MIDWEST REGIONAL BREAKDOWN:
Kansas lost in the Big XII tournament but it didn’t matter as the Jayhawks got the top seed in what looks like the easiest region. Big Ten regular season champ Purdue is lurking as a four-seed, while Louisville, Oregon, Michigan and Iowa State all provide difficult matchups for opponents. That said, this region lacks the top-end star power of the East and South.
Best Odds to Win National Title: No. 1 Kansas 17/2, No. 2 Louisville 14/1, No. 3 Oregon 25/1
Obviously Kansas is the favorite, with Louisville and Oregon rounding things out. There clearly isn’t a ton of faith in this region from Vegas, but Michigan as a 75/1 shot might be a fun bet.
Best First Round Matchup: No. 8 Miami vs. No. 9 Michigan State
Two of the best coaches in the country bring two of their most frustrating teams to face each other. Both teams are capable of pulling a big upset somewhere and wrecking your bracket, and both are capable of flaming out with an awful performance.
Upset Special: No. 11 Rhode Island vs. No 6 Creighton
Rhode Island (24-9) quietly had a fantastic season, while Creighton (25-9) was on everyone’s radar from the start. The Rams are fantastic defensively, are battle tested after getting a win over Cincinnati and playing Duke close, and have won eight in a row.
Creighton lost senior guard Maurice Watson after an 18-1 start and finished the season 7-8 in its last 15 games. The Bluejays are ripe for an upset.
Sleeper to Advance Deep: No. 7 Michigan
The Wolverines got hot down the stretch and have won 10 of their last 12, including a run to the Big Ten Tournament title. Point guard Derrick Walton Jr. is playing as well as anyone in the country right now and if Michigan hits its shots from deep, it can roll with anyone in the country.
John Beilein’s squad can play with anyone when it is on. Right now the Wolverines are on.
While the “Bill Self will screw this up” voice in my head is as strong as ever, I just can’t bet against Frank Mason III this season. The kid has been unbelievable and has the same impact on this team Kemba Walker had on UConn in 2011.
Kansas went 28-4 and won 9 of its last 11 games. With freshman phenom Josh Jackson finally hitting his stride and the veteran leadership of Mason, Devonte’ Graham and Landen Lucas, this looks like a team prepped for a deep run. I’m going (rock) chalk in the Midwest.