Monday, March 16, 2009

Midwest Region Breakdown

Most likely 11+ seed to win a game: No question here: Arizona. The best upsets are always where you have a favored mid-major or small conference team against an underdog BCS conference team, and Arizona-Utah is the only game that fits that formula this year. Utah also showed up on the list of teams that stink away from home, with a 13-1 home record and a 6-7 true road record (to be fair, they went 5-0 in neutral floor games, but only two of those wins were over RPI Top 100 teams, and they were Ole Miss and San Diego State). Also, Arizona is a team that has been up-and-down all season, so while they've had a bunch of clunkers, they've also had some games where they've looked great. All in all, Utah was the better team all season. But when you look at upside, and you look at underdog psychology, I'd pick Arizona here.

Most likely 6+ seed to make the Sweet 16: No question here either: West Virginia. It feels like a repeat of last season, where they earned a 7 seed and also had outstanding Sagarin PREDICTOR and Pomeroy numbers. Kansas is a good 3 seed, but they are young and inexperienced, and they haven't played well over the last couple of weeks. West Virginia is all over my overachieve lists, and both Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR say that West Virginia is actually better than Kansas. Throw in a very, very weak first round opponent for West Virginia (Dayton is the worst 11 seed in the field, so don't even dream of picking them for an upset) and a difficult first round opponent for Kansas (North Dakota State is probably the most dangerous 14 seed), you've got a possibility of Kansas not even making that second round game. And even if they both get there, I'm still picking West Virginia.

Most likely 3+ seed to win the region: There are a number of choices here. West Virginia could easily knock off Michigan State in the Sweet 16, and of course it would be silly to discount a Kansas team (if they can survive West Virginia) that is the defending champion and that did win the Big 12 regular season title outright. With Wake Forest being a team with a ton of upside potential (remember, they were #1 in the nation not too long ago, and have tended to lose to bad teams while beating elite teams), I think we could easily see the 3, 4 or 6 seed win this region. But I've got to pick one, and I'm going with Wake Forest. Louisville is the weakest 1 seed and, as I said, Wake Forest has consistently played their best basketball against their top opponents all season long. But don't be too surprised to see a Wake Forest/West Virginia Elite 8 match-up.

Conclusions: This is an interesting region in a lot of ways. First of all, it's the second toughest region (behind the East), and is also likely to have the most upsets. You've got a 12 seed that I have favored against the 5, and a 6 seed that I have favored against the 3. And you've got five different teams that have a great shot to win this region. Louisville was rated #1 overall by the Selection Committee, but in my opinion they're the worst of the top four seeds and the least likely to make the Final Four. As I talked about here, there is no correlation between conference tournament success and NCAA Tournament success. Meanwhile, you've got a 2 seed in Michigan State that is finally getting healthy for the first time all season, and has had a ton of success getting to the Final Four since Tom Izzo has been at the helm. You've got a 3 seed in Kansas that has a ton of upside potential, even if they might flame out early. You've got the best and most dangerous 4 seed in the Tournament in Wake Forest, meaning that Louisville is not only the least likely 1 seed to make the Final Four, but they're also the most likely 1 seed to lose before the Elite 8. And don't forget West Virginia having a great shot to win it themselves. I talked about the south region as the most likely region to have favorites winning every game, and this region is the opposite. If you're not picking a lot of upsets in this region, you're not going to get a lot of points in your bracket competition, regardless of the scoring system.

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