NCAA Basketball

NCAA Tournament 2015 Midwest Region Preview


Well, it’s finally that time of the year again! The time in which “employee productivity” is considered an oxymoron, as businesses become near ghost towns with everyone trying to put together that one “perfect” bracket! Every correct pick brings more anticipation of winning the office pool, and every incorrect pick brings more angst and disappointment of falling behind in the race for ultimate bragging rights at the water cooler! Yes, folks, March Madness is officially here! Now, let’s talk about what I like to call the “Region of Doom,” this year’s Midwest Region.

Every team not named “Kentucky” now knows that their road to Indianapolis will most likely involve a meeting with the team that is named “Kentucky.” The Wildcats are not only the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region, but their record has been literally “perfect” this season, as they enter the tournament as the overall top seed at an impressive 34-0. They are the clear favorite to win the National Championship this season, and are a mere six wins away from becoming the first undefeated team to win it all since the Indiana Hoosiers did so in 1976. Even though Kentucky’s record is “perfect,” their game this season has not always been at its peak. They were able to basically walk through their three games in the SEC Championship Tournament, winning each game by 15+ points, but they enter the tournament with a dismal 6.6 steals per game (136th Overall), and a mediocre 25.3 defensive rebounds per game (50th Overall). Even with those down stats, they still rank 3rd Overall in Points Against (54.0/game) and 2nd Overall in Blocks (6.9/game), so they have found ways to keep their opponents from scoring while not forcing turnovers and while allowing more second chances. All things considered, Coach Cal knows how to win, and I do not see him falling one win short in this tournament where he did as a No. 8 seed last season. That being said, my prediction is that Kentucky wins the Midwest Region, as well as the National Championship. They are just too good!

So, now that I have gotten the obvious out of the way, let’s take a look at the rest of the teams in this region that could give Kentucky a run for their money! The No. 2-4 seeds are nothing to sneeze at in this region, as all three teams have had lots of success this season, and could make some noise in the later rounds, assuming chalk wins out in the early rounds. No. 2 Kansas and No. 3 Notre Dame are both coming in on a high note after winning their conference championships, and No. 4 Maryland, who lost in the Big Ten Championship Semifinals to Michigan State, has wins over the West No. 1 seed, Wisconsin, as well as the South No. 3 seed, Iowa State.  Throw in a strong West Virginia team at the No. 5 seed, former Cinderella, Butler, at the No. 6 seed, and last season’s No. 1 seed in this region, Wichita State, at this season’s No. 7 seed, and you can see why I call this the “Region of Doom.”

Indianapolis, IN Bound
As already stated above, I do not see anyone beating Kentucky, so they are my (again, obvious) choice to make it through this region into the Final Four.  The less-obvious question to ask is, “Who do you think will play Kentucky for the Final Four berth?”  Well, for me, it really comes down to the winner of the potential 2-7 match-up between Kansas and Wichita State. Kansas-Kentucky is a great rivalry, but I’m predicting Wichita State to upset the Jayhawks and get past one of this region’s dark horse teams, No. 11 Texas, in the Sweet 16 to set the stage for a rematch of last year’s 1-8 game in the Round of 32.  If that happens, it will be Kentucky’s toughest match-up, in my opinion.

Dark Horse
texasAs I just mentioned, I definitely feel like Texas is one of the Dark Horse teams of this region. I think they are under-seeded as the No. 11 seed, and they have the ability to dance their way straight into the Sweet 16 with some ease if they let their strong defensive play lead the way. Another team I like in this region is the Buffalo Bulls, coached by none other than former Final Four MVP, Bobby Hurley. He has the Bulls flying into the field on an 8-game win-streak, and they sit in the ever-dangerous No. 12 seed spot. That does not bode well for West Virginia, but the one downside of the Bulls is that their defense allows a staggering 68.3 points/game, so if WVU gets on a run, it could be the end of Buffalo’s run at a Round of 32 appearance.

Players to Watch
The Maryland Terrapins have been one of this year’s stronger teams, and probably could have easily been a No. 3 seed in the tourney, all thanks to the stellar play of their guards, Melo Trimble, Dez Wells, and Jake Layman. Trimble, a Freshman Guard, leads the team with a 16.3 points/game average, while Senior G/F Wells and Junior G/F Layman are not far behind at 15.4 points/game and 12.8 points/game, respectively. Layman and Wells also sit at 1-2 in rebounds/game with Layman grabbing 5.9 RPG and Wells at 5.4 RPG. If Maryland expects to make a deep run, they’ll need these guys to keep on their game, otherwise, it could mean an earlier-than-planned exit for the Terps.

The Indiana Hoosiers also have a formidable group of scorers in Yogi Ferrell (16.1 PPG), James Blackmon Jr. (15.8 PPG), and Troy Williams (13.1 PPG). The Hoosiers were squarely on the bubble last week, but if their power trio gets rolling, they could give the Wichita State Shockers fits in their Round of 64 match-up.

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Best Game in First Round
I personally think that almost all of the Round of 64 games in this region are potential nail-biters, with the Kentucky game being the only “given.” That being said, I am really looking forward to the Kansas/New Mexico State game. NMST has four players scoring double-digit points per game, and two more players over 8.1 PPG. Meanwhile, Kansas is going to be without Freshman Cliff Alexander and will have a not-at-100% Perry Ellis, as well. Could this be the making of the next No. 15 seed upset of the No. 2 seed? Guess we’ll have to see how it unfolds later this week!

Biggest Storyline
As already discussed in-depth above, I (along with just about everyone else filling out a bracket) think (know?) that Kentucky will blow through the field and get to the Final Four yet again. The biggest storyline would be if (and that’s a fairly big “if”) Kentucky fails to reach Indianapolis. If WVU can get by the Bulls of Buffalo, they could pose an early threat to Kentucky in the Sweet 16, but I think the bigger challenge will be if the Wildcats have to see the Shockers in the Elite Eight. This is the best region in my opinion, and whether we see the Cinderella storyline, or the “obvious” storyline unfold, either one is bound to be entertaining to all.

About Joe Bond

Not just another "Average Joe" when it comes to Fantasy Sports, he is the fantasy brain trust behind the website. Joe is one of the Experts included in the FantasyPros Consensus Rankings for Football, Baseball and Basketball and finished well each year. You can find him on Twitter, @F6P_Joe, where he is waiting by the keyboard for your question.

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