Kansas dominated a surprisingly tough Big 12 this season, winning both the regular season and conference tournament titles to earn the top-overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Time will tell if Bill Self’s squad is up for next challenge: survive in the brutal Midwest Region.
Jayhawk fans and college hoops fans in general were very puzzled when the brackets were unveiled, revealing a incredibly daunting Midwest Region and a horribly weak South Region. Thanks to the idiocy of the selection committee and the desire to have teams play close to home to boost attendance, things are likely to get very messy in the Midwest this year. With essentially two No. 1 seeds in Kansas and Ohio State, along with a Georgetown team that looked great in the Big East Tournament and a Maryland team that can play with anyone, this region is ridiculous.
Here’s a closer look at the Midwest Region:
Best First-Round Matchup
No. 10 Georgia Tech vs. No. 7 Oklahoma State
It probably won’t be pretty, but it will almost certainly be close. Georgia Tech struggled through what many feel was a somewhat disappointing season but made an impressive run to the ACC Championship Game. Talented freshman Derrick Favors should be able to dominate Oklahoma State inside, but Georgia Tech is amazingly inept at getting the ball inside. The Yellow Jackets are one of the most turnover-prone teams in the nation and struggle to make entry-passes to Favors and Gani Lawal. Aside from Iman Shumpert, who seems to have more a scoring-guard mentality, Georgia Tech is not a good ball-handling team. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State has James Anderson and little else. Obi Muonelo is an explosive scorer but very passive by nature. Matt Pilgrim and Marshall Moses are completely overmatched inside. Put it all together and you have the makings for a competitive, physical game in the 60’s with lots of fouls.
No. 11 San Diego State vs. No. 6 Tennessee
Steve Fisher takes on Bruce Pearl in a game between old Big Ten foes. Rumors are swirling that Pearl will meet with Iowa athletic director Gary Barta about trying to clean up the mess Todd Lickliter made following Tennessee’s stint in the NCAA Tournament. With a First-Round opponent and a team not wanting to lose its lovable coach, the stint could be very brief. San Diego State has a veteran team but is led by one of the best freshman in the country nobody seems to be talking about. Kawhi Leonard put together a remarkable season with 17 double-doubles as a freshman and could cause UT fits inside. SDSU is a versatile team with weak guard play–very similar to Tennessee. Unlike the Volunteers, the Aztecs don’t rely heavily on streaky 3-point shooter to score. If guard D.J. Gay can handle Tennessee’s press, the San Diego State could bring Wayne Chism’s seemingly endless career in Knoxville to an end.
So many choices. Because of the bizarre seeding, upsets are almost an inevitability in this region. Ohio State and Kansas could easily fall early on. Ohio State ‘s lack of depth will be a problem at some point, and a meeting with Georgetown could spell the end of the road for the Bucks. The Hoyas have a healthy Austin Freeman and Chris Wright’s busted out of a late-season slump with a dazzling performance in the Big East Tournament. Georgetown has the size and athleticism to contain Evan Turner–somewhat at least. At the top of the region, Kansas will be tested by Northern Iowa or UNLV in the Second-Round with a Maryland or Michigan State matchup up next. The Terps are talented and Michigan State always plays well in the Big Dance, regardless of how bad they have been playing late in the season. Thanks to the selection committee, Kansas might not even make the Elite Eight. Yikes.
Few teams in the country are playing as well as Ohio State right now. The Buckeyes have won seven straight and 17 of 20 since Evan Turner returned from his back injury. Nobody in the Big Ten could even come close to slowing down Turner, but an athletic region will certainly present a challenge. Ohio State could prove that depth isn’t that big of a deal when you have one of the best players in the country.
Fading at the Finish
Michigan State has yet to reinstate suspended guard Chris Allen, Durrell Summers has been benched for long stretches, Delvon Roe’s knee is acting up again, and teams have finally figured out how to defend Kalin Lucas. Michigan State hasn’t been the same since a three-game losing streak in early February and has a difficult First-Round matchup with New Mexico State. The Spartans should be able to circle the wagons for the NCAA Tournament, but a deep run in this field would certainly be a surprise.
The slipper fits
There are hardly any teams in the Midwest Region that fit the criteria of being a true Cinderella. The best chance appears to be with a possible Northern Iowa or UNLV win over top-seeded Kansas in the Second-Round. San Diego State could easily win First-Round games, but getting much further seems unlikely given the matchups.
This region alone could destroy everybody’s brackets. It won’t be easy, but I’m looking for Kansas and Georgetown to emerge from the rubble and crawl into the Elite Eight in the Midwest. Georgetown to the Final Four with a close win over KU.