2018 NCAA Tournament Preview: Midwest Region

March 15, 2018
By K. Becks

The Midwest United States, for so long the cradle of college basketball, has the privilege of hosting what has been dubbed the “Region of Champions” in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Kansas, Duke and Michigan State headline in what sounds like 75 percent of one of those showcase tournaments that the sport often holds at the beginning of the season.

If we’re lucky, then perhaps we’ll see these teams tussle with each other later on in the month.

But if the new guard has anything to say about it, we’ll be introduced to teams that are experiencing relatively new success in college basketball. Auburn and Clemson are better known for their football prowess, but both schools have put together an impressive product on the hardwood and are looking to make some noise in the Big Dance for the first time in awhile.

No matter what brand of basketball you prefer, this region will have some of it.

Let’s take a closer look at the Midwest Region and also preview the Final Four according to Around The Corn’s predictions.

Round of 64 Games to Watch

#8 Seton Hall vs. #9 North Carolina State (Thursday, approximately 4:30 PM ET)

The winner of an 8 vs. 9 matchup has gone on to knock out a No. 1 seed in four of the last five NCAA Tournaments, suggesting that this pairing is more than just the one that you might as well flip a coin to choose. Looking at the entire bracket, I think that these two teams have the best shot at beating its second round opponent and this game has the potential to be very exciting as well. Solid guard play has been a staple of Kevin Willard’s program since he took over at Seton Hall eight seasons ago, but with Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado the Pirates have a feared frontcourt. The battle between the rebounding machine Delgado and seven footer Omer Yurtseven for N.C. State should bring back fond memories of an earlier era of college basketball.

Everyone can appreciate smart basketball being played in the Tournament, which is exactly what you should see in this game. Seton Hall leans on four seniors and a junior and the Wolfpack have plenty of senior leadership as well. Neither of these teams had more than a couple of losses all season in which they were not competitive at the end of the game. Expect this one to be tight throughout and one of a host of games throughout the Big Dance that could be settled in the final minute of regulation.

#5 Clemson vs. #12 New Mexico State (Friday, approximately 9:57 PM ET)

The 5 vs. 12 matchups this year are really enticing for those that opt to go with a lot of early round upsets, as there appears to be little separating the teams almost every one of these games (sorry, Murray State). The Aggies are an interesting case of consistency and achievement, especially for a school from a mid-major conference that has been through three coaches in as many years. New Mexico State has been to six of the last seven NCAA Tournaments but is still looking for its first victory since 1993. This year could finally be the year, though. There is a lot of talent on the roster that can contend with the likes of an ACC team, starting with Jemerrio Jones, who averages more rebounds per game (13.2) than points (11).

If Clemson can get past the WAC champions, it has a chance to do some real damage in the Tournament. The Tigers are right up there with Virginia and Duke in the ACC in terms of defensive efficiency and are creative on the offensive end. Five players average double digits for Clemson, but New Mexico State is also solid defensively allowing the tenth fewest points per game in the country. Had the Aggies played in even a slightly better conference, they likely wouldn’t be playing in this game as the Committee would have allotted them a better seed. That could spell trouble for an ACC squad without previous Tournament experience, but for fans without a dog in the fight it should also mean a terrific game.

Team That Could Make a Run

Clemson

Brad Brownell should be commended for what he has been able to do with this Clemson program. The Tigers have been to a total of 12 NCAA Tournaments all-time and Brownell has led them to a quarter of those appearances. Although it has been awhile since the program has been to the Big Dance, this looks to be the most talented team that Brownell has had in his tenure at the school. Lack of Tournament experience may be a factor, but this is still an upperclassmen led squad that plays very well together. Five guys average double digits in scoring and the guard play is very good.

Speaking frankly, Clemson’s most difficult battle may be in its first game. The New Mexico State Aggies are sneaky good and present some interesting challenges for the Tigers, although Clemson should be able to get by the WAC champs. After that the potential for the Tigers to knock off some of the big boys is not in short supply. A potential date with Kansas in the Sweet 16 and either Duke or Michigan State in the regional final are both games that Clemson is capable of slowing down to a pace it likes to play. Coaching is highly responsible for Clemson’s success this season, as Brownell has worked with his juniors and seniors to play cohesively. I expect Gabe DeVoe, Marcquise Reed & Co. to go toe-to-toe with at least one of the traditional powers in this Tournament.

My Picks

First Round

#1 Kansas over #16 Pennsylvania

#8 Seton Hall over #9 North Carolina State

#5 Clemson over #12 New Mexico State

#13 Charleston over #4 Auburn (upset alert)

#11 Syracuse over #6 TCU (upset alert)

#3 Michigan State over #14 Bucknell

#7 Rhode Island over #10 Oklahoma

#2 Duke over #15 Iona

Second Round

#1 Kansas over #8 Seton Hall

#5 Clemson over #13 Charleston

#3 Michigan State over #11 Syracuse

#2 Duke over #7 Rhode Island

Sweet 16

#1 Kansas over #5 Clemson

#3 Michigan State over #2 Duke

Elite 8

#3 Michigan State over #1 Kansas

If you have already read my other Region previews, you now know my Final Four participants. I believe that with the absence of any truly great teams and a lot of clusters of similarly talented ones, it won’t be a particularly successful year for the No. 1 seeds. Below are my predictions for the Final Four and national title.

National Semifinals

#4 Arizona over #2 North Carolina

#3 Michigan State over #1 Villanova

National Championship

#3 Michigan State over #4 Arizona

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