getting Staten back and their press causes chaos for even the most seasoned teams.

    WVU fans are used to the team not getting any love from prognosticators, but it’s still frustrating. Especially when lots of pickers are considering it a foregone conclusion as if WVU has no business being a five seed.

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