Bracket Breakdown: Midwest Region
Upsets, Upsets Everywhere
Overview: The Midwest bracket could get real interesting, real quick. The top two seeds are both rock solid, but this region also features some extremely potent lower seeds. North Carolina seems to have a nice path to the elite eight, but their toughest battle could very well be in the second round. If Creighton can escape a banged-up Alabama team, then the Jays potent offense could give the Tar Heels a scare in the round of 32. The bottom half of the bracket appears wide open. Kansas is a strong two seed, but several of the lower seeds in that region have the talent to make a run to the elite eight. This bracket looks to have more upset potential than the other three. We could see a couple double-digit seeds squaring off in the round of 32. There’s even a chance a double-digit seed could sneak into the elite eight.
Chalk Holds If: If North Carolina plays defense the same way they did after the Florida State loss they could win the title. The Tar Heels defensive effort seemed to come and go throughout the season, but when they really focus on locking teams down they might be the best team in the country. They also need John Henson to return from his wrist injury if they hope to make a real run at the title. Henson is the anchor of North Carolina’s revamped defense. He protects the rim, and he’s one of the few players that can completely control a game from the defensive end. The Tar Heels will score with anybody. Their offense is among the best in the country. And if they pair that with an outstanding defensive effort they could rival Kentucky as the most complete team in the tournament.
Favorite Outside Of Number One: If North Carolina gets taken down it probably won’t happen until the elite eight. Kansas has enough weapons that they could give the Tar Heels plenty of trouble. This is one of Bill Self’s least talented teams, but they play with more chemistry than some of his recent teams that were upset early in the tournament. The Jayhawks have a dominant tandem inside with Big 12 Player of the Year, Thomas Robinson, and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Jeff Withey. Those two inside forces could match Carolina on the interior. The key for Kansas will be Tyshawn Taylor. The senior point guard made huge strides this season and developed into one of the better guards in the Big 12. He cleared up his turnover problem for most of the season, but he still plays with a reckless streak. If he unleashes an 11 turnover game like he did earlier this year against Duke the Jayhawks could be in for an early exit. If Taylor plays under control and provides the level of scoring he has most of the season then the Jayhawks could wind up in the Final Four.
Possible Sleepers: This region is loaded with sleepers who could make a run for more than one round. Look no further than California in the twelve seed play-in game. They have major conference talent, but they struggled to pick-up big wins in their non-conference. If they can play to the level of their talent they could make some noise. Ohio is a team that is athletic enough to scare just about any team they face. The bottom half of the bracket has the real sleepers who could make some noise. N.C. State is red hot and playing much better than an eleven seed. They are also playing much better than their six seed match-up, San Diego State. Belmont is a scary fourteen seed with tournament experience who won’t be afraid of Georgetown’s talent. Both Belmont and N.C. State have the ability to make a run to the sweet sixteen and maybe the elite eight. St. Mary’s is another team that could ruin a few brackets. They are favored in round one. If they win their first game, they could give Kansas nightmares in the round of 32. In all of the Jayhawks losses they struggled to defend the three-point line. They gave up 7 three-pointers or more in all six losses. They gave up double-digit three-pointers in three of them. Duke, Davidson, Missouri, and Iowa State are all very good three-point shooting teams that beat Kansas this year. St. Mary’s can shoot the three-ball with anyone in the country.
Most Vulnerable Team: Georgetown played really well for most of the regular season, but they struggled to win away from home during conference play. Cincinnati was able to knock them off in the tournament despite struggling to shoot the ball. The Hoyas lost two of their last three games, and they have not won a marquee game away from home since December 28th.
Players To Watch:
1. Doug McDermott (Creighton) – Finally, the rest of the country will get to witness the machine-like efficiency of McDermott. The All-American sophomore poured in astounding numbers all season long. He averaged 23 points and eight rebounds per game. He also shot the ball like he set the game to rookie mode. McDermott shot 61 percent from the field and nearly fifty percent from beyond the arc. He’s not a flashy player, but he does all of the little things that help a team win. He’s crafty in the post and displays a great shooting touch from anywhere on the arc. He’s also a willing passer with above average court vision. If the Tar Heels defense does not show up, McDermott could single-handedly lead the Jays to an upset.
2. Kendall Marshall (North Carolina) – He might be the most important piece of the puzzle for an extremely talented North Carolina team. Marshall keeps the Tar Heel machine running smooth. He distributes the ball well and keeps the offense from becoming stagnant. He’s second in the nation in assists, and he will make at least one pass per game that will make you react like you caught the Holy Ghost.
3. Ray McCallum Jr. (Detroit) – It’s extraordinarily rare that a McDonald’s All-American winds up at a Horizon league school. But, when your father is the head coach at Detroit the odds go up exponentially. McCallum is a sophomore guard with extreme athleticism. He can jump out of the gym, and he’s creative with the ball in traffic. His scoring ability alone will keep Detroit in the game against any team they face.
4. Jamaal Franklin (San Diego State) – San Diego State appears to be a trendy pick to lose in the first round to N.C. State. If that happens it won’t be because of Franklin. This sophomore guard stepped up in a big way this season. He leads the Aztecs in scoring and rebounding. At nearly eight rebounds per game he might be the best rebounding guard in the nation. He’s also the master of the backdoor cut for an electrifying dunk. If Franklin gets hot, the Aztecs could go from trendy one and done pick to potential sweet sixteen team.
5. D.J. Cooper (Ohio) – There’s nothing that says mid-major superstar like a sub-six foot guard who can light up the scoreboard. Cooper is undersized, but he’s got the court vision and athleticism to make up for it. In the MAC tournament he hit nine three-pointers and dished out fifteen assists in the last two games to help the Bobcats reach the tournament. If Michigan doesn’t find a way to get Cooper out of his rhythm they could be in for a shock in their opener.
Thinking Deep: Sometimes a pick makes very little since until you breakdown the match-ups. Detroit over Kansas looks ridiculous on the surface. However, a closer examination reveals that Detroit is not your average fifteen seed. In fact, the Titans have more McDonald’s All-Americans than Kansas. They have one. Ray McCallum Jr. is the type of athletic perimeter player that could give the Jayhawks fits. The Titans also feature a big man down low who can bang with Robinson. Eli Holman started his career at Indiana, and at 6’10 and 260 pounds he has the size and pedigree to play with the Kansas big inside. Add in the fact that the Jayhawks have a propensity to overlook mid-major teams, and this game could be an early round shocker. Be aware, this pick is not for the faint of heart. This could go very wrong, and you might be staring at a final four squad that you took out in round one. But if you’re right...you can hold it over your co-workers heads for many, many years.
The Pick: North Carolina just looks too deep and too talented to fumble this region away. They are easily the most talented team in the region. There will be plenty of upsets in the Midwest, but ultimately chalk will prevail and I’m not talking about the silly chant used by the two seed.