We continue today with a look at our fourth and final region, the Midwest region. The Midwest region is solid with its top two teams, but after that, it’s really a big question mark. I can see all kinds of upsets happening in this region. There are not many safe bets to go around.
Teams most likely to advance to Sweet 16:
#1 North Carolina, #2 Kansas, #4 Michigan, #11 NC State
The first two are obvious. North Carolina and Kansas should be able to put it on cruise control and still advance to the Sweet 16. If UNC runs into Creighton in the second round, they could have some trouble slowing down Doug McDermott, but that won’t be enough for the Blue Jays to pull off the upset. For Kansas, I don’t see St. Mary’s or Purdue giving them any kind of threat. With these last two teams is where it gets interesting. I had Michigan ranked as my #2 team that is most prone to being upset, but I really don’t see any better options here. I think the winner of Cal/USF will drop Temple, and I don’t think Ohio is quite good enough to bring down Michigan. The Wolverines, despite their vulnerability, should be able to get past their first two matchups. And I’m really going out on a limb with NC State. The Wolfpack have been playing great basketball of late, and I think they can knock off San Diego State in round one. That would seem to set up a matchup with Georgetown in the second round, but who knows? The Hoyas always seem to collapse early on in the tourney, so they may not get past Belmont. Even if they do, I still have them as the #1 most vulnerable team to an upset. I’ll take my chances with NC State.
Potential sleeper teams:
#11 NC State, #12 South Florida, #14 Belmont
NC State is definitely the team to watch out for in this region. Like I said before, they are hot right now, and just played one of their best games of the season against North Carolina. I definitely think they can get past San Diego State and possibly Georgetown as well. Speaking of Georgetown, let’s not assume that they’ll advance past the first round. They haven’t in the last two years, losing to #14 Ohio in 2010 and #11 VCU last year. Belmont is a very dangerous team with tournament experience. They almost beat Duke earlier this year on the road, which is nearly impossible, especially for a nonconference team. If the Bruins get hot from outside, look out. South Florida was a late addition to this list after beating California in the play-in game. The Bulls are another physical Big East team that can cause problems and pull off an upset over Temple.
#4 Michigan vs. #13 Ohio
As I mentioned earlier, Michigan is vulnerable to a very early exit from this tournament. Ohio is a team that surprised by winning the MAC tournament, but this is also a team that knocked off #3 Georgetown in the first round two years ago. Talent wise, there’s no question that the Wolverines should easily win this game. But talent only gets you so far at this stage of the season. It takes heart and determination, which is why teams like Ohio can stay competitive with teams like Michigan. I’ll still take the Wolverines though.
#6 San Diego State vs. #11 NC State
As much praise as I’ve given to NC State in this article, I’m still looking forward to watching this game. Even though I believe NC State will make the Sweet 16, it won’t be easy against the Aztecs of San Diego State. San Diego State has beaten some quality competition this year, so you can bet they won’t be afraid of the Wolfpack. But a lot of tournament outcomes rely on which team is hot at the right time, and right now, I think that’s NC State.
#8 Creighton vs. #9 Alabama
Not much attention is being given to Alabama right now. Despite a pretty good record in the SEC, they really didn’t beat anybody that great. With the exception of a few decent wins early on in the season, this Crimson Tide team lacks quality wins. Look for Alabama to try to slow the tempo down and make this a low scoring affair, while Creighton will look to run and force the issue. Ultimately, Creighton has one of the best players in the country in Doug McDermott, and I think that will be the difference maker. Creighton wins.
#11 NC State over #6 San Diego State
I feel like I’m beating a dead horse here. I’ve already said everything that needs to be said about this matchup. Look for San Diego State’s journey to end here.
#12 South Florida over #5 Temple
South Florida has the possible advantage of coming in with a game already under their belts. Remember what happened with VCU last year? They used their opening round win to spark a run to the Final Four. I’m not sure if South Florida is capable of equaling that, but they can definitely beat Temple. Quite frankly, I thought either South Florida or California was going to beat Temple. Since Cal is out, I guess it’ll be South Florida. Yet another #5 seed goes down early.