The NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament is set. Kansas, North Carolina, Virginia, and Oregon received the top seeds in the four different regional tournaments.
The Midwest Region of the NCAA Tournament is the focus of this article. Games in the first and second round of the tournament will be played in Raleigh, N.C., Denver, Colo., and St. Louis, Mo. The Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games will be played in Chicago, Ill., at the United Center on March 25 and March 27, with the regional winner heading for the Final Four in Houston, Texas.
The following is a look at each team in the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest region with statistics, win-loss records and betting lines (which are subject to change) to see who odds makers have installed as favorites for each match-up.
No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers (26-7) vs. No. 16 Hampton Pirates (21-10)
Virginia earned their fifth No. 1 seed in program history, claiming the top seed for the second time in three years. The Cavaliers recorded 10 wins against the top-50 programs in the country, included decisive victories over Villanova, West Virginia, and Louisville. The ‘Hoos did so behind Malcolm Brogdon, the 6-5 guard that posted 18.7 points per game this year. With a balanced defense and offense, the Cavaliers could make a deep run into the NCAA tournament this year.
The Pirates reached the NCAA tournament thanks to winning the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference for a second straight year. The teams from this conference have traditionally given squads fits in the opening round, and the Pirates are hoping to add to that tradition. To do it, Hampton will rely on senior guards Reginald Johnson Jr. and Quinton Chievous to provide their offense. Johnson, Jr., is scoring 18.3 points per outing, while Chievous averages a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds per night.
Betting Odds: Virginia -23.5
No. 2 Michigan State Spartans (29-5) vs. No. 15 Middle Tennessee State University Blue Raiders (24-9)
The Spartans continue to show why Tom Izzo is one of the best post-season coaches of all-time, winning the Big 12 Championship over Purdue Sunday to punch their ticket. A player of the year candidate leads this team, with Denzel Valentine scoring 19.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 7.6 assists per contest. The team continues to peak at the right time, and betting against the Spartans making it to the Elite Eight could be money down the drain.
Middle Tennessee won the Conference USA title over Old Dominion in a two-point nail-bitter. That’s how the gritty Blue Raiders have won several games this season, going 9-1 in games decided by three points or less. When the Blue Raiders need points, the duo of Giddy Potts and Reggie Upshaw have come through, as the two athletes averaged nearly 29 points and 14 rebounds per night. To win any games in the NCAA tournament this year, Middle Tennessee will need to follow the formula that brought them to the Big Dance in keeping their games close until the end.
Betting Odds: Michigan State -17.5
No. 3 Utah Utes (26-8) vs. No. 14 Fresno State Bulldogs (25-9)
Utah may have hurt its NCAA tournament profile and lost a higher seed with their lop-sided PAC 12 Championship loss to Oregon. Outside of that, the Utes have an outstanding frontcourt trio of forwards Jakob Poeltl, Kyle Kuzma, and Jordan Loveridge. Austrian native Jakob Poeltl leads the pack in points (17.6), rebounds (9.0), and blocked shots (1.6). The Utes have 11 wins over top-50 teams, meaning Utah could make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Fresno State picked up the rubber match with San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference championship game, earning a berth to the NCAA tournament that may not have come their way. With only two wins against the top-100 teams in the country (both over San Diego State), the Bulldogs’ tournament profile lacked quality wins most at-large contenders had. Still, Fresno State has preseason conference player of the year Marvelle Harris on their side, the senior guard that scored 20.6 points per game while handling 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists. The Bulldogs will need Harris’s presence to win a game in this year’s championship event.
Betting Odds: Utah -8.5
No. 4 Iowa State Cyclones (21-11) vs. No. 13 Iona Gaels (22-10)
Iowa State didn’t miss a beat under first year head coach Steve Prohm, landing in the 2016 NCAA Tournament for the fifth consecutive year. The Cyclones have plenty of experience in their locker room with nine junior and senior athletes on the roster. The squad also has one of the Big 12’s big men in 6-8 forward Georges Niang, a Massachusetts native that scored 19.8 points per contest while grabbing 6.2 rebounds per game. The team features a seven-man rotation that is very balanced as all seven members score in double figures for the high-scoring Cyclones.
Iona was a three-point play away from watching the 2016 NCAA Tournament from their couches. Instead, the Gaels surprised Monmouth to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title. The Gaels did so behind the play of all-conference standout A.J. English, a senior guard that dropped in 22.4 points a game while collecting 5.0 rebounds and 6.2 assists each outing. If English gets hot, Iona could ride their stud into the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Betting Odds: Iowa State -7.5
No. 5 Purdue Boilermakers (26-7) vs. No. 12 Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans (29-4)
Purdue played a tough 40 minutes in the Big 10 Championship game, losing by four to a brilliant Michigan State squad. Had the Boilermakers won, it would have provided the team with their sixth win over a top-50 program and Purdue’s second over Michigan State. To beat an elite team, the Boilermakers stuck to their game plan of feeding 7-0 center A.J. Hammons inside. The senior from Gary, Ind., averaged 15.1 points per game and 7.9 rebounds per outing. Look for the Boilermakers to continue to ride their size advantage to advance in the NCAA tournament.
Arkansas-Little Rock left no doubt the team would play in the NCAA tournament by winning both their regular season and post-season Sun Belt titles. The team is one of the most experienced ones in the country, featuring five seniors and nine juniors. Josh Hagins – a 6-1 senior guard – leads the squad in points (13.1) and assists (4.7) while nabbing 4.0 rebounds per game. Their resume includes wins over San Diego State and Tulsa – both on the road – leaving this team capable of scaring their power conference brethren.
Betting Odds: Purdue -8
No. 6 Seton Hall Pirates (25-8) vs. No. 11 Gonzaga Bulldogs (26-7)
Seton Hall was playing essentially for seeding purposes only in the Big East Championship tourney because the Pirates were safe bets to make the NCAA tournament. But a three-game winning streak to cap conference play, augmented by beating Villanova to win the title, ensured Seton Hall a higher seed. While defense helped the Pirates win the title, sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead led the charge on offense with team-best totals for points (18.4) and assists (5.0) this season. Teams that get hot at the right time – like Seton Hall did to capture their first post-season title since 1993 – have some recent success in the NCAA tournament, meaning a Pirate run deep into the championship event is entirely possible.
After winning the West Coast Conference crown last week, Gonzaga extended their streak of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances that started in 1999. The streak had been in doubt prior to claiming the WCC title as Gonzaga lacked the signature wins most Mark Few teams have. Former Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer leads the “Zags” in points with 20.7 per outing thanks to hitting 42 percent of his three-point attempts. Domantas Sabonis — son of the NBA great Arvydas Sabonis — keeps defenses honest, clogging the middle and earning a double-double in points (17.4) and rebounds (11.6) per outing. With as much NCAA tournament experience as the Bulldogs enjoy, an upset or two from this team is entirely possible.
Betting Odds: Gonzaga -1.5
No. 7 Dayton Flyers (25-7) vs. No. 10 Syracuse Orange (19-13)
The Flyers could not punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament with Saint Joseph’s victory over Dayton in the Atlantic 10 Conference semi-finals. A junior and senior-laden team heads into the championship event with junior Charles Cooke leading all scorers with 15.7 points per game while senior Dyshawn Pierre leads all players with 8.6 rebounds per outing. An out-of-conference victory over Iowa ranks as one of their best wins, and an upset or two could be in the cards for this deceptively strong team.
Syracuse may have received this berth more for name recognition and Atlantic Coast Conference respect than their NCAA tournament profile. The Orangemen did have quality wins against AAC tourney champ Connecticut and SEC regular-season champion Texas A&M. Senior forward Michael Gbinije leads the squad in points (17.8), assists (4.4), and steals (2.0), giving them a player that can carry the offensive workload in any contest. Yet, having lost five of their last six games, Syracuse shouldn’t be expected to make a deep run in this NCAA tournament.
Betting Odds: Syracuse -1
No. 8 Texas Tech Red Raiders (19-12) vs. No. 9 Butler Bulldogs (21-10)
Tubby Smith has his youth-dominated Red Raiders in the tournament for the first time since Bobby Knight last did so nearly a decade ago. Texas Tech made the NCAA tournament thanks to having wins over seven teams in the championship event, including three over conference foes during a late five-game winning streak. While the Red Raiders have no standouts on the team, seven players average between 8.7 and 11.1 points per game for this balanced offense. While winning a game may be in the cards, this team is more than likely a year away from making a run in the NCAA tournament.
The last time Butler played in the No. 8 vs. No. 9 seed game, the Bulldogs ended their season in the national championship game against the Connecticut Huskies. Carrying the experience of making the NCAA tournament a year ago with them, this Butler team will rely on its junior-heavy roster to succeed in the post-season. A trio of Bulldogs — Kellen Dunham, Kelan Martin, Roosevelt Jones — are key contributors to the offense, scoring at least 14 points per game each night. While anything is possible, more realistic expectations are for the team to be competitive in one or two games before bowing out to higher-ranked opponents.
Betting Odds: Butler -3
What match-up from the Midwest portion of the 2016 NCAA Tournament are you most-excited to watch? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.
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