MIDWEST REGION PREVIEW:
The Louisville Cardinals captured the #1 overall seed, and the reward that is supposed to accompany it is the “least strenuous path” to the Final Four. The Cards will have the advantage of playing the Sweet Sixteen round down the road in Indianapolis, assuming the advance that far, but it will be anything but a stress-free ride to Atlanta. Even the second round matchup against either a Missouri team who will be happy to run and gun with them or a Colorado State team that starts five seniors will be a tricky game.
The top half of the bracket is interesting, with one of the nation’s toughest and unheralded teams, the St. Louis Billikens, as the #4 seed. St. Louis is playing with the emotional fire of having lost their Coach Rick Majerus earlier this season, but more importantly, they are an error-free team that averages around ten turnovers a game and is well equipped to deal with Louisville’s frenetic defense. Not that St. Louis is an automatic opponent. The Billikens are in line for a brutal second round game featuring the winner of Oklahoma State and Oregon. This could easily be a 3/6 or a 4/5 match-up instead of a 5/12. I have no idea how Oregon, who won the Pac-12 Tournament and beat UCLA twice en route to a 26-8 record fell all the way to a 12, but you can bet they won’t be happy about it. However, Oklahoma State is a legit Final Four sleeper. Big 12 Player of the Year Marcus Smart leads an explosive and athletic team that also feels slighted being left out of the Top 4 seed lines.
The bottom half of the bracket is loaded with blue bloods and Final Four coaches. The obvious headliners are Duke and Michigan State, but Memphis, Creighton and Cincinnati add some danger to their path.
So who is coming out of the loaded Midwest? And better yet, are there some good value wagers along the way?
In the Sweet Sixteen, I like Louisville and St. Louis surviving a difficult second round game. In the bottom half, it is tempting to pick against Duke given some of the recent tourney woes, but 18-1 with Brian Kelly in the lineup is enough to convince me the advance past Creighton in Round Two. And there are few safer March wagers than Tom Izzo, so give me the Spartans to get past Memphis en route to Indianapolis. From there, I’ll take Louisville against Michigan State, with Rick Pitino avenging their regional final loss in Indianapolis four years ago to the Spartans.
It’s hard to bet against Louisville, given the way they’ve played the last month. But only three overall #1 seeds have won the tourney in the last 12 years, so there are some good value wagers to win the Midwest. Let’s take a look at the best opportunities.
Value Wagers to win the Midwest:
Michigan State: 11/2
Long Shot: Oklahoma State: 20/1
My pick to win the Midwest: Louisville Cardinals (11/10)