No. 1 Virginia
There is no question that Virginia will be favorite to go to the Final Four. They have a 26-4 record and finished second in the ACC. The Cavaliers beat Louisville twice and were solid against nonconference teams. They defeated schools like California, Villanova, and West Virginia, which is no easy task. However, Virginia still lost in the ACC Championship game to North Carolina. This is a group led by senior guard Malcolm Brogdon who is averaging 18. 7 points-per-game and the Cavaliers have one of the best defenses in the country. Opponents averaged just 59.7 ppg when playing Virginia during the 2015-16 season.
No. 2 Michigan State
Many are surprised that Michigan State didn’t get a No. 1 seed since they apparently did enough to deserve it. The Spartans accumulated a 29-5 (13-5) mark and started out the season 13-0 and have won 14 of their last 15 games. Michigan State recently captured the Big Ten title by beating Purdue 66-62 in the championship game. Other notables victories came against Indiana, Kansas, Louisville, and Maryland. Michigan State rebounds the ball well as they are sixth in the nation in rebounds-per-game and guys like Matt Costello and Deyonta Davis really are imposing forces inside. They are also a good passing team, ranking first in the country in assists-per-game.
No. 6 Seton Hall
Seton Hall came into the season predicted to be one of the bottom feeders in the Big East. But throughout the season, the Pirates have proved the doubters wrong on several different occasions. They went 25-8 and placed third in the Big East with a 12-6 conference record. They took down Xavier twice this year. The first time was on Feb. 28 when they beat the Musketeers 90-81 and Seton Hall edged Xavier 87-83 in the Big East Tournament semifinals. The Pirates did lose to Villanova twice but got their revenge in the Big East Championship game by defeating the Wildcats 69-67. So they have shown they can compete with the best. Seton Hall will not be favorites against teams like Michigan State, Virginia, or a Utah. However, with a group of physical and hungry guards like Seton Hall has, this certainly isn’t a team to be taken lightly.
No. 4 Iowa State vs No. 13 Iona College
The offensive capabilities of both teams make this a must-watch game. Iowa State is second in the nation in field goal percentage and the Cyclones average 81.8 ppg, which is good for 15th in the country. Meanwhile, Iona isn’t exactly an offensive slouch as they’re 31st in the country with 79.6 ppg. The Gaels are marksmen from the three point line, ranking in the top 15 in three pointers made. Both teams have two high level scorers in A.J. English and Georges Niang, who can take over games. One thing about Iona is that they are entering the tournament with a lot of momentum. The Gaels have won their last five games and defeated Monmouth in the MAAC championship game. Iona did struggle during their nonconference slate, but this is the NCAA Tournament and anything can happen.
Players to Watch:
A.J. English, Iona
English is arguably one of the shooting guards in the nation and the top scorer in the MAAC. During the 2015-16 season, English averaged 22.4 ppg and possesses the ability to score in bunches. He recorded 45 or more points in two games this season. Besides his ability to knock down the three ball (37.4 percent), English is good at creating for his teammates (6.2 apg). English has been on a tear in Iona’s last five games, averaging 23.2 points per contest and had 19 points and five assists against Monmouth. In the MAAC Tournament semifinals against Siena, English scored 29 points and shot 50 percent (5-of-10) from beyond the arc. Iona’s success in the tournament will depend a great deal on how English performs.
Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
The Big Ten Player of the Year is one of the most all around players in the country. It’s really hard to argue with a guy that is as long and fluid as guard Denzel Valentine is. Valentine is averaging 19.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 7.6 assists this season for the Spartans.. He recorded a triple-double twice this year and has drawn comparisons former Spartan and Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green. In the Big Ten championship game, Valentine tallied 15 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists to lead the Spartans past Purdue. If he continues to play at that level, Michigan State will be a tough-out in a wide-open tournament field.
Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
The key to Virginia’s success in the tournament will be Brogdon. The ACC Player of the Year is averaging 18.7 points and 4.1 rebounds per game and is a dark horse for National Player of the Year. Brogdon scored 25 or more points in six games this season and really is the force that makes Virgnia go. In the ACC Championship game against North Carolina, we saw what happens when Brogdon is struggling. He scored 19 points but only connected on six of his 22 shots from the field. Virginia doesn’t really need to rely on Brogdon but they will need him to play at the top of his game if they want to make it to the Final Four.
Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall
One of the reasons why Seton Hall won the Big East Championship was guard Isaiah Whitehead. Even when Seton Hall was a struggling program, Whitehead decided to be a part of a local movement. The sophomore guard scored 26 points and made a clutch layup during the final seconds of the game to lead the Pirates past Villanova. In the last seven games, the Big East Tournament MVP is averaging an impressive 25.8 ppg. This is a guy that can score in a multitude of different ways and could be the driving force if the Pirates are going to make a run.
Michigan State is the team that should win the Midwest Region and go to the Final Four. The way the bracket is set up, the Spartans should be able to handle any team that they come across. This is also a squad that may have a chip on their shoulder.