Monday through Thursday this week, The Blue Zone will be breaking down each region in this year's NCAA Tournament. Today we finish with the Midwest.
The No. 1 seed: Wichita State (34-0, 18-0 in the MVC). It was no shock to see Wichita State earn a No. 1 seed this season after the Shockers rolled through the regular season and Missouri Valley Conference tournament en route to an undefeated record. Led by the trio of MVC Player of the Year Fred VanVleet, Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker, Wichita State built on last season's memorable Final Four trip a season ago to put an even more dangerous product on the floor this season. Ranking 11th in the NCAA in points allowed per game, 25th in rebounds per game and 34th in blocks per game, the Shockers are a very legitimate threat this season, despite not coming out of a power conference.
The other contenders: There are a multitude of familiar programs in the Midwest regional. No. 2 seed Michigan overcame the loss of big man Mitch McGary to run away with the Big Ten regular-season title, but fell to in-state rival Michigan State in the conference tournament championship game. No. 3 seed Duke has as much talent as any team in the nation with Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood running the show, but has had its share of issues this season. The Blue Devils similarly faltered in their conference tournament championship game. No. 4 seed Louisville was thought by many to have deserved a better seed than was awarded to it based on the eye-test, finishing the season winning 12 of 13 games, including four wins against ranked teams.
The potential Cinderella: Arizona State, coming out of the 10-seed, may have the best chance at pulling off a Cinderella-esque run in a region laden with talent. The Sun Devils are a relatively strong scoring team, but do their best damage shot blocking—they are 18th in the nation in that category—and preventing opponents from crashing the glass. Sophomore guard Jahii Carson is one of the more underrated players in the tournament this season, averaging 18.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. The diminutive guard has the talent to carry Arizona State to a couple of surprising wins this weekend.
The regional narrative: The big boys. The Midwest regional features three of the four Final Four teams from a season ago in Michigan, Wichita State and eventual champions Louisville. Toss in perennial powerhouses Duke and Kentucky and you have a whole lot of talent for one corner of the bracket. It'll take some serious upsets to see a Cinderella team emerge from the ultra-competitive Midwest this season.
- No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 15 Wofford, 7:10 p.m.
- No. 5 St. Louis vs. No. 12 N.C. State, 7:20 p.m.
- No. 7 Texas vs. No. 10 Arizona State, 9:40 p.m.
- No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 13 Manhattan, 9:50 p.m.
- No. 3 Duke vs. No. 14 Mercer, 12:15 p.m.
- No. 6 Massachusetts vs. No. 11 Tennessee, 2:45 p.m.
- No. 1 Wichita State vs. No. 16 Cal Poly, 7:10 p.m.
- No. 8 Kentucky vs. No. 9 Kansas State, 9:40 p.m.
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