2015 NCAA Tournament Preview: Midwest Region


Dec 27, 2014; Louisville, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Willie Cauley-Stein (15) dribbles against the Louisville Cardinals during the second half at KFC Yum! Center. Kentucky defeated Louisville 58-50. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

With the NCAA Tournament just a few days away, we continue with our Region Previews with the Midwest. The Midwest Region is of particular interest to Maryland fans as the Terrapins are the No. 4 seed in the Midwest Region. In addition to Maryland, the likes of Kentucky, Kansas, and Norre Dame make up the top of the region. Check out a detailed look of the region:

If you missed Art’s preview of the South Region on Tuesday, click here:


No. 1 Kentucky

The Wildcats are the first team from a major conference to not suffer a single loss during the regular season since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. Needless to say, Kentucky is the clear overall No. 1 seed in this year’s tournament, and the team everyone you know is going to pick to be cutting down the nets on April 6. Only seven times all season did the Wildcats fail to defeat their opponent by a double-digit margin. After rolling through the regular season, Kentucky kept rolling through the SEC Tournament as they defeated Arkansas, Auburn, and Florida by an average of 18 points-per-game. The team’s young starting five consists of two freshmen, two sophomores, and a junior, but not one player stands head and shoulders above the rest. Andrew and Aaron Harrison combine for 20 points-per-game and freshman Trey Lyles adds another 8.3 per contest. Karl-Anthony Towns (9.7 ppg and 6.6 rebounds-per-game) and Willie Cauley-Stein (8.9 ppg & 6.9 rpg) dominate under the basket. Did I mention they’re undefeated?

No. 3 Notre Dame

Calling Notre Dame one of my “favorites” in the Midwest is a little bit of a stretch, but I believe they have the second-best chance of making it out of the region and into the Final Four. The Fighting Irish defeated Duke and North Carolina en route to their first ACC Tournament title. Notre Dame boasts one of the best team offenses in the nation, and is hitting a remarkable 39 percent of their three-point attempts. Star senior Jerian Grant leads the way for Notre Dame, but the rest of the starting crew (Pat Connaughton, Zach Auguste, Steve Vasturia and Demetrius Jackson) rounds out one of the best starting fives in the nation. A potential Notre Dame/Kentucky meeting in the Elite Eight would be one of those can’t-miss, offense-powered match-ups.

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    No. 11 Texas Longhorns

    No. 11 Texas unquestionably has talented players, but was unable to match high preseason expectations. Six of the Longhorns’ 13 losses this season have been by just five points or less. Injuries to key players affected their season, including losing sophomore point guard Isaiah Taylor for a 10-game span in November/December. Freshman Myles Turner (10.4 ppg & 6.4 rpg) appears to be a star in the making and is a dominant force under the basket. Senior Jonathan Holmes (10.2 ppg & 6.2 rpg) and junior Cameron Ridley (8.2 ppg & 5.2 rpg) provide the Longhorns with satisfactory production in the frontcourt as well. Texas opens the NCAA Tournament with a matchup against the No. 6 Butler, who are led by juniors Kellen Dunham (16.6 ppg) and Roosevelt Jones (12.9 ppg). The Bulldogs are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country, and if Texas can limit the Bulldogs’ looks, they can pull out a win. A potential rematch of the December 5 clash with Kentucky is possible if both teams make it to the Elite Eight. The Longhorns fell 10 points shy of upsetting the Wildcats even without star point guard Isaiah Taylor. The teams were tied at the half before Kentucky pulled out the victory thanks in large part to Texas’ 22 turnovers. Texas has the length and athleticism to compete with Kentucky or any other team in the Midwest.

    Intriguing Match-up:

    No. 7 Wichita State vs. No. 10 Indiana

    Wichita State is a team that has a recent track record of causing some madness in March. Last season the Shockers were the first team since UNLV in 1991 to enter the tournament undefeated (a feat that Kentucky matched this season) and reached No. 2 in the Associated Press Poll. The Shockers lost a heartbreaker in the third round of the tournament to none other than the Wildcats. Though they lost Cleanthony Early to the NBA after last season, Wichita State still has its core of players from recent years intact (Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton), and could be another potential sleeper in the region. And Terps fans know first-hand how difficult of an opponent Indiana can be. After destroying Maryland in late January, the Terps managed to pull out two close wins against the Hoosiers. If guard Yogi Ferrell (leads team with 16.1 ppg and 4.9 assists-per-game) is on his game, Indiana could take out Wichita State and even give Kansas a scare in the third round. I think this game has the potential to be one of those down-to-the-wire thrillers that make skipping out on an afternoon of work entirely justified.

    Potential Match-up:

    No. 1 Kentucky vs. Your Maryland Terrapins

    There’s no beating around the bush: Maryland got absolutely hosed by the selection committee in getting tabbed with a No. 4 seed. Maryland went 27-6 this season (the most regular-season wins in program history), boasted an impressive 14-4 conference record (in arguably the most competitive conference top-to-bottom in the country), finished the season at No. 8 in the Associated Press poll, and fell just four points shy of making it to the Big Ten championship game. Accomplishing what the Terps did this season should’ve earned them at least a No. 3 seed in the tourney. Shockingly, it did not, as Maryland was somehow relegated to a No. 4 seed.  Although the Terps need to now focus on the road ahead, the road to the Final Four is extraordinarily challenging. If Maryland can get by Valparaiso, they’d likely face a West Virginia team that has nine losses, but only one of which was to an opponent not ranked in the top-25 at the time (LSU). Though the Mountaineers lost three of its last four entering the tournament, I think they’d prove a challenging matchup for the Terrapins. If Maryland could escape the Mountaineers, a match-up with a still-undefeated Kentucky would be more than likely, and what an opportunity it would be for the Terps to stick it to the committee and prove their capabilities. Getting slighted by the committee could provide the proverbial chip on the shoulder this team can use to pull off a remarkable upset against the seemingly unstoppable Wildcats and make it to the Elite Eight. A lot of “ifs” in this paragraph. This is easily the most difficult region in my humble, (somewhat) unbiased opinion.

    Players to Watch:

    (Disclaimer: I’m personally electing to discuss players in the Midwest region other than those on Kentucky. We all know they are good.)

    Isaiah Taylor (Texas) Taylor missed 10 games earlier this season, and this was a very large reason the Longhorns never quite gelled. Taylor leads the Longhorns in ppg (13.0) and apg (4.6), and has the ability to slash his way to the basket for a score or to create contact and earn a trip to the line. If Texas can string together a couple of wins in the tournament, they have the potential to take down teams like Butler, Notre Dame, Kansas, and even Kentucky, it will be because of the play of Isaiah Taylor.

    Jerian Grant (Notre Dame) Grant is the best player in one of the most proficient offenses in the country. He leads the Fighting Irish with 16.8 ppg and 6.6 apg. The junior point guard absolutely shined in the ACC Championship game, scoring 24 points and dishing out 10 assists against North Carolina. Grant has the potential to take over a game and could lead the Irish deep into the NCAA Tournament.

    Dez Wells/Melo Trimble (Maryland) The dynamic duo (you can decide who is Batman and who is Robin) have both proven throughout this season that they can turn the tides of a game; Trimble with one of his NBA-range threes or Wells with a monstrous highlight reel dunk. Trimble leads the Terps with 16.3 ppg, but Wells is right behind him with 15.4. When these two struggle, so does the team, evidenced by the Michigan State comeback in the Big Ten tournament semifinals. If both players are on their game, and the Terps get decent production from forward Jake Layman, Maryland just might be able to make a run to the Elite Eight or beyond.

    Perry Ellis (Kansas) Ellis leads the second-seeded Jayhawks with 13.8 ppg and seven rpg. Lately Ellis has been limited by a sore knee and has been playing with a back brace, but when the junior forward is healthy and playing well Kansas is an entirely different team. Keep an eye on Ellis in the tournament; the Jayhawks will go only as far as Ellis can carry them.


    It’s just too hard to pick against Kentucky. They have the best starting five in the country, and not only do they win games but they typically dominate in doing so. If I were to make a more original, against-the-grain pick, it would be Notre Dame. Logic says the Wildcats have to lose at some point this season, but for my money, I’ll stick with Kentucky.