At first blush, the Midwest Region seems to be destined to have the top seeds represented in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8; but questions abound for Kansas, Louisville, and Oregon as the opening rounds approach. Although most of the double-digit seeds in this region don’t appear to pose a serious threat, there’s at least one that may knock heads with the big boys.
Jayhawks are going to Kansas City, Kansas City here they come!
There’s no reason to suspect that the Kansas Jayhawks shouldn’t find their way to KC, but will they be able to go any further? Bill Self’s team had another incredible season, scattering four losses throughout the year, including bookends in the season opener, and to close the season in the Big 12 semifinals. Despite their immensely talented backcourt led by Frank Mason III, Devonte Graham, and Josh Jackson, the Jayhawks frontcourt is a bit thin. Could a potential matchup with Michigan State and the Spartan’s tough frontcourt combo of Miles Bridges and Nick Ward be too much for Landen Lucas to handle on his own? This is the time of year that Tom Izzo starts working his magic, but if he can’t, top seeded Kansas should be bound for Kansas City, and a shot to advance out of the Midwest Regional Final.
Cardinals need more Dr. Jekyll, less Mr. Hyde
Louisville may be the one of deepest and most talented teams in the Midwest region, and perhaps the country. However, the biggest issue this team has shown has been its wild personality swings. Particularly glaring during late season losses to Wake Forest and Duke, the Cards have displayed a propensity to squander big leads. UofL can dominate the vast majority of a game, only to completely go away from everything that is working. Those lapses are what terrify and infuriate the Louisville fan base. What is most shocking is that this tendency manifested early in the season during Louisville’s first loss of the year to Baylor. The Cardinals let a 22 point lead slip before falling to the Bears in the Bahamas. That may just be the identity of this year’s version of the Louisville Cardinals. I suspect that Rick Pitino will tighten up the rotation, which should provide more cohesiveness; and Donovan “Spida” Mitchell is the type of player that can carry a team into early April. If the Cards are Dr. Jekyll, they could win it all; if they’re Mr. Hyde, it could be a very early exit.
Rough Rhode ahead for the Ducks
Oregon has spent the entire 2016-17 season among the nation’s elite teams, and still has a loaded roster, and excellent coach in Dana Altman to lead them deep into this tournament. Much will depend on the way the Ducks respond to the loss of versatile 6-10 senior Chris Boucher. While Boucher was important, this team goes as junior Dillon Brooks goes. However, the injury essentially cost Oregon a seed line, which is ridiculous since seeding should be based on a team’s body of work. Will the Duck’s be ultra-motivated by the injury and a little bit of a slight by the committee, or will these late season factors lead to a bit of a malaise? I’m leaning toward the latter. Assuming Oregon survives the Round of 64 against Iona, the Ducks may be in for a rude awakening in the Round of 32 against Rhode Island.
Rams are a dark horse?
Don’t sleep on Rhode Island. As mentioned above, URI could be a serious stumbling block for Oregon should they run into each other in the Round of 32. The Rams were sitting squarely on the bubble, and then ripped off eight wins in a row, and took the Atlantic 10 Tournament title to ensure a spot in the field. Dan Hurley’s squad has solid inside-outside balance with E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin; and has shown a ton of grit down the stretch. In a region that appears to be set up for the chalk to advance, Rhode Island is poised to make a run. Certainly the opener against the Creighton Blue Jays will be no cakewalk, but if the Rams escape, there’s no reason that Hurley’s club can’t bounce the 3 seed Oregon, and find themselves in the Sweet 16.
Perfect storm for the Cyclones
Over the last few seasons, Iowa State has been a huge disappointment (I know they’ve killed my bracket), but the path the Cyclones face may be tailor-made to make amends. I loved the Steve Prohm hire when Fred Hoiberg bolted for the NBA; and although it took some time to come together, ISU has the pieces in place to do some damage this year. A rare senior-laden team in college basketball, the Cyclones are in great hands, particularly with Naz Long and Monte Morris. After several bitter tournament showings, look for Iowa State to get past #4 seed Purdue, to set up another Big 12 showdown with rival Kansas in the Sweet 16.
North Carolina Central and UC Davis will square off on Wednesday for the right to be the first roadblock for the Jayhawks on their way to a cozy spot in Kansas City. There should be a lot of answers about the Midwest Region when the Round of 32 wraps up on Friday evening, but don’t be surprised if there are even more questions.
E-mail Damon at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @DamoKnowsSports.
Photo via Flickr/Brett Hurd