Quicksilver guard DJ Cooper of the Ohio Bobcats ensures that the Midwest Region will be anything but boring.
Part of the thrill of March Madness is the poring over of the games that have very little bearing on your favorite. Actually, for Dayton fans, that's the only thrill of March Madness. This is predominantly a Xavier blog, but our interests obviously expand to the entire tournament. To that end, here is our guide to the tournament. Previously, the South and the West.
The Midwest Region is home to a plethora of teams with deep basketball pedigree. UNC, Purdue, Michigan, Georgetown, and Temple all landed in the region playing to end up in St. Louis. Joining them are relative upstart powers Creighton, Saint Mary's, and San Diego State. The Midwest also boasts two of the four play in games, with California and South Florida competing to meet Temple, and Lamar and Vermont competing for a free trip to North Carolina that will be marred only by their mauling at the hands of the Tar Heels.Easy chalk: UNC isn't losing to whoever comes out of the play-in game. The 2/15 matchup here is as compelling as a blowout on paper can be. Detroit isn't a terrible team at the 15 and played both Notre Dame and Mississippi St to within ten this year. Kansas will win, but Detroit could make a game of it. Prognosticators the world over are looking at Belmont over Georgetown again, but don't count on it. The Bruins try to live from deep and no one in the nation is better at three point defense than the Hoyas.
Best first round game: #4 Michigan vs #13 Ohio. Dante Jackson's return to the NCAA tournament won't be heralded by many outside Xavier circles, but his Bobcats could cause some trouble for Michigan. Ohio isn't a bad team (71st in KenPom) and their defensive turnover percentage is second only to VCU in the nation. That alone gives them a punchers chance, but the Bobcats both attack and protect the offensive glass better than the Wolverines. This game should be entertaining either way, but if the pace gets quick, Michigan could have a rough night.
Sleeper: #11 NC State. There isn't a lot to not like about this team. The only thing they do poorly is force turnovers (256th) and even that doesn't keep their defense from being above average. The Wolfpack have five starters averaging double figures, protect the ball (81st in TO pct), attack the offensive glass, and have two potentially explosive scorers in CJ Leslie and Scott Wood. Being able to do a little bit of everything is generally the earmark of a team placed far higher on the S curve.
Weakest high seed: #6 San Diego State. 54th in the KenPom rankings is not where you would expect to find a number six seed, but there the Aztecs are. SDSU would make an intriguing low seed, but they don't do all that much very well. The Aztecs defense is efficient because they play for misses, because they neither block nor steal at a rate that can be described as anything other than awful. Their offense is predicated runouts and hoping Jamaal Franklin is playing mildly intelligently. When this team gets behind, it can't rebound or shoot well enough to pull itself back.
Team to hate: #12 South Florida. If there is one team in college basketball more painful to watch than Notre Dame, it's South Florida. The Bulls play more slowly than only three other teams, but still manage turnovers on an appalling 22.9% of their possessions, a number that also lands them in the bottom 50 in basketball. South Florida plays solid defense, but in a boring way. Exciting things like blocks, turnovers, or steals are simply not for them. It seems like the Bulls take a masochistic pride in winning ugly. This is not a team worth watching.
Team to love: #13 Ohio. Did we mention Dante? The Bobcats are the opposite of the South Florida Bulls. All Ohio wants to do is turn you over and then start chucking and attacking the offensive glass. DJ Cooper is a do it all guard who has yet to meet a shot he won't take.
Best potential game: #2 UNC vs #5 Temple. About the only way to beat the Tar Heels will be to gun them to death. Temple is ninth best in the nation at converting their three point attempts and are not at all bashful about taking them when given the chance. The Owls already beat Duke and Michael Eric might do just enough against John Henson and Tyler Zeller to let the triumverate of guards do their thing.