Midwest Region Breakdown
The Midwest Region has plenty of very good teams, including champions from the Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Mountain West, MAAC regular-seasons, as well as the Pac-10 tournament, plus a team that was the No. 1-ranked team in the land just a couple of months ago. Furthermore, this region is home to the overall No. 1 seed in the entire bracket, Louisville. West Virginia has proven it can compete with some of the best teams in the country, and Boston College beat Duke and North Carolina. This could be an exciting region.
Favorite: Louisville. The Cardinals are one of the hottest teams in the country right now, and won both the Big East regular-season and tournament titles. They have plenty of talent, led by Terrence Williams, who has become an all-around star this year. Earl Clark is a match-up nightmare for opponents, and Samardo Samuels is tough down low. Jerry Smith knocks down shots from the perimeter. Plus, Rick Pitino is tournament-tested. The only question with this team is consistency at the point guard spot.
Contenders: Michigan State, Wake Forest. Michigan State came into the season as one of the contenders for a Final Four, and have shown flashes of that talent – but not on a consistent basis. Tom Izzo has a load of talent on his hands, led by ultra-quick point guard Kalin Lucas and versatile forward Raymar Morgan, who battled walking pneumonia for several weeks. Goran Suton is a solid inside player, while Durrell Summers and Chris Allen provide scoring from the perimeter. Travis Walton is an outstanding defender and leader, and forward Delvon Roe has a lot of potential. Wake Forest might have the most NBA talent in the country outside of maybe North Carolina. The Demon Deacons were ranked No. 1 in January before slumping somewhat in February. Jeff Teague is one of the best guards in the country, though he has slowed down recently. James Johnson and freshman Al-Farouq Aminu are two very talented forwards who create match-up problems. Chas McFarland adds to the big Wake frontline.
Sleepers: West Virginia, USC. West Virginia has shown it can beat anyone in the country, as it defeated Pittsburgh just one week ago in the Big East Tournament. The Mountaineers have a great wing tandem in Da’Sean Butler and Alex Ruoff, and plenty of athletes and depth along the frontline. Devin Ebanks is tough to defend. They are young, though, with two freshman starters, including Daryl Bryant at point guard. USC is one of the hottest teams in this region, coming off of a Pac-10 Tournament title. They have a tremendous amount of talent, starting with Demar DeRozan and underrated scorer Dwight Lewis on the wing. Daniel Hackett can do a little of everything, and Taj Gibson is an inside force at both ends of the floor. Plus, coach Tim Floyd is the king of junk defenses.
Non-BCS Teams to Watch: Siena, Utah. How can you go wrong with the Saints? They blew out Vanderbilt in the first-round of last year’s Tournament, and are even better this year. The Saints are led by their outstanding perimeter group. 6-3 Kenny Hasbrouck and 6-6 Edwin Ubiles are the leading scorers on the team and are both capable of carrying the team to victory. Hasbrouck is one of the better guards in the mid-major world, while Ubiles has good size and a very tough-to-defend skill set. Ronald Moore, a terrific passer, is the least heralded of the three starters, but he might be the most important one. Alex Franklin is a load up front, and Ryan Rossiter is a very good rebounder. Utah has been flying under the radar all season long, but received too high of a seed and also got a terrible match-up with Arizona in the first-round. The Utes are a very balanced and efficient offensive team, and a phenomenal defensive rebounding squad. Luke Nevill leads the way down low. He is an NBA prospect at center and can carry Utah. Shaun Green flanks him up front. Shooter Lawrence Borha and double-figure scorer Tyler Kepkay are solid in the backcourt, with Kepkay the team’s sixth man. Carlon Brown can do a little of everything.
Upset Pick: Arizona over Utah; North Dakota State over Kansas. The Arizona-Utah game is going to be one of the most-picked upsets in the Tournament. No, I don’t think Arizona should have received a bid to the Dance, but once you’re in the Tournament, it’s a whole new season. The Wildcats have plenty of talent and one of the best trios in the country in Nic Wise, Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill. Hill vs. Utah’s Luke Nevill down low will be a great battle. As for North Dakota State, I’ve been on the Bison bandwagon since early in the season, and I’ve thought that if they played an inexperienced team that doesn’t take care of the ball very well, they could pull the upset. Enter Kansas. And enter NDSU into the second-round. The only question will be if NDSU can defend Cole Aldrich on the interior.
Top Five Players (only one per team):
1. Jeff Teague, Wake Forest
2. Sherron Collins, Kansas
3. Tyrese Rice, Boston College
4. Evan Turner, Ohio State
5. Luke Nevill, Utah