At first glance, the Midwest Region of this year’s NCAA Tournament is loaded with high-profile programs. Five of the 17 teams have won a national title since 1983. The Kansas Jayhawks are the top seed, and the Duke Blue Devils and Michigan State Spartans could be on a collision course on the bottom half of the bracket. This is not just a bracket for the big-name schools though, as nine of the teams in the Midwest Region won their regular season conference title. From the fourth-seeded and SEC champion Auburn Tigers to the 16th-seeded and Ivy League champion Pennsylvania Quakers, the championship pedigree runs deeps in this region.
Midwest Region Preview: The Region of Champions
Best Four Days in Sports
The NCAA Tournament is widely regarded as one of the best sporting events in the world. There is never a shortage of excitement and intrigue, especially during the opening weekend. March Madness is upon us and it’s time to sit back and enjoy the show.
Best Team Match-up
No. 5 seed Clemson Tigers vs. No. 12 seed New Mexico State Aggies
The 5-12 matchup is always one to watch, as an upset in this match-up happens almost every year. The Clemson Tigers finished fourth in the ACC and are making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2011. The Aggies won the regular season and conference titles in the WAC, and come in at 28-5 overall. The Tigers are led by their trio of experienced guards, and they use their suffocating defense to frustrate opponents. Center Elijah Thomas should be able to take advantage of his superior size in the paint and continue his recent run of good offensive performances. For the New Mexico State Aggies, it is all about Zach Lofton. The graduate transfer was named WAC Player of the Year, after winning that award in the SWAC at Texas Southern last season. He and his 19.7 points per game have carried this team all season.
Best Individual Player Match-up
Trae Young took the nation by storm early in the season with the eye-popping numbers he was putting up. However, he and Oklahoma have struggled for consistency down the stretch. Many feel that the Sooners shouldn’t have made it, considering their poor play in recent weeks. However, they did make it in, and they get a chance to prove their doubters wrong. Young is still averaging 27.4 points and 8.7 assists per game. Rhode Island will counter with their star, Jared Terrell. The senior will look to use his size and experience to combat Young’s explosive talent. Terrell is averaging 17.2 points and 1.5 steals per game. If you’re looking for an exciting point guard match-up, the Midwest Region has you covered.
Players to Watch
Wendell Carter – Forward – Duke Blue Devils
While his teammate Marvin Bagley III gets a lot of the attention, Wendell Carter has been equally impressive as a freshman. The 6’10” forward is averaging 13.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game. He is the anchor of Duke’s zone defense, corralling rebounds and protecting the rim. Carter is shooting 56 percent on the season, including an impressive 46 percent from three-point range.
Jarrell Brantley – Forward – College of Charleston Cougars
Charleston’s and Auburn’s high scoring guards will get most of the hype heading into their first-round match-up. However, with the SEC champs’ injuries in the post, Jarrell Brantley may be the key if the Cougars want to pull off the upset. The 6’7” junior is handful in the paint. Brantley is averaging 17 points and seven rebounds per contest. If he can impose his will in the post, then Charleston could put itself in prime position to advance.
Malik Newman – Guard – Kansas Jayhawks
The Mississippi State transfer has had an up and down season for the Jayhawks. Coach Bill Self has lamented his inconsistency. Malik Newman could go for 20+ points one night, then score four in the next game. For the season, he is averaging 13.1 points and 4.9 rebounds per night. The athletic guard was at his best last weekend in the Big 12 Tournament, winning MVP honors for his 24 points and 2.3 steals per game. If he can keep up that production and aggressiveness, Kansas will have a chance to make a deep run through the Midwest Region.
Cassius Winston – Guard – Michigan State Spartans
Like the others players mentioned above, Cassius Winston is not the most heralded name on his team. That honor goes to Miles Bridges. However, it is the sophomore point guard from Detroit who makes this Spartan team go. Guard play is of the upmost importance in March, and Winston is as good a lead guard as there is in the nation. He contributes all over the stat sheet, with 12.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game. Winston is looked to create easy shots for his teammates and run coach Tom Izzo’s offense. He is also shooting lights out from three-point land this season, at a blistering 53 percent. His ball handling, decision making, and free throw shooting (89 percent) also make him the right man to have the ball late in close games.
Alex Robinson – Guard – TCU Horned Frogs
The TCU Horned Frogs have been extremely efficient on offense all season long. They have six players scoring between eight and 15 points and they average a total of 83 points per game. Alex Robinson is the catalyst of that efficiency at the point guard spot. The junior guard is dishing out 6.1 assists, to go along with scoring just under 10 points per contest. If TCU is to advance in the Midwest Region, Robinson will need to be at his best. He is adept at getting into the lane and finding open teammates after breaking down the defense. While he is not a go-to scoring option, he still contributes, shooting 35 percent from three. Unfortunately, Robinson is not a good free throw shooter, so that could hurt if the Horned Frogs are in a tight game.
Region of Champions
From top to bottom, the Midwest Region may be the toughest in the bracket this year. High-profile programs like Kansas, Duke, and Michigan State will look to navigate their way to yet another Final Four. However, this region is full of teams that are used to winning and have acquired their own trophies this season. Whoever comes out of the Midwest Region will certainly be battle-tested. Let the madness begin.
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