Midwest Regional: Tale Of The Tape

The Midwest Regional is the biggest of the four brackets in the NCAA Tournament, as three of the “First Four” games in Dayton will be in this region. Thus, the Midwest has two teams at the 11, 12 & 16 seed lines respectively, for a 19-team bracket overall. Wichita is the 1-seed and this regional will ultimately be settled in Indianapolis. Here’s a concise summation of all 19 teams, touching on their resume and personnel…

#1: Wichita State—You know the basic story—this is the first team to enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated since UNLV in 1991 and the Shockers are aiming to be the first team since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers to complete a perfect national championship run. They’re led by forward Cleanthony Early (15 ppg) and a good three-guard backcourt, led by Fred VanVleet, who averages five assists per game and shoots 45 percent from behind the arc.

#2: Michigan—The Wolverines lost early games to Duke, Arizona and Iowa State, along with their best player in Mitch McGary. Then they turned it around, won a tough Big Ten by three games and Nik Stauskas became Player of the Year in the conference. Stauskas averages 17 ppg and along with Caris Levert and Glenn Robinson III, is an excellent perimeter shooter. The weakness? Michigan has neither a true point guard nor a true post player, nor a lot of depth.

#3: Duke—Duke has yet to put any real stamp on this season. They lost to Kansas and Arizona in non-conference play. The Blue Devils finished third in the ACC and lost the final game of the conference tournament. The talent is there for Coach K’s kids to change that. Jabari Parker, the hyped freshman, has been “all that”, with 19 points/8 rebounds per game, and Rodney Hood, Rasheed Sulamoin and Andrew Dawkins can all light it up behind the arc.

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#4: Louisville—Rick Pitino’s team has won 12 of its last 13 is barreling into March Madness with a full head of steam. Losses to Kentucky and North Carolina marked a ho-hum non-conference and the low point of the season came with a January 30 home loss to Cincinnati before the Cardinals turned it around. Russ Smith scores (18 ppg), distributes (5 apg) and hits from downtown (41 percent behind the arc). But the big development has been 6’8” Montrezl Harrell scoring and rebounding, and making up for the early season dismissal from Chane Behanan.

#5: St. Louis—The Billikens’ overall body of work is excellent, the Atlantic 10 conference champs and a team that on February 22 had only lost two games—competitive defeats to Wisconsin and Wichita State. They have an exciting point guard in Jordair Jett and a nice small forward in Dwayne Evans. Then St. Louis lost four of their last five games, the quarterfinals of the A-10 tournament. No one on this team is a consistent three-point shooter.

#6: UMass—If you get a chance to watch them, don’t miss point guard Chaz Williams, who averages 15 ppg, distributes the ball and is one of the most electrifying players in college basketball. The Minutemen finished 10-6 in the Atlantic 10 and got wins over NCAA teams BYU and Nebraska outside the league, dropping 201 points in the process. What they don’t do well is shoot the three-ball.

#7: Texas—It’s been a nice bounceback year for Rick Barnes’ program, which appeared to be slipping back into the pack in the tough Big 12. But the Longhorns didn’t finish well, losing five games after February 18. They don’t have a particularly strong backcourt and there will be a lot of pressure on 6’8” junior Johnathan Holmes to carry the load

#8: Kentucky: John Calipari’s team failed to meet the big preseason expectations, struggled to 12-6 in the mediocre SEC and lost most every notable non-conference game, save Louisville. They’ve got talent—Julius Randle averages 15 points/11 rebounds a game, and four starters average in double figures. The criticism from ESPN’s Jay Bilas and others who have watched them is a lack of a good ball movement and that’s reflected in poor assist numbers.

#9: Kansas State—As you would expect of a 9-seed, it’s a mixed bag here. They went 10-8 in the Big 12, but lost their last three games. They knocked off Gonzaga in non-conference, but lost to Charlotte and Georgetown. Bruce Weber relies heavily on a guard-forward combo of freshman Marcus Foster in the backcourt and Thomas Gipson up front.

#10: Arizona State—After upsetting Arizona in double-overtime in mid-February, the Sun Devils really hit the skids. They lost four of six to end the regular season, got blown out by Stanford in the first game of the Pac-12 tournament and frankly, I’d have left them in the NIT. Any turnaround is going to happen with the guards, Jahii Carson and Jermaine Marshall, who together can score quickly, move the ball and hit the trey.

#11: Iowa—Another team that collapsed down the stretch and deserved to be left out of the field of 68. Since mid-February, Iowa’s only victory is a home win over Purdue. Roy Devyn Marble is an explosive scorer on the wing and Aaron White can pound the glass. Somehow, Iowa has to find the blue-collar work ethic that served them so well up until the last several games.

#11: Tennessee—The Vols won five of the last six, and the loss was a competitive one against Florida in the SEC Tournament. We still don’t know how much to make of a hot streak against subpar SEC teams though. We do know Tennessee has a balanced Big Three. Jordan McRae is one of the top scorers in this league in the backcourt, while Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon are both very aggressive rebounders down low.

#12: N.C. State: Big wins over Pitt at the end of the regular season and then Syracuse in the quarters of the ACC tournament got the Wolfpack into the Dance. T.J. Warren was Player of the Year in the ACC, averaging 25/7 from his power forward spot. N.C. State went 9-9 in a moderately good ACC and beat Tennessee on the road in non-conference play.

#12: Xavier: A mediocre body of work, going 10-8 in the Big East, nothing significant in non-conference and no mark on their conference tournament, but I guess a 12-seed placement in the First Four is appropriate for that, because there was nothing awful about it either. Semaj Christon is a big-time scorer at guard. And the Musketeers have some size down low to rebound, along with 6’6” guard Justin Martin doing a good job at crashing the glass.

#13: Manhattan: George Beamon averages 19/6 for the Jaspers, who are going to need to be a Manhattan Perfect is they hope to beat Louisville, if I might draw on a bad joke from my bartending and heavy drinking days in 1991-92.

#14: Mercer: They beat last year’s Cinderella story, Florida Gulf Coast, to get here. Last year, TheSportsNotebook picked FGC’s win as a #15 seed, based on their non-conference victory over 2013 ACC champ Miami. If we look for something similar this year, Mercer only lost to Texas by three points in the first game of the season.

#15: Wofford: The Terriers went out and played NCAA teams from the Atlantic 10 in St. Louis and Virginia Commonwealth, although nothing notable came of it. Karl Cochran is the team’s leading scorer, and second-leading rebounder, although when you’re #2 board man is a 6’1” guard, I’m not sure that’s a reason for optimism.

#16: Cal-Poly: A team that went 13-16 in the regular season, 6-10 in the league and then won the Big West tournament. Chris Eversley averages a 14/7.

#16: Texas Southern: They’ve won nine in a row, are coached by former Indiana boss Mike Davis and have a great player in Aaric Murray, who averages a 21/8. With Murray on his third team and Davis moving down the food chain, from Indiana to UAB to Texas Southern, this is a potential redemption story if they win the play-in game and can play competitively against Wichita.