NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Walker Carey on March 23rd, 2015


Your bracket is busted and the Sweet Sixteen is set. Let’s do a Regional Reset. Follow @rtcMWregion for reporting from Cleveland this week. Check out all of the regional resets for the Sweet Sixteen here.

New Favorite: #1 Kentucky. The new favorite is the old favorite, as there was nothing that happened over the first weekend that suggested a change. Kentucky is now an ungodly 36-0 after easily dispatching #16 Hampton in the round of 64 before overcoming a brief first half scare to ultimately blow past #8 Cincinnati in the round of 32. We all know about Kentucky’s talent level, its excellent defense and its superior depth, but can the Wildcats get to the Final Four with an unscathed record? Right now, it looks like the answer to that question is a resounding yes.

Not much in standing in the way of Kentucky so far. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Not much in standing in the way of Kentucky so far. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Horse of Darkness: #7 Wichita State. It is difficult to call a team whose core (with the exception of Cleanthony Early) went 35-1 last year a “horse of darkness,” but the Shockers had to battle through an offensively potent #10 Indiana squad and intrastate rival #2 Kansas to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Wichita State proved during the first weekend that it is a much better team than the #7 seed it earned on Selection Sunday. Point guard Fred VanVleet was terrific all weekend. Shooting guard Ron Baker recovered from a shaky performance against Indiana to greatly contribute to the win over Kansas. Gregg Marshall’s squad also had an unlikely hero step up against the Jayhawks, as forward Evan Wessell (who averaged 4.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per game on the season) tallied 12 points (4-of-6 threes) and collected nine rebounds.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): The way #8 Cincinnati defeated #9 Purdue. If you want to teach a course on how to NOT close out a basketball game, Purdue’s efforts in the final minute of Thursday’s round of 64 game against Cincinnati should be your textbook. The Boilermakers led by seven points with just 48 seconds left in regulation before allowing the offensively-challenged Bearcats to go on an unbelievable 10-3 run over to force overtime. Cincinnati ultimately emerged victorious in the overtime session, and after the final buzzer sounded, Bearcats associate head coach Larry Davis and his players appeared to be more stunned than anything else.

Completely Expected (First Weekend): #1 Kentucky and #3 Notre Dame. The Wildcats showcased their utter dominance in victories over #16 Hampton and #8 Cincinnati to punch their ticket to the Midwest regional in Cleveland. On the other hand, the the way that the Irish got there caused the Notre Dame faithful to grow several more grey hairs in the process. Mike Brey’s squad survived a scare from #14 Northeastern to earn a four-point victory before needing overtime to top #6 Butler in the round of 32. Any win is a good win in March, and Notre Dame understands that now more than ever.

Fred Van Fleet was an easy choice for first weekend MVP. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Fred Van Fleet was an easy choice for first weekend MVP. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

I’m Exceptionally Smart and Prescient. I predicted that both #1 Kentucky and #3 Notre Dame were locks to advance to the Sweet Sixteen and that prediction came to fruition as both the Wildcats and Irish will hit the Cleveland hardwood on Thursday night. Kentucky was absolutely expected to be in this position and Notre Dame was mostly expected to be there too, but with all the chaos surrounding much of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, I feel like I deserve at least a golf clap for this one.

Except When I Make Stupid Predictions. I honestly thought talent was going to beat team when #2 Kansas faced off with #7 Wichita State in Omaha, but that did not turn out to be the case. The Jayhawks got waxed and the Shockers are instead headed to Cleveland. I was also wrong about #5 West Virginia. I thought #12 Buffalo was going to pull the round of 64 upset over the Mountaineers and clearly that didn’t happen. I then thought #4 Maryland was going to comfortably take care of the Mountaineers in the round of 32. That also did not happen. I owe West Virginia and its proud fan base an apology. Sorry for doubting your team… twice.

First Weekend MVP: Fred VanVleet, Wichita State. Apologies to Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns and Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant, but the Wichita State junior floor leader is without question the most deserving of this honor. VanVleet was terrific in leading the Shockers to the Sweet Sixteen over the weekend. In wins over #10 Indiana and #2 Kansas, he averaged 22.0 points, five assists, four rebounds, and three steals per game. Wichita State is an extremely cohesive unit and that starts with VanVleet and his steadiness at the controls.

Breakout Star: Devin Williams, West Virginia. Big 12 fans were already aware of how good and productive Williams is, but the whole country became acquainted with the West Virginia sophomore forward this weekend. The burly forward used his size and athleticism to cause problems for both the Buffalo and Maryland front lines, averaging 16.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game in the two victories. Bob Huggins’ group now has to face off with #1 Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen and they are going to need Williams’ physicality to have a fighting chance of making things interesting with the Wildcats.

Bob Huggins and West Virginia will have a strong home crowd (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Bob Huggins and West Virginia will have a strong home crowd in Cleveland. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

More Home Cooking: #5 West Virginia, 199 miles from Cleveland. West Virginia has the shortest trip to Cleveland at 199 miles, but the trips for Notre Dame and Kentucky are not terribly long either. Notre Dame will travel 255 miles from South Bend while Kentucky will journey 331 miles from Lexington. Knowing how will Big Blue Nation travels to support the Wildcats, it won’t matter that West Virginia and Notre Dame have shorter distances to travel, as Kentucky fans will likely outnumber all of them.  

Best Regional Semifinal Game: #3 Notre Dame vs. #7 Wichita State (Thursday, March 26, 7:15 PM EST on CBS). There is just something about this game that leads you to believe that it is going to be a really good one. There will be terrific individual matchups all over the court with Notre Dame’s dynamic backcourt of Demetrius Jackson and Jerian Grant facing off with Wichita State’s terrific duo of Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker. You also have to consider the likely battle between Notre Dame swingman Pat Connaughton and Wichita State swingman Tekele Cotton. Additionally, you cannot forget about Notre Dame’s other two starters Steve Vasturia and Zach Auguste or Wichita State’s Darius Carter and Evan Wessell. This is going to be an extremely fun affair and we should expect a bunch of points to be scored by both squads. It should also be mentioned that Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall has some experience beating Mike Brey and the Irish in the NCAA Tournament, as he was the coach at Winthrop when the #11 Eagles bested the #6 Irish in the 2007 NCAA Tournament.

Best Regional Final (Projected): #1 Kentucky vs. #7 Wichita State. Kentucky and Wichita State played arguably the best game of the 2014 NCAA Tournament when the #8 Wildcats put an end to #1 Wichita State’s perfect season. Many of the same cast of characters are still at their respective schools, but Kentucky has several reinforcements (freshmen Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns) that have made the Wildcats one of the most monstrous units in recent college basketball history. The headlines for this potential showdown will write themselves. Can Wichita State turn the tables and end Kentucky’s perfect run? Can Kentucky once again dispatch Wichita State on its way to the Final Four? One thing is certain: If this matchup comes to fruition, both John Calipari and Gregg Marshall will have their teams ready to go.

Top Storyline: Can Kentucky remain undefeated? With its win over Cincinnati on Saturday, Kentucky became the first Division I men’s basketball team to start the season with a record of 36-0. If the Wildcats are able to win two more games in Cleveland, it will head to the Final Four at 38-0 with a chance to finish as the 40-0 National Champion. The number one question that will be asked this week (and trust us, this will be asked plenty) is whether Kentucky will leave the Midwest Region unscathed?

 Top Storyline for Contrarians: Kentucky’s path to Indianapolis is too easy. No disrespect to West Virginia, Notre Dame or Wichita State, but on paper, they all appear to be little-to-no match for the mammoth that is Kentucky. Of course, the Wildcats had no say in which teams would be in their region, but that will not stop this from becoming a talking point during the week.

My Pick: Kentucky. I picked the Wildcats to go to the Final Four and take home the national title when the bracket came out, and I have absolutely no reason to change my mind now. This team is stacked and it will take a herculean effort to beat it. West Virginia will play extremely hard and try to use its physicality to its advantage, but Kentucky’s talent and depth will take over in the second half and the Wildcats will cruise to a comfortable victory. The Elite Eight matchup will then be a rematch of last season’s epic round of 32 game, but John Calipari’s squad will once again emerge victorious. Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein will dominate the regional in the paint on both ends of the court as the Wildcats will head to Indianapolis at 38-0.

WCarey (318 Posts)

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