2024 NCAA Tournament Preview: Midwest Region

March 21, 2024

Let’s preview the Midwest Region.

First Round Games That Could Go Either Way

#8 Utah State vs. #9 TCU (Friday, approximately 9:55 PM ET – TBS)

This is exactly what an 8 vs. 9 matchup should look like – with little to separate the two teams on paper, a coin flip gives you about as good a chance to correctly predict the outcome. Utah State’s regular season Mountain West title will continue to look better with each First Four victory by the conference, but it is impossible to discount the Horned Frogs’ ability to scrap in what again appears to be the strongest conference in college basketball.

#5 Gonzaga vs. #12 McNeese State (Thursday, approximately 7:25 PM ET – TBS)

McNeese State is a popular Cinderella candidate, and rightly so – no team has more victories than the Cowboys’ 31 (matched only by Connecticut and James Madison). But Gonzaga is the patriarch (matriarch?) of Cinderella and won’t overlook the Southland Conference’s representation in this year’s tournament. While Mark Few’s team is not as highly touted as they have been in recent years, they can still run you off the court and score in droves. The Cowboys will look to frustrate Gonzaga and slow things down significantly.

#4 Kansas vs. #13 Samford (Thursday, approximately 9:55 PM ET – TBS)

When the bracket was initially unveiled, this game did not make such a list. Then, the announcement was made that Kevin McCullar Jr., the Jayhawks’ leading scorer, will miss the Tournament with an injury. McCullar is the engine of what, when full-strength, is an excellent Kansas starting five. But without him, Kansas may be looking for answers not only on the offensive end, but defensively as well (McCullar leads the team in steals). Samford was a stretch upset pick before this news, but isn’t as much of one now.

#6 South Carolina vs. #11 Oregon (Thursday, approximately 4 PM ET – TNT)

Lamont Paris has done an excellent job turning around the South Carolina program in the last 12 months, improving the Gamecocks’ win total by 15 games over last season. The talent is certainly there, but is the staying power? On the other side of the bracket is Oregon, coached by Dana Altman, who has not lost in the first round of the Tournament in 14 years with the program (seven appearances). The Ducks are hot and wouldn’t be in the Big Dance if not for their surprising Pac-12 Tournament championship.

#7 Texas vs. #10 Colorado State (Thursday, approximately 6:50 PM ET – TNT)

The Rams looked in control of their First Four matchup from start to finish, punishing a Virginia squad that didn’t look at all worthy of its Tournament inclusion. Now the Mountain West’s lowest ranked representative in the Big Dance will take on a Texas team that held its own in the gauntlet that is the Big 12. The Longhorns will need a big performance from its guards, especially Max Abmas, who is no stranger to coming up big on this type of stage.

Team That Could Make a Run


This isn’t the most talented team Gonzaga in recent memory, but the Bulldogs will be free of most of the pressure that has followed them heading into the last few Tournaments as a top-seeded team. The general qualities of a Mark Few team remain, however, and the Midwest region appears to be one of the more wide open in the bracket.

Anton Watson and Graham Ike are a dangerous duo as forwards and set the tone not only in the scoring department but also with their defensive intensity. Gonzaga’s opener against McNeese State is no gimme, but the Bulldogs are a good bet to make it to the second weekend if they can sidestep the Cowboys.

Remember The Name

Ryan Kalkbrenner, Creighton

Zach Edey isn’t the only 7’+ star in the Midwest region looking to cut down the net. Kalbrenner was an integral part of Creighton’s team that came painstakingly close to doing just that last season, and this year the Blue Jays may be even better positioned to do so.

Kalkbrenner’s shooting numbers are down slightly this season, but his defense has improved, including his presence as an enforcer in the post.

Dalton Knecht, Tennessee

Informed college basketball fans won’t be surprised by whatever magical things Knecht does this March (and possibly April?), but casual ones will be amazed by Knecht’s ability to create his own shot given his general demeanor. An assassin with the ball in his hands, Knecht looks rather unassuming.

The All-American’s nose for the basket provides an element offensively that has arguably been the missing component from other Rick Barnes squads at Tennessee.

Around The Corn’s Picks

First Round

#1 Purdue over #16 Grambling State

#9 TCU over #8 Utah State

#5 Gonzaga over #12 McNeese State

#13 Samford over #4 Kansas (upset alert)

#11 Oregon over #6 South Carolina (upset alert)

#3 Creighton over #14 Akron

#7 Texas over #10 Colorado State

#2 Tennessee over #15 Saint Peter’s

Second Round

#1 Purdue over #9 TCU

#5 Gonzaga over #13 Samford

#3 Creighton over #11 Oregon

#2 Tennessee over #7 Texas

Sweet 16

#1 Purdue over #5 Gonzaga

#2 Tennessee over #3 Creighton

Elite 8

#2 Tennessee over #1 Purdue

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