There is absolutely no debate: the Midwest is the Region of Death.
The Midwest Region of the NCAA Tournament is absolutely stacked! Of the 16 teams in this quadrant we have the Big 12 regular-season and tournament champions, the Big Ten regular-season and tournament champions, the Pac-12 regular-season champion, the second-best team in the ACC's regular season, and the Big East runner-up. And that is to say nothing of the some of the best mid-major teams in the country with Nevada, Rhode Island and Vermont all ready to spring an upset.
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Whomever wins the Midwest Region will have certainly earned it. And if you are looking for an area of the bracket for all hell to break loose in, this would be it.
The Midwest Region semifinals and finals will take place on Friday, March 25, and Sunday, March 27, in Chicago. Here are Doc's Sports March Madness bracket predictions for the Midwest Region:
No. 1 Seed: Kansas Jayhawks (+185 to win Midwest Region)
Winners of the Big 12 for the 278th straight year, Kansas comes into the NCAA Tournament with just three losses - against 24 wins - since Thanksgiving. That's par for the course for one of the nation's elite programs. Point guard Frank Mason is one of the best players in the country and a proven general. Josh Jackson is one of the best freshmen in the nation and a likely Top 5 pick in this summer's NBA draft. But the key for Kentucky will be the contributions from upperclassmen like Devonte Graham, Landen Lucas and erratic Svia Mykhailiuk. The Jayhawks have a tight seven-man rotation and can execute with the best of them on both ends of the court. But this program has also dealt with a slew of off-court distractions, and they will have to try to run out from under the dark cloud that has seemingly followed them all winter long.
Kansas Tournament Prediction: Boom-or-bust teams are staples of March Madness. But you don't normally find many No. 1 seeds that fit that description. Kansas could win the National Championship. Or they could get decapitated in the second round. The truth is that Kansas has a bit of a spotty recent tournament track record, failing to make the Sweet 16 in two of the last three years. And with all of the negative karma surrounding this team off the court there's no telling what their focus is like. The Jayhawks are the perfect avatar of this entire region: talented but volatile.
No. 2 Seed: Louisville Cardinals (+200 to win Midwest Region)
The first word that comes to mind when describing the Cardinals is massive. Louisville has one of the largest and most physically intimidating teams in the NCAA Tournament field. Their deep 10-man rotation features four players 6-10 or taller, including shot-blocking machines Mangok Mathiang and Anas Mahmoud. Donovan Mitchell and Quentin Snider are more than capable in the backcourt, and head coach Rick Pitino is a known savant. Louisville has shown some chinks in the armor down the stretch and is just 2-3 straight up in its last five games and 2-7 against the spread in their last nine. They struggle from the free throw line as a team, and their 3-point shooting is spotty at best. However, this group of men is capable of simply overpowering smaller opponents.
Louisville Tournament Predictions: The Cardinals aren't playing great right now. They have also gone just 1-4 in their last five games off their home court, with the one win coming in overtime. The Cardinals will face their opposites in the second round , with either Michigan or Oklahoma State attacking them with small ball. If the Cards survive that then their frontcourt size will give them an advantage over either Oregon (who just lost their starting center) or Kansas (who doesn't have much post depth).
No. 3 Seed: Oregon Ducks (+400)
The loss of starting center Chris Boucher has severely altered the outlook for this Oregon team heading into the tournament. Boucher was the team's leading shot blocker, leading rebounder, a reliable 3-point shooter from the center position, and the captain of Oregon's smothering defense. His loss can't be overstated. But it doesn't mean that the Ducks are DOA. Dillon Brooks is an animal and a first-team All-American. And Tyler Dorsey is an explosive running mate. Oregon may also have a capable defensive replacement in seven-foot freshman Kavell Bigby-Williams. And this team plays with a ferocity that few teams can match. The bottom line is that as long as Brooks is on the court, this group has a chance.
Oregon Tournament Predictions: Boucher's injury likely cost Oregon a No. 2 seed, and that makes their path a little more precarious. However, the Ducks have a favorable draw. Creighton suffered its own season-changing loss when Mo Watson went out. And that leaves just mid-majors Rhode Island and Iona as the other two teams standing in Oregon's way. A second-round matchup with Creighton, where Ducks coach Dana Altman worked prior to Oregon, would be fun. And if Oregon survived they would likely have a showdown with Louisville. That would certainly test the Ducks' retooled frontcourt. With Boucher they would be my pick in this region. Without him it's a much longer shot.
No. 4 Seed: Purdue Boilermakers (+500)
The Boilermakers were the Big Ten's regular-season champions and were a Top 20 staple throughout the season. Seven-foot-two center Isaac Haas and multifaceted 6-9 forward Caleb Swanigan are the foundation of one of the top frontcourts in the country. Purdue pounds the ball into the paint and surrounds the perimeter with a bevy of capable 3-point shooters. The Boilermakers' size is portable; they have played very well on the road and at neutral sites this year. And I have to think that this squad is motivated to erase the memory of last year's epic collapse in which they blew an 11-point lead in the final three minutes before losing in double-overtime.
Purdue Tournament Predictions: Purdue's strength is its size. And they earned a great draw because none of the teams in their opening pod has much of a frontcourt to speak of. That bodes well for a potential Sweet 16 run. However, Purdue's lack of high-end backcourt talent is likely to catch up with them the deeper they go in the tournament. And if they were to win more than two games, I think that would be a major surprise.
No. 5 Seed: Iowa State Cyclones (+800)
The Cyclones enter the NCAA Tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country. They've won nine of their last 10 games and blasted their way through the Big 12 Tournament. Iowa State has five seniors, including a trio of three-year starters, who have played in and won a ton of big games over their careers. Monte Morris, Naz Long and Matt Thomas make up one of the most experienced and explosive backcourts in the country. And Deonte Burton is a matchup nightmare. But Iowa State has the same glaring weakness this season that it has had this entire decade: lack of a viable post presence on both ends of the court and a waning commitment to defense.
Iowa State Tournament Predictions: Despite some high seeds and some high-level talent, Iowa State has made just two Sweet 16s in the last five years. And that is as far as they have advanced. In fact, they are 4-3 SU in their last three tournaments. But only one of those wins came against a team from a power conference. History says this team is good for three games, max, and that they are more than susceptible to an upset.
No. 6 Seed: Creighton Bluejays (+1000)
Maurice Watson's season-ending knee injury and subsequent sexual assault allegations cast a dark pall on what was an extraordinarily promising season for the Bluejays. Before Watson went off the rails the Bluejays were a Top 10 team and a legit Final Four contender. They've gone just 7-8 without him. But that doesn't mean that Creighton isn't capable of punching a couple cards on their way out. Creighton now lacks a quality point guard or a creative offensive force. But they have a slew of shooters and some versatile weapons with Cole Huff, Marcus Foster, Toby Hegner and sensational freshman post Justin Patton.
Creighton Tournament Predictions: The Bluejays have a tough draw with red hot Rhode Island in the first round. That game should be a battle. And a win would put Creighton in Oregon's line of fire. One-and-done is probable. And I think two games is the ceiling for this group.
Best first-round match up: No. 7 Michigan(-2.5) vs. No. 10 Oklahoma State
Michigan is trending. Last week's impressive effort in the Big Ten Tournament - shaking off a plane crash and winning four games in four days - has everyone on the Wolverines bandwagon. And, frankly, they've been playing good ball for awhile, going 10-2 SU in their last 12 games. Michigan is going to be tested, though, by a run-and-gun Oklahoma State team that is coming into The Big Dance off three consecutive losses. The Cowboys can score, score and score some more. They press and run and play 94-feet and will try to make Michigan uncomfortable. The Wolverines, on the other hand, will try to slow this one down and beat the Cowboys with superior offensive execution. This game will feature several guards - Jawun Evans, Phil Forte, Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin - that might not be household names. But there will be a lot of firepower going back and forth in what should be a great game.
Best potential second-round match up: No. 4 Iowa State vs. No. 5 Purdue
Iowa State won the Big 12 tourney and Purdue the Big Ten regular season, so these are two of the best teams from two of the best leagues in the nation. And, ironically, these two teams were the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds in the Midwest Region last year as well. (Their seeds were flip-flopped, though.) They were my best potential second-round matchup in last season's tournament, but Purdue's choke against Arkansas-Little Rock ensured it didn't materialize. Can we see it this time around? This one would be the proverbial contrast in styles, with Iowa State's four-guard offense going up against Purdue's dominating post attack.
Upset Alert (first round): No. 5 Iowa State (-6.5) vs. No. 12 Nevada
Of course, the Iowa State-Purdue matchup could be thwarted by the Cyclones this time around. Iowa State could have a letdown this week after their big run in Kansas City last weekend. They don't have a lot of depth, and their starters played a ton of minutes during three frantic games in three nights. Nevada is no joke. They've won nine straight and cruised through the Mountain West Tournament with relative ease. Marcus Marshall and Cameron Oliver are an underrated inside-out duo, and the Wolfpack, who average 80 points per game, would love to get into a run-and-gun shootout. The Cyclones are running hot right now. They'll have to be careful not to overheat.
Upset Alert (second round): No. 2 Louisville vs. No. 7 Michigan/No. 10 Oklahoma State
There are almost too many different permutations in this region to contemplate. But I'll keep this one pretty basic. Michigan and Oklahoma State are two potentially high-octane offenses with some outstanding guard play. They both offer a stark contrast to the size and strength of the Cardinals. Oklahoma State has taken down solid frontcourts from Wichita State, West Virginia and Kansas State. Michigan has beaten Purdue twice in the last three weeks. So both of them are capable of countering size with speed.
Dark Horse team: No. 3 Oregon
I feel like everyone is simply writing off Oregon after the loss of Boucher. His season-ending injury certainly didn't help. But the Ducks are still a damn fine team and a major wild card in this bracket. And if the rest of the bracket crumbles around them then karma could kick back a little something to this squad. Oregon has won at least one game in each of the last four tournaments, and they were one game away from the Final Four last year. Four of this year's starters were the foundation of that squad, so there's nothing to say that they can't make another run.
Team That Makes Me Nervous: No. 5 Iowa State
It's always Iowa State. This team makes me nervous every year they are in the NCAA Tournament. And the reason is pretty simple. Every year they have the talent to make a serious run through their bracket. But their style of play - high-octane offense and little defense - has proven that is not conducive to success this time of the year.
2017 Midwest Region Predictions: There is a reason that there are five teams with odds to win this bracket at 8-to-1 or lower. This region is going to be a free-for-all. I honestly am not even going to attempt to make confident predictions about how this one will shake out. But I do think that most of the insanity is going to contain itself to the opening weekend. And whichever of the top seeds - Kansas, Louisville or Oregon - survive will be able to regroup and take care of business in the Sweet 16 and regional finals. I'll give the nod to Louisville. But I also wouldn't be surprised if they were the first to lose. That's how it's going to go in the Midwest this year.
Robert Ferringo is a member of the Basketball Writer's Association of America and a professional sports handicapper for Doc's Sports. He is considered one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and he is on an unbelievable run right now, nearly doubling his clients' bankrolls in the last four weeks while earning $9,200 in profit! Robert has banked 10 straight winning college basketball regular seasons and he will have his 8-Unit NCAA Tournament Game of the Year available this week. There is no better moneymaker in the nation and Robert is looking forward to another amazing March Madness. Click here to get two days of college basketball picks for free - no hassle and no credit card needed.
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