Everyone is predicting that the Midwest is the toughest of the NCAA Tournament's four regions this year, but remember this is a tournament and only the team in front of you matters and not the whole bracket. The reason this region is being considered so strong is because of the coaching experience and tournament success of those involved:
Bill Self, Kansas- National title for Kansas and led three separate teams to the NCAA tournament.
Tom Izzo, Michigan State- Five final four appearances and one national title, all for Michigan State.
Lon Kruger, UNLV- One final four appearance (Florida) and has guided four teams to the NCAA tournament.
Steve Fisher, San Diego State- One national title as interim coach and three final four appearances as Michigan head coach.
Gary Williams, Maryland- Seven sweet-sixteen appearances, two final fours and one national title.
Thad Matta, Ohio State- National title runner-up and guided three separate teams to the NCAA tournament.
Analysis on each game, upset bidders and a Final Four pick after the jump.
Now onto the actual players on the court, where this region contains three of five Sporting News first team All-Americans with Ohio State's Evan Turner, Maryland's Greivis Vasquez, and Oklahoma State's James Anderson. If that is not enough, Kansas' Sherron Collins is a second team selection and Georgetown's Austin Freeman is a fifth team pick. Even with all of this star power, Turner is the marquee player in this region and has the ability to take the Buckeyes as far as he can.
#1 Kansas vs. #16 Leigh- A sixteen seed has never beaten a one seed and do not expect one here. However, Leigh has a stud player in C.J. McCollum who was the Patriot League player of the year and was named to the Sporting News freshman All-American team.
#8 UNLV vs. #9 Northern Iowa- This will be a contrast of two styles as UNLV will want to run the ball while Northern Iowa is a walk the ball up type of team. Northern Iowa has a gaudy record of 28-4, and they rely on a team effort in scoring while UNLV is lead by Tre'Von Willis and Chace Stanback, but are not as deep as UNI.
#5 MIchigan State vs. #12 New Mexico State- New Mexico State is in because they upset Utah State in the WAC finals. Do not be fooled into picking the trendy 12-5 upset -- Tom Izzo will have his team ready to go.
#4 Maryland vs. #13 Houston- The Terps should win, but they need to watch out for Houston's Aubrey Coleman, who lead the nation in scoring. The good news for Maryland is that they have All-American Greivis Vasquez and Houston is not a good defensive team.
#6 Tennessee vs. #11 San Diego State- This is the game that has the best upset potential. San Diego State is coming off winning the MWC title where they beat a top 10 New Mexico team. Tennessee does have wins over Kentucky and Kansas this year, but also have loses to Georgia and USC. The Aztecs are super athletic, but do not always play the best basketball, however they do have a super freshman in Kawhi Leonard.
#3 Georgetown vs. #14 Ohio- Ohio made a surprise run in the MAC tournament to get this bid, and Georgetown will be too much. The Hoyas are a team that wants to run and are led by Austin Freeman and Greg Monroe who average 16 a game a piece. The downside to the Hoyas is that they go only seven deep which could hurt them down the line.
#7 Oklahoma State vs. #10 Georgia Tech- Oklahoma State has the best player in the Big XII no one knows in James Anderson, and Georgia Tech did make a nice run to the ACC finals only to lose a close game to Duke.
#2 Ohio State vs. #15 UC Santa Barbara- Ohio State has Evan Turner and UCSB has um... well... just the coolest nickname of the tournament in the Gauchos. Seriously, UCSB has Orlando Johnson who is a scoring threat, but they are not deep enough to keep up with the Buckeyes.
Best Opening Round Game
#4 Maryland vs. #13 Houston
Both teams routinely score in the 80's and this game could get well beyond that if either team abandons their defense. Maryland is the obvious better team and will most likely win, but this will be one of the more entertaining games of the region.
Best Chance For A First Round Upset
#11 San Diego State over #6 Tennessee
The Aztecs are an up and down team with a bunch of athletes and if they get going they can play with nearly any team in the country. San Diego State is on a huge hot streak by winning the Mountain West tournament which included an impressive win over New Mexico. Tennessee has beaten Kansas and Kentucky this year, but they are like the Aztecs who play inconsistently. San Diego State is the hotter of the two teams and has a very good shot to win this game.
Dream Game To See
#1 Kansas vs. #2 Ohio State
The best team in Kansas taking on possibly the best player in college hoops in Evan Turner. Kansas has been one of the top teams in the country all year while the Buckeyes have been less consistent, but that has to do with Turner missing some games due to an injury. Kansas has Sherron Collins, but he is no Evan Turner, or at least does not have the hype of Turner. A number one verse a number two for a final four bid would be intense by any measure, but again this is the best team against a team with the best player with apologizes to John Wall.
Final Four Pick
These are my very early and off the cuff reactions, so I am not responsible for anyone who follows this advice and is not successful. The regional final will be Ohio State vs. Kansas and my prediction is for Ohio State to advance to the Final Four in Indianapolis.