Well, well, well. Here we are again. March Madness time!
I love this time of year. Although, maybe I shouldn’t. I get super frustrated watching my bracket blow up, just about every year.
Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned is don’t get too cute with the upsets. I used to not do that, but in the recent years I have and it has burned me. Just to be clear I don’t count a five-seed beating a four-seed an upset.
Now don’t get me wrong I will pick a few upsets in the first couple of rounds, but no more 13-seeds moving onto the Sweet 16. I used to win my brackets when I played it safe with my picks. Perhaps that is boring, but hey I’d rather win.
Anyway enough about me, let’s get to the NCAA Tournament 2017 Midwest Region Preview.
NCAA Tournament 2017 Midwest Region Preview
This region is LOADED… I repeat LOADED.
If you just go by the rankings, this region has ten teams from the top-50 of the RPI and three from the top-10. Also a bunch of regular season conference champions.
A lesser known rankings system, but one you should pay attention to is the KenPom rankings.
If you look at these you the same number of teams in the top-50. However, and this is where the bad news comes for Kansas, the rankings are flipped for many of the seeds. This ranking system has Louisville ranked No. 6 and Kansas No. 10. Still legit, but according to KenPom they would not have gotten a one-seed.
Top Four Team Previews
No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks
This team is good, really good. They are led by one of the player-of-the-year candidates, Frank Mason III. They also have super Freshman Josh Jackson. Together these two make quite the opposing duo.
After winning an unprecedented 13th Big 12 regular season title, they fell to TCU in the quarterfinals of the tournament. What you must know is that they were without Jackson due to his suspension.
Their weakness is going to be on the defensive end where they rank 30th according to KenPom in defensive efficiency. This is not bad, but could prove to be their Achilles heal when they face top competition.
Regardless of that they are going to be a tough out. As proven by their great record in games decided by three points or less, 9-1.
No. 2 Louisville Cardinals
Louisville is arguably the best team in this region. They are ranked ahead of Kansas in the KenPom overall rank, adjusted offense and adjusted defense.
Their strength of schedule is very impressive too and they have a ton of wins against top-50 RPI teams. This helped them get to the two-seed despite losing in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament.
However, their struggles against top-25 RPI teams (4-7 record) could predict trouble for them to reach the Final Four.
Still this team has been tested plenty this season and coach Rick Pitino knows how to win in the tournament.
No. 3 Oregon Ducks
Oregon was in the National Championship discussion for much of the season. However, a late season injury to one of their rim protectors, Chris Boucher, and a loss to Arizona in the Pac 12 tournament championship, saw them drop to a three seed.
Their game against Arizona proves they will still be able to compete in this tournament, but ultimately they struggle against the top teams.
No. 4 Purdue Boilermakers
Purdue won the regular season Big 10 title, but still only got a four-seed. This is in part because they lost in the quarterfinals to the eventual champions, Michigan Wolverines.
Their defense is legit, but it may not be enough to overcome their lack of scoring, especially in the second round when they likely face a top notch Iowa State team.
They too have a poor record against Top 25 RPI teams (1-5). This does not give me a lot of confidence they can go deep into the tournament.
Phoenix, AZ Bound
After 2015 when Kansas got knocked out early as a No. 2 seed for the second year in a row. I told myself, I will never pick them to go far again.
Well I guess I have to eat my words because, despite this being a loaded region, I’m picking them again.
After much analysis, Kansas is the most well-rounded team in the region.
Not to mention if they make it to the second weekend, they basically get home games, playing in Kansas City. That’s a pretty nice draw for the No. 1 seed.
Rhode Island Rams
The Rams won the A-10 tournament to lock up their bid to the tournament. Although many believe they would have gotten in anyway.
They are a good defensive team, 32nd in defensive efficiency and allowing just 64.9 points per game. This is bad news for their first-round opponent, Creighton.
Creighton stumbled down the stretch after losing Maurice Watson, losing seven of their last 15 games. The biggest problem is their defense, which allows 72.5 points per game.
The Rams are not as offensively gifted as Creighton; However, they have the capability of shutting them down. This gives Rhode Island a great opportunity to get past them.
Then in the second round, when they likely face Oregon, I like their chances there too. Without Chris Boucher, Oregon will not be the same defensively. This opens the door for Rhode Island to be the true Cinderella of the tournament and be a double-digit seed in the Sweet 16.
Players to Watch
Frank Mason III, Kansas Jayhawks
As I mentioned before, Mason is a player-of-the-year candidate. This dude can score and is also clutch. He has single-handedly won them games. Think versus Duke early in the season.
I’m looking forward to watching one of the best players in the country compete.
Derrick Walton Jr., Michigan Wolverines
This guy is on fire right now, scoring a combined 51 points in the Big 10 semi’s and finals.
He’ll be fun to watch for sure as he looks to carry the Wolverines far in the tournament.
Dillon Brooks, Oregon Ducks
Brooks is going to have to carry the Ducks on his back for them to go far.
This is definitely possible as one of the NCAA best scorers. His per game for the season might be down, but since early February he has averaged 20.5 points per game.
Monte Morris, Iowa State
If you couldn’t tell yet, the Midwest is littered with top point guards. Morris is one of them.
He is a consistent scorer, typically in the double-digits. What he does best though is not turn the ball over. This makes the Cyclones tough to beat.
Marcus Marshall, Nevada Wolfpack
Marshall is a great scoring guard, at 19.8 points a game and does not turn the ball over much either.
What I really want to point out here is that Marcus Marshall and the previously mentioned, Monte Morris, are going to be facing each other in round one.
This may not be the best game of the game in the first round, but this might be the best player matchup to watch.
Best Game in First Round
Michigan vs Oklahoma State
This game is very intriguing.
Michigan has been on a roll lately, winning the Big 10 tournament, thanks to Derrick Walton Jr. There are some who think they got a raw deal with their seeding of 10.
Oklahoma State on the other hand is led by another stud guard, Jawun Evans. They started out the conference schedule 0-6, but turned things around to be one of the best offenses in the nation.
This is going to be one of the best games of the tournament, not just the first round.
It will also keep a lot of people on their toes, because Michigan is a popular Sweet 16 pick.
Can the Top Teams Bounce Back?
As I mentioned before most of the top teams have stumbled down the stretch.
Whether it be an injury (Oregon), losing in the conference tournament early (Kansas, Purdue, Louisville). Or even having off the field issues (Josh Jackson, Kansas).
The big question will be can these teams overcome these obstacles and take down the teams who are rolling entering the tournament (Iowa State, Michigan).