NCAA Tournament – EAST & MIDWEST Region Previews

Today we take a look at the right side of the Bracket, the Midwest and the brutal East region. There are quibbles to be made with some omissions this year (Tulsa over Monmouth or Valpo or (insert five more teams), but my biggest gripe with the entire bracket resides in the East Region. WHY is Kentucky a #4 in the East while Texas A&M is a #3 in the watery West? Could it possibly be because a potential #4/#5 game with Indiana is an absolute weekend ratings bonanza? Indiana is criminally under-seeded as well, a #5 for the Big Ten regular season champs while Cal is a four and so is 11-loss Iowa State?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not leaving my couch during that game, but it is a shame one of those two very good teams is sent packing Saturday night.

Ok, on to the preview. Here’s my best values in each region as well as a few teams and players who could make some noise.




Best Values:

Indiana +1200 – I don’t think the Hoosiers defend well enough to win this region, but in a straight up game against Kentucky and Carolina, I think they have a chance. That would be enough to get them to a Regional Final, where they would likely be favored over Xavier or West Virginia (after the two prior wins, the whole “27-7, champs of the Big Ten were underlooked narrative). I don’t think Kentucky is a great matchup, but the Wildcats are far from flawless. They have lost to Ohio State, Auburn, LSU, Tennessee and UCLA this season… The Hoosiers are led by one of the best point guards in the country in Yogi Ferrell and have plenty of athleticism with Troy Williams and O.G. They aren’t the best team in the region, but they have a lot of talent for a 12/1 wager.

Xavier +800 – I think this team matches up real well with West Virginia. They have a lot of versatile wings players who can handle the basketball to alleviate the WVU pressure and they have a real balanced scoring attack that makes double teaming difficult. They also rebound about as well as anyone in the country and that can help control tempo. Wisconsin could be a tricky second round matchup if it happens, but I favor them heavily over Pitt if that is who they meet. At +800, a regional final appearance creates nice hedge value


Worst Values:

North Carolina +140 – They are the best team in the region, but by no means a perfect team. The road is REALLY tough, especially if they get Kentucky in the Sweet 16 in a near pick ‘em game. +140 just isn’t CLOSE to enough value. I need at least 200 to 250 to pull the trigger on the Heels. Even then, I am little skeptical of the value.


Long Shot Value:

Notre Dame +2500 Another Midwestern longshot. The Irish have beaten Duke and North Carolina this season and also have that nice recipe of “dominant point guard” + “Active talented big” with DeMetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste. They are a little thin depth-wise, but do get to navigate a softer half of the bracket than the UNC/UK/IU top half.


Tyler Ulis (Kentucky) – The 5’9’’ point guard was the Player of the Year in a conference with presumptive #1 overall pick Ben Simmons. Enough said.

Yogi Ferrell (Indiana) – Another point guard that can carry a team a long way

DeMetrius Jackson (Notre Dame) – Ditto.

Marcus Paige (North Carolina) – The X-factor in this whole bracket. If Paige can find his confidence nd his shot, the Heels become strong favorites. But both have been intermittent to absent most of this season…

Edmond Sumner (Xavier) – Sticking with the point guard theme, this freshman point guard is a freak athlete and a big reason why Xavier exceeded all expectations so far this season. He could very well break out on the national stage next week.



This is the deepest region in the tournament, especially in backcourt excellence. There are some amazing potential matchups that could go either way, UNC/IU or UK, Xavier vs. West Virginia, WVU vs. Notre Dame. That is why I like the value of some of the teams in the bottom half of the draw. As far as first round upsets, I don’t think Kentucky or Indiana will get the scare some are projecting. I like them both to advance with relative comfort. Ditto for Xavier. My only upset watch is Stephen F. Austin over West Virginia. SFA has been in the tournament several year in a row and has proven dangerous. They play up tempo and like to pressure, so it will be a comfortable matchup against the Mountaineers, who themselves are turnover-prone.

Though I like the value of several teams, my ultimate pick to win the region is Kentucky over Xavier. The Big Blue’s path is too tough for just +400, but I think they are the most talented team in the region and their backcourt play is stellar. That said, I could see Xavier clipping them with hustle and toughness on the glass, similar to how Texas A&M played them twice.

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Is the committee mad at Tony Bennett and the Virginia Cavaliers? For the third year in a row, the Wahoos find themselves on a potential collision course with their Big Ten nemesis. Sparty has sent them packing two years in a row, so the one-seed differential is certainly no dismay for Michigan State. Lurking in the bracket below the two co-favorites are some dangerous squads, though the bracket lacks the depth of the East or South. Purdue and Utah both have NBA-level seven-footers in AJ Hammond and Jakob Poeltl. They are very different players, but both can be dominant forces in their own way. Hammond more defensively (two-time Big Ten Defensive POY) and Poeltl as a guy you can dump it into all day long and let him either score or pass effectively out of double-teams.

Seton Hall is an interesting #6 seed, and after watching them rip through the Big East tournament, I am sold. This team is LEGIT and so is Isaiah Whitehead. Enjoy watching him this weekend. And then of course, there is Iowa State; that tantalizing blend of veteran leadership, talent and blazing offensive ability. And 11 losses.

So who emerges, and who is the best value?


Best Values:

Iowa State +1400 – I think I lean Purdue if these two meet in the second round, but it is a toss up. And the ‘Clones are a really tough matchup for Virginia if they can wrest tempo in their favor. Considering Purdue is +550 and Iowa State is +1400, the value is clearly with Iowa State.

Seton Hall +2000 – Am I reading too much into last weekend? They handled Xavier and Villanova, a pair of #2 seeds, on back to back nights on a neutral floor. This core has played together for three seasons and has emerged as a really dangerous squad. I don’t love them opening with Gonzaga and their fearsome frontcourt, but I do like them matching up with Utah if they can advance. This isn’t just a value play. I think the Pirates could win the Midwest.

Worst Values:

Michigan State +180 – Everyone loves Sparty. “Beware of Izzo in March” and all that good stuff. Yes, they are playing really well, and yes this is a really good team. But I still think they struggle too much to score for long stretches far too often to win six games in this tournament. They could certainly win the region; Sparty has a knack for doing so, but I like them much more when they are the value underdog and the hunter as opposed to the favorite.


Long Shot:

I’m not wild about anyone here, since Gonzaga is only +1400 and Purdue is only +550. If those lines were each doubled, I’d like the hedging safeguard value. But since I need a longshot in each bracket, I’m going to reach well off the board here and go with Syracuse at +3500. They own wins over Duke, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, and UConn. Maybe they use all the talk about how they shouldn’t have gotten in as some fuel to a late season rally.


Players to Watch:

Denzel Valentine (Michigan State) – The best player in the region is also the most important player. Simply put, if Valentine isn’t great, Michigan State can’t score enough to win. It doesn’t mean he has to score 20, but it does mean he needs his usual 18/8 type ball game as the focal point and fulcrum of the offense.

Isaiah Whitehead (Seton Hall) – I’m telling you, this dude is electric. He might be the second best player in the entire Midwest Region.

Malcolm Brogdon (Virginia) – The unassuming upperclassman just continues to put up good number and lead the Cavs to wins year after year. Can he finally get them over the hump in March?

Jakob Poeltl (Utah) – In a traditionally guard-dominated tournament can the best big man still playing conjure up some interior dominance and lead the Utes to their first Final Four in 18 years?

AJ English (Iona) – Iowa State is officially on upset notice, and it is because of this guy. A pro prospect from a mid-major league, can he be this year’s RJ Hunter?



Gonzaga and Seton Hall might be the best first round game of the tournament, and whomever emerges is a real dangerous sleeper moving forward. Iona over Iowa State is the best true upset possibility, though Utah should be on guard with Fresno State and the surging Bulldogs.

I’ll go with Virginia and Purdue meeting up top and Michigan State and Seton Hall meeting on the bottom, with Seton Hall pulling the upset before losing to Virginia, who finally gets over the hump and gets Tony Bennett and this fantastic senior class to the Final Four.