NCAA Tournament Midwest Region: Odds, Sleepers And Pick For Bracket

It's Illinois' region to lose

by and

Mar 16, 2021

Is the Midwest Region of the NCAA Tournament the group of death? Perhaps.

Illinois is one of, if not the best team in the country. Uber-talented Houston owns the second seed, while seeds 3-5 — West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Tennessee — all are candidates to make legit runs in the tournament.

All of this is to say that there’s quite a bit of watch in the Midwest.

Here’s a preview of the Midwest region.

Midwest region field:

1. Illinois
2. Houston
3. West Virginia
4. Oklahoma State
5. Tennessee
6. San Diego State
7. Clemson
8. Loyola-Chicago
9. Georgia Tech
10. Rutgers
11. Syracuse
12. Oregon State
13. Liberty
14. Morehead State
15. Cleveland State
16. Drexel

Midwest region favorites:

Illinois (+100)
Oklahoma State (+400)
Houston (+500)
West Virginia (+600)

Odds via

Midwest region schedule:

First round: Friday, March 19
Second round: Sunday, March 21
Sweet 16: Saturday, March 27 and Saturday, March 28
Elite Eight: Monday, March 29 and Tuesday, March 30

Storyline to watch: Which team actually is seeded too low?

Perhaps more so than any other region in the tournament, the Midwest is loaded with teams that will have you saying: “They’re seeded that low?” Oklahoma State is universally thought of as way better than a fourth seed. Tennessee as a fifth seed is surprising.

But, as we learn every year, just because a team seems like a bad fit for a given seed doesn’t mean they actually are. Who knows, maybe Oregon State blows Tennessee’s doors off in the opening round, or Liberty does the same to Oklahoma State.

What we do know though is that this is a really top-heavy bracket, and while Illinois deservedly is the favorite, it would not be the least bit surprising to see a team further down in the seeding make a legit run.

Player to watch: Cade Cunningham, Guard, Oklahoma State

Having such a dynamic player is reason alone that it’s shocking the Cowboys are seeded fourth.

Cunningham is considered the consensus No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA draft, and the 6-foot-8 guard is poised to put himself on the map this March. A true freshman, Cunningham shot 45.4 percent from the field this season, averaging 20.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game with Oklahoma State.

You’ll soon be plenty familiar with him in the NBA. Get to know him now.

Midwest region sleeper: Clemson

This is more matchup-based than anything, and because it’s tough to call any of the top six teams sleepers. The seventh-seeded Tigers face Rutgers in the first round, and if they win that, it’s likely that second-seeded Houston will be awaiting them. The Cougars have a ton of skill, but they also faced a lot of soft competition this season and always had their hands full when playing a ranked team. That might not mean anything in the end, but if being battle-tested is your thing, Houston doesn’t check the boxes as much as you might like.

Granted, Clemson is coming off a bad loss in the first round of the ACC tournament to Miami, but they went 3-3 against ranked opponents this season, so if the coin flips in their favor early on in the tournament, they could be interesting to watch.

Sam Panayotovich’s betting pick: Illinois

There isn’t a team in the country playing better basketball over the last three weeks than Illinois. The Illini wrapped up their regular season with wins at Wisconsin, at Michigan and at Ohio State. Then they won the Big Ten tournament. Not too shabby.

A potential matchup with West Virginia scares the hell out of me, but Illinois is the best team from the best conference in the country. And with the way Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn are playing, Illinois will be extremely tough to beat before the Final Four.

Thumbnail photo via Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports Images
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