2016 NCAA Tournament Preview: Midwest Region

March 16, 2016

As I am finishing this article up during the last of the First Four games in Dayton, I am pleased that there are not more than four regions to cover. There simply isn’t enough time.

I’m pleased that this year I have enough vacation days to actually take off work for the first rounds, though. I feel like a true adult now.

Let’s take a look at the final region of this preview series, the Midwest Region.

First Round Games to Watch

#4 Iowa State vs. #13 Iona (Thursday, 2 PM ET on TBS)

Saying this matchup is a bit of a tongue twister, but it’s one worth remembering if you’re a fan of scoring. Both of these teams love to push the pace and are in the top 40 in the country in scoring and assists per game. While several players from both sides will have the opportunity to put the ball in the basket, there is plenty of individual star power to be on the lookout for as well. Senior Georges Niang would love to make up for an early exit in the tournament last year (first round loss to UAB), so expect him to come out with a lot of energy in this one. Iona has a senior stud of its own in A.J. English, one of the country’s top scorers and is tied for No. 18 in the country with 6.2 assists per game. English was a freshman the last time the Gaels made the tournament and has been trying for the last three seasons to get back and make an impact on the big stage.

Both of these teams play a similar brand of basketball, so it would make sense to assume that the Cyclones, being the team from the better conference, would be able to win this game without much hassle. But so much of this contest will depend on which team is shooting the ball better. Iowa State is second in the country in field goal percentage, but Iona shoots the ball better from behind the arc and will likely take a lot of chances from deep. This game will have it all – individual stars, lots of scoring and the potential for lots of lead changes. What more could a neutral fan ask for?

#6 Seton Hall vs. #11 Gonzaga (Thursday, 9:57 PM ET on TruTV)

The Pirates gained a lot of fans after its Big East tournament run last week, so much so that some experts are calling Seton Hall a dark horse to reach the Final Four. But while Gonzaga doesn’t necessarily have the guard play to match up with Isaiah Whitehead and Khadeen Carrington, not many teams in the country do. What the ‘Zags do have is a ferocious frontcourt led by Kyle Wiltjer and Domantos Sabonis, who has become a key player for the Bulldogs since Przemek Karnowski went down with a season ending injury just six games into the campaign. The ability for Gonzaga to still make the tournament despite the loss of their best player so early in the season is just a testament to the terrific job coach Mark Few has done this season.

Toughness is in great supply in this game, as Seton Hall’s guards are from Brooklyn and will not back down from the bigger, physical Bulldogs. If the Pirates can hit shots from outside, it may be difficult for Gonzaga to keep up. Seton Hall also has the No. 15 adjusted defense in the country according to KenPom, proof that the team will not rely solely on hitting shots to win. Gonzaga knows how to score, however, and Seton Hall’s defensive numbers may be inflated by weaker competition. The Pirates are 3-5 this season against teams in the top 25 in KenPom’s adjusted offense ratings. Number 25 on that list? You guessed it – Gonzaga.

Team That Could Make a Run


The team with the best shot to destroy the chance of Michigan State – Virginia III happening is the team that nearly knocked off the Spartans in the Big Ten final last Sunday. The Boilermakers are huge, boasting two players 7’0″ or taller. One of them, A.J. Hammons, will be playing in the NBA next season and is the team’s leading scorer. First round opponent Arkansas-Little Rock plays very good team defense, but they have no answer for Hammons in the post. Frankly, few teams in the country do.

What separates Purdue from being a potentially great team is that they do not have a guy who takes charge when the game needs a leader to step up. Matt Painter preaches team basketball on offense, but it may have actually gone too far in that direction. For the Boilermakers to match up well and ultimately beat a team like Virginia, they need someone who will be able to at least hold their own against Malcolm Brogdon. A potential candidate would be Vince Edwards, a 6’7″ forward that can shoot the ball well from outside. It has been several years since Purdue was feared in the tournament, but the trees in the post have this team looking as strong as any Coach Painter has fielded.

My Picks

First Round

#1 Virginia over #16 Hampton

#8 Texas Tech over #9 Butler

#5 Purdue over #12 Arkansas-Little Rock

#4 Iowa State over #13 Ionaa

#11 Gonzaga over #6 Seton Hall (upset alert)

#3 Utah over #14 Fresno State

#10 Syracuse over #7 Dayton

#2 Michigan State over #15 Middle Tennessee State

Second Round

#1 Virginia over #8 Texas Tech

#5 Purdue over #4 Iowa State

#11 Gonzaga over #3 Utah (upset alert)

#2 Michigan State over #10 Syracuse

Sweet 16

#1 Virginia over #5 Purdue

#2 Michigan State over #11 Gonzaga

Elite 8

#2 Michigan State over #1 Virginia

And now that my four region previews have been posted, you know what my Final Four looks like. Here are my predictions for the games in Houston.

Final Four

National Semifinals

#1 Kansas (South winner) over #2 Oklahoma (West winner)

#2 Michigan State (Midwest winner) over #3 West Virginia (East winner)


#1 Kansas over #2 Michigan State

Thanks to everyone who has read any of these previews and also to everyone who signed up for the Von Hugendong Tournament Challenge group. If you’d like to join, the group does not lock until the first tipoff on Thursday afternoon. You can join via this link. I hope that everyone enjoys the tournament as much as I am going to and that the excitement exceeds even what is being expected.

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