2014 NCAA Tournament Predictions: Midwest Region

March 20, 2014
By K. Becks

The final of my region-by-region breakdown of the NCAA Tournament, here are my predictions for the Midwest Region.

Second Round Games to Watch

#8 Kentucky vs. #9 Kansas State (Friday, 9:40 PM)

This matchup seemingly pits two teams who are headed in opposite directions against each other. Kentucky was applauded for its efforts in the SEC Tournament, finding a way to make it to the finals before losing to Florida. Kansas State is a loser in four of its last six contests, and is currently in the midst of a three game slide. But for as important as recent performance is in predicting a team’s capabilities in the Big Dance, it’s hard to say that Kentucky is a huge favorite in this one. The Kentucky Wildcats are as talented as any team in the country (in fact, they might be the most talented team, if you consider recruiting classes). But they have just recently started to play as a team, something that all Bruce Weber squads do.

Like Kentucky, Kansas State relies partly on the production of freshmen such as Marcus Foster and Wesley Iwundu. But Weber’s team is balanced, with ten players averaging double-digits in minutes played. The team also shares the ball well, ranking No. 27 in the country with 15.6 assists per contest. This game is extremely difficult to predict, because no one knows quite what we’re going to see out of the team that clearly has the advantage in talent. But if Kentucky loses this game, it will do so to a team that does what Coach Calipari should have been teaching all season: plays unselfishly and passionately.

#3 Duke vs. #14 Mercer (Friday, 12:15 PM)

It’s going to be difficult for Mercer to sneak up on anyone in this year’s NCAA Tournament because of what its conference rival Florida Gulf Coast did last season. But the Bears are the most complete team seeded below a 13 in the field. Under head coach Bob Hoffman, the Bears are a disciplined squad that not only can score in bunches but also takes pride in preventing teams from scoring as well. Mercer is one of the better shooting teams in the country and rebounds the ball well on both ends of the floor. In addition, the Bears could give Duke some trouble underneath thanks to 6’10″ senior Daniel Coursey. The big man from Savannah, Georgia is the team’s second leading scorer but could have a big game against Duke’s smaller lineup.

By all means, Duke is a quality team with a real chance at making it to Dallas. But the Blue Devils do have weaknesses and the Bears are one of the few small conference squads good enough to exploit those weaknesses. Don’t be surprised if Mercer gives Duke serious trouble for awhile before the Blue Devils ultimately emerge victorious. Often times following a Cinderella like Florida Gulf Coast can be a bad thing for a team from a small conference, but the Atlantic Sun has sent another quality representative to the Big Dance.

Team That Could Make a Run

Louisville

It’s hard to say whether or not it would be considered a surprise if the Cardinal were to make it back to the Final Four. But as a four seed with two other schools that made it to last year’s Final Four in the region as well, it would definitely be considered a run. Once again, Rick Pitino has his Cardinals playing their best basketball when it matters most. While the AAC might not be quite what the Big East was in terms of competition, it’s hard to argue that Louisville is unprepared for the type of teams that it will see in the Big Dance. Two victories in a matter of seven days over an opponent such as Connecticut would be pretty impressive for any team.

Louisville appears to have the tools to get back to the Final Four, but a lot of the team’s fate will be decided by matchups. Strength inside could derail the chances of a trip to Dallas, and we will find out early on whether that is an issue when the Cardinals take on a tough Manhattan squad. But after Manhattan, many of the potential opponents for Louisville don’t really have the personnel to challenge the defending national champions in that area. Plus, it’s one thing to have size inside; it’s another to be able to work the ball into those players against Louisville’s relentless defense.

My Picks

Second Round

#1 Wichita State over #16 Cal Poly

#8 Kentucky over #9 Kansas State

#12 North Carolina State over #5 Saint Louis (upset alert)

#4 Louisville over #13 Manhattan

#6 Massachusetts over #11 Tennessee

#3 Duke over #14 Mercer

#10 Arizona State over #7 Texas

#2 Michigan over #15 Wofford

Third Round

#1 Wichita State over #8 Kentucky

#4 Louisville over #12 North Carolina State

#3 Duke over #6 Massachusetts

#2 Michigan over #10 Arizona State

Sweet 16

#4 Louisville over #1 Wichita State (upset alert)

#3 Duke over #2 Michigan

Elite 8

#4 Louisville over #3 Duke

Now that I’ve broken down every region and you can see my region winners, here are my picks for the Final Four.

Final Four

National Semifinals

#1 Florida over #4 Michigan State

#1 Arizona over #4 Louisville

Finals

#1 Florida over #1 Arizona

There you have it. Obviously, I didn’t exactly go out on a limb by selecting the overall top seed to win the whole thing, but it’s hard to argue with a Billy Donovan coached squad that is led by upperclassmen. Besides, I’ll be wrong. A lot. I usually am. This is the greatest time of year, though, so as long as I’m able to watch the action unfold I am a happy man.

In case you don’t want to go back and look, you can view my bracket in full here once the tournament begins. And if you’re reading this before the tournament and want to sign up for my ESPN Tournament Challenge group, feel free to do so here. There is no password and it is free to join.

Any comments, questions or concerns can be sent to kbecks@aroundthecorn.com. I appreciate your comments as well as the time that you took to read my work.

- K. Becks

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