Scouting the NCAA tournament: The Midwest Region
At first glance The first thing that jumps out: How the heck did Oregon get a 12 seed? Sure, the Ducks struggled late, going 8-6 their final...
At first glance
The first thing that jumps out: How the heck did Oregon get a 12 seed? Sure, the Ducks struggled late, going 8-6 their final 14 games. But four of those defeats came without injured guard Dominic Artis and another came with Artis playing just 14 minutes.
With Artis back and fresh off winning the Pac-12 tournament, the Ducks are an undervalued and dangerous opening opponent for Oklahoma State.
Keep an eye on No. 6 Memphis, a team that hasn't really beaten anyone (best win is Tennessee) but possesses raw talent as good as any team in the region.
One of the best games could be Tuesday, when at-large mid-majors Middle Tennessee State and Saint Mary's clash. Middle Tennessee beat Vanderbilt and Ole Miss; three of Saint Mary's six defeats came against No. 1 Gonzaga.
It's hard not to like former Franklin star Peyton Siva and his Louisville Cardinals emerging from this field, though.
By the numbers
42.1 Creighton's three-point shooting percentage, second best in the country.
10.7 Louisville's steals per game, second nationally.
6 Missouri players who average at least 10 points.
MICHIGAN STATE: The Spartans are balanced — five players average between 9.4 and 13.6 points — and seven of their eight defeats were by eight points or less. Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix are a physical one-two punch inside.
DUKE: The Blue Devils were headed for a No. 1 seed until stumbling against Maryland in the ACC tournament. Without Ryan Kelly, who missed 13 games with an injury, Duke lost four times. With Kelly, who is back playing, the Blue Devils are 18-1.
SAINT LOUIS: Butler coach Brad Stevens says the Billikens could win it all. He's not crazy, despite the loss at Washington early in the season. Saint Louis beat Butler three times, VCU twice and New Mexico once.
CREIGHTON: The Bluejays struggled toward the end of the season, with four defeats in a six-game stretch. But Creighton might have the best player in the region in Doug McDermott, and that will give them a chance.
OKLAHOMA STATE: The Cowboys are solid, but drew a tough opening game against Oregon. The Ducks are healthy and dangerous.
Doug McDermott, Creighton's 6-foot-8 forward, is the nation's second-leading scorer — and the leading scorer in the tourney — at 23.1 points a game. He was the Missouri Valley player of the year and scored 41 points just four games ago against tourney team Wichita State.
Mason Plumlee might not be the flashiest player, but the 6-10 Duke forward is as steady as they come. He averages a double-double with 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds and scored at least 10 points in all but three games this season.
Want a smart-money bet? Put Tom Izzo's Michigan State team in the Sweet 16. In the nothing-is-certain world that is the NCAA tournament, Izzo has taken his Michigan State teams to the Sweet 16 six times in the past 10 years.
Since 1999, Michigan State has advanced to six Final Fours. In that same time frame, he has lost in the first round four times. Izzo's teams are usually built for this time of year.
Best players you might not have heard of
DWAYNE EVANS: The 6-foot-5 forward for Saint Louis leads the Billikens in scoring (13.6) and rebounding (7.7).
MARCUS SMART: Freshman is a bull (6-4, 225) and leads Oklahoma State with 15.4 points, 4.2 assists and 2.9 steals.
RYAN BROEKHOFF: Big Australian is Valparaiso's top scorer, rebounder. Horizon League player of the year last season.
And the winner is ...
LOUISVILLE: It would be foolish to pick against the red-hot Cardinals. Louisville has won 10 in a row and 13 of past 14 — and the only defeat came in five overtimes at Notre Dame. Coach Rick Pitino has guided Cardinals to two Final Fours, and there's no reason to think he won't do it again.