The Midwest Regional was the talk of ESPN last night as the “blood regional”, with Wichita, Michigan, Duke and Louisville as the top four seeds. It’s also the biggest regional, with three seed lines being in play at Dayton during the First Four over Tuesday and Wednesday night. TheSportsNotebook has summarized the basic resumes of all 19 teams in a separate post. My own picks are below. Here are nine general thoughts on this region…
*I mentioned in this in my thoughts on the bracket overall, but I’m not buying the whole “blood regional” thing, and it begins with skepticism over Duke. The Blue Devils are heavily reliant on shooting the trey, which can make you look great when they fall, but ugly on a cold night. Nor has Duke won anything of significance—they lost key non-conference games, they finished third in the ACC and they didn’t win the conference tournament. I understand the power of their reputation and I certainly won’t be shocked if they’re in Dallas, but they are a pretty standard 3-seed.
*The same goes for Michigan, although in this case, the Wolverines deserve tremendous respect for overcoming the early injury to Mitch McGary and winning the Big Ten by three games. You look at the personnel and see a couple great players in Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III and a sharpshooter in Caris Levert. But there’s no depth, no point guard and no post player. A lot of teams, it’s the overachievers that are the first to fall in the NCAA Tournament, as you can only keep the magic going for so long.
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*That said, Wichita-Louisville is an absolute bloodbath of a Sweet 16 game. I wouldn’t have seeded Louisville as low as #4, but if you factor in their entire season—not just the post-January 30 phase when they’ve been a freight train—you can argue the Cards for a 3-seed. And at that point, is it really outrageous to make them a 4? It’s a tough break for Wichita, but one tough break doesn’t mean the Selection Committee is out to get them, as is being predicted. I do expect the winner of this game to go to the Final Four. Unfortunately for the Shockers (or perhaps fortunately as the case may be), I think it’s going to be Louisville.
*Kentucky played a good game in yesterday’s SEC final against Florida, losing 61-60, but can we please stop with the “Kentucky grew up yesterday” theme that was being hit on ESPN. Please. One game after a season of disappointment does not justify this overreaction. Go take care of business against Kansas State, then beat Wichita, and then we can see the ‘Cats have grown up.
*I’ve got two of the First Four winners advancing on to win again in their first-round game (sorry, I’m not giving in and calling the Thursday-thru-Sunday games 2nd and 3rd-rounders). In the case of the 12-line, I’ve got N.C. State, but I think either they or Xavier take out slumping St. Louis. Fortunatley, my pool doesn’t make me choose between the two. You can just pick Xavier/N.C. State as a collective as far as you want to go.
*I like Michigan’s draw on opening weekend. I mentioned the Wolverine deficiencies, but Wofford is not a live dog at the 15-seed in the way Florida Gulf Coast was last year. And both potential second-round opponents, Arizona State and Texas, are slumping.
*I’ve picked Duke to make it to the regional final on the strength of Jabari Parker, but it won’t surprise me if the Devils are tested not once, but twice this weekend. Mercer is a good rebounding team at the 14-seed and Duke is a little soft inside. If the threes don’t fall, I don’t expect the Blue Devils to get a lot of second chances. And of the three potential second-round opponents, UMass has a game-changing player in Chaz Williams, Tennessee is playing well right now and only Iowa is slumping. But if Iowa plays Duke, it will mean they Hawkeyes beat each of the other two teams to get there and would presumably have their blue-collar rebounding and defense back in gear.
*A last-chance story is taking place at Texas Southern. Head coach Mike Davis is the man who replaced Bob Knight at Indiana and after a magic ride to the NCAA final in 2002 as a 5-seed who got some favorable bracket breaks, Davis didn’t get it done in Bloomington nor at UAB. His best player, Aaric Murray, has left both West Virginia and LaSalle. Both player and coach surely want to show something in Dayton.
*Rick Pitino and Mike Krzyzewski went 22 years without meeting in the NCAA Tournament, from their epic match up in a 1992 when Pitino was at Kentucky and Christian Laettner hit the buzzer-beater that’s become one of the top sports moments of my lifetime. The coaches faced off last year when Louisville blasted Duke en route to the NCAA title. Both previous games took place in a regional final and I’m saying it won’t be another 22-year wait for Round Three. Louisville and Duke meet for the regional title in Indianapolis and it’s again Pitino bringing it home.
MIDWEST REGIONAL PICKS
First Four Games (Dayton)
#11: Tennessee over Iowa
#12: N.C. State over Xavier
#16: Texas Southern over Cal-Poly
#1 Wichita over #16 Texas Southern
#8 Kentucky over #9 Kansas State
Wichita over Kentucky
#12 N.C. State over #5 St. Louis
#4 Louisville over #13 Manhattan
Louisville over N.C. State
#11 Tennessee over #6 UMass
#3 Duke over #14 Mercer
Duke over Tennessee
Arizona State over Texas
Michigan over Wofford
Michigan over Arizona State
|Louisville over Wichita
Duke over Michigan
Louisville over Duke