Wednesday, March 18, 2009

March Madness Preview: Midwest Regional Breakdown

2009 Tournament: Schedule and Preview (can be found here)
Tuesday 1pm ET: South Regional Preview (can be found here)
Tuesday 5pm ET: East Regional Preview (can be found here)
Wednesday 9am ET: Midwest Regional Preview (can be found here)
Wednesday 11am ET: West Regional Preview (can be found here)
Thursday 9am ET: An inside look at entertaining announcer Gus Johnson (can be found here)
Thursday 12:20 ET: 2009 Tournament tips off with Butler and LSU from Greensboro, NC

Bracket to View can be found here

Bracket to Print can be found here

If you haven’t had enough wonderful analysis from the SJ Staff, I’m here to provide you with some more insight for the NCAA Tournament. I will be previewing the Midwest bracket, which starts its play on Friday. Yesterday, Brian Doyle provided you some great information with the statistical analysis he brought to each team, and Mike Colligan did a fantastic job of relating the momentum and traveling that teams have to do heading into the tournament. I have always looked at all of these factors when picking my teams to advance in the bracket, but there is always one more thing to consider before writing down that team that advances to the next round (or should I say, clicking the team). I am going to break down each match-up and concentrate on the individual players who are going to be the key factors into a deep tournament run.

#1 Louisville v. #16 Morehead State

This game won’t be close. Expect Louisville to get out ahead and dominate Morehead State. If you are looking for that 16 over 1 upset keep waiting, because this year is not the year. After a slow start, the Cardinals have been picking up momentum and steamrolling over opponents. They took the conference regular season and tournament championships in the best conference in basketball, the Big East, and look to make a long tourney run. Pitino and his roster have great tournament experience, so an early round exit is highly unlikely for the Cardinals. The coaching staff will not let them look over early round competition. I feel they are a lock for the Sweet 16. The player that will make the difference between stopping there or pushing on will be Terrence Williams. Williams is one of the most versatile players in the country and possibly the most athletic. He can line up anywhere on the floor for the Cardinals. Even though Earl Clark leads the team in scoring (he will have to continue his numbers as well) Williams is the X-Factor. He averaged 12.3 PPG and 8.5 RPG throughout the season this year. Look for a breakout tournament for Williams and a final four appearance for the top-seeded Cardinals.

#8 Ohio State v. #9 Siena

Ohio State isn’t making friends with the selection committee. The Buckeyes were rewarded for their Big 10 tourney run with a first round match-up against the Siena Saints and a possible second round match-up with the #1 overall team in the tournament. For the Buckeyes to get past the Saints and have a chance against the Cardinals they need their young sophomore sharpshooter, Jon Diebler, to continue shooting the 3-ball so well. He has 10 threes over the past two contests (shooting at a 50% clip). If Diebler can give the Buckeyes instant offense from beyond the arc, they can hang in there with almost any team. The Saints don't shoot the 3-ball as well as Ohio State and barely take any shots from long range (25.3% of all FG’s from 3-pt land). They still manage 50% of their scoring from the guards even though they aren’t popping left and right from 3. The Saints best two wins come against Niagara, so without any big wins it is tough to have them advancing against a team as hot as Ohio State. Alex Franklin needs to be a dominant force inside for the Saints if they want to see the second round of the tournament. Another problem the Saints suffer from (and another reason why the Buckeyes will win) is their poor free throw shooting (66%). Against a team that can shoot the three as well as Diebler and Ohio State can, clutch FT shooting could determine the outcome.

#5 Utah v. #12 Arizona

The Utah Utes put together a great campaign this season and won the Mountain West Conference Tournament. The MWC could have received up to 4 teams in the NCAA’s this year (SD State and UNLV were on the wrong end of the bubble) so they have been facing tough competition even though they aren’t in a power conference. For a deep tournament run, the Utes will go through their big man, Luke Nevill. Nevill has been a four year star for the Utes and he is their go to guy in clutch situations. Nevill needs to be the rock inside for Utah to make some noise on behalf of the smaller conferences across the nation. Nevill has averaged just less than 17 PPG this season and over 9 RPG. He has the size and ability to take over at any time. Arizona is the team that many feel got lucky and didn’t deserve to be in the tournament. I do feel that they deserve to be in the tournament, just not as much as St. Mary’s or a few other teams. You can’t take away from their ability because they were the surprise bubble team to get in. I feel that this only makes the Wildcats play with a chip on their shoulder to prove that they deserve to be in the field of 65. I think this fire will make them a much more dangerous team and will help them defeat Utah and pull the upset. Arizona will need all three members of their big 3 (Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger, and Nic Wise) to lead the way. I think the X-Factor for the Wildcats is their former highly touted recruit, Chase Budinger. It won’t just be Budinger’s scoring that will be the difference. He has the ability to see the floor and is a good passer as well as a good low-post rebounder. He has all the intangibles of a leader and will be the deciding factor for the big first round win.

#4 Wake Forest v. # 13 Cleveland State

Wake Forest was once thought of as a #1 seed for the tournament, but they have slipped of late. Wake Forest has had some issues with following up big wins with another strong performance. After their win over Duke, they lost to Georgia Tech and Miami. They also lost to Virginia Tech after beating a strong Clemson team. They are easily the most feared four seed in the tournament and have the talent to beat anyone in the field. Their weakness comes from beyond the arc, but they don’t force shots from deep and they play very balanced on both sides of the ball. Jeff Teague is one of the best guards in the country, but if Wake wants to make some noise this tournament they will need another player to be their March hero along with him. James Johnson (14.8 PPG and 8.5 RPG) is another awesome athlete that is having his second fantastic season for the Demon Deacons. The sophomore’s presence on the floor and ability to beat you in a variety of ways will be far more than Cleveland State can handle. Cleveland State bursted some bubbles this year and snuck into the tournament by winning the Horizon conference tournament. The three point upset of Butler got them into the field of 65, but a very tough first round match-up will get them out just as quick. J’Nathan Bullock is Cleveland State’s go to guy. If Wake overlooks the Vikings, Bullock and his team could bust a lot of brackets on Friday, but don’t expect this one to be close.

#2 Michigan State v. #15 Robert Morris

The Spartans may not be a one seed, but they have played well enough to be considered one of the top teams in college this year. MSU doesn't blow you away with any of their numbers. They have one of the better rebounding margins and have a solid 3-PT % and a good assist/turnover ratio. They also play very strong on the other side of the ball with a good defense. Kalin Lucas is the leader of the Spartans this season. Lucas runs the show on offense and does a lot of the scoring along with dishing out the rock over four times a game. Another Sophomore who will be in the limelight this postseason, Lucas will need to keep his teammates involved. The Spartans have not lost a game in which he posted more than 5 assists. Robert Morris won the lowly NEC. They don't have a strong case for an upset, but Jeremy Chappell and Rob Robinson will do their best to get the Colonials going. Michigan State should get by RMU easily and the 7/10 match-up shouldn’t slow them down. Will they be able to get by the returning champs will be a bigger question that Izzo and company will have to answer.

#7 Boston College v. #10 USC

Boston College put together a strong campaign this season with the highlight being their early season conference win over UNC. Boston College has quietly fallen into a 7 seed facing off against the surprise PAC-10 winner, USC. The little man running the show for BC, Tyrese Rice, is one of the more exciting guards to watch. He has the ability to take over the game and the quicks to scoot by any opponent on his way to the rim. He has been making a serious impact for the Golden Eagles for three seasons now and don’t be surprised if he caps off his bright collegiate career with a strong performance against USC. Boston College does have tendency to fall in love with the 3-PT shot. The problem with that is they aren’t overly spectacular from beyond the arc (.337). I expect a sloppy game against USC with neither team sporting a spectacular A/T ratio or turnover margin. The PAC-10 Champion USC Trojans got a strong seed in going from a team on the wrong side of the bubble before its conference tournament to a 10 seed after. USC lacks bench depth (starters are scoring 88.6% of their points) and experience. They have no seniors in their starting 5. USC freshman DeMar DeRozan could be the deciding factor for USC this postseason. DeRozan took over for USC in the PAC-10 tournament scoring 17 against Cal, 21 against rival UCLA, and 25 in the conference championship against Arizona State. DeRozan also made three of his six 3-pointers on the season in the tournament. If he can step behind the arc and add another level to his game USC could provide a tough out for BC and possibly Michigan State.

#6 West Virginia v. #11 Dayton

West Virginia put together a solid season with 24 wins this season. Their last win of the season was against #1 seeded Pitt. That was a win that propelled them into the 6th seed in the Midwest region. Da’Sean Butler is one of the best players you never heard of this year. Ruoff is the Mountaineer who gets a lot of the attention because of his long range ability, but Butler is the reason this team is sitting as a six seed. He's performed strongly game in and game out against strong Big East opponents and had a stretch of 6 Big East games where he scored 20+ in a row and also an amazing 43-point game against Villanova. I expect more of the same big numbers against tough competition from Butler. It will be interesting to see if Dayton has an answer for him. The Dayton Flyers are one of three teams representing the Atlantic-10 Conference. They have wins over Temple, Xavier, and Marquette this year. All three of these teams get a lot of their scoring from the guard position. WVU statistically gets under 50% of its points from their guards. Chris Wright is another young superstar looking for a breakout tournament. Wright had 5 double-doubles this season and was a force on the glass as well as on offense. I think the A-10 was strongly overlooked this season, and I feel a first round upset over a middle-of-the-pack Big East team.

#3 Kansas v. #14 ND State

Last and not least is the defending champion Kansas Jayhawks. There are a lot of differences between this years team and last. Bill Self is still coaching, which might be the single most important factor. The only two players with significant tourney experience are Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich. With a slew of young talent around them, Aldrich and Collins have taken turns dominating games and have Kansas in a great position for a repeat. Kansas dominated the Big-12 this year and I think the early round exit from their conference tournament will work out to their advantage. The time to rest up is invaluable and will be an advantage they have on many teams heading into the tournament. The added swagger and confidence is something that this team definitely doesn’t lack (even though many players had little impact or weren’t around for last season). Aldrich and Collins will get their points and keep Kansas competitive against any team, but the X-Factor of this team is Tyrel Reed. Reed only scores 6.7 PPG, but he has come up with countless big shots for the Jayhawks this season. He has the confidence to make any shot with the clock counting down. ND State is a team that nobody would want to face this in the first round of the tournament because of their ability to shoot the three (over 41%). If Kansas takes ND State lightly, Ben Woodside (22.8 PPG), could be the third team in the past several seasons to upset Kansas in the first round.

Look for a few upsets in the first round of the Midwest Region. I see Dayton, USC, and Arizona all moving on to the second round (but advancing no further). A tough Elite Eight match-up will come down to the #1 overall seed and defending champion. Will Tyrel Reed be able to step up and make a big shot for the Jayhawks again, or will Terrance Williams, Earl Clark and Louisville be able to hold of the youthful champs?

*Midwest Region previewed by Kevin Fenstermacher
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