NCAA Tournament Betting: Midwest Region Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 03/17/2009
The Midwest Region features the No. 1 overall seed (Louisville) as well as a bunch of conference tournament flameouts from the BCS conferences. Michigan State, Kansas, and Wake Forest each bowed out early - and by early I mean pretty much right after they arrived - so it's a little tough to tell who is going to be the primary challenger in this region. And as a result, if you're looking for some wackiness to occur that will bust your bracket I think that this is Exhibit A.
Here's one man's look at the Midwest (Indianapolis) Region:
No. 1 Seed: Louisville
I made my opinions clear on the Louisville Cardinals in this article here. However, even though I think that the Cardinals are overrated going into the tournament they also have the benefit of a perfect path to the Final Four. I think the only team that really matches up with them, physically and schematically, is Wake Forest. But I'm more than willing to bet that the Demon Deacons won't be around to test the Cards in the second weekend. That would leave Kansas, West Virginia or Michigan State from the bottom of the bracket and any of those three would be an interesting matchup. This is a veteran team that can choke people out with its defense. But what I wonder is if there is a team that can handle the Cards' pressure and can ring up points I don't think Louisville can keep up.
No. 2 Seed: Michigan State
The Spartans might be somewhat of a soft No. 2 seed because of what I feel they have or have not accomplished this season. But there is no doubt that they are anything but a soft team. This Spartans squad is typical Tom Izzo: hard as a north Michigan winter. This is the type of team that you have to beat, because it will not beat itself. They rebound, they defend, they make free throws, and they make you play their game. In the second round they would face either Boston College or USC and I think that this Spartans squad has the interior power to handle either. Before their loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten tourney the Spartans had gone 21-3 since getting blasted by North Carolina. If they can sustain that type of excellence they can get hot and win four games to come out of this bracket.
No. 3 Seed: Kansas
Kansas is a team that has exceeded expectations throughout this season. And as a result they have been the biggest moneymakers in college basketball this season. They are the defending national champions and have one of the best inside-out combos in the country with Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins. However, there is something about this Jayhawks team that I have been wary of the entire year. Primarily, it's their lack of experience and their lack of quality road performances. I think the Big 12 was soft this year and I think that KU's early exit in the Big 12 Tournament could be a harbinger. Now, the Jayhawks have proven that they can compete with Top 15 competition. But they haven't wandered too far away from their comfy home too much this year and I still question their salt in a tough spot.
Also, let's not forget that if it were not for an Epic collapse by Memphis last year Bill Self - for all his wizardry this season - would still be the Guy Who Couldn't Get It Done In March.
No. 4 Seed: Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons are shaky with a capital "S". This squad has as much physical talent as any team in the country and they have a cold-blooded assassin in Jeff Teague. However, this team has played like hell on the road over the last month of the season. They lost at Georgia Tech, at Miami, at N.C. State and at Duke, and they had a hard time putting away Virginia and Maryland. In fact, they are just 8-6 in their last 14 games since laying one on Clemson in mid-January. This team has been an earner all year but I just don't know if they have it in them. Teams have also discovered Wake's weakness and have really been exploiting it: this team lacks shooters. Teams have been packing it in against the Deacons and they simply cannot consistently hit from deep.
No. 5 Seed: Utah
I know that everyone in the country seems to already be penciling in Arizona's statement run through the Midwest Region and that this game with the Utes is a mere formality. You couldn't make a bigger mistake when looking at the first round matchups. Luke Nevill is an absolute stud in the middle and this Utes squad is experienced, talented, proven and definitely under-appreciated. The Utes are a senior-laden squad that plays deliberately on the offensive end and aggressively on defense. Keep an eye on Tyler Kepkay. He's only their fourth-leading scorer, but he is definitely the go-to perimeter player and he is absolutely fearless in the clutch. If you're not sure how this Utah team can hold up, just ask LSU.
Best first-round match up: No. 5 Utah vs. No. 12 Arizona
Like I just said, I think that this is going to be one of the best games of the first round and that Utah is nobody's patsy. I think that Nevill matches up very well with Jordan Hill. Nevill could definitely get Hill in foul trouble with his array of post moves and defensively Nevill is the type of bigger, longer center that has traditionally given Hill problems. Arizona has a history of first-round flameouts recently and right now is everyone's "lock". Well, the Mountain West was very underrated this year and I think that the regular season and tournament champions will have something to say about how long the Wildcats last. The matchup to watch is Kepkay vs. Nic Wise. Those are two of the toughest, most clutch point guards in the country and I think whichever wins the battle, their team wins the war.
Best potential second-round match up: No. 4 Wake Forest vs. No. 12 Arizona
I would be willing to wager that about three of every four brackets in the country right now have this second round matchup. However, I hate to be the one to tell you, I will be really surprised if both of these schools are still standing on Saturday/Sunday. One of these clubs is going to get upset in the opener. But if they don't, this game would feature no less than five blue chip NBA talents.
Upset Alert (first round): No. 4 Wake Forest vs. No. 13 Cleveland State
The Deacons draw a very tricky Cleveland State team in the opening round and I think this will be a tough matchup for them. I think that Wake Forest compares very favorably to Syracuse and this same Vikings squad beat SU in The Dome this year. Cleveland State is a great defensive team and relies on a solid core of seniors. If they can slow this game down they will force the Deacons to take care of the ball and knock down outside shots. Wake has not played well away from home and they have shown a penchant for playing up or down to the level of their competition. They are definitely on alert.
Upset Alert (second round): No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 6 West Virginia
The Jayhawks are a really dangerous team in this region because if they get on a roll they could roll into Detroit. But before they get off the ground they might have to matchup with a West Virginia squad that is physical, experienced, and led by a Hall of Fame coach. Last year the Mountaineers knocked off No. 2 seed Duke in the second round and they have the ability to pull off another "shocker" if they get a crack at the defending champs.
Dark Horse team: No. 6 West Virginia
It's too easy to say that Arizona is the dark horse team in this region. So I'm going to go to the team that absolutely no one is talking about, and that is the Mountaineers. West Virginia just lined up and hammered - not beat, hammered - a Pittsburgh team that is one of the favorites to cut down the nets in Detroit. Bob Huggins is no first-timer in March and he has a tough-as-nails group that defends, wins on the road, and pounds teams into submission. Keep an eye on Alex Ruoff, who is one of the five best shooters in the nation, and Da'Sean Butler, who might be the most underrated player in the Big East. West Virginia's roster is loaded with players that have had success in the NCAA Tournament (see: Duke) and I think that this crew could definitely find its way into the Elite Eight.
Team That Makes Me Nervous: No. 4 Wake Forest
As I've discussed, this is a team with Final Four talent but flameout tendencies. I also think that they really have a tough draw, matchup-wise, in their bracket. If they can survive CSU they might have to win another grinder against Utah or matchup with the momentum and NBA talent of Arizona. A win there would lead to Louisville, which might be their best matchup in the region. After that it would be another physical grinder in either West Virginia or Michigan State. I just think it's too much to ask this inexperience team to play the type of disciplined ball required this time of the year. But oh, that talent…