The Midwest region in the 2018 NCAA Tournament is certainly the toughest one in the 68-team bracket.
Kansas leads the way as the No. 1 seed, second-seeded Duke has arguably the best collection of talent in the country and No. 3 Michigan State is led by a head coach with incredible postseason success. And the Spartans have two NBA lottery picks as well in Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. All three premier programs have the goods to cut down the nets in Omaha, and Tom Izzo will be looking to make his eighth Final Four.
A potential Sweet 16 game between Michigan State and Duke? Yes, please. Either team could win the whole darn thing, so it’s incredible that Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski could meet so early. Cassius Winston would be the key to solving Duke’s 2-3 zone defense, which didn’t look great in the ACC Tournament. The inconsistency on that end of the floor and their struggles in man-to-man could ultimately be the albatross for the Blue Devils.
A potential regional final game for Sparty against Big 12 player of the year Devonte’ Graham and Kansas could loom, but the health of Udoka Azubuike bears watching for the Jayhawks.
What a loaded region.
As for Clemson, the fifth-seeded Tigers have lost five of their last eight games, and second-leading scorer Donte Grantham was lost for the season when he tore his ACL in January. No. 4 Auburn enjoyed an outstanding season, but the other Tigers have lost four of six and will be without forward Anfernee McLemore, who was lost for the season in mid-February.
Meanwhile, No. 6 TCU could be vulnerable to the winner of the Arizona State-Syracuse First Four game as all three of those squads have issues. However, it’s stunning that the Orange are even in The Dance, especially over a team such as Notre Dame. Syracuse struggles tremendously on offense, though when it didn’t deserve to get in The Dance in 2016 it ended up advancing to the Final Four.
Potential Cinderellas: New Mexico State has a chance to bust some brackets. The Aggies, led by head coach Chris Jans, have wins over Miami (FL), Davidson and Illinois because of their length and athleticism. The team is comprised of nine transfers, including rebound machine Jemerrio Jones (13.1 boards per game). Scorer Zach Lofton attended four schools before landing at New Mexico State. This team is dangerous, as is the College of Charleston out of the Colonial Athletic Association because of the backcourt of Grant Riller and Joe Chealy, both of whom are averaging over 18 points per game. Do not be stunned if these teams meet in a round-of-32 matchup.
Other notes: Veteran Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger has led five different schools to the NCAA Tournament. Can he find a way to get the Sooners back to their winning ways after they ended the year losers of eight of their last 10 games?
My pick: Michigan State