If Kansas hadn’t lost its first game in the Big 12 Tournament last week, we may be referring to the Jayhawks as the top seed overall this year.
But alas, Bill Self’s team may actually have a relatively easier route to Phoenix than the other No. 1 seeds despite potentially losing the aforementioned distinction as No. 1 overall. That is, at least, if it can make it out of the first weekend.
A tough 8/9 matchup and a Big 12 foe in the No. 5 slot makes Kansas’s potential first two matchups more difficult than perhaps any other top seed in the Big Dance. After that, however, the clouds could clear thanks to a slew of lower seeds that appear primed to make noise in the Midwest Region. Injuries and inconsistency could plague fellow top line seeds Louisville and Oregon, and the jury is still out on teams such as Purdue and Iowa State as legitimate title contenders.
Nothing is certain in the NCAA Tournament, and the Midwest Region is the epitome of this fact. Let’s take a look at the most difficult region to predict what will happen.
First Round Games to Watch
#5 Iowa State vs. #12 Nevada (Thursday, 9:57 PM ET)
The Cyclones may have won the Big 12 Conference tournament last week, but it isn’t just superstition that makes its 2015 Big 12 tournament title worth mentioning. Two years ago, Iowa State was flying high heading into the Tournament and was shocked by No. 14 seed UAB in its first game. This year, Steve Prohm’s squad has the difficult task of defeating a Nevada squad that has five players averaging double-digits in scoring and two future NBA players on its roster. Did I mention this is also one of the always enticing 5/12 matchups?
The Wolf Pack are comfortable engaging in high scoring games and do everything well offensively, from scoring to rebounding to sharing the basketball. Iowa State has the most electrifying player on the floor in Monte Morris, however, who has really come on late in the season. The Cyclones have played in a lot of close games recently, which should serve them well in this game – it will probably be close. If it comes down to a few final possessions, having Morris is a definite advantage as he can create his own shot or draw defenders and dish with ease.
#8 Miami (FL) vs. #9 Michigan State (Friday, 9:20 PM ET)
If you’re a fan of chess matches between coaches, this is a must watch Tournament game. The battle between Larrañaga and Izzo will be the best of the first round and perhaps the entire Tournament when all is said and done. Neither have the most talented squad they’ve ever coached, but both know how to work with different personnel and adapt a game plan to complement them.
Izzo’s Spartans are very young and have been understandably inconsistent all season, but do have the skeleton for a future Final Four run already in place. Miles Bridges, Nick Ward and Joshua Langford are all freshman and, if they all stick around for multiple seasons, will do great things for Michigan State. As for the present time, these three will need to step up against a trio of Miami upperclassmen in Davon Reed, Ja’Quan Newton and Kamari Murphy that contribute more than half of the scoring load for the Hurricanes. It’s a battle of talented youth versus experience with two great coaches on the sideline. Expect a close one.
Team That Could Make a Run
It’ll be a story that players on the 2016-2017 Michigan Wolverines men’s basketball team will tell for the rest of their lives. Heading to Washington D.C. for the Big Ten Tournament, the plane the squad was on swerved off the runway before leaving the ground, shaking up everyone on board but injuring no one. Rather than forfeit their game or even back up the initial start time of their opener against Illinois more than 20 minutes, the Wolverines were inspired, riding the momentum from the bonding event all the way to the tournament title.
Now, the Wolverines are a chic pick to crash the Big Dance. The Wolverines are one of the hottest Power conference teams coming into the NCAA Tournament, finishing on a 10-2 run with the two losses coming against Wisconsin and Northwestern by a total of seven points. Michigan isn’t big and thus opts to go with a four guard look often, but is the most patient team on offense in the Tournament not named Virginia or Saint Mary’s. The Wolverines’ side of the Midwest Region appears to be wide open as well, opening the door for a lower seed to make it to Kansas City for week two.
#1 Kansas over #16 UC-Davis
#8 Miami (FL) over #9 Michigan State
#12 Nevada over #5 Iowa State (upset alert)
#13 Vermont over #4 Purdue (upset alert)
#11 Rhode Island over #6 Creighton (upset alert)
#3 Oregon over #14 Iona
#7 Michigan over #10 Oklahoma State
#2 Louisville over #15 Jacksonville State
#1 Kansas over #8 Miami (FL)
#12 Nevada over #13 Vermont
#3 Oregon over #11 Rhode Island
#7 Michigan over #2 Louisville (upset alert)
#1 Kansas over #12 Nevada
#3 Oregon over #7 Michigan
#1 Kansas over #3 Oregon