Welcome to my second annual March Madness preview series, where I break down each region on the bracket and pick my winners for the first two rounds and make my pick on who’s going to the final four. If you’d like to see my full bracket, click on the link below.
Tournament Challenge – ESPN – Boston Sports Mania.pdf
I am starting with the Midwest region. It was named the strongest region of this year’s tournament by Jim Nantz on the Selection Show, and I agree. It’s top three seeds are Kansas, Duke, and Michigan State. But that doesn’t mean that there’s no room for upsets.
Round of 64 Preview
Wichita: Games Start Thursday, March 15 at 2:00 PM EST on TBS
#1 Kansas vs. #16 Pennsylvania
Penn put up a nice victory over Harvard in the Ivy League finals. But the Jayhawks have had another great season, and there’s no way they will lose to the #16 seed in the first round, something that has never happened to a 1 seed. Ivy league things have had a strong history of upsets in the NCAA Tournament, but Kansas won a much bigger conference, the Big 12, and this will be easy for them.
The Pick: Kansas
#8 Seton Hall vs. #9 North Carolina State
NC State had a strong season, and they deserved a tournament bid now that I think about it. But their loss to Boston College was embarrassing. They also lost to Georgia Tech, UNC Greensboro and Northern Iowa during the season, their best wins being over UNC, Arizona, and Duke. The point is that Seton Hall has the better profile this season. They’ve gotten more quality wins on a tougher schedule, and they match up well against NC State.
The Pick: Seton Hall
San Diego: Games Start Friday, March 16 at 7:27 PM EST on truTV
#4 Auburn vs. #13 Charleston
The Tigers were another team who had a late-season skid. They were in the conversation for a 2 seed back in February, but an early loss to Alabama in the SEC tournament hurt them, and they went just 4-4 in their final 8 regular season games, including a loss to the 17-16 South Carolina Gamecocks. But Charleston had it pretty easy in the CAA, and they aren’t the team to upset Auburn. They are just 56th in RPI and had a very easy schedule. Their strong defense will not be enough to top an all-around good Auburn team, who will win game one in their first NCAA Tournament since 2003. Although they finished 4-4, the SEC was really good this year, and Auburn kept up and won the regular season title despite their conference tourney loss to Alabama.
The Pick: Auburn
#5 Clemson vs. #12 New Mexico State
The Aggies have had a better season than you might think. They dominated in the WAC, ranked 35th in RPI, and scored more points per game than Clemson. They’ve also allowed less PPG to their opponents than Clemson has. Clemson skidded a little towards the end of the season after a great start, so they are not coming into this game with as much momentum as they would’ve liked. Clemson’s schedule was much stronger, but recently, Clemson has struggled to keep up with their tough competition, going 9-8 in their final 17 games. Meanwhile, NM State went 12-2 in the WAC while beating Miami, Davidson, and Illinois out of their conference. I’m sensing an upset.
The Pick: New Mexico State
Pittsburgh: Games Start Thursday, March 15 at 12:15 PM EST on CBS
#7 Rhode Island vs. #10 Oklahoma
Oklahoma is another team that really struggled late in their season, but URI was not great in late season play either, losing to Davidson in the Atlantic 10 championship. The Sooners did beat Kansas, Texas Tech, and TCU (twice) early on though. They also beat Wichita State as well as Oregon and USC, who were both on the bubble before the Selection Show. However, Rhode Island had a great season, and they had a fair share of quality wins. They beat Providence and Seton Hall outside the Atlantic 10, and did not have any notably bad losses despite being swept by Davidson. Their RPI is also 14th, which is great compared to Oklahoma’s #48 in RPI. URI’s strong defense will shut down Trae Young and the Sooners, who have proven that they cannot always beat who they need to beat in losses to OSU, Baylor, Texas, and Iowa State in their final games before the tournament. But Oklahoma will come close.
The Pick: Rhode Island
#2 Duke vs. #15 Iona
After making the tournament for the third straight year, it’s about time Iona pulls an upset. But Duke is not a team they can get past. The Blue Devils, led by Marvin Bagley III (put up 21.1 PPG this season) have a dominant offense that the Gaels will fail to slow down. Iona is just #108 in RPI, which is even low for a mid-major in the tournament. Somehow, they still keep winning MAAC championships. I don’t know when they’ll be able to go any further.
The Pick: Duke
Detroit: Games Start Friday 3/16 at 7:10 PM EST on CBS
#3 Michigan State vs. #14 Bucknell
Bucknell did really well in the Patriot League, but they failed to grab hold of Quadrant 1 wins, and they had chances against UNC and Arkansas among others. That means that they don’t have the same profile that other potential Cinderellas have, due to the fact that they failed to win quality games, even when given the chance. MSU also had a pretty easy schedule, giving them fewer opportunities for quality wins, but any team who goes 29-4 in the B1G should beat mid-majors without quality victories with ease. They will be led by Miles Bridges, the Spartans guard who averaged 16.9 PPG.
The Pick: Michigan State
#6 TCU vs. #11 Arizona State/Syracuse
First of all, I have Syracuse beating the Sun Devils. ASU struggled in a weak Pac-12, which weighs them down despite wins over Kansas and Xavier. Syracuse had some nice wins despite a roller coaster of a season, and I can see the Orange winning. TCU put up a nice season in the Big 12 after struggles in 2016-17, but they slipped up a couple times against mediocre teams like Oklahoma State and Vanderbilt. I could see the same happening against Syracuse, who has had some strong wins mixed in with their tough losses, including one over Miami and one over Virginia Tech. Syracuse advances to the Round of 32 after beating both ASU and TCU.
The Pick: Syracuse
Round of 32 Preview
If my first round picks are correct, the Round of 32 will line up like this:
#1 Kansas vs. #8 Seton Hall
#4 Auburn vs. #12 New Mexico State
#2 Duke vs. #7 Rhode Island
#3 Michigan State vs. #11 Syracuse
I think Kansas will beat Seton Hall here. Seton Hall has had a nice season with quality wins in their conference on a tough schedule, but again, Kansas went 27-7 and won the Big 12 with the 2nd hardest schedule in the league, ranking 5th in RPI. The Jayhawks have a dominant offense that will make the case for them. I think there will also be more upsets in this round though. New Mexico State will beat Auburn. The Aggies were dominant all season, not just in the WAC but against high major non-conference opponents like Miami. Auburn skid late into the season, going 4-5 to finish, losing to South Carolina in a regular season game and Alabama in the SEC tournament. New Mexico State’s defense will shut down Auburn.
I see Rhode Island pulling an upset over Duke as well. Name one game Rhode Island should be ashamed of losing. There are none I can name, besides their losses to Davidson, and the Wildcats are underrated. Duke has a history of losing in early rounds of the Big Dance, and they already lost to St. John’s, Boston College, and other lower tier teams this season. I do think MSU will top Syracuse though. The Orange may have had some good wins this season, but overall, it wasn’t a great season, and I think the committee had better options for the last team in when building the bracket, such as USC. So don’t expect Syracuse to get past MSU and make the Sweet 16. The Round of 32 is not out of the question though.
And The Projected Midwest Champion Is…
#3 Michigan State
With Duke being eliminated early by an underrated URI team, MSU’s odds to win this region will increase. You could argue for them as a #2 seed, but they lucked out with their schedule, even though they might have to face Duke and/or Kansas, which would be tough. They’ve had it easy in terms of scheduling all season, but they went 29-4, and just because their schedule was easy, it doesn’t mean they can’t beat other top teams. Getting past Kansas will be tough, but I think this team is capable of great things. This is their time to prove that they are the championship contender people think they are.
That’s all for this preview. Stay tuned for Part 2, where I will take a look at the East Region.