NCAA Tournament Preview: The Midwest Region

The Committee did a pretty fantastic job all the way around, this year.  And, one of the most striking successes of this bracket is the balance that each region has.  The Midwest is no exception.  They have a UNC team that clearly has #1 talent, but hasn’t been quite as good as many thought.  Kansas is a strong #2, even though, on paper, they may not have seemed it early in the year.  Georgetown, while vulnerable, is a deserved #3.  And, Michigan/Temple at 4/5 is pretty tough.  And, yet, I still can’t say for sure that whether this region is stronger or weaker than any of the other three.  Well done, Committee, well done.

North Carolina’s PodFri/Sun in Greensboro, NC

North Carolina should be one of the best college teams in a decade.  But, they aren’t; and there is nothing to say that they will become so in the next three weeks.  It was telling last week, when I had a lot riding on the Heels to beat Florida State in the ACC Championship.  You really learn about a team when you watch their game, really needing them to win.  I had no faith that they would make enough plays on either end of the floor.  They struggle to guard people, particularly on the perimeter, and have a gaping hole in the middle without Henson.  And, on the offensive end, when is Harrison Barnes going to show us why he was dubbed the “next Kobe?”  He’s just not that good.  I still might pick the Heels to win the whole thing, but that will only be because I’m neurotically stubborn.  How about this, though, I think they will definitely beat either Pat Knight’s Lamar team or Vermont on Friday.

All the talk about Doug McDermott and the Creighton Blue Jays may have hid the dirty little secret about Creighton – THEY DON’T PLAY ANY DEFENSE.  Don’t get me wrong, I love all things MVC, but this team really doesn’t guard anybody, and that almost completely precludes them from real success in this tournament, no matter how good McDermott is.  I actually really like Anthony Grant’s Alabama team.  They have top-level talent in guys like Jamychal Green and Tony Mitchell.  They also have some really solid secondary players like Trevor Relaford (or is it Travis – one of them is on Kansas and one on ‘Bama) and Andrew Steele.  And, the best part about them is that they buy into what Grant is selling – defense, defense, defense.  I think that this team could give the college hoops world a shock this weekend.

And, I’m not talking about shocking the world by beating Creighton.  I really think that Tar Heel fans should be Doug McDermott fans on Friday because this ‘Bama team can beat them.  Creighton cannot – they just don’t play enough (any) defense.

  1. North Carolina – 63.7%
  2. Alabama – 27%
  3. Creighton – 9%
  4. Vermont – 0.2%
  5. Lamar – 0.1%

Michigan’s Pod – Fri/Sun in Nashville, TN

Jon Bielein is a phenomenal coach, and he has rejuvenated this Michigan basketball program.  They tied with Michigan St. and Ohio St. for the Big Ten title, which is nothing to sneeze at.  But, are we convinced that this team really has what it takes to make a run here?  I’m not.  In fact, I think that Ohio, led by the great D.J. Cooper, has a real shot at an upset here.  Either way, I’m not sure that Michigan is quite there…yet.

The team that is there – or better be after so many near-misses – is the Temple Owls.  There is no secret as to what team I root for, but I have proven time and again that I am pretty objective when it comes to the Owls.  I was terrified of Cornell; I didn’t think they had a shot against San Diego St. last year; and, I acknowledged that Michigan St. was probably too much to ask for, as far as an upset pick three years ago.  But, this year is different.  This year, the team seems more complete and more consistent.  They don’t rely on one player, and they can both score and defend inside and outside.  Oh, and it is definitely strange to not know their opponent yet.  I think Cal is the better team and should take care of South Florida tonight, I am actually hoping that they do because I think the slowdown, physical style of USF is a nightmare for anyone in a one-game setting.  Then again, if this Temple team is as good as we think it is, they should be able to win a game at either speed.

And, if there is any leftover resentment from the since-vacated Michigan Final Four run in 1993 that happened to go through the Temple Owls in the Elite Eight, maybe this year will be the chance to bury those demons…ya know, if Michigan gets there.  Then again, I do think the Wolverines actually do matchup well with the Owls, so we Owls fans will be rooting for the Bobcats hard on Friday night.

  1. Temple – 34%
  2. Michigan – 31%
  3. California – 13%
  4. Ohio – 12%
  5. South Florida – 10%

Georgetown’s Pod – Fri/Sat in Columbus, OH

Georgetown has been really good this year – at least one year ahead of schedule.  Belmont has been really good this year – again – right on schedule.  This Belmont team is, dare I say, great.  They have been playing together for four years.  They are unselfish and balanced.  They are experienced, confident, and talented.  They can shoot the lights out, but don’t mind mixing it up or driving to the rack.  I am not going to say that they the favorites here against a really solid G’town team, but this is not IN ANY WAY your typical 3/14 matchup.  The Hoyas got a bit of a raw deal here, if you believe they were 3-seed worthy (which I do, actually).  This is a very live upset pick here – more than any 3/14 I can remember.

And, just to blow this pod up completely, I actually do think that N.C. State, the 11-seed, should be favored to beat #6 San Diego St. on Friday.  Not only have the Aztecs been struggling, but they rely on Jamaal Franklin a little too much, and N.C. State has a slew of athletes to throw at him.  C.J. Leslie is one of those guys that you don’t want to count on in ho-hum games on the road on a Wednesday night in January, but when the lights are on, I’ll take him.  Oh, and by the way, this game is scheduled for 9:40 am, San Diego time.

So, with both games in the first round in total flux, who can possibly tell what we have in store for us on Sunday.  Either way, it should be awfully interesting, and I think I’m going with an 11-seed to be favored to win this pod because I think they should get by SD State and certainly can beat G’town (or Belmont).

  1. N.C. State – 32%
  2. Georgetown – 29%
  3. Belmont – 22%
  4. San Diego St. – 17%

Kansas’s Pod – Fri/Sun in Omaha, NE

How good is Bill Self?  Very good.  This Kansas team was not supposed to win their 8th consecutive Big XII title (an incredible streak in any conference, let alone one of the best in the country), and yet they did.  I know that Thomas Robinson went from “good” to “best in the country” and Jeff Withey went from “stiff” to “very good,” but still, to think that this team, this year, would be a #2-seed is remarkable.  Even Ty Taylor seems to have bought in, which could seal Self’s COY honors in and of itself.  But, even with a 2-seed, they were not done any favors in the first round.  While Robinson might be the best player in the country, Detroit‘s Ray McCallum Jr. might be the second-best player in this game.  And, the Titans are rolling.  Despite a slow start, they won the Horizon tournament, despite the big disadvantage of the 3-seed, and they are playing with a ton of confidence – even talking some trash.  While they are probably deserving of their 15-seed (and, therefore, not warranted to talk any trash to Kansas), they are dangerous.  I would not have liked my draw, if I were a Kansas fan.

St. Mary’s has officially become their own program now that they beat Gonzaga for the regular season outright title and then took them down in the WCC championship game.  (Ignore the fact that they both got 7-seeds…)  Now, they get a shot to grab another tournament victory for a program that has arrived.  But, they have a really tough first test in Purdue.  The Boilermakers are battle-tested through a brutal Big Ten and, even though they lost a pair of NBA draft picks, they did add a star in Robbie Hummel back to the mix.  This game is one of the better first round matchups, and it seems like a total toss up to me.

While Kansas got, easily, the toughest 15-seed, they probably got aligned with the 7/10 duo that presents the least danger in the second round.  I love Matthew Dellavadova and the St. Mary’s Gaels, but they don’t have anyone who can possibly matchup with Robinson or Withey inside.  And, while you’d be a heartless bastard not to root for Hummel to have some sort of success, this Purdue team is just not good enough to be considered a real threat to the Jayhawks.  I would say that Purdue presents a slightly tougher matchup than St. Mary’s, but not appreciably, and the Jayhawks should still be playing next week…then again, we’ve heard that before.

  1. Kansas – 61%
  2. Purdue – 17%
  3. St. Mary’s – 15%
  4. Detroit – 7%
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