Continuing our regional previews, we start today with the Midwest Region, a region headlined by powerhouses (North Carolina and Kansas) and upstarts (Creighton and Belmont). I’ll preview every matchup with the West Region to come later today.
(1) North Carolina vs. (16) Lamar/Vermont – Friday, March 16, 4 PM ET, TBS
Well, I can’t really think about much to say here, but I don’t think Pat Knight hates his seniors or his team as much as he did a few weeks ago. Maybe they’ll make him proud with a defeat of Vermont. The guy deserves it for being the first coach to ever have the balls to publicly destroy his own team.
Prediction: North Carolina 92, Lamar 60
(8) Creighton vs. (9) Alabama – Friday, March 16, 1:30 PM ET, TBS
Maybe I’ve hinted at my affection for this year’s Creighton team. If I haven’t, I need to express how much I enjoy watching them play. Doug McDermott is this year’s Jimmer Fredette, but better (in terms of mid-major player who absolutely dominated his competition). It’s a shame Creighton was so heavily underseeded, because they could’ve made a deep, deep run in this tournament. Either way, it’ll be fun to watch them beat the Tide and then give UNC a great game. That team Creigh, ain’t it Jay?
Prediction: Creighton 70, Alabama 62
(5) Temple vs. (12) California/South Florida – Friday, March 16, 9:45 PM ET, TNT
This is a tough one to predict because of the First Four factor (Temple won’t know their opponent until late Wednesday night), so I’ll preview both Cal and USF. California is easily the better of the two teams, featuring a strong defensive presence that ranked 16th in the nation in defensive efficiency with a solid offense to boot. South Florida’s alright, but they got in the field based on the argument of “we lost to good teams and beat bad ones”, which was still better than several other bubble arguments. Assuming Cal beats USF and draws Temple, this could be a very tough matchup for the Owls. Temple is pretty exceptional at three-point shooting (9th in America), but for whatever reason they rank in the lower half of all teams in three-pointers attempted. Why? The world will never know. Temple’s disadvantage in height could come back to hurt them pretty badly, but I’ll give them a slight pass here.
Prediction(s): Temple 72, Cal 67; Temple 67, USF 56
(4) Michigan vs. (13) Ohio – Friday, March 16, 7:15 PM ET, TNT
I’ll try to hold back here as best as I can, because most people know I have a special place for Michigan athletics in my heart, due to family history. Because of that, I’ll be at this game in Nashville Friday night. With that said, Michigan’s got a tougher game than most would expect on their hands. Ohio plays some outstanding defense, forcing the second-most turnovers in America this season. Luckily for Michigan, they haven’t had much turnover trouble this year, losing the ball at the 34th-lowest rate. The key factor in what could be an ugly, low-scoring battle will be Michigan’s three-point shooting: inconsistent as any, the Wolverines can either drown an opponent in threes from Zack Novak, Trey Burke, and Stu Douglass, or they can have a long drought in which Michigan tries too hard to shoot their way out of a slump. I’ll split the middle and say Michigan avoids the upset.
Prediction: Michigan 61, Ohio 54
(6) San Diego State vs. (11) North Carolina State – Friday, March 16, 12:30 PM ET, TruTV
A strange game to really dig into, as North Carolina State is currently the popular pick, unusual for a 6-11 game. Either way, something unusual will be happening in this game: Steve Fisher losing as the higher seed in the first round (6-1 all-time) or North Carolina State beating a Top 25 team (SDSU comes in to the tournament ranked 18th) for the first time this year (currently 0 for 8). San Diego State has the coaching advantage – where’s Steve Fisher’s coach of the year hype after taking a team that lost its top four scorers to a 6 seed? – but NC State may have the better overall team. Sure to be one of the closest games of the first round, I legitimately am torn. I’ll side with the Aztecs for now, but this could change by Thursday.
Prediction: San Diego State 62, North Carolina State 60
(3) Georgetown vs. (14) Belmont – Friday, March 16, 3 PM ET, TruTV
This is it. This is the one. The game you know you shouldn’t pick the upset in, but you want to so badly because you know this should be a 4-13 matchup and Belmont is much better than their seed suggests. The Bruins are essentially a nightmare matchup for Georgetown: they shoot the ball better than almost anyone in the field (fifth nationally), they don’t turn it over often (35th-best in the nation), and they’re going up against an offense that has trouble with turnovers on both sides (10.5% of the Hoyas’ possessions end in steals, 256th in the nation, and they’re almost right at the national average at forcing them). In other words, this is the best matchup Belmont could’ve gotten. With that said, Rick Byrd finally gets the tournament win he’s been waiting decades for – and maybe another to follow.
Prediction: Belmont 67, Georgetown 66
(7) St. Mary’s (CA) vs. (10) Purdue – Friday, March 16, 7:15 PM ET, TruTV
Yet another very, very tough first-round game to predict. Both teams bring strong offenses and poor defenses to the table, but Purdue is #1 in the nation in limiting turnovers and St. Mary’s is in the top 30 of rebounding teams in the nation. However, Purdue gets much better guard play than St. Mary’s does, a key indicator of 10 seed success. I’ll side with the stats and go with Purdue…for now.
Prediction: Purdue 70, St. Mary’s (CA) 67
(2) Kansas vs. (15) Detroit – Friday, March 16, 9:55 PM ET, TruTV
Another disclaimer: I support all smaller schools from the Michigan area, so I’d absolutely love to see a UDM upset of the hated Kansas Jayhawks here. And yes, Detroit has the numbers to give Kansas a solid game: they force their share of turnovers, shoot the ball very well from inside the arc, and they get to the free throw line early and often. However, they most likely don’t have the depth to keep up with Kansas for a long time. I think they’ll give the Jayhawks a good game for a while, but they can’t do it for forty minutes.
Prediction: Kansas 81, Detroit 64
After I finish my test (and, essentially, the first half of this semester) tomorrow afternoon, I’ll have the West Region up along with some more notes you need to know for filling out your bracket. Thanks for reading!