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Bracket Analysis: Midwest Region

The Harrison twins
The pursuit of perfection continues for the Kentucky Wildcats who finished off their regular season and conference postseason a flawless 34-0 and have a shot to be the first men's college basketball team to win 40 games, if they go undefeated in the tournament. Though, the committee did the Wildcats very little favors in their side of the bracket, especially the region. Even so, few teams can match the size of Kentucky down low. Willie Cauley-Stein isn't just a huge dunker or shot-blocker; he is a legit-seven footer with a variety of moves on the block and beautiful polish around the rim, while true freshman Karl Anthony-Towns gets better every single game. The Wildcats would love another great postseason from Aaron Harrison, who hit three clutch threes in three different games to help guide the Wildcats to a National Championship berth, but even if they don't, they have reinforcements. Devin Booker is a much better shooter than either of the Harrison twins and has superb size, while Tyler Ulis has shown amazing composure late in games. Kentucky should clearly roll through the winner of Manhattan and 16-17 Hampton, but Purdue could give them a relative challenge, as they have some great size too. Even so, Kentucky is by far and away the team to put in the Field of 68 and stopping them will be a tough, tough order, though not completely impossible.

The crazy, wreaking press of West Virginia (nicknamed "Press Virginia") helped turn Bob Huggins' team from a bottom feeder inside the Big 12 a year ago to a 23-9 team and a five seed. Though, the Mountaineers should be prepared for an upset against MAC Champion Buffalo, especially if WVU's star guard Juwan Staten is not 100 %. The Bulls can run up and down the floor with anyone, but are much stronger and taller than West Virginia, which could clearly become a major factor. Forward Justin Moss nearly averages a double-double per game, and Buffalo has enough ball-handlers that they could survive the Mountaineers' pressure. If West Virginia doesn't hit some big shots, Bobby Hurley's Buffalo squad could get a huge victory, and the winner of Maryland/Valparaiso better be on guard.

Lately, things just haven't gone Kansas' way in the Big Dance. The Jayhawks have had a long history of high seeds and occasional upsets but aside from a National Championship appearance a few years ago with forward Thomas Robinson, the Jayhawks have struggled in March. First, there was that huge upset by Northern Iowa in the second round of a tournament in which Kansas was a No. 1 seed, there was that near half-courter by Trey Burke to guide Michigan to a Sweet 16 win, and then just last year Stanford handled Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid in the third round. Now, Kansas is in the toughest region of the tournament, where the tough games start right away in the third round, assuming the Jayhawks handle 15-seeded New Mexico State. Wichita State was given a seven seed a year after finishing the regular season undefeated and they could give Kansas an extremely tough fight in the third round, assuming they can take down the struggling Indiana Hoosiers. If the Jayhawks do survive they could have a date with the winner of Butler/Notre Dame and eventually a matchup with Kentucky could loom. Sure, Kansas has a ton of talent and has the consistency at point guard in Frank Mason they haven't had the past few years, but they will have a very tough time doing much damage this March.

Mike Brey's first season in the ACC was a disaster at Notre Dame in 2013-2014. The Irish struggled to score, defend and do pretty much anything else and were eliminated in the first round of the ACC Tournament. A year later, Brey's Fighting Irish are coming off a ACC Tournament Championship and are a major Final Four dark horse. Guards Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson will give teams fits. Grant is more of a scorer, a strong athletic guard who has unlimited range while Jackson has improved wildly as a sophomore and will lead the offense. Pat Connaughton is a problem for anyone to guard as he can space the floor as well as anyone. And, the Irish have pretty good size underneath, led by superb center Zach Auguste. Northeastern, making their first tourney appearance in decades, haven't seen a team with the balance and depth of Notre Dame while making Colonial Athletic Association opponents. There is some worry that the Irish could have moments where they can't get anything going offensively whatsoever, as was the case in the second half against Miami in the ACC Quarterfinals, but even so, the Irish are a seriously scary team and could make a serious run to at least the Elite Eight.

The magic of the Brad Stevens era at Butler has not completely faded. After a one-year absence under head coach Brandon Miller (resigned prior to the season with health issues), the Bulldogs are back and ready to mess up some brackets as a dangerous six seed. The return of guard/forward Roosevelt Jones has been huge for the Bulldogs, who have been very dangerous inside Big East play. Guard Kellen Dunham also has been huge, and could play a very similar role to the one that Shelvin Mack played when Butler went on those consecutive Final Four runs under Stevens. Texas snuck into the field as an 11-seed despite an extremely poor resume. Despite being a preseason Top 10 team, the Longhorns limped to a 20-13 record, that included a sub-.500 conference record of 8-10. A healthy Isaiah Taylor could give Butler some issues but the fundamentally-sound Bulldogs are very scary. Notre Dame better be on the lookout in the third round, as should the region as a whole.

Midwest Picks
Second Round

1 Kentucky over
16 Manhattan (beats Hampton in First Four)

9 Purdue over
8 Cincinnati

12 Buffalo over
5 West Virginia

4 Maryland over
13 Valparaiso

6 Butler over
11 Texas

3 Notre Dame over
14 Northeastern

7 Wichita State over
10 Indiana

2 Kansas over
15 New Mexico State

Third Round

1 Kentucky over
9 Purdue

4 Maryland over
12 Buffalo

3 Notre Dame over
6 Butler

7 Wichita State over
2 Kansas

Sweet 16

1 Kentucky over
4 Maryland

3 Notre Dame over
7 Wichita State

Elite Eight (Regional Finals)

1 Kentucky over 3 Notre Dame

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