MIDWEST REGION PREVIEW (by Zach Hayes)
#1 Louisville vs. #16 Morehead State
For Louisville to win: It’s pretty simple for Louisville in this 1-16 matchup: do exactly what has gotten you to the point of receiving the #1 overall seed in the tournament. They shouldn’t have much problem playing their usual lockdown defense, employing their frantic press and letting the pure athletic ability of guys like Earl Clark and Terrence Williams completely overwhelm the star-struck Eagles.
For Morehead State to win: The triumphant winners of the inaugural Play-In game, Morehead State will need a God-delivered miracle to prevail over Louisville. They hope their stud big man Kenneth Faried (13.9 PPG, 13.1 RPG) can push around Clark, Williams and Samardo Samuels enough inside where it becomes a guard-oriented shooting contest. Hope that Edgar Sosa, Preston Knowles, Andre McGee and Co. reverts back to their November shooting woes and pull off the monumental upset.
#8 Ohio State vs. #9 Siena
For Ohio State to win: The Buckeyes will need to play steady, Big Ten-like team defense on Siena’s trio of scorers and run a bunch of isolation plays down the stretch for their superstar Evan Turner (17.1 PPG, 7.0 RPG). At times Turner can penetrate and score at will; Siena simply does not have that type of talent on their roster. They also need to utilize B.J. Mullens inside due to Siena’s lack of height.
For Siena to win: The Saints have been led all season by their own Big Three- Kenny Hansbrouck, Edwin Ubiles and Alex Franklin. Receive balanced scoring out of those three like they’ve perfected all season (all average between 14.8 and 13.6 PPG) and they could surely take down the Buckeyes. The Saints will also be shorthanded inside trying to box out bodies like Dallas Lauderdale and B.J. Mullens. They’ll need Ryan Rossiter and Franklin to pound the boards constantly.
#5 Utah vs. #12 Arizona
For Utah to win: Luke Nevill outplaying Jordan Hill would be nice. Seriously, this is one of the best first-round matchups in the entire tournament. If Nevill can get Hill into foul trouble, the entire complexity of this game changes. Nic Wise and Chase Budinger love shooting it from the outside and the Utes wouldn’t mind getting into a three-point contest with Shaun Green and Lawrence Borha both over 40% from downtown.
For Arizona to win: Even though Arizona is the 12-seed, not many would refute that the Wildcats have the superior talent in this game. They can escape all of the regular season’s distractions now and out-talent the Utes. Nic Wise needs to have a quality outing for Arizona to win; when he’s hitting threes and running the offense with ease, Budinger gets open shots, Hill gets touches inside and Arizona can beat anyone.
#4 Wake Forest vs. #13 Cleveland State
For Wake Forest to win: The Demon Deacons need to avoid underestimating a clearly inferior opponent. As with losses to Georgia Tech, NC State and Virginia Tech, the young Deacons have played down to their competition. The Vikings went into the Carrier Dome and won this season when Syracuse did the same thing. Hopefully Jeff Teague and James Johnson come out right away with a fire in their collective bellies.
For Cleveland State to win: One thing Wake Forest does not do well at all is make threes. Their entire offensive game is generated by penetration and mid-range jump shooting. Coach Gary Waters should pop in the game film from Wake’s latest loss to Maryland and examine how the Terps chopped up the inconsistent Deacon defense. Cedric Jackson is the perfect point guard to lead the way.
#6 West Virginia vs. #11 Dayton
For West Virginia to win: The Mountaineers simply need to play like they did last weekend in the Big East tournament. Set screens to free deadeye shooter Alex Ruoff, let DaSean Butler work his multi-faceted offensive game, continue to witness Devin Ebanks mature into an elite scorer and rebounder and hope Darryl Bryant keeps distributing like a senior.
For Dayton to win: It’s going to be awfully difficult as West Virginia seems to be picking up steam lately and you know Bob Huggins will have them prepared and intense. Not only will stars Chris Wright and Marcus Johnson need to play outstanding games, but their deep bench must contribute offensively. It’s all about keeping West Virginia off the boards and hoping Ruoff has a bad day from the outside. If that happens, the Mountaineers can look very confused offensively.
#3 Kansas vs. #14 North Dakota State
For Kansas to win: Ben Woodside is not only the Bison’ top scorer, he’s the engine behind their incredibly efficient and unselfish offensive game plan. He’s quite a task for Sherron Collins in the first game of the tournament. If Collins can shut down Woodside on the defensive end, North Dakota State should have trouble scoring with the Morris twins, Cole Aldrich and others blocking shots inside. This young Jayhawk team will live and die with the play of their junior leader Collins.
For North Dakota State to win: They need to play some semblance of tough defense. We all know the Bison can score points in bunches and have some prolific offensive options, but the only way the Bison will be fitted for Cinderella’s slipper is if they can contain slashers Collins and Tyshawn Taylor and bang bodies with the Morris twins and Aldrich. If they fall behind early, it is imperative they stick with their offense that’s gotten them this far instead of panicking.
#7 Boston College vs. #10 Southern California
For Boston College to win: The Eagles can sometimes look really crappy on defense. The Trojans have so many weapons, BC needs to play inspired defense to win this game. The most arduous task will be to contain Taj Gibson inside with Joe Trapani and Josh Southern. Gibson has an NBA-body and tremendous scoring potential. Trapani and Southern must play defense inside similar to their effort in Chapel Hill when they knocked off the Tar Heels.
For Southern California to win: Stud freshman DeMar DeRozan played like a possessed man during the Pac-10 tournament and USC finally came together to play up to their potential. If DeRozan outplays Rakim Sanders and explodes to the rim with ease, the entire USC offense improves drastically. Defending Tyrese Rice will also clearly be imperative. Should Daniel Hackett hold Rice, the Trojans will win.
#2 Michigan State vs. #15 Robert Morris
For Michigan State to win: The Spartans clearly have enough talent to win this 2-15 game easily. If only a couple of their many weapons are flowing offensively, they should be fine. Izzo’s boys are also in the top ten in defense and rebounding. Overwhelm the Colonials with the talent of Lucas, Morgan, Suton, Summers and they’ll prevail by 20+.
For Robert Morris to win: For the Colonials to pull another Duke-Belmont 2-15 scare, they’ll need to play their usually efficient offensive game. Their entire team shoots 48% from the floor and Jeremy Chappell is especially remarkable- 16.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 47% FG, 85% FT, 41% 3PT, 2.5 SPG as one of the most unheralded all-around players in the nation. If Chappell has a monster performance and Michigan State can’t get into any flow offensively, the Colonials have a shot.