At the highest point of the bracket sits a former champ. Winners as recently as 2009. Poised to strike. An obvious favorite for New Orleans, even back in November before we had any clue how things would shake out. The No. 1 seed in the region, say hello to the North Carolina Tar Heels.
At the bottom of the bracket lies a former champ. Winners as recently as 2008. Poised to strike. An overwhelming pick for New Orleans by season's end, after dominating one of the best conferences in the sport for yet another year. The No. 2 seed in the region, say hello to the Kansas Jayhawks.
Tucked somewhere in the middle is plenty of intrigue. Four Midwest-born schools (Michigan, Purdue, Ohio, Detroit) are happily peppered throughout the region. Ditto for three of the best that the state of California has to offer (San Diego State, St. Mary's, California). Look hard enough and you might even find the best pound-for-pound mid-major in the country in Creighton, or perhaps its Jimmer Lite superstar scorer in Doug McDermott, or maybe one of the last teams invited to the dance in North Carolina State. A deeper glance might even open your eyes to the most under-the-radar Final Four threat nobody is talking about in John Thompson III's Georgetown Hoyas, or to that of a No. 5-seeded Temple Owls program that is just so darn ripe for an upset.
It all adds up to eight not-so-mid majors and eight power-six conference teams, each battling it out for a chance to represent the Midwest region in New Orleans. Here's everything you need to know:
The pieces are in place. A ton of experience helps too. Above all, Kendall Marshall is the exact type of point guard you need to have in a tournament setting, and there will be times when he single-handedly picks up his teammates out of short slumps by getting them easy shots. Tyler Zeller also closed the season at a First Team All-American level, and we know Harrison Barnes is going to switch into assassin mode at some point and remind everyone how good he is. The Heels are one of maybe seven or eight programs that can legitimately win a title this season, and there doesn't appear to be more than one serious roadblock (Kansas) standing in the way of Roy Williams' team from heading to the Final Four. North Carolina should win the Midwest.
Five players you want to know about
- Henry Sims, Georgetown- The 6'10" forward was Mr. Versatile for the Hoyas this year, and averaged 21 points, 14 rebounds, and four assists in Georgetown's two Big East Tournament games
- Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State - A 20-10 threat despite being just 6'5", Franklin did this last Thursday to keep San Diego State alive in the MWC Tournament.
- Ray McCallum Jr., Detroit - Physically gifted and immensely confident, McCallum averaged 23 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 2.6 steals in Detroit's three-game run through the Horizon League Tournament.
- Justin Cobbs,California - Teammate Jorge Gutierrez took home Pac-12 Player of the Year, but Cobbs had a better assist rate during the season (29.5 to 25.0), and is actually a more efficient distributor.
- Matthew Dellavedova, St. Mary’s - The versatile guard has connected on 201 career three-pointers in three seasons with the Gaels, averaging out to a 37.8% clip.
Who will overachieve
California. The Bears aren’t even in the field of 64 yet, but have the components in place to do plenty of damage as a 12-seed. If things go to plan, they should have no problem getting past a weak South Florida team in the first round, to which a favorable draw of Temple, and then Michigan or Ohio, awaits. The guard trio of Justin Cobbs, Jorge Gutierrez, and Allen Crabbe on the floor at the same time presents an interesting dilemma for opponents, as each guy can handle the rock and create for teammates if necessary. With a decent draw ahead of it, even for landing in a play-in game, it's not impossible to picture Cal on the same floor as Michigan with a trip to the Sweet 16 up for grabs.
Who will underachieve
Kansas. Bill Self's Jayhawks could face a giant killer named St. Mary’s in their second game, and that’s if they manage to get through a pesky 15-seed in Detroit. Thomas Robinson is the real deal and looks like he'll be a bonafide star in the NBA one day, but better Kansas squads than this have fallen flat before. Point guard Tyshawn Taylor seems to have turned a corner as a clutch scorer and leader, even if it's impossible to ignore his defensive lapses and inconsistent, turnover-prone ways at the opposite end. The Jayhawks gave us one heck of a great regular season to think about here, and silenced many of the critics who said they would take a step back. But looking at all the evidence, it's believable that this group might be playing over its head, or at least will be in the coming weeks. A deep run is entirely possible, but there are safer bets out there.
Describe this bracket in one word