As some of you know, every March I go absolutely crazy when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. Kind of a weird field this year without defending champion North Carolina, UCLA, Arizona (first miss since 1984) and UConn. However, it’s literally my favorite time of the year and I’ll do my annual region-by-region breakdown. These are for recreational use only, but if you are tempted, I make a profit on my tourney pools a year ago.
Now to the Midwest Region:
Coaching heavyweights everywhere. In this region alone, there are four coaches – Bill Self (No. 1 Kansas), Gary Williams (No. 4 Maryland), Tom Izzo (No. 5 Michigan State) and Steve Fisher (No. 11 San Diego State) that have won national titles while four others – Thad Matta (No. 2 Ohio State), John Thompson III (No. 3 Georgetown), Lon Kruger (No. 8 UNLV) and Paul Hewitt (No. 10 Georgia Tech) – have led their teams to the Final Four. Half of these coaches have coached on the sport’s biggest stage, so don’t expect much in the way of jitters.
Watch out for: No. 3 Georgetown
The Hoyas did an important thing against West Virginia in the Big East final – lost. Typically teams that surprise and win their conference tournaments are knocked out quickly once the NCAA one rolls around, but the Hoyas’ loss might be the best thing for them. They have a unique style of offense based on motion and backcuts, perhaps the most talented interior player in the region in sophomore Greg Monroe and a red-hot wing guard in Austin Freeman. Don’t be surprised if Georgetown is playing Kansas with a Final Four bid on the line.
Stay away from: No. 7 Oklahoma State
There’s a sense that the No. 2 seed in the bracket, Ohio State, might be ready for a fall. Even though the Buckeyes won the Big Ten Tournament this past weekend, they needed a miracle 40-foot shot to beat a below-.500 Michigan team and double-overtime to be an NIT-bound Illinois team to do it. So with a second-round matchup with the Buckeyes looming, Okie State seems to be in good position. However, the Cowboys will be going against an extremely-talented Georgia Tech club in Round 1. I don’t think Ok State will get through that, much less give Ohio State trouble.
High risk, high reward: No. 5 Michigan State
The Spartans are in that always-uncomfortable 12-5 game, as they play a New Mexico State team that has an elite scorer in Jahmar Young. MSU had high expectations coming in after making the national-title game a year ago but wasn’t dazzling during the regular season, with no real notable “elite” wins to speak of. However, Tom Izzo turns into a magician in March and if MSU gets a little momentum, there’s no reason the Spartans can’t beat Maryland in round two and give Kansas a scare in the Sweet 16.
Upset special: No. 11 San Diego State over No. 6 Tennessee, first round
This category is a tough one, as the high-seeded teams are typically squads that don’t fall prey to first-round mishaps. But if there’s one that’s going to happen, it’ll probably be this one, as the Aztecs have a deep, athletic lineup led by freshman Kawhi Leonard, a Riverside King graduate. The Vols, for all of their improvements under Bruce Pearl, have generally underachieved in the tournament. However, Tennessee did beat Kansas and Kentucky at this point this season, so tread lightly on this pick.
Lead-pipe lock: Kansas is going to do damage
In filling out brackets for this tourney, I have a hard time seeing Kansas not make the Final Four. The Jayhawks have a prolific senior point guard in Sherron Collins, a dominant post player in Cole Aldrich, athletic wings in Xavier Henry and Maurice Morris and a deep, plentiful bench. I guess Ohio State could give Kansas problems if Evan Turner goes off and Michigan State is a threat with Tom Izzo, but even in a tough region like this, I’d be shocked to see anyone but Kansas advance to Indianapolis.