Midwest Region

Elite 8 Preview: Midwest region

What I thought was a tough draw for the undefeated Wildcats, has been nothing but a cake walk for them. The Wildcats have outscored their opponents 221-146 in their first three games, while their opponents are shooting 28% from the field. Nothing but domination from the Wildcats in the first three rounds but now they will face the best offensive team they've seen all year; Notre Dame. 

John Calipari told his team to be the aggressors in order to beat the press and that's what they did. In the first half. the Harrison Twins combined for 20 points in the first half, 2 more points than the entire West Virginia team. (AP Photo)

John Calipari told his team to be the aggressors in order to beat the press and that's what they did. In the first half. the Harrison Twins combined for 20 points in the first half, 2 more points than the entire West Virginia team. (AP Photo)

Notre Dame's run to the Elite 8 wasn't as dominant as Kentucky's but it was impressive. After overcoming a tough round of 64 and 32, they gave the Wichita State Shockers their 5th loss of the season, 81-70. Four starters scored in double figures for the Irish, surprisingly enough, Jerian Grant was the only one who scored less than 10 points but he did dished out 11 dimes. The Irish haven't shot less than 45% so far this tournament, proving why they are one of the best offensive teams in the country. 

Of course the Wildcats are the favorites in this game, and rightfully so. Between the 36-0 record and the double digit victories, it look like they will walk into the Final Four for the second straight season. Cincy found a chink in the armor on the rebounding aspect, which help them stay in the game. Notre Dame is ranked 252nd in the country in rebounding, averaging only 33 a game. This will surely go into the Wildcats favor because they have 4 trees that control the paint. 

Notre Dame will have to do what Cincy did and hit the boards hard, even the guards. I don't think the Wildcats will stop the Irish from scoring and hitting the trey ball, which they did well against Wichita State, knocking down 47% of there threes. The Irish will have to make this an end up and down to keep those trees out of the paint, but play some exceptional transition defense too because UK can play that style too. Demetrius Jackson could be the most important player in the game which his dribbling and ability to run the fast break. If he can score like he did against the Shockers, going 4-5 from behind the arc, the Irish will be in good shape.

Demtrius Jackson became the third different player this tournament to lead the team in scoring. I'm not sure if that is a record but it is an impressive team stat. (AP Photo) 

Demtrius Jackson became the third different player this tournament to lead the team in scoring. I'm not sure if that is a record but it is an impressive team stat. (AP Photo) 

It is in the Irish favor that the Wildcats have not seen an offensive team of their caliber. I don't know anyone that would question how good UK is defensively, but I'm curious to see how they will try to stop the Irish. The Wildcats also have't seen a player like Jerrian Grant none this season and I'm curious to see how they will stop him. I'm not sure if they have anyone that could contain him, so I expect them to do it as a team. Also Pat Connaughton, who I think is one of the most underrated players is the country, is due for another big game, dropping a double-double (16 points & 10 boards) against the Shockers. 

The Wildcats depth and length will be the deciding factor. Having those trees down there has been heaven on earth for coach Calipari, and they know how to stay out of foul trouble. Even if one did get in foul trouble, like Karl Anthony Towns did against WVU, Calipari still has another one to rely on, like Dakari Johnson who contributed 24 quality minutes with 12 points, 2 blocks, and 6 boards. The Irish don't have one player taller than 6'11, while the Wildcats have three. Zach Auguste will have his hands full trying to maintain a presence in the paint. Also the Irish don't have 10 players they could out there, running only 7 players. 

If I had to pick a winner in this one, it would be Kentucky just because of the length and depth, but I'm not 100% confidence on that pick. i think the Irish could beat the Wildcats because of their ability to score but they will need to win the rebound the battle. 

Fan-I Bracketology: Midwest Region

It's finally that time of year again, the best time of the year in my opinion. After two weeks of some great conference tournaments, all 68 teams have been selected for the NCAA Tournament. Similar to last year, the Midwest region is the toughest of the four, also the #1 seed in this region walks in with 0 losses. 

(courtesy of ESPN.com)

(courtesy of ESPN.com)

I am very surprised that the NCAA Selection committee gave the Wildcats the toughest draw out of all of the #1 seeds, but for the sake of entertainment, I am happy that they did this. My guess is that, the committee thought in order to really find out if the Wildcats are the greatest team in college basketball history, put them in the toughest region. Usually the #1 overall seed gets the weakest of the regions but not this year. 

One thing I can say about the Wildcats is they have one of the toughest non-conference schedules. They faced and defeated 7 teams that are in this year NCAA Tournament, two of them being Buffalo and Kansas. Just in case you don't remember, Kentucky defeated the Jayhawks 72-40 in the Champions Classic back in November, which sparked the phenom that is Kentucky. 

Like I said though, this is a tough draw for the Wildcats, who are 6 games away from completing their pursuit on perfection. Purdue, who has two seven footers on their roster, Freshman Issac Haas and junior A.J Hammons give the Boilermakers a chance, matching the Wildcats size in the paint, but can Hammon and Haas match the intensity of Karl Anthony-Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein, which I don't think they can. 

In the Sweet 16, Maryland or West Virginia could get an opportunity to end the Wildcats run, unless one of those are shocked in their 2nd round matchups. Maryland will face Valparaiso, who I think they should beat, while the Mountaineers will face Buffalo. Buffalo is the Mid-American Conference champs, entering the tournament 23-9. 6'7 forward, Justin Moss, who averages 18 points and 9 boards with 15 double-doubles this season, could pose a problem for the Mountaineers who struggle to score at times. I think Maryland will get that opportunity to meet the Wildcats in the Sweet 16 but it all depends on how well the Mountaineers can score and how the Terps react to the full court press of the Mountaineers 

In the bottom half of the region, the Kansas Jayhawks look to be the favorite but not for me. Kansas hasn't impressed me too much this season, especially in the final stretch, going 8-5 since February 1st.  People say that the Big 12 is the toughest conference in the country, reason why the committee blessed them with a #2 seed but I disagree with everything about this. For me, the ACC was the best conference this season, and Notre Dame, ACC Champs should have been the recipients of that #2 seed. I like the Irish to come out of this bottom half of the region. I think the Irish are set up perfectly for the tournament with great balance plus they beat Duke twice along with 6 other Tournament teams.

Wichita State is a very tough #7 seed. Their big 3 of Fred Van Vleet, Ron Baker, and Tekele Cotton all have tournament experience and was apart of that 2012-13 team that made it to the Final Four. It's not to often you see a #7 seed with that kind of experience and only 4 losses. 

Sleepers

  • Buffalo Bulls, 23-9 MAC Champions - The Bulls won't be an easy win for whoever step on the court with them. They have a tournament type of player in Moss, along with Shannon Evans who averages 15 points a game. The Mountaineers will have to score some points in order to advance past the Bulls, who average 75 points a game (28th in the country). 
  • New Mexico State, 23-10 WAC Champions - The Jayhawks are very shaky and I don't trust them in the tournament this year. The Aggies, on the other hand, are on a 13 game win streak and have 4 players that score in double figures. I don't think the Jayhawks can afford to have an inconsistent outing against them. 
  • West Virginia Mountaineers, 23-9 - I think the Mountaineers are a sleeper because people don't think they can score efficiently enough to make a run in the dance. The thing about WVU is they play defense and use a full court press that could really irritate a few teams, and if they do start knocking down shots consistently, watch out. 

Players to Watch 

Potential Matchups 

  • #4 Maryland v. #5 West Virginia, Third Round - It will be fun to watch the guards of the Terps go against the guards of the Mountaineers. 
  • #7 Witchita State v. Kansas, Third Round - Both schools are representing the state of Kansas, which will back heading back home first? 
  • #1 Kentucky v. #4 Maryland, Sweet 16 - A lot of Maryland fans are upset about the Terps being in the same region as the overall number 1 seed but no matter what region you're in, the road to the Final Four is never easy. 
  • #1 Kentucky v. #3 Notre Dame, Elite 8 - If there is a team that could end the Wildcats pursuit, it's the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, who I think cause some matchup problems for Kentucky with their ability to spread the floor and shoot the rock.