Cleat Geeks

Tourney Talk: Midwest Region

Another year of March Madness is finally upon us, so prepare yourself for three weekends full of buzzer beaters, bracket busters, and the occasional Cinderella story. In advance of each round, I’ll be breaking down the best games of each region, finishing up with the Midwest.basketball6

Games to Watch:

5 Purdue vs 12 Little Rock

Purdue is huge, its biggest advantage against a small school in Arkansas-Little Rock.  This team has proven its talent against Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament, so they can play with just about anyone.  Not to mention the Boilermakers rank in the top 20th in the nation in scoring defense.  However, Little Rock ranks 2nd in points allowed.  They also have the ability to exploit Purdue’s size with the three point shot, shooting 38.6% from downtown this season, good for 22nd in the nation.  They also love to hold the ball for as long as possible, leading to lengthy possessions that shorten their opponent’s time of possession.  This game will end up in the hands of the guards.  If Purdue’s Raphael Davis keeps slumping, it’ll be a tough one for the Boilermakers to pull through.  If Little Rock gets hot from deep, it’s game over.

4 Iowa State vs 13 Iona

basketball5Led by Arizona State transfer A.J. English, Iona looks like the favorite of all upset minded teams this March, especially against a struggling Iowa State.  They can score, averaging 81 PPG with English racking up over 22 every contest.  In addition, the Gaels love to run the floor, scoring most of their points in transition and ranking 45th in adjusted tempo.  They look to join UAB as another double digit seed to knock off the Cyclones, after Iowa State fell late last year in the first round.  However, don’t count Georges Niang and Monte Morris out of it, as they, too, have the ability to put up points.  After such an early exit last year, the Cyclones should be focused to get through to Saturday, but watch for a thrilling performance from the upset-minded Gaels.

6 Seton Hall vs 11 Gonzaga

In a game of conference champions, watch for depth issues to hurt the Zags, as they’ve lost two key seven-footers to season-ending injuries as of late.  However, Kyle Wiltjer is sure to still put on a show, averaging almost 21 points per contest. His offense will be matched by the Pirates’ own Isaiah Whitehead, who puts up 18.4 PPG.  With the Zags ranking 5th in the nation in three point defense, watch for Whitehead’s quickness and big men play to act as huge factors in this matchup.  Containing Wiltjer while denying 240-pound Sabonis are the ultimate gamebreakers for the Pirates if they want a chance at Utah and Sweet Sixteen appearance.

Games to Hope For:

1 Virginia vs 2 Michigan State

After Sparty knocked out the Cavaliers in each of the last two tournaments, UVA is definitely seeking sweet revenge if both teams can survive up until the Elite Eight.  Watch as the nation’s #1 ranked defense will try to bottle up Player of the Year Denzel Valentine.  Michigan State will try to take a page out of high scoring UNC’s book, who were crippled by the Cavs yet used great defense as the key to winning the ACC title game.  This is one of the most anticipated games of the tournament.  Hopefully each team will survive their first three games so the nation can get privileged with a thriller of a basketball game.

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

2 Michigan State vs 5 Purdue

If Virginia can’t make it through the Boilermakers, hope that we can see a rematch of the exciting Big Ten Championship game. Purdue was as close as possible to knocking off the Spartans and claiming a 2 or 3 seed for themselves.  It’d be very hard to for MSU to contain A.J. Hammonds, and for Purdue to contain Valentine, in two straight matchups, so watch for an entertaining offensive battle this time around, especially with the way each team has hit their long range shots as of late.  If Purdue gets through UVA, they’d be riding momentum, an important March advantage; on the other hand, Sparty should be well rested after a cake walk of a road to the the Elite Eight.  This will be a good one.

My Pick: As much as I want to go with Virginia, its scares me that they’d most likely have to beat two very good teams in Purdue and Michigan State, whereas Sparty should only have one real challenge in the Elite Eight.  MSU is March’s team and frankly this region’s safest pick.

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