Midwest Regional Preview: This thing is stacked pretty strong
Louisville is the No. 1 overall seed. For that, the Cards got stuck with Duke, Michigan State and Saint Louis. Because of that, the Midwest Regional is the toughest of all regionals.
The first thing that we learned from the Selection Show was that Louisville Cardinals is the No. 1 overall seed. The next thing we learned is that Louisville has a tough path to Atlanta.
The top overall seed got Duke Blue Devils as its No. 2 seed.
And Michigan State Spartans as its No. 3 seed.
And Saint Louis Billikens as its No. 4 seed.
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There's an argument to be made that the Blue Devils' body of work with Ryan Kelly is superior to everybody else's, and it's a solid argument considering Duke finished 6-1 against the top 25 of the RPI thanks to, among other things, a neutral-court win over Louisville in November. So Louisville might've gotten screwed here. But what do I care if Louisville got screwed? I don't have to coach in this regional. I'm just here to write about it.
You're here to read about it?
Here's a breakdown of the Midwest Regional ...
THREE INITIAL THOUGHTS ON THE REGIONAL
1. Does the committee realize four of Oregon Ducks 's losses came without its PG?
The Ducks are 26-8 overall but 21-4 with their starting point guard, Dominic Artis , who missed nine games with an injured foot. Oregon was in first place in the Pac-12 standings when Artis went down. Oregon won the Pac-12 tournament after Artis returned. And for that, the committee gave the Ducks a No. 12 seed? Nike's Phil Knight, a huge Oregon supporter, should have the NCAA on the phone first thing Monday morning, if not sooner.
2. You're not mad about Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders getting in, are you?
I co-hosted "Lead Off" with Allie LaForce a couple of times last week, and, in one of the shows, I predicted that MTSU would get an at-large bid even though, at the time, the Blue Raiders were not featured in most projected brackets. So good for me. But, really, good for Kermit Davis and good for the selection committee. They got this just as right as they got Oregon's seed wrong. The Blue Raiders finished 28-5 with a win over Ole Miss. Just as important, they finished with a non-league strength of schedule that ranked ninth, meaning Davis at least tried to schedule aggressively outside of the league. And his program was rewarded for that, as it should've been.
3. Who's the best point guard in the Midwest?
I'd probably go with Oklahoma State Cowboys 's Marcus Smart . But there sure are a lot of nice ballhandlers in this regional. Smart is one. Artis is another. Then there's Louisville's Peyton Siva , Michigan State's Keith Appling , Missouri Tigers 's Phil Pressey , Memphis Tigers ' Joe Jackson and Cincinnati Bearcats 's Cashmere Wright . We could get Siva-Pressey and Appling-Jackson in the Round of 32 while watching Smart try to handle SLU's suffocating approach. Sounds fun, doesn't it?
FIVE BEST PLAYERS IN THE REGIONAL
1. Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State): The Big 12 Player of the Year entered college with lots of hype and lived up to it. He's averaging 15.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists. He's the reason Oklahoma State is good.
2. Doug McDermott ( Creighton Bluejays ): The MVC Player of the Year is a highly skilled forward who can score around the rim or from the perimeter. He's averaging 23.1 points and 7.5 rebounds while shooting 56.1 percent from the field, 49.7 percent from 3-point range and 86.0 percent from the free-throw line.
3. Russ Smith (Louisville): The 6-foot-1 junior isn't the most composed player, but he's a high-level scorer for the Cardinals. Smith is averaging 18.1 points on 13.7 shots per game. He's an 82.8 percent free-throw shooter who goes to the line 6.5 times per contest.
4. Mason Plumlee (Duke): The Blue Devils' primary big made the jump from nice prospect to great player this season. He's averaging 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds. He got 17 double-doubles in 32 games this season.
5. Joe Jackson (Memphis): The Conference USA Player of the Year has been consistent almost all season and is the biggest reason the Tigers are entering the Field of 68 with 30 victories. He's averaging 13.6 points and 4.8 assists. He's shooting 52.7 percent from the field, 45.6 percent from 3-point range.
FIVE BOLD PREDICTIONS FOR THE REGION
The biggest Round of 64 upset will be ... No. 12 Oregon over No. 5 Oklahoma State. I love Smart and the talent that Travis Ford has assembled in Stillwater. But I just think the Ducks will prove, in a close game, that the committee undervalued them drastically.
The lowest-seeded school to make the Sweet 16 will be ... No. 4 Saint Louis. I realize that's neither a sexy nor even interesting pick. But I genuinely believe the top four seeds in this regional will advance to the second weekend, meaning the lowest-seeded school that'll get there will be the school seeded fourth, which is Jim Crews' Billikens.
The player the country doesn't know now but will know by Saturday is ... Memphis' D.J. Stephens . I suppose lots of the country does already know Stephens, hopefully at least in part because of a column that I wrote two weeks ago. But he's still not a household name -- though he could be after the Tigers' first game if he jumps really high and provides a silly dunk, which is something that tends to happen on the regular.
The Elite Eight showdown will feature ... No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 2 Duke. So I'm predicting a rematch of that November game from the Bahamas, only difference being that this game will be played in Indianapolis and with a healthy Gorgui Dieng . Remember, Dieng missed the first meeting with an injury. But he's fine now. He got nine points and nine rebounds in Louisville's win over Syracuse in the Big East tournament final.
The champion of the Midwest Regional will be ... No. 1 Louisville. The Cardinals were our preseason No. 1 at CBSSports.com, and they've looked worthy of that title recently. They haven't lost in more than a month. The past six wins in their 10-game winning streak have all come against schools also in the Field of 68. Louisville has talent. Louisville has depth. Louisville has a future Hall of Fame coach. So Louisville fans should go ahead and make plans for the Final Four because the smart money has the Cards headed to Atlanta.
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