Welcome to the Midwest Region, or as I've come to call it, the Region of Death. To say this bracket is loaded is an understatement, and lest there be any doubt, Nate Silver suggested that this year's Midwest Region may be the toughest bracket in NCAA Tournament history. Nate Silver don't lie.
By the numbers, that would be Wichita State, as the Shockers delivered quite an encore to their first ever Final Four by earning their first ever No. 1 seed with a perfect 34-0 season. Cinderella's now a debutante at the Cotton Palace. Take a bow, Greg Marshall.
The Shockers are legit, and I'd take them to win the West without hesitation, but man is their road in the Midwest to Jerryworld a long, tough haul. Presumably their opening round match up won't provide much trouble, but after that they'll likely have to beat Kentucky, Louisville, and Duke/Michigan just to return to the Final Four. Frankly, the Committee should have just included UCLA and North Carolina to make the All Blue Bloods Bracket official.
All of the teams in Wichita State's path are "favorites," though they'll knock each other out along the way. Several rating systems have Louisville pegged as the No. 1 team in the country, and they join Michigan State as a terrifying No. 1 seed masquerading as a No. 4. Michigan is probably underrated by a lot of fans, but if Texas gets passed Arizona State, Longhorns fans will get to see for themselves why the Wolverines are so lethal. And then there's Duke, who can put points up just as quickly and efficiently as Michigan, and though I'll root for the Horns of course, should we lose I'm looking forward to a Duke-Michigan rematch in the Sweet 16.
We might nor hesitate to call a No. 8 seed a sleeper in most cases, but can the team that was ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls really be considered a "sleeper"? And even if they can be, can the Kentucky Wildcats ever be a sleeper? I suppose, if by sleeper one is only meaning to refer to a higher seeded team with a chance to make a run, but the Wildcats certainly aren't flying under anyone's radar.
It's hard to muster much of an argument for any of the highest seeded teams pulling off a first round stunner, let alone a run to the regional finals, but among the at-large teams, the winner of the Tennessee-vs-Iowa play-in game will be dangerous, particularly if it's the Volunteers, who rate as the No. 13 team nationally in KenPom's ratings. I hardly need to say that no one can ever truly replace the charismatic Bruce Pearl, but in his third year at the helm, Cuonzo Martin has done a terrific job assembling a deep and athletic roster that is nasty defensively and on the boards.
/stares wistfully in the direction of San Antonio
/curses Scott Drew
/stares curiously at NC State's name in the bracket
/continues to curse Scott Drew
Best First Round Match Up
The Tennessee-Iowa play-in game is Must See TV, but both the Kentucky-vs-Kansas State and, especially, Texas-vs-Arizona State games feature intriguing match ups. The Sun Devils and Longhorns are almost mirror images of each other, with speed demons at point guard and a long frontcourt that protects the rim exceptionally well. Kansas State, meanwhile, has spent the last three days listening to incessant talk about a potential showdown with Louisville in the Sweet 16.
12 over 5?
It's plausible. Assuming Xavier can get by NC State, at least, the Musketeers can plausibly score enough to pull off the upset over the defensive-minded Bilikens of St. Louis, one of twenty-two Atlantic 10 teams to earn a bid to the Dance.
All Region Team
Russ Smith (Louisville)
Glenn Robinson (Michigan)
Nik Stauskas (Michigan)
Jabari Parker (Duke)
Cleanthony Early (Wichita State)
Coach K is indignant that we're even entertaining such a question for any region in which he's included. With apologies to Rick Pitino and Greg Marshall, he's right. Let's just move on before Wiggo starts to feel a tingle in his pants.
Regional Final To Root For
There are two semifinals match ups in the Midwest that I'd be delighted to see (not counting Texas, which is the first choice, obviously). First, although I'd be happy to see Wichita State successfully navigate this treacherous region, I confess to hoping we get a Louisville vs Kentucky Sweet 16 -- not even for the basketball, but for the pure spectacle of watching the Bluegrass nation descend into anarchy.
(1) WICHITA STATE over (16) Texas Southern
(8) KENTUCKY over (9) Kansas State
(12) XAVIER over (5) St. Louis
(4) LOUISVILLE over (13) Manhattan
(11) TENNESSEE over (6) UMass
(3) DUKE over (14) Mercer
(7) TEXAS over (10) Arizona State
(2) MICHIGAN over (15) Wofford
(1) WICHITA STATE over (8) Kentucky
(4) LOUISVILLE over (12) Xavier
(3) DUKE over (11) Tennessee
(2) MICHIGAN over (7) Texas
(4) LOUISVILLE over (1) Wichita State
(2) MICHIGAN over (3) Duke
(2) MICHIGAN over (4) Louisville