Midwest Regional Preview
March 19, 2014
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. The Midwest is loaded with three of last season’s Final Four teams and some of the most prominent programs on the college basketball landscape. A case can be made for several teams for deep runs in a very intriguing region.
Favorite - Louisville
Despite the outcry Louisville was rightly seeded as a #4 seed. Last year’s championship run should not mean a thing in the seeding and the Cardinals didn’t beat an elite opponent all season. Louisville went just 3-3 in the regular season against the fellow top four teams in a mediocre AAC with the best win all season for the Cardinals being a one-point win at Cincinnati. Louisville went 0-2 in its toughest non-conference games as well and beating Rutgers by 61 should not be worth extra credit. That said, the oddsmakers are right to install Louisville as the favorite in this region and some of the early season struggles were related to the changing personnel with Chane Behanan leaving the team and Kevin Ware unable to come back from injury. Louisville has been to the Final Four the last two seasons but also remember they were an upset victim as a #4 seed in 2011 against Morehead State.
Final Four Sleeper – Duke
It seems silly to call Duke a sleeper given the historical track record for the Blue Devils and the #3 seeding for the team. In this stacked region the Blue Devils might be overlooked as three teams from last season’s Final Four are in this region. Duke has high-end wins over Michigan, UCLA, Virginia, and Syracuse this season and the Blue Devils faced one of the nation’s toughest schedules and still went 26-8. Duke will get to play the first two games basically at home with the games in Raleigh and the Duke beat #2 Michigan by 10 earlier this season. With Jabari Parker the Blue Devils have a star that can carry the team to a great run.
Sweet 16 Sleeper – St. Louis
The Billikens have had some time to get things right heading into the NCAA Tournament after losing four of the final five games of the season, including two home losses. That was after starting the season 25-2 with the two losses coming against highly regarded Wisconsin and undefeated Wichita State, with both defeats in very close games. St. Louis mostly dominated a very solid Atlantic 10 this season and while the first round matchup with either NC State or Xavier will be a challenge, St. Louis could pose problems to Louisville. The Billikens play exceptional defense and an often impatient Cardinals team that is not a strong outside shooting team could get locked into some bad shots. Louisville thrives on creating turnovers but St. Louis has excellent veteran guards and the Billikens have experience playing against a similar style VCU squad twice this season. If Louisville gets caught looking ahead to a Final Four rematch with Wichita State they could get tested in a tight defensive grind.
Best Early Round Location Edge – Duke
Playing just a few miles down the road is a huge advantage for Duke in the first two potential games of the tournament. Duke is team that fans of other teams love to rally against in other venues but that won’t be the case here as Duke takes on a dangerous Mercer team that comes from the same conference as last year’s Cinderella Florida-Gulf Coast. If Duke wins they will have an even greater location edge against Massachusetts, Iowa, or Tennessee, with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line. Wichita State, Kansas State, and Kentucky should all have solid support in St. Louis, while Michigan should be well supported in Milwaukee. The Sweet 16 and Elite games will be in Indianapolis which will be a favorable location for all the top contenders except for Duke.
Best Opening Game – Texas vs. Arizona State
In a flood of Wisconsin and Michigan fans in Milwaukee a gem of a game could emerge in the 7/10 matchup. Arizona State lost five of the final games of the season but the Suns Devils beat Arizona this season and competed well in a very strong Pac-12. Texas also faded down the stretch but the Longhorns have nine wins over NCAA Tournament teams. Both teams have offensive reputations but have actually been statistically stronger defensive teams and this looks like a coin flip game that could go down to the wire.
Trendy Upset that won’t be – Kentucky over Wichita State
This is getting a bit ahead of the bracket as Kentucky could absolutely lose to a very solid Kansas State squad in the 8/9 matchup. Many saw the Wildcats play well in the SEC Tournament and assume this year’s young Wildcats team could get on a great run. The Wildcats have talent but there has been no resemblance to the 2012 championship team that was led by freshmen. Kentucky lost three of the final four regular season games and outside of beating Louisville there are few quality wins on the resume. Wichita State is a veteran tournament tested team that plays great defense and the Shockers will be fueled by the doubters.
ODDS TO WIN MIDWEST REGIONAL (Indianapolis, IN)
Provided by the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino (LVH) SuperBook
(Seeds listed in Parenthesis)
(4) LOUISVILLE 5/4
(3) DUKE 3/1
(1) WICHITA ST 4/1
(2) MICHIGAN 4/1
(8) KENTUCKY 10/1
(11 - Play-In) IOWA 30 /1
(11 - Play-In) TENNESSEE 30/1
(5) SAINT LOUIS 35/1
(6) U MASS 75/1
(7) TEXAS 75/1
(9) KANSAS ST 75/1
(10) ARIZONA ST 75/1
(12) NC STATE 200/1
(13) MANHATTAN 500/1
(14) MERCER 1000/1
(15) WOFFORD 2000/1
(16 - Play-In) CAL POLY 5000/1
(16- Play-In) TEXAS SOUTHERN 5000/1
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