NCAA March Madness Preview: The Midwest Region

March 17, 2009

Here is a preview of the Midwest Region in this year's NCAA Tournament.

#16 Morehead State (20-15, Ohio Valley Conf. Champions)

Coach Donnie Tyndall’s Morehead State squad officially qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 25 years by virtue of their victory in the “Play-In” game over Alabama State. Thus, Morehead State earned the right to play sacrificial lambs to #1 overall seed Louisville. Look for sophomore center Kenneth Faried, fresh off a 14-point, 21-rebound performance, to lead the upset-minded Eagles in their bid to become the Cinderella story for the ages. If they are to become the first-ever #16 seed in Tourney history to upset a top-ranked foe, they will need a balanced offensive output. Both Faried and senior forward Leon Buchanan averaged at least 14 points a game in the regular season, albeit against comparatively weak Ohio Valley Conference foes. Guard Maze Stallworth will also have to play within himself and not get caught up in a track meet with Louisville’s Edgar Sosa.

Tournament Outlook: First round blowout loss to Louisville.

#15 Robert Morris (24-10, Northeast Conf. Champions)

The backcourt combination of Jimmy Langhurst and Jeremy Chappell each shot over 40% from 3-point range. Head coach Mike Rice’s hopes of advancing past their opening round matchup with Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans will likely rely on his backcourt duo’s accuracy from deep, as their lack of size on the interior (only two players on their roster are taller than 6’8”) puts them at a distinct disadvantage against a rugged Spartans team.

Tournament Outlook: First round exit at the hands of Michigan State.

#14 North Dakota State (26-6, Summit League Champions)

Probably this year’s consensus choice as the best “feel good story” of the tournament. Just becoming the first team in over 35 years to qualify for the Big Dance in their first year of Division I eligibility was a commendable accomplishment in and of itself for the Bison. Ben Woodside and Brett Winkleman will lead the charge for the Bison, as the senior average a combined 41.5 points per game between them, and Woodside even registered a remarkable 60-point game in a triple OT victory over Stephen F. Austin. However, they will certainly have their hands full in dealing with a dynamic Jayhawks’ backcourt that features Sherron Collins.

Tournament Outlook: First round exit. Despite giving the Jayhawks all they could handle for nearly 30 minutes, the determined and hard-nosed North Dakota squad eventually runs out of gas, going one-and-done in their first Tourney appearance.

#13 Cleveland State (25-10, Horizon League Champions)

Cleveland State makes just their second NCAA Tourney appearance, and their first since they memorably knocked off Bobby Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers in 1986 before losing to a David Robinson-led Navy squad. The Vikings qualified for the tournament by way of upsetting Butler in the Horizon League Championship game, and certainly endeared themselves by admirably playing a very tough non-conference schedule that included losses to Washington, West Virginia, and Kansas State, as well as a memorable upset victory over Syracuse in the Carrier Dome on a last-second ¾ court heave by Cedric Jackson. That being said, the Vikings will be against a Wake Forest team that at one point, was ranked #1 in the country. The fact that 4 of the Vikings 5 starters stand 6’5” or under certainly doesn’t bode well, although it must be mentioned that J’Nathan Bullock plays much larger than his stature would seem to indicate.

Tournament Outlook: First round exit. The ACC-tested Demon Deacons are just too much for coach Gary Waters’ Cleveland State squad.

#12 Arizona (19-13, 5th place in Pac-10)

Normally known for impressive regular -seasons runs and then unimpressive, early tournament flameouts, something says this year’s version of the Wildcats is different, and it’s not just due to the noted absence of legendary coach Lute Olson patrolling the sidelines. With interim head coach Russ Pennell leading the ‘Cats to an astounding 25th consecutive tournament appearance, Arizona avoided missing an invite for the first time since 1984 (Olson’s first year in Tucson), despite losing 5 of their last 6games. Even when taking their late-season sputters into consideration, one can still expect the supremely-talented Wildcats, led by the ultra-athletic duo of juniors Chase Bundinger and Jordan Hill, to give problems to the Utah squad that is slated as their opening round matchup.

Tournament Outlook: The Wildcats once again defy conventional wisdom, first upsetting the Utes, then the #4 seeded Wake Forest squad, to make it to the Sweet Sixteen before eventually bowing out to top-ranked Louisville.

#11 Dayton (26-7, 2nd place in the Atlantic-10)

The co-sleepers of the Region (along with Arizona), Dayton’s team defense and toughness will be crucial elements in their matchup against a rugged, Bob Huggins coached West Virginia team. Many wondered aloud whether the Flyers had blown their chances at an invite to the Big Dance after they failed to advance to the A-10 Tournament title game, but supporters point to key victories over Marquette, Temple, Auburn and Xavier as evidence that the Flyers were deserving of a tournament berth. If Dayton is to advance, expect point guard London Warren to look for the high-flying duo of Ohio natives Marcus Johnson and Chris Wright on the business end of his crowd-igniting lob passes.

Tournament Outlook: The Flyers do just that, flying high and upsetting a favored West Virginia squad en route to the Sweet Sixteen, where they will eventually be overpowered by a determined team from BC.

#10 USC (20-12, Pac-10 Tournament Champions)

The Trojans probably had to win the Pac-10 tournament to even make it to The Big Dance, and they did just that. For that, they were rewarded with a matchup against a solid Boston College team in one of the more intriguing opening-round matchups. SC is fairly evenly matched with Boston College, but will likely look to exploit their decided advantage in athleticism over the slower Eagles. Should composed lead guard Daniel Hackett be able to get out and find freshman phenom DeMar DeRozan on the wing running the break, then BC will be in trouble and the Trojans will triumph.

Tournament Outlook: First round exit. No strangers to inner-turmoil, the Trojans lack of chemistry precipitates a 2nd Half meltdown, and costs them yet again in their bid to upset the Eagles.

#9 Siena (26-7, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conf. Champions)

Senior guard Kenny Hasbrouck, who was recently honored as the MVP of the MAAC Conference tourney, will lead the Saints as they attempt to advance into the 2nd round for the second time in as many years. Siena will have a difficult task in playing Ohio State in Dayton- just an hours’ drive from the Buckeyes Columbus campus- but their balanced offensive attack, which saw them have six players average between 15 and eight points per game, will aid them considerably. Ronald Moore’s play protecting and distributing the basketball will be vital in Siena’s bid at a moderate upset over the Buckeyes.

Tournament Outlook: After “upsetting” the Buckeyes in their backyard, Siena bows out to Rick Pitino’s top-ranked Louisville squad in Round Two.

#8 Ohio State (22-10, 4th place in the Big 10)

Thad Matta’s Buckeyes have relied almost exclusively on sophomore all-conference performer Evan Turner, who paced the team with a regular-season averages of 17 points and 7 boards a game. Despite Turner’s yeoman’s work, advancing even to the 2nd round would require a more balanced and consistent team effort than this current edition of the Ohio State team can currently produce.

Tournament Outlook: One and done. Siena proves to be too much for Thad Matta’s underwhelming Ohio State squad.

#7 Boston College (22-11, 5th place in the ACC)

Al Skinner once again brings a solid, if unspectacular Eagles team to the tourney. If Boston College should emerge from their first round pairing with USC in what is arguably the toughest opening round matchup in this year’s tournament, it will be in no small part due to the play of senior guard Tyrese Rice. Rice will be aided by the efforts of his back court mate Rakim Sanders and sharp-shooting forward Joe Trapani. However, if Skinner’s Eagles are to truly make some noise, it will be up to Rice, aka Nick Van Exel 2.0 to carry them to new heights.

Tournament Outlook: A gut-wrenching, down-to-the-wire win over the Trojans is followed by a surprisingly easy victory over Michigan State. BC eventually reaches the Regional Final against Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals, where the gutsy Eagles run is eventually ended a game short of the Final Four in Detroit.

#6 West Virginia (23-11, 7th place in the Big East)

Coach Bob Huggins brings his consistently tough Mountaineers team to Minneapolis to face off against the Flyers from Dayton. Although routinely undersized playing against the behemoths of the Big East, expect the steady shooting of the Mountaineers' De’Sean Butler and Alex Ruoff to keep them in contention.

Tournament Outlook: The Mountaineers can’t manage to make enough shots, as Dayton’s suffocating defense and tough play on the boards propel them to the upset, sending Coach Huggins and his boys back to Morgantown on a losing note.

#5 Utah (24-9, Mountain West Champions)

Utah comes into the Tournament on a high, having won four in a row, and 12 of their last 14. Their opening round matchup against Arizona meanwhile, pits them against a team that by all accounts barely proved themselves worthy of a tourney invite. Although standing an imposing 7’2”, Utes center Luke Nevill will have his hands full in trying to slow down the athletic Arizona front court, featuring Jordan Hill and the high-flying Chase Budinger. The Utes will have to at least equal the 50% that they shot from the field in 16 of their 33 games if they hope to outlast the upset-minded Wildcats.

Tournament Outlook: Utah isn’t able to overcome the athleticism of the Arizona frontline and the Utes bow out early, unable to avoid being victimized in the dreaded 5-12 upset.

#4 Wake Forest (24-6, 2nd in ACC)

The Deacons limp into tourney play after going out in their opening round game of the ACC Tournament against Maryland, without a whimper. In that game, leading scorer Jeff Teague managed only 11 points. Although they started the season 16-0 on their way to a #1 National ranking, the Demon Deacons finished the season just 8-6 over the course of their last 14. If Wake is to avoid an upset at the hands of Cleveland State, they will need better performances out of both Teague, and freshman all-ACC pick Al-Farouq Aminu.

Tournament Outlook: Wake narrowly avoids an embarrassing first round-exit against Cleveland State after the Demon Deacons offense nearly fails to wake up until it is too late. However after some anxious moments, the inspired play of Aminu carries the Deacons to the opening round win, which precedes the Deacons losing their subsequent matchup with Arizona.

#3 Kansas (25-7, Big 12 regular season champs)

The Jayhawks had a nine-game winning streak snapped in losing to Baylor in their first Big 12 tourney game, marking the first time since the advent of the conference tourney that Kansas had lost its opening round game. That disappointing showing in their conference tournament notwithstanding, if Bill Self is able to get even performances from lead guard Sherron Collins and center Cole Aldrich, they should simply be too talented, and too deep for the feisty North Dakota State team.

Tournament Outlook: Despite more anxious moments than Bill Self hopes for, the Jayhawks overcome a double-digit deficit, and pull away from the Bison late in a thriller, before losing in another nail-biter to a charmed Dayton squad in Round 2.

#2 Michigan State (26-6, Big 10 regular season champs)

Coach Tom Izzo’s Spartans come into the tournament with an eye on the prize, which of course would be a birth in the Final Four, which is of course to be played in their home state. However in order to make it that far, the Spartans will need steady play from sophomore guards Chris Allen, Durrell Summers and Kalin Lucas, who can’t forget to remember to feed their capable bigs like Goran Suton when they are not running the break.

Tournament Outlook: A romp over the under-sized and overmatched Robert Morris team precedes a disappointing loss to seventh-seeded Boston College.

#1 Louisville (28-5, Big East Tournament champs)

Quite simply the Cardinals, picked as the #1 overall seed in the entire tourney by the selection committee, have the easiest path to Detroit of any of the top seeds. At least on paper Rick Pitino’s battle-tested Big East champs ought to make it through to the Final Four without too many close encounters along the way.

Tournament Outlook: Expect the Cardinals to justify their top seeding and make it to Detroit, despite having to endure a pair of tough, hard-fought wins over determined teams from Arizona and Boston College along the way.

By Kweku Turkson
Staff Reporter for

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