MIDWEST REGION PREVIEW – 2017 NCAA TOURNAMENT
If the South is the loaded region, that its bracket counterpart, the Midwest, could well be its weakest. Kansas is certainly a strong Final Four and worthy National Championship contender, but Louisville is the weakest of the #2 seeds – especially when juxtaposed against conference champions Arizona, Kentucky and Duke and their #3 seed Oregon, just lost their second-best player and best interior defender in Chris Boucher.
So, is this region a de facto done deal? Pack Kansas’s bag for Phoenix? Or could the Midwest be where things are so wide open we get one of those funky, ‘no one saw THAT coming’ Final Four entrants?
Kansas +140 – It’s hard NOT to pick Kansas with this draw. They are the best team in the region. The Sweet Sixteen round is being played in Kansas City and they have the softest combo of 2/3 seeds in the entire field. Josh Jackson’s suspension is behind them and they are led by Wooden Award favorite Frank Mason III. Kansas SHOULD win this region. But at +140, I am not sure I’m putting any money on it. Now, at +800 to win the WHOLE THING – nice value given their draw. If you like the Jayhawks, I’d suggest going all in and hoping you can get some hedge value in the Final Four with a few lesser-regarded teams crashing the party
Louisville +325 – Maybe Rick Pitino’s March brilliance will prove me wrong, but I am just finding a hard time finding any reason to take Louisville seriously as a National Championship contender. They are a Final Four contender thanks to a soft bracket, but I am still not sold on Louisville. They went just 5-4 down the stretch and were handled by Carolina, Virginia and Duke with relative ease.
Oregon +450 – Before the Boucher injury, this would have been my pick to win the Midwest. Of course, were Boucher not injured, there is a good change they wouldn’t BE the #3 seed in this bracket. Alas, I think losing your best shot blocker and defender – a rim-protector who can also step out a shoot threes – one week before the Tournament is too much to overcome. Dillon Brooks will prevent the Ducks from being an easy out, but I don’t think they are a legit National Champ threat any longer, sadly.
My feelings on both Louisville and Oregon were already stated. I am also finally OUT on Purdue as well, after liking their sleeper chances back in February. They just don’t have anyone who can create offensively in a tight ballgame.
Oklahoma State +2500 – Want a long shot value? How about a team that won 11 of 12 games before a brutal closing stretch against Iowa State and Kansas. Brad Underwood’s team flipped the switch after Christmas and are a dangerously under-seeded #10 seed. Everyone is penciling in Michigan automatically after their thrilling Big Ten run. Don’t be surprised to see the best offense in the tournament not named “UCLA” knock off the Wolverines and then set their sights on Louisville. There’s some hedge value in the ‘Pokes.
Iowa State +900 – I cashed a nice Big Twelve Tourney winner with the Cyclones and I am still loving Monte Morris and crew. They have already won IN Lawrence this season, so a Sweet 16 matchup in Kansas City against the Jayhawks shouldn’t scare this veteran squad.
I’ll go with Iowa State in an upset to win the region. Kansas is the safe play, but at +140, there isn’t enough value for my liking. I’ll also take Oklahoma State for the hedge opportunity. I think they have a legit chance to get to the Sweet Sixteen, making sitting on a +2500 a guaranteed winning proposition if they are still playing in the second weekend.
OVERALL TOURNEY PICKS:
The safe picks, or the “forget Vegas, who do you think are the four best teams” Final Four are: Duke, UCLA, Arizona and Kansas. My VEGAS Final Four is Villanova, UCLA, Arizona and Iowa State.
My favorite National Champ Wagers are UCLA (best upside), Carolina (least volatility), and Arizona (my pick to win it all)
Good luck this week everyone! I hope it is a thrilling (and profitable) tournament for us all!