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Bracket Analysis: Midwest Region

Fred VanVleet
A year removed from their stunning Final Four run, Wichita State went 34-0 and dominated the weak
Missouri Valley Conference. Of course, their are plenty that doubt the Shockers, whose only real notable wins are against St. Louis and Tennessee. The Shockers are a fundamentally gifted team who plays smart, plays great defense and rebound the ball very well. Their star is senior Cleanthony Early, who had a dominant tourney last season. Early, a gifted forward, averages 15.8 PPG and nearly six boards a game and is a load to handle in the paint. Along with sharpshooting Ron Baker, a former walk-on and sophomore point guard Fred Van Vleet (5.3 assists per game) Wichita has the talent to still make some noise in the tourney. The Shockers will definitely get the chance to prove themselves, they find themselves in a Midwest Region that includes Kentucky, Louisville, St. Louis, Michigan and Duke, all teams that can make some noise. They should beat the winner of the Cal Poly/Texas Southern match up but things get difficult earlier when they get the winner of Kentucky and Kansas State.

Led by ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren, the NC State Wolfpack looked great against Xavier in their First Four battle with the Musketeers. They managed a 15-point victory over Xavier and get St. Louis in their second round game, a team who has cooled down lately after a great start to the year (they have lost four of five). The Billikens, who are just 204th in the nation in points per game, rely heavily on defense, and that mentality starts with forward Dwayne Evans, a shot blocker in the middle. Senior guard Jordair Jett is a solid contributor who will score in a variety of ways and also has great court vision. Even with that the Billikens will get all they can handle from the Wolfpack. First Four teams have had a history of making tournament runs and NC State could be next with Warren and LSU transfer Ralston Turner. Even with the Musketeers' defense smothering Warren he still managed 25 points, making extremely tough shots. Even with a great Billikens' team don't be surprised if NC State makes some serious noise in the Midwest.

With all the interesting seeds that were handed out in this year's tournament (Louisville being a 4, NC State sneaking in, SMU not even making the field) maybe none surprised be more than UMass receiving a 6 seed. The Minutemen started off the year 16-1, with their lone loss being to Florida State, but then fell apart towards the end of the year. They finished up 24-8 this year and 10-6 inside the Atlantic 10, and received a 6 seed in their conference tournament. The A-10 is not a terrible conference but they should not have received that high of a seed after receiving that seed in the conference tourney. They can still hurt teams with senior guard Chaz Williams, who puts up 15.8 points per game and 7 assists per game. Unfortunately, the supporting cast surrounding Williams is relatively weak. Add to that the Minutemen will get an extremely tough second round game with the winner of Iowa/Tennessee. Although the Hawkeyes are struggling they still have fantastic talent with lethal shooter Roy Devyn Marble and solid big man Aaron White. The Vols have one of the nation's best dunkers in Jordan McRae and are extremely hot entering this game. No matter who wins that First Four game, they have a real shoot at taking down the Minutemen.

They might not have won the SEC tournament, but a lot of people, including me, were impressed by Kentucky's performance in it. The Wildcats beat LSU and Georgia along the way to the championship where they had a real chance at snapping the No. 1 Florida Gators' long winning streak. Forward Julius Randle has turned the ball over a lot at times and still lacks the general consistency of an elite player. He can score in mid range and has a number of moves around the basket. The Harrison twins have had their fair share of struggles but they seem to be figuring things out and they are the X-factors. No matter the talent around them, teams can't win much games if they don't have an effective point guard. If James Young gets hot from deep the 'Cats could definitely do some things. Though, they did quite the tough second round bid against a dangerous Kansas State team. Freshman guard Marcus Foster is a dangerous scorer who has a great three-point shot which spreads the floor for their big men inside, like junior forward Thomas Gipson. Kentucky has a rough road with K-State first and then a meeting with Wichita, who should give them all they can handle. Though, it is John Calipari and it is Kentucky and they shouldn't go out without a fight but a 16th Final Four may be a little out of reach.

The Selection Committee showed little respect to the American Athletic this past weekend when they ignored SMU, who was as high as No. 18 two weeks ago, threw down Memphis to a pretty surprising No. 8 seed and then gave Louisville, who received the No. 5 ranking in the final AP poll, a four seed. The defending champ, the Cardinals are trying to prove that the committee made a huge mistake as they hope to get to their third straight Final Four. Even though he can still drive you crazy with some of the shots he takes at times, Russ Smith has definitely matured and improved. His three-point shot has really improved and he has become a much better passer. Sophomore forward Montrezl Harrell has also been huge for the Cardinals and has stepped up to fill the void Chane Behanan left when he was dismissed from the team. Harrell averages 14.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game and is a great defender. They will get the MAAC winner, the Manhattan Jaspers, in their first game. The Jaspers who are 25-7 this year are led by stud senior George Beamon, who is putting up 19.2 points per game this season. The Cardinals should get a win there but things will get tough after that in the "Region of Doom." They get will get the St. Louis/NC State winner and they could get Wichita later and maybe a Duke or Michigan even later.

Picking the Midwest
Second Round
1 Wichita over
16 Texas Southern (beats Cal Poly in First Round)

8 Kentucky over
9 Kansas State

4 Louisville over
13 Manhattan

12 NC State over
5 Saint Louis

11 Iowa (beats Tennessee in First Round) over
6 UMass

3 Duke over
14 Mercer

7 Texas over
10 Arizona State

2 Michigan over
15 Wofford

Third Round
1 Wichita over
8 Kentucky

4 Louisville over
12 NC State

3 Duke over
11 Iowa

2 Michigan over
7 Texas

Sweet 16
4 Louisville over
1 Wichita

3 Duke over
2 Michigan

3 Duke over 4 Louisville

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