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Bracket Breakdown: Midwest Region

Posted at 2:49 AM, Mar 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-14 03:49:53-04

Breakdown:
If there's one region that could devolve into complete "Lord Of The Flies"-style chaos it's this one.  There's lower seeds with a good combination of experience and talent.  There's high seeds with little to no recent March experience.  And all of that could happen while Virginia and Michigan State waltz towards what feels like an inevitable clash in the elite eight.  The Cavs earned the one seed and are one of only two teams in the country to finish in the top ten in offensive and defensive efficiency according to kenpom.com.  The Spartans battled injury troubles and slumped in the middle of the season.  But, they made a strong push down the stretch and eventually won the Big Ten Conference Tournament.  They're healthy now, and all college hoops fans know that betting against Tom Izzo in March is like playing the lottery...a waste of money.  However, there are some teams in the pack that could give the top two seeds a scare if they can manage to avoid an early upset.  Purdue's size could help neutralize Virginia's stingy defense.  Gonzaga, Seton Hall, and Utah all have the talent to push Michigan State if they meet in the Sweet Sixteen.  Out of all of the regions this one could provide us with the most late-game drama.

Players To Watch:
Malcolm Brogdon is the rare two-way all-star.  He's the best man-to-man defender in the game.  He routinely locks up the best player on the opposition.  And despite expending all of that energy on the defensive end he still manages to shoulder the scoring load for Virginia averaging nearly 19 points per game.  See James Harden, you can be effective playing both sides of the ball.  Michigan State has their own player-of-the-year candidate in Denzel Valentine.   He's your typical Izzo senior.  He's tough.  He's clutch.  He's physical.  And he loves "the moment".  Valentine is a true stat sheet stuffer.  He AVERAGED 20-7-8.  The best way to play the Spartans is to find reasons that Valentine shouldn't be allowed on the court.  Utah's top player is very different from Brogdon and Valentine.  Jakob Poeltl is Austrian for "blunt-force instrument".  Or if it's not then it should be.  The big man is a punishing scorer and defender in the paint.  He averaged 18 points, nine boards, and a block-and-a-half per game.  The future lottery pick is a true rarity in the college game, a legit big man.  Not to be overlooked is possibly the best small conference player in America.  Iona's AJ English is the son of a former NBA player, and he's got ulimited range with a green-light to shoot from anywhere.  He put a line of 22-5-6 every night for the up-tempo Gaels.  He's been so good that the NBA has taken notice, and he could wind up going in this year's draft.  This region is the best individual player region, so here's a quick honorable mention nod to Kellen Dunham, Roosevelt Jones, A.J. Hammons, Georges Niang, Monte Morris, Isaiah Whitehead, Kyle Wiltjer, and Dyshawn Pierre.  All of them would've likely made the cut in any other region.

Vulnerable high seeds:
Utah has some really good wins and a dominant player, but are they really a three seed?  They seemed to struggle when they played elite teams.  They were blown out by Miami and Wichita State.  They were swept by large margins in three games against Oregon.  A key component in March is winning against really good teams.  Utah did that only some of the time.  The advanced metrics love Purdue.  They rebound well.  They're efficient on both sides of the ball.  So, why are they here?  Traditionally the tournament is a guards game, and the Boilermakers' backcourt leaves plenty to be desired.

Upset-Minded low seeds:
This is why I think this region COULD devolve into chaos.  It has by far the strongest set of low seeds.  Gonzaga is a little down this year thanks to injuries, but that's still a deep, experienced team.  11 seeds don't normally come with talent like Wiltjer and years of March experience.  Arkansas-Little Rock won 29 games this year.  They hammered everyone in their conference.  They have unreal balance which makes it tough to key in one player.  Hampton is a MEAC school going to the tournament for a second straight season.  A 16 seed has never beaten a one seed, so I'm not insane enough to say it will happen.  But, Hampton has the profile of a team that pulls upsets.  Butler and Iona also profile as teams with upset potential.  This is a dangerous, dangerous region to be a high seed.

The Pick:
I'm rolling with January, February, Izzo.  Michigan State's rebounded from their mid-season swoon.  They looked like your traditional, deep-run Izzo squad in the conference tournament.  Everything looks to be falling perfect for another Final Four appearance.