NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Walker Carey on March 21st, 2018

Rush the Court is providing comprehensive coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks.

Same Favorite: #2 Duke (28-7). The Blue Devils did nothing in the first weekend to lessen their status as the favorite to advance to San Antonio from this region — in fact, they probably strengthened their case with a pair of dominant victories over #15 Iona and #7 Rhode Island. Neither the Gaels nor Rams had enough size or talent to keep up with Duke last weekend in a pair of blowout wins. Mike Krzyzewski‘s club now advances to face ACC rival Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen for their second match-up of the season — the two teams most recently met in February where Duke logged a 60-44 home victory. Given the versatile firepower that the Blue Devils have on the offensive end of the court along with Syracuse’s scoring issues, it is wise to presume another Duke victory and a slot in the regional finals against either #2 Kansas or #5 Clemson. Beating Duke is one thing and Syracuse is capable of doing so certain scenarios, but beating Duke when it is clearly firing on all cylinders is quite another story.

Duke Mowed Down Two Opponents on Its Way to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Horse of Darkness: #5 Clemson (25-9). No Sweet Sixteen team quite flew under the radar more than Clemson during the opening weekend. The Tigers kicked off tournament play with a comfortable and relatively drama-free 11-point victory over #12 New Mexico State, which had been a popular upset pick. While chaos engulfed the Second Round on Sunday, the Tigers brought out their big guns in a dominant 84-53 win over #4 Auburn. The Tigers’ Sweet Sixteen match-up with #1 Kansas is only daunting in name alone, as these Jayhawks are beatable. If Brad Brownell‘s group can carry over its first weekend efficiency to this week, it could have a chance at duplicating its intrastate rival’s run from last season and advancing to the first Final Four in program history.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #3 Michigan State’s unexpected demise. Most national pundits initially viewed this region as either #2 Duke or #3 Michigan State’s to win. While the Blue Devils still have a shot to come out of the East region, the Spartans’ season ended in stunning fashion on Sunday in a ghastly 55-53 loss to #11 Syracuse. Michigan State slogged through the defeat by shooting just 25.8 percent from the field, 21.6 percent from three-point range, and committing 14 turnovers. Additionally, freshman star Jaren Jackson Jr. played only 14 ineffective minutes while Tom Izzo opted instead for sixth-year senior Ben Carter in his place down the stretch. To make matters even worse, Sparty took the loss at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, a venue that is just 90 miles from the Michigan State campus in East Lansing.

Completely Expected (First Weekend): #2 Duke. There was never much doubt whether Duke was headed to the Sweet Sixteen last weekend. The Blue Devils impressively rolled through both Iona and Rhode Island without much tension — Duke won the two games by a combined 47 points. Marvin Bagley III and Gary Trent Jr. averaged 22.0 PPG and 17.0 PPG, respectively, while freshman forward Wendell Carter Jr. was a dominant presence on the defensive end of the court.

I’m Exceptionally Smart and Prescient. I called Duke as the favorite here and the Blue Devils did not make me look foolish. Duke is completely stacked from a talent perspective with its loaded backcourt of Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr. and Grayson Allen in addition to an NBA-ready front line of Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. A pair of dominant wins resulted in a trip to Omaha where they will enter the Midwest regional as the favorite to cut down the nets on Sunday. I also called #7 Rhode Island vs. #10 Oklahoma as the can’t-miss game of the first round, and it didn’t let me down. Sooners star freshman Trae Young led his team in a second-half comeback to force overtime before Rhode Island’s E.C. Matthews took over in the extra period to lead his squad to the victory.

It Was a Disappointing End to a Promising Season for Michigan State (USA Today Images)

Except When I Make Stupid Decisions. I thought Michigan State was a lock to at least make the Sweet Sixteen, and they did not. The Spartans were loaded, led by future NBA First Round picks Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges. I vastly discounted that Michigan State had only played two NCAA Tournament teams in the regular season non-conference schedule and its first round victory over #14 Bucknell was unimpressive. My Michigan State prediction fell flat on Sunday as the Spartans looked completely lost offensively in a clunker of a performance against #11 Syracuse. Tom Izzo’s Spartans have not advanced past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament in each of the last three years. Those “January, February, Izzo” jokes from years past now seem a tad preposterous, don’t they?

First Weekend MVP(s): Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr., Duke. The Blue Devils have a terrific senior in guard Grayson Allen, and he is unquestionably the team’s emotional leader. Yet the reason why Duke is the favorite in this region is due to the wealth of talent on its front line. Bagley and Carter are game-changers for the Blue Devils. The former averaged 22.0 PPG in victories over #15 Iona and #7 Rhode Island, while the latter already has an NBA frame and athleticism that creates match-up nightmares for opponents on both ends of the floor. It is going to be interesting to see how Syracuse plans to deal with the due when the Orange meet the Blue Devils on Friday night — Bagley and Carter combined for 35 of Duke’s 60 points in the last game between the two teams.

Breakout Star: Gabe DeVoe, Clemson. The Tigers were led to the Sweet Sixteen on the capable shoulders of senior guard Gabe DeVoe, as the normally solid contributor took a star turn last weekend. DeVoe put up 22 points in both Clemson victories in San Diego and shot a very impressive 64.3 percent from the field, providing key plays during both games to ensure the Tigers came home with the win. If Clemson hopes to beat #1 Kansas on Friday night, it will need DeVoe to carry over his first weekend performance into Omaha.

More Home Cooking: #1 Kansas, 192 miles to Omaha. Because of Duke’s performance during the first weekend along with its star-studded roster, Kansas is not getting much attention as the actual #1 seed and a legitimate Final Four contender. The Jayhawks’ Final Four case is strengthened by the fact that they have the least amount of travel of any of the four remaining teams. That means we should expect the CenturyLink Center in Omaha to be packed with Kansas fans, hoping to carry Bill Self‘s team to its first Final Four since 2012.

It Was a Quiet Weekend for the Region’s Top Seed (USA Today Images)

Best Regional Semifinal Game: #2 Duke vs. #11 Syracuse. This game features two Hall of Fame coaches in Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim. This game features two classic programs that have won national titles this century. This game features two teams that exclusively run 2-3 zone defenses. The Blue Devils enter the contest as an 11.5-point favorite and Syracuse would shock everyone if it is able to pull the upset. But the Orange’s recent NCAA Tournament success (Boeheim is 7-1 as a double-digit seed) makes this game appointment television. Stranger things have happened with the Syracuse program, so it would be imprudent to completely discount the Orange’s chances in this game.

Best Regional Final (Projected): #1 Kansas vs. #2 Duke. Two of college basketball’s blue-blood programs playing for a trip to the Final Four? Yes, thank you. This would also be a fascinating match-up for a number of reasons. Would Kansas’ perimeter group of Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk have success shooting over the Duke zone? Would Duke big men Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. completely overpower the sometimes shaky Kansas front line of Udoka Azubuike, Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio De Sousa? If both the Jayhawks and Blue Devils win their Sweet Sixteen games on Friday night, you should expect to hear both questions discussed at length leading up to what would be a must-watch game between two of the sport’s annual titans.

Top Storyline: Duke’s fate. No matter what happens on the court, Duke will be the story of Omaha. If it wins and heads to San Antonio, there will be discussion of Grayson Allen potentially book-ending his collegiate career with national titles, Mike Krzyzewski’s quest for his sixth National Championship, and the NBA potential of the entire lot of Blue Devils. If they lose in either the Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight, there will be discussion of how Duke was never going to win playing a 2-3 zone or how Allen and Bagley never totally learned to effectively play together. This tournament is incredibly unpredictable, but if there is one certainty headed into the weekend, it is that we are going to hear quite a bit about Duke.

Top Storyline for Contrarians. Syracuse proving the doubters wrong. The Orange were the last team included in the NCAA Tournament field, and there was a lot written nationally questioning why Syracuse was ultimately included. Those doubts have not phased the Orange in dispatching Arizona State in the First Four before besting #6 TCU and #3 Michigan State to advance to the First Four. Jim Boeheim is well known for his surliness with the media, and there is likely nothing he would like more than continuing on the winning path and make all the doubters eat their words.

Who Wins. Duke. The Blue Devils are the most talented team remaining in the field and their incredible size makes them a nightmare match-up for any opponent. Throw in the fact that coach Mike Krzyzewski is arguably the best to ever coach this game and you would be silly to not pick Duke to cut down the nets Sunday and advance to his 13th Final Four.

WCarey (279 Posts)


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