The Midwest - American's Heartland. Amber waves of grain and all that. I think of miles and miles of corn fields from Ohio to Iowa to Nebraska. And sadly this region looks to be about as exciting as a road trip through all those aforementioned fields. Yes, yes it's still the tournament. There will still be passion and nail-biting and probably some upsets. But if you were pitching me the Midwest Bracket as a movie script it would most assuredly not be green-lighted. "The big battle at the end sounds as epic as the Riders of Rohan charging to "Death, Death, DEATH! But everything else needs to be re-worked." There is my 100% accurate Hollywood producer opinion.
The last several weeks there has been a lot of buzz about how chalk-y this tournament is likely to be with 7 1/2 really good teams on a collision course. (Yes Devils fans, the Duke grad is giving our team only half credit with 27 wins) The good news is the brackets are set up for those top 8 all to be in the Regional Finals, and nowhere does it seem more likely to happen than in the un-sexy Midwest Bracket. Kansas lost a lot from last year, and the Heels lost nothing, but both are playing their best this season when it matters most. Even the lingering doubts about the skinny on John Henson's burly wrist seem unlikely to derail the Carolina express to the Final Four. If the Jayhawks can emerge from the bottom half of the bracket, where at least a handful of dangerous teams are lurking, they'll be rewarded with a virtual home game in St. Louis against what should be a team in baby blue.
Michigan and/or Temple might have been more of a threat to another team, but UNC's huge lineup is exactly the kind of team that should kill them on the boards (including the scoreboard). Hard to argue other than that the Heels got the good end of the matchup stick with their 8/9 game as well. (again Creighton is a good team, but the eye test doesn't appear to provoke any danger signs) And it's not as if this team needs any favors. They were big favorites coming into the season, and had enough starting talent to withstand several key injuries. If they can get any contributions from McAdoo and Hairston, positive contributions mind you, they should be playing Kentucky April 2nd. (if it seems like I am doing all I can to heap pressure on Carolina so as to give them as little credit as possible if they win and to heap ignominy on them if they loose, you are indeed an astute reader)
Any good Duke fan can only hope that the Mega-Beast that is Thomas Robinson can will his team (with the help of 40-50 thousand locals) past their traitor of a former coach. (Hold the venom Heels fans - that was a joke. Sort of.) At the very least it would be a ratings bonanza and would most likely provide a fitting denouement to what on paper looks to be a yawner of a bracket.
Best First Round Matchup - Loads of 'experts' are telling us to watch out for Detroit against Kansas, and while the Dickie V's former team scores at a high clip and has some size, they don't make a ton of 3's - which is the way a little guy beats a big boy team. (ask Kansas about Davidson...) For my money Georgetown vs Belmont is the way to go. The Hoyas over-achieved this year with some unexpected production and all Duke fans know about Belmont. ESPN's predictor actually has the Bruins favored in this one. It'll be a popular upset pick.
Dark Horse - Ugh. Can I take a 'Pass' in this category? Though there are some nice teams out there, it's really really hard to see anyone other than UNC and Kansas in this regional final. Michigan has the best shot to beat the Heels with the scintillating play of freshman PG Trey Burke and by making a ton of threes (something they are vulnerable to). But sadly for me I don't see it. Maybe St Mary's can make a regional final, but I'm hoping the Jayhawks will be there.
The ‘Who?’ Award - Ohio Bobcats. No this is not some Michigan prank about not calling Ohio State by it's chosen name. The Mid-American champ is also a guard heavy team who plays very stingy defense. The Wolverines should make jests at their own risk - they face off Friday.
The All-Atlas Squad ( the team-carriers) - Matthew Dellavadova (St Marys), Doug McDermott (Creighton), Robbie Hummel (Purdue), Stilman White (UNC) Just making sure you are paying attention there readers
Upset Special - You already know how I feel about Belmont, and other than the huge seeding difference it may not be that much of an upset. NC State certainly looks capable as well of upsetting a surprisingly successful San Diego St team. That subregion seems the most certain to me to have a double digit seed in the second weekend.
Best Potential Second Round Matchup - UNC vs Creighton would get a lot of pub nationally and would shut down the town of Ames Iowa. But I wouldn't expect it to be a great game. Temple vs Michigan would likely be the most fun game to watch - two guard-dominated teams where the key would likely be Michigan's 3 point shooting against the Owls solid perimeter D.
Best Mascot - The Detroit Titans sounds great, but the logo is just a sword/shield combo and the mascot looks like they took an old Michigan State hand-me-down and dyed the hemet crest red. St Mary's Gaels sounds unexciting but it's actual on-court mascot is awesome! Advantage Gaels.
Worst Mascot - While Alabama's Crimson Tide always sounds more like a horror film title than a mascot (yes yes I know all about the proud tradition) the worst mascot of this this bunch has to be the Tar Heels. Another proud southern tradition that had to cave and find a reasonable animal representation to stand in for it's strange nickname, and you choose a big goat. This decision has nothing whatsoever to do with my personal allegiance.
The All Digger Phelps Team ( of names most likely to be mispronounced) - Jahenns Manigat (Creighton), Matthew Dellavadova (St Marys), John Smith (Ohio)
The God Shammgodd Award ( for best name) - Sliiiim pickings in this region. A very pedestrian array of names if I do say so. The best of the bunch would be (Viscount) Augustus Gilchrist of the South Florida Bulls.
The Home Cooking Award ( for beneficial geographical placement) - Kansas got a huge boon, with the ability to potentially play UNC and their sweet 16 opponent in St.Louis. I applaud this decision.
The "What are they doing here?" award - Purdue is mighty questionable, but there is no WAY South Florida should even be in the play-in game. They have one quality win (Louisville), 13 losses, and had by far the easiest conference schedule in the big east
The Shitburger Award ( for getting jobbed) - One could make a really strong case for Creighton here, who should have gotten a 7 or a 6 instead of an 8, but I'm going to give this award to Drexel, who clearly should have been in ahead of USF and probably Cal for that matter.