Expert March Madness Bracket Predictions: Midwest Region
Heading into the 2017-18 college basketball season the top three teams in the USA Today's Coaches Poll were, in order, Duke, Michigan State and Kansas. Those three schools were also in the top four of the preseason Associated Press Top 25, with Arizona sneaking in ahead of Kansas and pushing the Jayhawks to fourth.
Now those three powerhouses - Duke, Michigan State and Kansas - are all locked into the most challenging bracket in the NCAA Tournament.
The Midwest Region semifinals and finals will take place on Friday, March 23, and Sunday, March 25, in Omaha, Nebraska. Here are Doc's Sports March Madness bracket predictions for the Midwest Region:
No. 1 Seed: Kansas Jayhawks (+300 to win Midwest Region)
The Jayhawks are an absolute juggernaut of a program, annually replacing a colossal stockpile of talent only to turn around and dominate their way to one of the top seeds in the NCAA Tournament. This year is no exception as Kansas has ridden its perimeter-heavy attack to a 14th straight regular-season Big 12 title and a dominating effort en route to last weekend's Big 12 tournament championship. Devonte Graham is the triggerman for an offense that bombs away from 3-point range. Kansas is No. 9 in the country in field goal offense and No. 11 in 3-point shooting, nailing better than 40 percent of their threes as a team. Kansas also found some post reinforcements last week as forwards Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio De Sousa stepped in for ailing Udoka Azibuike and provided the defense and rebounding that this team sorely needs.
Kansas Tournament Prediction: Kansas has made it to the Elite Eight in each of the past two seasons. They could have their hands full with either of their second-round opponents. But if they can avoid an upset there then this team should coast to another Elite Eight where either Duke or Michigan State will be waiting.
No. 2 Seed: Duke Blue Devils (+200 to win Midwest Region)
When the Blue Devils are on, they are as talented as any team in the field. Marvin Bagley is one of the best players in the country and potentially unstoppable in the post. Grayson Allen is averaging around 20 points per game over the last month and certainly won't go quietly. But Duke is exceptionally young - they start four freshmen - and they are, at best, a mediocre defensive team. Talent is talent. And Duke has that in spades. But no team in the country has a bigger target on their back. And at some point this team's youth, lack of depth and defensive shakiness will catch up with them.
Duke Tournament Predictions: I don't trust this team. I think they are overrated, and if Michigan State is still around in the Sweet 16 I don't see the Blue Devils beating them twice. I will be very surprised if this team makes the Final Four.
No. 3 Seed: Michigan State Spartans (+280)
The Spartans are trying to become the first Big Ten team since 2000 to win a National Championship. And with a deep, well-rounded roster that features a pair of future NBA players they might just be able to pull it off. The Spartans are in the Top 5 in the country in field goal shooting, 3-point shooting, and field goal defense. And Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson are both capable of dominating and will be lottery picks in this summer's draft. Only two teams, Ohio State and Michigan, have beaten this group since mid-November. And they've lost just once since Jan. 13. Bet against them at your own risk.
Michigan State Tournament Predictions: I think that that Spartans are the best and most well-rounded team in this region, if not in the country. Duke beat Michigan State in November and Kansas beat them in the tournament last year. I think Sparty will get revenge on both.
No. 4 Seed: Auburn Tigers (+1000)
I can honestly say that if Auburn had been healthy from the start of the year that they may be the best team in the country. Unfortunately, they lost their two best big men to suspension before the season. And then they lost top shot blocker Anfernee McLemore to an ankle injury in mid-February. The Tigers still have one of the best backcourts in the country and some high-end performers with Mustapha Heron, Jared Harper and Bryce Brown. But they have only one guy taller than 6-6 and no one taller than 6-8 on the roster, so they aren't going to be big enough to hold up against the top teams in this region.
Auburn Tournament Predictions: Auburn has not been the same team since McLemore went down. They are just 2-4 down the stretch, and this team has definitely peaked. Their stay will be short.
No. 5 Seed: Clemson Tigers (+2200)
Despite barely topping .500 over the last two months (9-8 straight up), the Tigers have been a barnacle on the Top 25. The Tigers are still ranked and landed a Top 20 seed despite the fact that they have just one win over teams in the tournament field since the end of January. Clemson has some rock solid guards, especially Marcquise Reed and Gabe DeVoe. But when second-leading scorer and leading rebounder Donte Grantham went down in February the Tigers' ceiling lowered considerably.
Clemson Tournament Predictions: The best thing Clemson has going for it is that they match up really well with the No. 4 seed, Auburn. However, I can see either (or both) of the top two seeds in this pod getting knocked out, and this four-team grouping could produce a double-digit seed in the Sweet 16.
No. 6 Seed: TCU Horned Frogs (+2200)
It really has been a tale of two seasons for the Horned Frogs. TCU started the year 12-0 and worked its way into the Top 15 in the country. They have gone 9-10 since then and kind of backed into the tournament. However, TCU is making its first appearance in The Big Dance since 1998, and head coach Jamie Dixon has navigated these waters before. TCU won the NIT last year. And now seniors Vlad Brodziansky and Kenrich Williams will try to shoot this team into the Sweet 16.
TCU Tournament Predictions: The Horned Frogs get the winner of the Arizona State-Syracuse play-in game. They match up better with the Orange, whom Dixon has owned in his career. But a win would lead to a matchup with Michigan State, and I don't see the Horned Frogs surviving that one.
Best first-round matchup: No. 8 Seton Hall (-2.5) vs. No. 9 North Carolina State
These two teams are more than capable of beating any team in the field. The Wolfpack boast wins over Arizona, Duke and North Carolina this year. Seton Hall is one of the most experienced teams in the field - they feature three four-year starters - and they have six wins over teams currently in the field. The Pirates' star seniors Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez and Khadeen Carrington are playing in their third straight NCAA Tournament. And N.C. State has a legit big man in Omar Yurtseven. There's going to be a lot of talent on the court for this game, and I think that the winner has a real chance of taking out Kansas in the next round.
Best potential second-round matchup: No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 8 Seton Hall
I truly think that Kansas is one of the most susceptible top seeds because of their tough second-round draw. But I think that a Kansas-Seton Hall game would be outstanding. This veteran Pirates team has not put it together yet this year. But they have as much talent and experience as any team from any major conference. Yes, they are 4-6 in their last 10 games. But four of those six losses were by three points or less. Something tells me Kansas may not be long for this region. And this (or N.C. State) could be a potential upset that no one sees coming.
Upset Alert (first round): No. 4 Auburn (-6.5) vs. No. 13 Charleston
As I pointed out, Auburn has zero momentum coming into this game, and they haven't won outside of their home arena since January. Charleston, on the other hand, has won 14 of 15 games and they have the experience and the guard play to be a major thorn in Auburn's side.
Upset Alert (second round): No. 2 Duke vs. No. 10 Oklahoma
There is absolutely, positively no way that Oklahoma should be in the field. It is a goddamn farce that they were selected over Notre Dame or Oklahoma State. It's a joke. An absolutely joke. But hey, here they are. And if the Sooners can somehow survive their first-round game with Rhode Island (which they probably won't; URI is a better team) then that would set up an intriguing matchup with the Blue Devils in Round 2. Neither team plays even a second of defense. But a shootout might actually favor the Sooners and could increase the likelihood of a shocking upset here.
Dark Horse Team: No. 3 Michigan State
I suppose Michigan State isn't really a dark horse because a lot of people are picking them to go to the Final Four. But with Kansas and Duke also in the bracket there are plenty of reasons to doubt Sparty. I think Michigan State's toughest game will be their first one. And once they get some momentum the ball is going to start rolling down hill for this group.
Team That Makes Me Nervous: No. 4 Auburn
Guard play wins in March. And few teams have as many good guards as the Tigers. For a stretch in January and February this team was playing as well as anyone in the nation. But they've last three of their last four and four of their last six and come into the tournament with no momentum. These guys won the SEC regular-season title, and the SEC was one of the deepest leagues in the country. Is this team truly finished, or do they have enough talent to get through opening weekend?
2018 Midwest Region Predictions: I'm all in on Michigan State here. I think that the Spartans are one of the best four or five teams in the country. And my case against Kansas and Duke is two-fold. First, I think Michigan State would beat either of them head-to-head and avenge their recent losses to those two teams. Second, I think that Kansas and Duke, by virtue of their draw and their style of play, are more likely to get upset than the Spartans. Regardless, I think Tom Izzo is going to get his team back to the Final Four, and I think that Sparty is a true title contender.
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 has posted 10 of 11 winning seasons. He is looking for a monster March run and will have his 8-Unit NCAA Tournament Game of the Year Thursday after nailing his 8-Unit Conference Tournament GOTY last Friday (Arizona). You can sign up for his college basketball picks and get more information here .
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