The Round of 64 finally tips off today. The entire country has been patiently waiting for the past few days as the excitement built. The Midwest is full of talent and will be an exciting region to watch for the next two weeks.
Men’s NCAA Tournament Midwest Preview
The Houston Cougars went a phenomenal 31-3 this year and are ranked 1st overall in both the KenPom and NET rankings. Houston ranks 11th in offensive efficiency and fourth in defensive efficiency, one of only four teams within the top 20 of both. Marcus Sasser was the star of the show this season but he is a game-time decision in the opening round. If Sasser is unable to go, the Cougars will lean on J’Wan Roberts’ experience and rebounding ability. Houston has made the Sweet Sixteen in each of the last three tournaments and continued on to the Elite Eight twice, and the Final Four once. This team satisfies essentially all of the statistical metrics to win it all this March.
The Texas Longhorns won the Big 12 Tournament this past weekend and enter the NCAA Tournament red hot. The Big 12 was a gauntlet all season so winning the Big 12 Tournament is a huge accomplishment. Similar to Houston, they’re one of the four teams to rank within the Top 20 of offensive and defensive efficiency. It’s always a benefit to have depth and Texas runs a 9-man rotation, 6 of which are seniors. Sir’Jibari Rice won Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year and provides a great spark off the bench. The Longhorns have had their mishappens in recent NCAA Tournaments, but this team is different.
Have a Chance
The 4-seeded Hoosiers might have the best player in the entire region. Trayce Jackson-Davis is a double-double machine but Indiana struggled with consistency. If Jackson-Davis can take over a game, he can single handly carry Indiana far. They finished 2nd in the Big Ten but then failed to advance to the Big Ten championship game. They also have a tougher matchup against Kent State in the opening round.
Iowa State and Xavier are two other teams that were battled tested all year long in challenging conferences. They’ve been fairly consistent all season long as the Cyclones are elite at defense and the Musketeers are excellent on offense. They’re not considered on the same threat level as Indiana but they are capable enough to make some noise in the Midwest.
It seems as if everyone is talking about taking the Drake Bulldogs as their upset pick. Drake has an experienced team and they should match up well in the opening round against Miami. They play great defense and can also shoot lights out, a great combination for March Madness. They’ve been a good mid-major school for three years and now have finally made the big dance.
The Pitt Panthers can carry on the tradition of a First Four team advancing at least one round. In 10 of the last 11 NCAA Tournaments, a team from the First Four has upset their opponent in the Round of 64. Two of those instances saw teams go all the way to the Final Four. On paper, Pitt is not a great team, but with the March magic, they could go on a run.
Houston and Texas are on a collision course to an Elite Eight matchup in the Midwest Final. They are the two superior teams in the Midwest and although it is March and upsets can occur, these teams have been reliable all year. Not to mention the Final Four is in Houston this year, setting up an insane home-court advantage for one of these teams. The Longhorns’ defense has been incredible as of late and will carry them through the Midwest region unscathed.