The Midwest Region was mostly a blood-bath on Thursday. Kentucky rolled as expected. As with many one seeds, they were up big early and then coasted in the second half. The only thing that stood out was that 15 (!) guys saw the court for the Wildcats. Six of those guys saw only one or two minutes. What’s the point? I never understood that. Otherwise nothing to see here.
The Notre Dame/Northeastern game started the tourney off with a bang. Notre Dame’s reputation for laying an egg in the tournament precedes itself and almost came through here. The Irish were on the brink of disaster, but won because of their huge edge in turnovers, including on the final possession when Northeastern couldn’t get off a shot. The Fighting Irish maybe had a little luck carry over from St. Patrick’s Day as they were able to pull out a win despite allowing Northeastern to shoot 49% and nearly getting doubled up on the glass (33-17). The biggest surprise may have been the Irish, known for their 3-point shooting, going only 2-6 from deep. They’ll have to make more than that to beat Butler on Saturday.
As for those Bulldogs? They were another Midwest team lucky to come out with a win (turned out to be the theme of this region in general). They played a grinder against Texas, not that it was overly surprising. Butler is known for their physicality and defense and the Longhorns were 15th in the nation in defensive efficiency. Butler was able to pull away in the end because of execution and a lack of turnovers. Like Notre Dame, they took care of the ball much better than their opponent. Unfortunately, just like Notre Dame they got pummeled in rebounding (41-28). The good news for the Bulldogs is that that rebounding edge, or lack thereof, was the result of the Longhorns incredible size advantage, both in height and weight and NBA talent as well. That’s not something Butler will have to deal with against Notre Dame. The Bulldogs’ physicality will be a lot for the Irish to handle and if they can limit outside shooting the way they did against Texas, they have a good chance of making it to the second weekend.
The other Midwest game on Thursday was of similar ugliness as the Texas-Butler affair. The only reason Purdue or Cincinnati got into the 60s was because it went to overtime. Purdue squandered opportunity after opportunity and was an abysmal 4-26 from 3-point range. In the end this game has little significance since the winner’s prize is going up against Kentucky next. Cincinnati is a gritty, defensive team but they got outrebounded 51-38 against Purdue, what’s going to happen against the Wildcats on Saturday?
The Midwest region certainly provided intrigue and close games on Thursday, let’s just hope that intrigue is a little easier on the eyes today.