Third up on the tour of NCAA Tournament regions is the Midwest.
The Midwest has three virtual tossups according to the KenPom ratings. Only three spots separate No. 24 6-seed Seton Hall and No. 27 11-seed Gonzaga. Just six spots divide No. 39 9-seed Butler and No. 45 8-seed Texas Tech. A mere 11 spots are between No. 43 10-seed Syracuse and No. 54 7-seed Dayton. If seeding wins out, then a couple of second round matchups would be close. We'd have No. 11 4-seed Purdue going at No. 17 5-seed Iowa State and No. 28 3-seed Utah going against either Seton Hall or Gonzaga.
Who You Gonna Trust?
Tony Bennett is the coach of 1-seed Virginia, and he's made it past the first weekend twice in five prior tournament appearances. One of those times was two years ago when he had a 1-seed and lost in the Sweet 16 to Michigan State. In fact, he's lost to MSU two tournaments in a row. And who happens to be the 2-seed in this region?
Glad you asked. It's Michigan State. The Spartans' Tom Izzo is the most reliable tournament coach in the game today. In 18 past appearances, he's failed to make the second weekend just five times. All of those times were as a 6-seed or worse, too. With a 2-seed or better, he's four-for-five at making the Final Four.
Larry Krystowiak captains the 3-seed Utah, but he doesn't have much of a tournament track record. He made the Sweet 16 with the Utes last year, but his only other two trips to the tournament came with Montana a decade or more ago.
4-seed Iowa State's Steve Prohm also doesn't have much of a track record to build on. He went to the Big Dance in his first year with Murray State, falling out as a 6-seed in the second round. He made deep runs in the CIT and NIT, respectively, the past two years, but that's all we have to go on.
Izzo stands alone among the top four seeds. No one else comes close.
There are some familiar faces deeper down the bracket. Matt Painter of 5-seed Purdue has lost in the first round once in seven tournaments while Boilermakers coach. Tubby Smith of 8-seed Texas Tech has guided his fifth different team to March Madness, but he hasn't been past the first weekend since 2005 when he was still at Kentucky. Jim Boeheim has his worst seed ever with a 10, and he's never gotten past the first weekend with a winning percentage below .700 (it's .576 now). Mark Few still leads 11-seed Gonzaga, but he hasn't been past the first weekend with a seed worse than 4 since his first two runs in 2000 and 2001.
Best and Worst Draws
This whole region is pretty stocked, as 3-seed Utah is the only one that is the fourth-best team at its seed line according to the KenPom ratings.
2-seed Michigan State has a nice setup. It's the best of the 2-seeds, and it got paired up with the worst of the 3-seeds. With the 3, 6, and 11 seeds being the next best teams after itself in the bottom half of the region, MSU will only have to play at most one of them. Plus, the 1-seed in the region is a team that Izzo has owned.
I have to give 3-seed Utah the worst draw. It'll probably get past Fresno in its first game, but both Seton Hall and Gonzaga are in the 20s in the KenPom ratings. It also is stuck near Michigan State, which should have been a 1-seed. No bueno.
A Plausible Outcome
The top three seeds all get through their first games easily. 4-seed Iowa State edges 13-seed Iona in one of the most entertaining games of the entire Round of 64. 5-seed Purdue overlooks 12-seed Little Rock and ends the top seeds' dominance with a loss, but 6-seed Seton Hall recovers with a win over 11-seed Gonzaga. 7-seed Dayton loses to 10-seed Syracuse, though, and 9-seed Butler beats out 9-seed Texas Tech.
The Round of 32 is all chalk. Virginia holds off Butler, Iowa State runs past Little Rock, Utah outlasts Seton Hall, and Izzo beats Boeheim in a made-for-TV matchup. UVA's defense clamps down on ISU and Michigan State beats up Utah to set a third consecutive UVA-MSU matchup. Izzo wins again, and the Spartans are in the Final Four.