The Midwest Region of the NCAA Tournament had just one upset in the first round, and just one upset in the second, meaning most of the region went as expected. However, there is one 12 seed that sticks out like a sore thumb, especially among the name-brand programs that hold the top three seeds in this region. The Midwest wasn’t the most exciting region during the tournament’s first weekend, but with three elite coaches converging in Indianapolis, the second weekend is bound to be memorable. Let’s take a look.
The 4 seed St. Louis is the highest seed not to reach the regional semi-finals. The Billikens were a team many thought could challenge top-seeded Louisville in the Sweet 16, but they failed to get past the second round, after an atrocious 19-point first half against Oregon, a poor performance they could not overcome.
The 5 seed Oklahoma State also left early after meeting Oregon. Freshman sensation Marcus Smart couldn’t do enough in his tournament debut to get the Cowboys into the second round. Creighton, the 7 seed, was a candidate to pull off a second round upset over Duke, but the Bluejays made just 30% of their field goals after shooting over 50% during the season. Creighton made just two of their 19 three-point attempts, which ended any hope of pulling off an upset over the Blue Devils.
Top-seeded Louisville barely broke a sweat in its first two games. The Cardinals stole the ball from North Carolina A&T 20 times on their way to a 31-point win in the first round before blowing out Colorado State by 26 in the second round. It was the kind of impressive performance you’d expect out of the tournament’s number one overall seed, and doing it in Rupp Arena, the home of their bitter in-state rivals, must have given the Cards a little extra satisfaction. The 2 seed Duke took care of Albany in the first round and then beat Creighton in the second round with a stifling defense that stopped the Bluejays potent offense dead in its tracks, as the Blue Devils were able to survive a game in which their entire frontcourt got into foul trouble.
Michigan State, the 3 seed, also won with a strong defensive performance, stifling the three-point attack of the 14 seed Valparaiso before holding 6 seed Memphis to just 48 points, as the Spartans breezed through the first weekend without much trouble. The outlier of the Midwest is Oregon, who pulled off upsets of Oklahoma State and St. Louis. After winning the Pac 12 Tournament, the Ducks have looked far better in the NCAA Tournament than the 12 seed they were given, as E.J. Singler and Damyean Dotson have carried them through the first two rounds, with a lot of contributions off the bench from Carlos Emory as well.
Who’s playing who:
The tournament’s top seed Louisville will kick off Friday’s slate of games against 12 seed Oregon. The Cardinals get a bit of a break by avoiding a St. Louis team that may have given them problems, but Oregon has earned the right to play in the Sweet 16 and is playing with an awful lot of confidence. The biggest challenge for the Ducks will be handling Louisville’s pressure defense, which few teams have been able to have success against all season. As well as Oregon has played in the Pac 12 tournament and in the NCAA Tournament they’ll have to be close to perfect to beat Louisville, a team whose only loss in the last two months came on the road in five overtimes. There have been big upsets in the tournament so far, but if Oregon beats Louisville, it would be one of the biggest.
The other semi-final in the Midwest is a matchup of two coaching legends: Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo. This game will be a clash of styles and should come down to which team can impose its will on the other. Duke is capable of scoring at a high rate, especially now that Ryan Kelly is back in the lineup, and they will want to push the tempo and turn the game into a track meet.
In a high scoring game, it’s unlikely that Michigan State will be able to keep pace with the Blue Devils and score enough points to win the game. The Spartans would favor a grind-it-out type of game that is played in the half court and features low shooting percentages by both sides. A game of this nature would make Duke uncomfortable and give the advantage to Michigan State. Whichever team is able to dictate the pace of the game should come away with a win.