Midwest Region Outlook
March 18, 2013
By Joe Nelson
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With the brackets set, here is a quick look at the Midwest region and some of the games and teams to pay attention to. Louisville leads the charge in this region and by all accounts has the most favorable path in the field but rarely does this tournament play to form completely. Take a look at the Midwest region in this snapshot.
Favorite: Louisville - The Cardinals have not been immune to an early upset, bowing out early two years ago as a #4 seed but this was a final four team last season and one of the more complete teams in the nation. Louisville is not an elite shooting team but the Cardinals possess perhaps the best defense in the nation and as was displayed during the Big East championship game, the press can create turnovers and big scoring runs. By being the #1 overall seed Louisville will draw a very weak first round foe and the Cardinals will be stacked with favorable venues with a path in Lexington and then Indianapolis. The second round game could be a challenge however as both Colorado State and Missouri rate above Louisville in offensive efficiency as they are the top two rebounding teams in the tournament field. Louisville would be a larger favorite than any other #1 seed in the second game however as there are some quality teams in the #8-9 slots this year. Louisville also likely draws the least fearsome #4 and #5 seeds in their region so rightfully so the Cardinals enter as the championship favorites at 9/2.
Final Four Sleeper: Saint Louis - Nationally the Billikens may not be a household name but this is a team that has been on a roll. The death of former head coach Rick Majerus as the season started was a challenge but this team has played on a mission, winning the regular season and conference tournament titles in a very strong Atlantic 10 Conference. St. Louis has been one of the top ATS teams in the nation this season at 21-10 on the season and the Billikens have held foes to just 58 points per game this season. St. Louis beat New Mexico and lost to Kansas in the most prominent non-conference games so they have some experience against top teams. There are no easy games at this point and St. Louis is just a slight favorite against New Mexico State in an intriguing first round game and the second round contest will be closely lined with either Oklahoma State or Oregon but this is a team that could challenge Louisville should they get the opportunity and that game would also be a reasonable trip for St. Louis in Indianapolis.
Sweet 16 Sleeper: Middle Tennessee State - The Blue Raiders brought about the most controversy among the teams included in the field but that was the scenario for a Virginia Commonwealth team that made it to the Final Four two years ago. This is a team that lost just five games all season and all three non-conference losses came against teams that are in the NCAA Tournament field. Middle Tennessee State beat Mississippi and Vanderbilt this season and this is a veteran squad with all seniors and juniors in the rotation, ready for this opportunity after just missing out on the NCAA Tournament last season. Middle Tennessee State made a run to the NIT Final Eight last season and that experience should help the cause in the postseason this year. Opening up with a St. Mary’s won’t be an easy game but the Gaels do face long travel and have a complete dearth of quality wins on their resume. Memphis awaits the winner of that game but Conference USA warrants great scrutiny and the Tigers appear to be a bit over-seeded. Getting to the Sweet 16 will likely require beating Michigan State so this is certainly a long shot but the Spartans have had several early flameouts in the Tom Izzo years despite being well known for Final Four runs. Michigan State has lost its first or second tournament game five times since 2002 and the Blue Raiders are well equipped to handle a half court Big Ten style game.
Best Opening Game: Oklahoma State vs. Oregon - Oregon has a right to feel slighted in the bracket as a #12 seed despite winning the conference tournament. Oregon finished ahead of Colorado in the regular season and the Buffaloes were dealt a #10 seed while fellow under-seeded California also at #12 was at least given a game in its backyard. Oregon went 3-0 this season against UCLA and Arizona yet both of those teams were seeded well above the Ducks. Oklahoma State is a team that had Final Four sleeper attached to it before the brackets came out as they have one of the best players in the nation with freshman Marcus Smart. The Cowboys have a very tough draw overall but this is a team that won a preseason tournament in Puerto Rico with wins over Akron, Tennessee, and NC State in succession. Oklahoma State also lost by just a single-point against Gonzaga and this team was a single-point in double-overtime away from beating Kansas for a second time on the year. These teams both have excellent defensive efficiency ratings and this game will figure to be a grind of a game between two teams that are capable of making noise in the bracket despite the tough first game. Despite the 5/12 seeding the Cowboys are just 3-point favorite in this match-up and this could well be an exciting down-to-the-wire game Thursday afternoon.
Trendy Upset that won’t be: Cincinnati over Creighton - This is an offense vs. defense showdown and while backing the Big East as an underdog vs. the Missouri Valley sounds appealing this is a Cincinnati team in disarray at this point in the season. The Bearcats have lost seven of the last 11 games and each of the last three losses came by at least 16 points. Cincinnati has lost each of the last six games in which their opponent scored at least 60 points and this Blue Jays squad is one of the highest scoring teams in the nation, averaging over 75 points per game. Creighton has the top shooting percentage in the nation both overall and from 3-point range and while Cincinnati is one of the worst free throw teams in the nation, Creighton is one of the best. Cincinnati will play great defense and force Creighton into some uncomfortable looks but this is a veteran team with many different scoring options even through Doug McDermott gets most of the attention. Meanwhile Cincinnati is the team with limited options on offense with the vast majority of the scoring coming from three players. Creighton beat both Wisconsin and California away from home this season, two teams with outstanding defensive efficiency like Cincinnati, so it is not clear that the Blue Jays can be slowed down in this match-up. Cincinnati is much closer to Philadelphia than Omaha but that court will be dominated by Duke and Georgetown fans, which will relish rooting against the Bearcats.
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