Midwest | Pat Higgins | Asst. Sports Editor
The way Selection Sunday turned out, the Midwest Region could be the toughest region to escape. Between Michigan State and Tom Izzo’s postseason track record, Duke’s immense collection of talent and Louisville’s momentum following their championship performance in the Big East Tournament, the team that advances to the Final Four from the Midwest will be perhaps the hottest team when the field reduces to four. And as history shows, crazy things can happen in a 40-minute game in the tournament. St. Louis and Oregon have the chance to make glory despite their low seeds.
Player to watch: Peyton Siva, Louisville
The Louisville point guard won the Big East Tournament MVP two years in a row by leading the Cardinals over Syracuse in the final game in the Big East’s history, clinching the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Siva only averaged 10 points per game, but he’s the leader of the tournament’s top seed riding a hot streak after beating both Notre Dame and Syracuse for the conference title. If Louisville has any shot at making any noise, it’ll be because of Peyton Siva.
Dark horse: St. Louis
After notching an automatic bid to the tournament upon winning the Atlantic-10 conference tournament in Brooklyn, the team bus ran into traffic on the way to the airport and was in danger of missing Selection Sunday. So they headed to the nearest Best Buy to catch their seeding. If the Billikens can manage to get past New Mexico St. and the winner of Oklahoma St./Oregon, they’ll presumably get another chance at improvisation against Louisville in the Sweet 16. They’ve won 15 of their last 16 games, entering the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country and a trendy sleeper pick because of their victory over Butler, who defeated Gonzaga and Indiana earlier in the year.
Upset to watch for: Oregon over Oklahoma St.
Trouble could be brewing in San Jose for this first round matchup as the Ducks head into the first round on the heels of a Pac-12 conference tournament title. If Oregon can run on the Cowboys and contain freshman guard Marcus Smart, the Ducks could be quacking their way into a second round matchup against St. Louis.
Prediction: Michigan State advances
The only thing that needs mention here is Tom Izzo. They barely lost to Michigan late in the year, but history shows that Izzo can and will find a way to have his team clicking on all cylinders when the Sweet 16 rolls around. Duke and Louisville are formidable opponents in a region stacked with both talented teams and sleepers alike, but the Spartans and their postseason prowess will advance to Atlanta.
South | Addie Smith | Sports Editor
The South is highlighted by top-seeded Kansas and two-seed Georgetown, who, prior to losing to Syracuse in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament, was considered a candidate for a number one seed. The South region also features Florida in the three seed and Michigan in the four seed. Winning the South won’t be easy, but the winner will stand a good chance at defeating the winner of the East region to make it to the big dance.
Player to watch: Jeff Withey, Kansas
The 7-foot senior center cannot only score for the Jayhawks (he averages 13.6 points per game), but he can use his height to his advantage to grab both offensive and defensive rebounds to help keep the Jayhawks in close contests. Withey averages 8.4 rebounds a game as well as 3.8 blocks. His presence beneath the hoop for the Jayhawks will help them in both defensive and offensive situations. Look for him to play the majority of the Jayhawks’ games as he averages 30.6 minutes per game.
Upset to watch for: Akron over Virginia Commonwealth
There’s something about Akron that makes me think they’ll overcome Shaka Smart’s VCU Rams in their first game of the tournament. They outrebound the Rams by an average of 37.9 per game compared to 34.8. While a team with morpoints technically wins games, a better rebounding team most often will come away with a victory.
Dark horse: UCLA
The Bruins proved themselves in a competitive Pac-12 this season and could be the team to upend Florida, Kansas or Georgetown in late rounds. If UCLA can get teams to play to their fast-paced, high-scoring game style, the Bruins could go farther in this tournament than expected. If the game is high scoring, look for UCLA to come out on top.
Prediction: Kansas advances
It won’t be an easy road for the Jayhawks, but ultimately Kansas should be the team that advances to the Final Four from the South region. Florida and Georgetown will stand a fighting chance to upend the Jayhawks, but in the end Kansas will show that it is the most rounded team in the region and punch a ticket to Atlanta.
West |Saúl Berríos-Thomas | Layout Editor
The cry from all across the nation is that the West is the easiest region. This may be true, but it is also the region with some of the biggest potential for Cinderella teams. Home to Ole Miss, fresh off of their SEC Tournament victory, lovable Belmont and even Harvard, the West region is filled with exciting matchups.
Player to watch: Blake Jenkins, Belmont
Most fans are familiar with Kelly Olynyk, Jack Cooley and DeShaun Thomas, but the player everyone should be watching is Blake Jenkins. The Belmont junior forward has the 22nd best field goal percentage in the nation (.599). Between that and his averaging almost five rebounds per game Jenkins is crucial to his team even if he isn’t the superstar some other players in this region might be. He plays the game the right way and helps his team out in so many ways. The Bruins will need that high efficiency and solid play to continue if they want to become America’s sweetheart in this year’s dance
Upset to watch for: Ole Miss over Wisconsin
The exciting matchup of Marshall Henderson and Ben Brust is reason enough to watch Ole Miss challenge Wisconsin. Add to that the fact that a 12 seed could potentially beat a five seed and you’ve got must-see basketball. The Rebels are coming off of a stunning victory of the SEC Tournament, which gives them some great momentum headed into the tournament.
Dark Horse: Southern
Southern has a chance to be the team that everyone is talking about. Their two-headed monster that resides in their backcourt is good enough to compete with any backcourt in the tournament. Derick Beltran, a senior, and junior Malcolm Miller, both guards, have given the Jaguars a combined 1,012 points this year. They average more than 30 points a game between them. If Southern can bother Gonzaga with size and find a way to slow down Kelly Olynyk they could start a run.
Prediction: Ohio State advances
Some exciting upsets are brewing in this region and you can see that in the Sweet 16. The four teams in this part of the sweet sixteen are Gonzaga, Ole Miss, New Mexico and Ohio State. The Zags will prove to be too much and they will overpower Ole Miss. There will be no stopping the Buckeyes as they roll through the Lobos. The Buckeyes stay on the winning track as they beat Gonzaga in a close game.
East | Wes Crosby | News Editor
Clearly the East is not the most stacked region in this year’s NCAA Tournament, but it may very well have the most impressive top-four of any other region. The East is headlined by top-seed Indiana and two-seed Miami (Fl.), who many analysts believe got jipped by being placed on the second line. They’re followed by the Big East co-regular season champion Marquette and the Big East Tournament runner-up Syracuse. All four of these teams have spent times near or at the top of this year’s rankings and each are capable of making a run at the Final Four.
Player to watch: Victor Oladipo, Indiana
This is a no-brainer. Oladipo has done the impossible in the modern realm of college basketball, by making himself a household name. His stat sheet speaks for itself (28.1 points per game, 211 rebounds, 70 assists, 74 steals and a 60 percent shooting percentage), but the numbers fail to capture just how impressive his game is. Let’s just say, Oladipo will be featured quite a bit on Sportscenter’s Top 10 in the upcoming weeks.
Upset to watch for: Montana over Syracuse
Yes, Syracuse does have a shot at making the Final Four. But it also has a shot at being ousted in the first round. Montana comes in with a 25-6 record and a deep backcourt led by Kareem Jamar and Mathias Ward. They’ll put pressure on the Orange’s guards and if James Southerland starts missing his patented 3s, the Griz could sneak away with a shocking win.
Dark horse: UNLV
The Rebels could very well fall prey to the classic 5/12 upset, but if they can get past Cal in the first round, they could find themselves in a date with Indiana in the Sweet 16. UNLV is led by a surefire-lottery pick in Anthony Bennett who has an all-around game that gives the Rebs a chance to win every time they take the court.
Prediction: Indiana advances
It would be a drastic disappointment if this region did not come down to a matchup between the Hoosiers and Miami. The Hurricanes should feel slighted by the selection committee and will have a chance to prove that as the ACC regular season and Tournament champions, they deserved a one seed. The problem is, they will have to contend with Oladipo and Cody Zeller. The Big Ten was the most impressive conference this season and the Hoosiers will live up to that standard when they dance their way into Atlanta.