NCAA Tournament: Midwest Region Preview

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AUSTIN, TX - FEBRUARY 25: Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks drives around Andrew Jones #1 of the Texas Longhorns at the Frank Erwin Center on February 25, 2017 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)

NCAA Tournament: Midwest Region Preview

This NCAA postseason looks like one that will be full of surprises (but then again, it’s called March Madness for a reason), and the Midwest region is no exception.

 

The Favorite

(1) Kansas Jayhawks 

Kansas had yet another impressive season after finishing 28-4 overall and 8-2 against RPI Top-50 teams. After leading the Big 12 for the 13th consecutive season, the Jayhawks were clearly the favorite to win the Big 12 conference title. However, an unranked TCU team upset them in the quarterfinals to knock them out of the Big 12 tourney. Even after the unprecedented loss, they still secured their projected No. 1 seed. This is the second consecutive year Kansas has secured a one seed, and the eighth time under head coach Bill Self.

Led by a dominant backcourt with experience in Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham, and an 8-1 odds to win the tournament, the Jayhawks are the favorite to make it out of the Midwest. However, looking ahead to face either Miami or Michigan State and then a potential Purdue or Iowa State, they certainly aren’t going to make it there without a fight.

Upset Alert

(6) Creighton vs. (11) Rhode Island

Rhode Island, ending with a 24-9 overall record, is one of the current trending upset picks after winning their last eight games of the season. The Rams have the defensive advantage against a Creighton team that has won just 6 of their last 11 games. The Bluejays have struggled with offensive boards this season. Against a Rhode Island team that averages 37.5 RPG, along with allowing just 64.9 PPG (32nd in NCAA), they certainly can’t afford to slip up. Creighton is going to have to rely on their leadership in Marcus Foster and an efficient offense (82.1 PPG) to beat a confident Rhode Island team coming off an Atlantic 10 championship. ESPN Stats and Info has Rhode Island with the 5th highest chance to win their opening game at 39%.

Best Matchup

(7) Michigan vs. (10) Oklahoma St.

One of the most exciting matchups in the midwest is Michigan – Oklahoma State. The Wolverines are coming off of an unexpected Big Ten championship, beating Wisconsin to become the highest-seeded team (8) to ever win the conference tournament. These are two of the highest rated teams in offensive efficiency – Oklahoma State with 122.9 and Michigan with 120.4.

The Cowboys lost in the Big-12 quarterfinals to Iowa State (No. 5 in the Midwest), but they are certainly not a team to underestimate. With Jawun Evans, the team leader in points and assists (19.0 PPG and 6.2 APG), along with Jeffrey Caroll – averaging 17.4 PPG and 6.6 RPG – this team is one that can score the ball and put up a fight. However, Michigan has momentum. If they can slow down the fast pace of Oklahoma State and run an efficient offense as they have, the game is in their favor.

Key Players

Frank Mason III (Kansas)

Senior starting point guard Frank Mason III leads the Jayhawks in PPG (20.8) and APG (5.1) as a team leader this season. Mason is currently shooting a career-high 48.7% from everywhere on the court. This also accounts for the best 3-point shooting in the Big 12 Conference. As Big 12 player of the year, Mason has the potential to help lead this tournament favorite to the national championship game.

Donovan Mitchell (Louisville)

After losing all five starters from a run to the Elight Eight in 2015 and a self-imposed postseason ban last year, Rick Pitino had to look at new options to make a run towards the postseason this year. In his second year at Louisville, Donovan Mitchell has helped Pitino do that. Mitchell leads the Cardinals in PPG this season, averaging 15.7 per game. Along with this, he has dramatically improved his shooting from last year. His 3-point shooting the most improved – from 25% last season to 36.3% this year. He is also taking over double the shots, including threes. Mitchell’s athleticism and energy can be the key to Louisville making a run this postseason.

Caleb Swanigan (Purdue)

The man that no one can miss. At 6-foot-9 and 250 pounds, no one passes by Swanigan on the court or in the stat books. He has averaged an impressive double-double – 18.5 PPG and 12.6 RPG – in his sophomore season with the Boilermakers. It’s pretty straight-forward: if Swanigan is dominant like he has proven to be in games this season, the Boilermakers are looking at a potential run this March.

Monte Morris (Iowa State)

This is Monte Morris’s last season at Iowa State – and he’s not going out unnoticed. Morris is the leader for the Cyclones in PPG (16.3) and APG (6.1). He helped lead Iowa State to their third Big 12 tournament title in his four years at the school. Long story short, Morris is coming into March confident. If he keeps up his hot streak, he has the ability to take this team on a run.

Miles Bridges (Michigan State)

Miles Bridges is a standout freshman in the country this year, but the spotlight hasn’t been this bright all season. With Michigan State heading into their 20th consecutive tournament appearance, they are going to need a dominant Bridges to show up. He currently leads the team in PPG (16.7) and RPG (8.3), along with shooting 48.1% from the field. The Tom Izzo-led Spartans are always looking to make a run in March. However, they are going to need Bridges to take over as a leader to do it.

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