2023 NCAA tournament region preview: Midwest

The Midwest Region features Houston, Texas, Xavier and Miami, the latter of which Duke beat in the ACC tournament semifinals.
The Midwest Region features Houston, Texas, Xavier and Miami, the latter of which Duke beat in the ACC tournament semifinals.

With the first round of the NCAA tournament set to tip off Thursday, the Blue Zone breaks down each of the four regions, taking a look at all the possible Cinderella stories and heavyweights vying for a place in the Final Four in Houston. Check out our previews for the West, South and East regions as well:

The No. 1 seed: Houston

The Cougars, who opened as one of the odds-on favorites to win it all, finished the season 31-3 and remained near the top of the AP poll throughout the season. Sporting the No. 11 and No. 4 adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency ratings in the country, respectively, Houston sits at the top of KenPom’s rankings. However, standout guard Marcus Sasser left the AAC semifinal game with an apparent groin injury, did not play in the Cougars’ AAC final loss to Memphis (the No. 8 seed in the East) and enters the NCAA tournament with his status currently unknown. He averaged 17.1 points per game and has scored at least 20 points in 12 games this season. His absence was felt in the team’s loss to the Tigers, as the Cougars shot just 31.3% and 24.0% from behind the arc. 

This creates a tricky outlook for the top seed in the Midwest. If Sasser returns fully healthy, Houston can make a run to play the Final Four in its home city. However, if they play without Sasser, the Cougars are vulnerable to an upset at the hands of any number of talented teams in the region.

The other contenders: The lone star state

The biggest challenger to Houston comes in the form of an interstate foe. Texas, the No. 2 seed in the region, enters the NCAA tournament after thoroughly beating Kansas in the Big 12 conference championship. Winning perhaps the most talented conference in the country, the Longhorns present a scary matchup with experienced guards and plenty of practice playing against quality opponents. However, to advance past the second region, Texas may have to defeat yet another strong Texan team in No. 7-seed Texas A&M. The Aggies had an up-and-down year in the SEC, but made it all the way to the conference championship game before falling to top overall seed Alabama. 

Xavier and Miami, the No. 3 and No. 5 seeds, respectively, are talented teams that also have injury concerns. Forward Zach Freemantle is out for the season for the Musketeers and Norchad Omier, after sustaining a foot injury in the ACC semifinal against Duke, may not be available for the Hurricanes. This may play to the strengths of No. 4-seed Indiana, whose star Trayce Jackson-Davis can take advantage of mismatches in the post. All three teams play first round games against capable mid-majors, but they each have the talent to make a deep run. The Midwest is anyone’s game, but don’t be surprised if a school from Texas comes out on top.

The potential Cinderella: Drake

Coming from the former conference of tournament sweethearts Loyola Chicago, the Bulldogs present a No. 12 seed no one wants to play. While Drake does not have Sister Jean, it is led by 6-foot-7 Tucker DeVries, who averages 19.0 points per game and shoots an efficient 38.7% from deep. In addition, the Bulldogs have six other players that average at least seven points per game, and in their 77-51 MVC tournament championship game victory against Bradley, Garrett Sturtz scored 12 points on a perfect 5-of-5 from the field. After DeVries, a sophomore, the team’s next four leading scorers are all either seniors or graduate students. Experience and efficiency mean even more in March.

If Miami is not at full health, Drake has a real chance to pull off the first upset, but its path from there gets more difficult. The Bulldogs would have a potential matchup against No. 4-seed Indiana and then a contest against the aforementioned Cougars. However, do not count out Drake to make it past the first weekend and bust a few brackets.

The regional narrative: Wide open

More so than any other region, the Midwest is truly anyone’s game. The question marks surrounding the health of key players and the potential for upsets creates a region that emulates the chaos of March. There are more than five teams that could realistically come out of this bracket, so keep an eye out for some nail-biting, last-second finishes.

Dom Fenoglio | Assistant Blue Zone editor

Dom Fenoglio is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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