Midwest Region Preview: Winner, Dark Horse, & Cinderella


March 14

The madness is just three days away, and we’re here to help you find some profitability along your way in the NCAA Tournament. We look at the Midwest Region, where Houston is the top dog with plenty of capable contenders. Let’s look at the top seed, a dark horse, a Cinderella, and who we believe will cut down the nets in Kansas City on their way to the Final Four.

Top Seed: #1 Houston (Final Four +120)

It feels like we do this whole song and dance with a non-power conference 1-seed having to prove itself to the world in March Madness, only it’s Houston this year rather than Gonzaga.

The Cougars are just two seasons removed from their run to the Final Four in 2021, and they are much better this time around. Marcus Sasser leads head coach Kelvin Sampson’s stacked roster as the primary scorer and a lock to be an All-American. Jamal Shead and Tramon Mark in the backcourt as complementary pieces, while five-star freshman Jarace Walker and J’Wan Roberts are highly-skillful big men that lead the frontline.

This team is much more than the sum of its parts, and plenty of that is due to Sampson’s magic dust he sprinkles across the team. Their tenacious defense, elite offensive rebounding, and grind-it-out tempo keep opposing coaches up at night. The Cougs are the real deal and rightfully have the shortest odds to win the national championship.

Dark Horse: #10 Penn State (Final Four +3700)

Penn State is playing its best basketball of the season right now, and they are one of those volatile teams that could catch fire and torch their way through the region.

They are led by First-Team All-Big Ten stud guard Jalen Pickett, who has the Nittany Lions roaring through the use of “booty ball.” Like Wyoming in 2022 with Hunter Maldonado, the offense will often initiate with Pickett posting up against his defensive assignment, either creating his shot or forcing a double-team and finding the open player. It was wildly successful throughout the Big Ten Tournament, bringing them two points short of Purdue in the title game.

Their extreme focus on shotmaking and taking care of the ball leaves them with abysmal offensive rebounding and free-throw rates, but we saw what damage they can do in a one-off tournament in Chicago last week. The Nittany Lions may be a team to take a flyer on to make it out of the Midwest.

Cinderella: #12 Drake (Sweet Sixteen +490)

Drake showed the country what it could do in a nationally-televised pummeling of Bradley in the MVC Championship game en route to their second tournament appearance in three seasons.

This time, they are much older and will take on a Miami team facing a key injury. One of their only productive frontcourt players, Norchad Omier, is looking doubtful to be available for this matchup, leaving space for the 6’10”, 275 lb. mountain that is Darnell Brodie to have a big game. Tucker DeVries is a high-major level stud for the Bulldogs, and Roman Penn is a 25-year-old guard that provides that trusty backcourt presence that is so important in the NCAA Tournament. Drake will spur the upset on Friday, and the Bulldogs even have the potential to reach the second weekend.

Midwest Region Winner: #1 Houston (Final Four +120)

Marcus Sasser will be fine after his injury scare on Saturday, and the Houston Cougars will live up to the hype out of the Midwest. 

Thumbnail photo via Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

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