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2017 NCAA Midwest Region: Preview, Picks, Analysis

Kansas heads the class. Can someone knock them off their feet?

NCAA Basketball: Big 12 Championship-Kansas vs TCU Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Round of 64

(1) Kansas Jayhawks vs. (16) UC Davis Aggies

1 seeds are unbeaten in the tourney’s history. As much as this Mizzou grad would enjoy ALL, I repeat, ALL of the schadenfreude, it ain’t happening.

Winner: Kansas

(8) Miami-Florida Hurricanes vs. (9) Michigan State Spartans

There are 34 coaches in this NCAA Tournament who’ve made it to the Sweet 16 or further. Two of them are facing off in this here matchup as Jim Larranaga’s Miami Hurricanes face Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans. It would be #PEAKIZZO for Sparty to make a run here, wouldn’t it? Well. If you’re into that sort of thing at least. Me? Give me the ‘Canes. Sparty has been far too inconsistent for me to think they’re capable of anything significant.

Winner: Miami

(5) Iowa State Cyclones vs. (12) Nevada Wolf Pack

This one will provide some intrigue. Iowa State is no stranger to being upset by teams seeded lower than them (Hello, UAB Fighting Trogdors) but the Cyclones are one of the hottest teams in the country. They’ve won nine of their last 10 games entering the NCAA Tournament with a Big 12 Tournament Title to go along with it. Stretching it back further, they’re 10-2 since February 4 when they defeated Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse. Nevada is a quality team from the one-bid Mountain West and can shoot the 3-point ball well (which typically fits the profile of a lower-seeded team who pulls off an upset). You’ll get your 5-12 upset somewhere... but this isn’t where, I don’t think.

Winner: Iowa State

(4) Purdue Boilermakers vs. (13) Vermont Catamounts

Purdue is an exceptional team. They have probably the best player in the Big Ten Conference in Caleb Swanigan. They shoot the 3-ball very effectively and play well defensively. And yet, I have this sinking feeling they’re going down. Vermont hasn’t lost since December 21. Trae Bell-Haynes and Payton Henson are both very good players and Darren Payne has been terrific inside the paint this year, shooting 70.8 percent on 2-pointers (He’ll be tested certainly against Swanigan and 7-footer Isaac Haas, to be fair). The Catamounts have shot very well from 3-point land over the last few games, and if they keep that up, they may very well take down Purdue.

Winner: Vermont

(6) Creighton Bluejays vs. (11) Rhode Island Rams

There are plenty buying into the Rams, who won the A-10 Tournament. Creighton may seem ripe for an upset given the fact that they’re completely different from who they were a few months ago, but count me in as someone who isn’t buying into the hype. URI has gotten hot, yes. They’ve won each of their last eight games including two against fellow tournament team VCU as well as Davidson. But URI doesn’t have anybody who can matchup well with big man Justin Patton. They have a very good 3-point defense, but it should be worth noting that only two teams in the Atlantic 10 Conference shoot above 36.3 percent. All the rest shoot worse than that, so URI’s 3-point defense could be a bit inflated because of that. Granted, it’s second-best in the nation, but context may be important to that. Teams only shoot at 3-pointers at a rate of 29.8 percent against them... and Creighton’s 3-point rate is at 35.9 percent. So, yeah. The Jays will let it fly, and it wouldn’t shock me if that proved to be the winning formula.

Winner: Creighton

(3) Oregon Ducks vs. (14) Iona Gaels

Poor Oregon. The (mighty) Ducks lost their best rim protector Chris Boucher in the midst of their run in the Pac-12 Tournament and will be shorthanded the rest of the way. With that said, this is still an exceptional and talented team. Dillon Brooks is one of the top players in the country, and his supporting cast ain’t too bad either. Jordan Bell, Payton Pritchard, Dylan Ennis and Tyler Dorsey are a terrific assembly of talent and Dana Altman’s bunch should still be poised to make a run. I don’t see Iona pulling off the upset here. I expect them to be outclassed.

Winner: Oregon

(7) Michigan Wolverines vs. (10) Oklahoma State Cowboys

This should prove to be one of the most fun matchups of the entire tournament. Both Michigan and Oklahoma State’s offenses rank near the top in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency with the Pokes being all the way at the top (shoutout to Brad Underwood). Points should be scored in bunches here with both defenses lacking some mustard. The Wolverines, though, are hotter than a steam kettle. They won the B1G Tourney after terribly unfortunate circumstances and could be poised to go on a big-time run if they can keep that high-quality play going. Methinks they will.

Winner: Michigan

(2) Louisville Cardinals vs. (15) Jacksonville State Gamecocks

While Louisville has lost three of five to end the season, make no mistake: This is one of the most complete, well-rounded teams in the country. Rick Pitino teams are typically a VERY safe bet in the NCAA Tournament. In their last four tourneys, the Cards have made it to the second weekend or further with two Final Fours and a National Championship to hang their hats on. With what should be a strong showing of Cardinal fans in Indy, Louisville should rout the Gamecocks.

Winner: Louisville

Round of 32

(1) Kansas Jayhawks vs. (8) Miami Hurricanes

So, once again, a matchup of two coaches who’ve made it to the Sweet 16 or further. Kansas should have the edge here against the ‘Canes as Miami is likely to be outclassed. Don’t be surprised if this is a bit of a rockfight though. Miami’s defense, across the board, is terrific and may hold the usually potent Jayhawks down to make things interesting for a little bit.

Winner: Kansas

(5) Iowa State Cyclones vs. (13) Vermont Catamounts

Do the 13-seeded Catamounts keep it going? I’m not so certain their run continues. Iowa State’s high-powered offense may be too much for Vermont to handle. This should be fun though if it does indeed go down.

Winner: Iowa State

(3) Oregon Ducks vs. (6) Creighton Bluejays

Creighton fans will likely enjoy this one as former coach Dana Altman will be on the opposite sideline. The Greg McDermott Era has been a good one in Omaha, and wouldn’t it be something if they nipped their former coach to get to the Sweet 16? If and when it gets to this point, I suspect Khyri Thomas to be a huge factor on the defensive end on no matter who he guards. I do like the Ducks to win this though, although it might be close.

Winner: Oregon

(2) Louisville Cardinals vs. (7) Michigan Wolverines

Ah, a rematch of the very good National Championship affair back in Atlanta in 2013. John Beilein and Rick Pitino are two fantastic coaches who’ve been here before, and this one would have all the makings of a classic encounter if these two clubs do indeed meet up in Indianapolis. Methinks Michigan continues their run, as the Wolverine fanbase gets some revenge on the Cards for 2013 (and it was a damn block on Peyton Siva).

Winner: Michigan

Sweet 16

(1) Kansas Jayhawks vs. (5) Iowa State Cyclones

The tourney committee didn’t make too many errors here, but why on EARTH did they matchup Kansas and Iowa State? They could’ve easily solved this ‘issue’ by having fellow 5-seed Virginia over where Iowa State is now instead of avoiding what would be the third time that these two teams faced off. Nonetheless, this one should be an absolute doozy in Kansas City. Sprint Center is often regarded as “Hilton South” so those fine folks from Ames would definitely be making the trip in numbers to KC. Kansas fans may have an issue with that claim, and I’d suspect the environment, for this one, would be unlike any other potential matchup that goes down in this tournament. Give me the Jayhawks though, much as it pains me.

Winner: Kansas

(3) Oregon Ducks vs. (7) Michigan Wolverines

Oregon and Michigan would likely produce the goods in Kansas City too if this matchup goes down. The Ducks would likely have the best player on the floor in Dillon Brooks and that would give them a hearty edge though. Still, Michigan’s blazing offensive efficiency and zeal has me tempted to pick them. And you know what? That’s what I’m going to do.

Winner: Michigan

Elite Eight

(1) Kansas Jayhawks vs. (7) Michigan Wolverines

What fun this would be? Kansas and Michigan played a hell of a game in Cowboys Stadium back in 2013 (shout out to Trey Burke) and this time around, the Wolverines would certainly have their work cut out for them. Kansas hasn’t made the Final Four since 2012 despite consistently trotting out great teams year after year. Does that change this time around?

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Winner: Michigan