Mar 15, 2014; Memphis, TN, USA; Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino and Connecticut Huskies head coach Kevin Ollie talk to officials during the second half in final of the American Athletic Conference college basketball tournament at FedEx Forum. Louisville defeated Connecticut 71-61. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Every year, we go through each region and give you guys our “expert” (read: I’ve never won) opinions about Bracketology. While we have indeed gotten progressively better at predicting this tournament, we’re still just slightly ahead of the majority in that no one ever has a perfect bracket. Still, we’d like to think ours are usually ahead of the game, so without further ado, the Midwest Regional Preview.
The Death Star
Seriously, the Midwest Region might as well be known as the Black Hole; nothing, not even light, will ever escape this region. Wichita State got taken out back to the shed with this field, because even though they were the first undefeated team in two decades, they may not even be the favorites in the Midwest. That’s because the powers that be decided to overload the region with Duke, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan, St. Louis, and Xavier. I’m inclined to believe it’s the hardest bracket I’ve ever encountered, and Nate Silver actually agrees.
This one is easy, it’s the team that went undefeated during the regular season and looks better than every team in the country on paper, right? No, because this bracket might as well be a rubix cube blindfolded going downstairs into a pit of lava. Seriously, I can’t recall in my lifetime an undefeated team not only not being the favorite to win a national championship, but not even a favorite to make it to the Sweet 16.
That said, my favorite is still (1) Wichita State, and I’ll tell you why: they’re 24-6-1 against the spread. Any team that routinely beats Vegas (and covers by an average of 5.5 points each time) is worthy of my consideration and praise. They’ve got the second-highest scoring margin in the nation, and to me their only other competition is the team that’s ahead of them in scoring margin.
That would be (2) Louisville, who should never have been given a #4 seed. They’re beating teams by 21+ points per game this season, and they’re as well coached as any team you’ll ever see (sorry, Coach K). It’s funny, though, because both these teams are going to have an impossibly hard time moving forward. Just to reach the Final Four, they’re going to have to go through one another but also Duke and Michigan. That’s a lot to ask for any team.
No disrespect to Duke, who has perhaps the best player in the tournament not named Dougie McBuckets (Jabari Parker), but their defense and suspect losses to teams like Clemson and Wake Forest threw red flags up for me.
Sleep on ’em and get nightmares
I’m getting extremely tired of this team, and you should be too by now (especially if you’re a Maryland fan). They’re constantly hyped, chronicled, and dissected on national television and radio to the point where it’s like Tim Tebow; I’m sure he’s nice, but I don’t want to know any more about him.
Yes, the Kentucky Wildcats and their Harrison Twins – Coach Cal combo. The Wildcats are selfish (they’re 225th in assist-to-turnover ratio), they don’t shoot the ball incredibly well, and neither of the Harrison boys is a true point guard. They’ve got their problems and they always will with a mismatch crew.
But the issue is that Kentucky also has a freaking monster front court and more talent than your team, which makes them occasionally more talented than anyone. Dakari Johnson and Julius Randle are a fearsome one-two punch, and Willie Cauley-Stein is a fantastic player who plays within himself. They’ve beaten a team like Louisville, and they can definitely beat a team like Wichita State if they show up because their offense is actually top 20 in efficiency.
Great First Round Matchup
#7 Texas vs. #10 Arizona State
Nowadays you rarely get a big man battle that’s worth watching, but the Midwest has blessed us with such things in the first round. Texas’ 6’9 big man Cameron Ridley is, put simply, a blimp at around 280 lbs down low, and will give Arizona State’s senior center Jordan Bachynski all he can handle. Bachynski led the nation in blocked shots, and has the height advantage, but Ridley is massive with some decent post moves. Who knows who’s going to win this one, given that both teams are a bit cold lately (losers of five of their final eight games). I can’t help but think these two big men will make all the difference.
Even better potential matchup
#1 Wichita State vs #8 Kentucky
Do you prefer your martinis shaken or stirred? Do you like your eggs scrambled or runny as hell? Do you like your teams supremely talented or supremely coached and veteran? Such is this potential matchup of contrasting philosophies. Coach Cal is a guy who manages talent, and while he can obviously coach, he’s never going to be accused of doing a lot with a little because he always has a lot.
Meanwhile, Wichita State is scrappy, they’re veteran, and they’re slept on because of their lack of major recruits or names. Still, the Shockers have one of the best point guards in the nation and are a team in every sense of the word going against a very selfish team. What more could you ask for? (Actually, you could ask for an in-state Kansas State vs Wichita State game)
Player to watch
Really, there are quite a few to watch. Cleanthony Early, Wichita State’s senior forward is as underrated as they get. Efficient, gets to the line, and hits the offensive glass, he’s a player to watch. But there are no two players more electrifying to watch than Jabari Parker and T.J. Warren, Duke and North Carolina State’s two underclass superstars.
With Warren, you’ve got an obvious game-changer who you may only get to watch for one game because his team is so incomplete. He’s another combo forward with freaky athleticism and even better efficiency. Warren scores like Doug McDermott scores, only in a completely different fashion with highlight dunks and beating guys with athleticism.
Meanwhile, Jabari Parker is, simply put, the best freshman and maybe player in the nation. Parker can score on anyone from anywhere, and is the main reason Duke succeeds the way they do. He’s been hyped since he was a sophomore in high school, and it’s a rarity that someone of his caliber lives up to and exceeds that hype. Parker is a Carmelo Anthony clone with a winning pedigree, and you should never count out one of his teams.
Louisville. Rick Pitino and Louisville are a casual favorite to win in a top heavy division. They’re tried, return most everyone from last year, and are tested and hardened. Their coach isn’t ever going to be outcoached, and when Russ Smith is shooting straight, they’re a tough out for any team in the country. For that reason, they get the nod over Wichita State.