The Midwest doesn’t have the most quality teams of the four regions in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, but it might have the best collection of head coaches.
Kansas’ Bill Self, Louisville’s Rick Pitino and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo all own national championship rings and two of them, Pitino and Izzo, already have been enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. They should have their players well-prepared for the pressures of March Madness.
Here’s a complete preview of the Midwest Region.
Player to Watch: Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas
Jackson likely will be a No. 3 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, but a good performance in the NCAA Tournament could vault him into the top two on some draft boards. The freshman small forward is an explosive offensive player who attacks the basket off the dribble and finishes well at the rim. His 1-on-1 defense is impressive, too, as Self often puts Jackson on the opponent’s best perimeter scorer. Jackson’s two-way game will be on full display for a deep, super-talented Kansas team expecting to make a title run.
Best First-Round Game: No. 8 Miami vs. No. 9 Michigan State
Kansas couldn’t have been happy when it saw its possible second-round opponents.
Miami had an up-and-down season, but it does own quality wins over North Carolina and Duke. The Hurricanes also rank inside the top 25 in points allowed per game, and their length and athleticism makes them tough on the defensive end.
Michigan State is experienced, well-coached by Izzo and is no stranger to quality opponents after playing a grueling schedule that included non-conference games against Duke, Kentucky, Arizona and Baylor. The Spartans also will be motivated to make a deep run after being upset in Round 1 as a No. 2 seed last season.
This matchup should be close throughout and provide plenty of excitement.
Best Chance for an Upset: No. 12 Nevada over No. 5 Iowa State
This matchup has the makings of a classic 12-5 upset. Nevada had a tremendous season and carries a lot of momentum into the first round as the Mountain West Tournament champion and winner of nine straight games. The Wolfpack, led by senior point guard Marcus Marshall (team-leading 19.8 points per game), have a high-scoring offense averaging 80 points per game. They also have a plus-9.1 point differential per contest. Nevada’s scoring depth should be too much for the Cyclones.
Region Winner: Kansas
Kansas might have a tough second-round test, but this region probably is the weakest of the four. Louisville is the worst No. 2 seed in the tournament, and No. 3 seed Oregon has been hit by injuries. No. 4 Purdue and No. 5 Iowa State won’t scare anyone, either.
The Jayhawks by far are the most talented team in this region and should emerge as its representative in the Final Four unless they beat themselves with turnovers and bad decisions in clutch moments. Kansas is well-tested, too, with quality wins over Duke, Kentucky, Baylor (twice) and West Virginia.
Prediction: Kansas defeats Louisville in the Elite Eight
Thumbnail photo via Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports Images