March Madness Midwest Region Preview

The Midwest Region of the NCAA Basketball March Madness bracket is stacked at the top and has some sleepers towards the bottom. Auburn was, at one point, the number one team in the country, but an early SEC Tournament exit puts them on the two-line. Five-seed Iowa might be the hottest team in the country right now after winning the Big Ten Tournament. But their opponent, Richmond, is also red-hot and is coming off taking down Davidson in the Atlantic 10 Championship.

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Texas Southern/Texas A&M Corpus Christi (16) vs. Kansas (1) 

Date: Thursday, March 17
Time: 9:57 pm
Where to Watch: truTV
Spread: TBD
MoneyLine: TBD
Over/Under: TBD

Kansas won the Big 12 Tournament and they are a big favorite to reach the final four. The team led by Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun, only suffered one non-conference loss all season. That was a one-point neutral loss to Dayton, who barely missed the field of 68. The other five teams the Jayhawks lost to all made the field. Kansas will have some extra motivation after being smacked around by USC in the second round of last year’s tournament. Luckily for them, a potential rematch couldn’t happen until the elite eight. Don’t expect a 16-seed over 1-seed upset in this one, as neither Texas Southern nor Texas A&M Corpus Christi can keep up. The Jayhawks can beat a team in a variety of ways and have two guys, David McCormack and Jalen Wilson, who average more than seven rebounds a game.

Texas Southern won the SWAC Tournament, but they don’t really excel at either end of the floor and don’t have a true star. Texas A&M Corpus Christi provides a little greater odds of an upset, as they rolled through the Southland conference tournament and have solid scorers on the team. Isaac Mushila (13.5 ppg) and Trevian Tennyson (11.8 ppg) paced the team in scoring, but they got other contributors in the conference tournament.

Projected Winner: Kansas

Jacksonville State (15) vs. Auburn (2) 

Date: Friday, March 18
Time: 12:40 pm
Where to Watch: truTV
Spread: Jacksonville State +15.5 (-110) | Auburn – 15.5 (-110) 
MoneyLine: Jacksonville State +1000 | Auburn -2000
Over/Under: Over 138.5 (-110) | Under 138.5 (-110) 

Auburn was ranked number one for three weeks in a row this season, during their 19-game winning streak. They didn’t do enough at the end of the season to lock up a one-seed in the tournament, including losing to Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals. But they still draw a pretty good card here as a second seed and it is their highest seed since they were a number one seed in the 1999 tournament. The Tigers went undefeated outside of Quad 1, going a combined 19-0 between quads 2, 3, and 4, and were 8-5 in Quad 1. This actually won’t be the first time they are playing Jacksonville State, as they have played them 12 times since their first meeting in 1954. Auburn won all 12 of those matchups and won by less than 20 points just three times.

The Gamecocks actually got the at-large bid on a technicality. The actual Atlantic Sun Tournament champion, Bellarmine, is in the middle of a four-year transition from Division-II to Division-1. They were ineligible for the automatic bid, giving the bid to Jacksonville State for being the regular-season championships. They are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country, which is a good recipe for a potential upset. Jacksonville State ranked fifth in the country with a 38.8 percent shooting percentage from behind the arc. Demaree King (46.2 percent) and Jalen Gibbs (40.1 percent) are their top shooters from three-point range, while King is the second-best three-point shooter in the nation this season. That could keep them in the game, but Auburn ultimately wins.

Projected Winner: Auburn

Colgate (14) vs. Wisconsin (3)

Date: Friday, March 18
Time: 9:50 pm
Where to Watch: TBS
Spread: Colgate +7.5 (-110) | Wisconsin -7.5 (-110)
MoneyLine: Colgate +245 | Wisconsin -310
Over/Under: Over 139 (-110) | Under 139 (-110) 

Wisconsin were co-champions in the Big Ten regular season but had a disappointing exit in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. Colgate, on the other hand, went 23-11 on the season and won the Patriot League. The Badgers are a weak shooting team, ranking 259th in effective field goal percentage at 42.5 percent. They also have played in a number of close games, with 21 games decided by eight points or fewer. Their shooting could take them out of the game, as they shoot just 31.2 percent from behind the arc.

The Raiders rank 11th with a field goal percentage of 47.6 percent, including 66.6 percent over the last three games. Colgate comes into the game comes into the tournament on a 15-game winning streak. They rolled over Buckell, Lehigh and Navy by an average margin of 21.3 points in the conference tournament. Every member of their starting five averages double-digit points, led by Nelly Cummings who has put up 14.5 points per game. Colgate’s scoring alone will keep them in the game and if they get hot they will pull off the upset.

Projected Winner: Colgate

South Dakota State (13) vs. Providence (4)

Date: Thursday, March 17
Time: 12:40 pm
Where to Watch: truTV
Spread: South Dakota State +2 (-110) | Providence -2 (-110)
MoneyLine: South Dakota State +115 | Providence -135
Over/Under: Over 149.5 (-110) | Under 149.5 (-110) 

Providence comes into this one having won 10 of their last 11, the only loss being against Creighton in the conference semifinals. The Friars finished 14-3 in the Big East to take home the regular-season title. They also picked up non-conference wins over Wisconsin and Texas Tech. South Dakota State is the hottest team in the country, coming in on a 21-game winning streak after winning the Summit Conference tournament. The Jackrabbits rank third in the country with 86.7 points per game which could put Providence on upset watch. However, they are also frequently in shootouts, as they have also allowed 73.4 points per game. Providence has the upper hand experience-wise and will hold South Dakota State off from pulling off the upset.

Projected Winner: Providence

Richmond (12) vs. Iowa (5) 

Date: Thursday, March 17
Time: 3:10 pm
Where to Watch: truTV
Spread: Richmond +10.5 (-110) | Iowa -10.5 (-110)
MoneyLine: Richmond +450 | Iowa -630
Over/Under: Over 151 (+100) | Under 151 (-121) 

Iowa comes in as one of the more dangerous teams after finding their identity in the Big Ten tournament. They took down Purdue, 75-66, in the championship game, proving to be a tricky out with their fast pace. Sophomore forward Keegan Murray ranks fourth in the country in scoring with 23.6 points per game, and he averaged 25 points per game in the conference tournament. Richmond is no slouch and has a chance to pull off the upset. The Spiders overcame double-digit deficits in their first two games of the A-10 tournament, before pulling out a hard-fought victory over Davidson in the championship. Iowa has more weapons on offense and their fast-paced tempo will be too much for Richmond to handle. Iowa pulls it out in a close one.

Projected Winner: Iowa

Iowa State (11) vs. LSU (6) 

Date: Friday, March 18
Time: 7:20 pm
Where to Watch: TBS
Spread: Iowa State +4 (-110) | LSU -4 (-110) 
MoneyLine: Iowa State +160 | LSU -190
Over/Under: Over 127.5 (-110) | Under 127.5 (-110) 

Iowa State enters the tournament on a tailspin, as they lost nine of their last 13 games. The Cyclones also went just 7-11 in conference play and got smacked by 31 points to Texas Tech in the conference tournament. But they had one of the tougher schedules, playing in the Big 12, and only four of their losses came against teams outside of the tournament. According to KenPom, they rank as the number 10 defense in the country and have held opponents to shooting 50 percent from the field and 29.6 percent from behind the arc.

There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding LSU after they fired their head coach, Will Wade, on Saturday. They also struggle on offense but are a slightly better team defensively. The Tigers are the sixth-best team in defensive efficiency and come in winning five of their last eight games. It should be a low-scoring game with the struggles offensively. But with LSU having a better defense, they take this one. Tari Eason has led the Tigers on offense, averaging 17 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. 

Projected Winner: LSU

Miami (10) vs. USC (7) 

Date: Friday, March 18
Time: 3:10 pm
Where to Watch: truTV
Spread: Miami +1.5 (-115) | USC -1.5 (-105)
MoneyLine: Miami +100 | USC -120
Over/Under: Over 139.5 (-110) | Under 139.5 (-110) 

This is an intriguing matchup. Miami nearly defeated Duke in the ACC Tournament and USC made it to the Pac-12 semifinals where they lost to UCLA. After starting the season 13-0, the Trojans have been on a decline since. They were swept by Stanford, lost to Oregon, and needed double overtime to defeat a 3-28 Oregon State team.

Meanwhile, the Hurricanes have been a sneaky team of late, just doing enough to get in the tournament. They have been able to keep up with the best teams in the nation. Jim Larranaga’s team split the season series with Duke, took down Virginia Tech on the road, and destroyed North Carolina. They seem to be the more motivated team, with USC really just going through the motions down the stretch. The Hurricanes score well from inside, ranking 27th with a 55 percent two-point percentage. They also don’t turn the ball over, ranking eighth in the country with a 14.3 percent turnover rate. Take the underdog in this one and roll with it.

Projected Winner: Miami

Creighton (9) vs. San Diego State (8) 

Date: Thursday, March 17
Time: 7:27 pm
Where to Watch: truTV
Spread: Creighton +2.5 (-110) | San Diego State -2.5 (-110) 
MoneyLine: Creighton +115 | San Diego State -135
Over/Under: Over 120 (-110) | Under 120 (-110)

This is by the far the best matchup of the Midwest Region. Both the Bluejays and the Aztecs have two of the more elite defenses in the country, while San Diego State has the second-best defensive efficiency ranking in the NCAA. They each made their respective conference championships games but fell short of winning the title. Creighton had a balanced offensive attack, with five different players averaging nine points or more. Unfortunately for them, they will be without the Big East Freshman of the Year in Ryan Nembhard, who suffered a season-ending wrist injury. The Bluejays had notable wins over UConn and Marquette, and a 20-point win over Villanova in the regular season. Then, in the Big East Tournament, they beat Marquette again and defeated Providence by 27 points in the semifinals, before losing by six to Villanova in the championship.

San Diego State comes in having won 11 of their last 13 games, including a 63-58 win over Colorado State in the Mountain West semifinals. They only lost in the conference championship by one point to Boise State. This is the second-straight year the Aztecs are in the tournament after they were upset by Syracuse as the sixth-seed last year. Senior guard Matt Bradley paces them offensively, as he has averaged 17 points per game, 5.4 rebounds per game, and 2.6 assists per game. The transfer from Cal scored at least 20 points 12 times this season. The eight versus nine matchups are always the most difficult to predict. But with San Diego State having a suffocating defense on top of the absence of Nembhard, the Aztecs pull this one out.

Projected Winner: San Diego State

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