I found this region of the tournament the toughest to predict because it has, in my opinion, two of the best three teams in the entire league. And they’re both at the top of the bracket which means a collision course in the Sweet Sixteen is very likely. Let’s start with Illinois. The number one seed in the Midwest has one of the best offenses in the entire country. Ayo Dosunmu is definitely the main scorer for Illinois, but Kofi Cockburn and Andre Curbelo are the key pieces that help keep the machine running. Illinois has tough losses this year to Baylor, Ohio State, Rutgers, and Missouri, but they avenged two of them, blew out Michigan by 23, and beat Wisconsin twice. They won 16 of their 20 games in Big Ten play and are an absolute force to be reckoned with in this tournament.
However, due to the way the seeding played out, in order to make the Final Four and have a shot at winning the school’s first ever men’s basketball title, Illinois is going to have to make it through the four seed Oklahoma State. OKST is led by likely #1 overall NBA draft pick Cade Cunningham. Despite being double teamed almost every time down the floor, Cunningham leads the team in every major offense category and isn’t afraid to dish it off to Avery Anderson III and Kalib Boone to keep the offense rolling. The Cowboys are one of the best low post defensive teams in the Big 12 and create a matchup nightmare for their opponents. I think that they will win a tooth-and-nail battle against Illinois to advance to the Final Four. Take a look at how my whole Midwest Region shakes out.
I really don’t love the bottom half of this bracket because I think that a lot of the teams are weaker than their seeding suggests. Yes, Houston is one of the best defensive teams in the country and they control the glass on the offensive end which is enough to bring them to the Elite Eight, but they don’t have the star that is always one of the biggest keys in the NCAA Tournament. I like Rutgers a lot and could actually see them knocking off Houston in the second round, but after their win over Illinois in December, their quality win total hasn’t been all that impressive.
I have a steadfast rule that if Syracuse makes the tournament, I will pick them to go to at least the Sweet Sixteen based solely on their zone defense that no school ever seems able to prepare for. San Diego State has an equally good defense, though, and Jordan Schakel and Matt Mitchell are more than good enough to create space and offense against the Orange’s zone set up. As for West Virginia, they rely far too much on their interior play on offense but get burned by it on the defensive end. They are a tough team to figure out and one that I would keep on my radar for a 14 over 3 upset. If not that, then a second round exit to San Diego State feels just as likely.
I expect Oklahoma State to represent the Midwest Region in a Final Four that, according to my predictions, already has Texas Tech from the South Region and Gonzaga from the West region. Now let’s take a look at the final region, the East.
Click here to read our online sports book reviews.