2017 NCAA Tournament: Midwest Region Game-By-Game Picks

Bryan Altman

The bracket has been released and the prognostication has begun. As you fill out your bracket and take in advice from your favorite sources on which teams to pick, allow us to add one more voice to the mix with our bracket preview series. We’ll go region by region and break down each and every matchup on the road to the Final Four.

Round of 64

 

No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 NC Central/UC Davis

No disrespect to NC Central or UC Davis, but this will be a short and succinct selection.

Kansas.

Heck, combine the best players from both these teams to comprise a first four all-star team and the answer is still, resoundingly, Kansas.

Pick – Kansas

No. 8 Miami (FL) vs. No. 9 Michigan State

Betting against Tom Izzo in the NCAA Tournament feels a lot like betting against Bruce Willis in Die Hard. Sure, it looks grim, and the odds are seriously stacked against him — we’re talking like, 18 terrorists against one bare-footed, machine-gun toting New Yawkah — but you just know he’ll pull it out somehow.

That’s how I feel about Izzo most years, but this year’s MSU squad doesn’t seem to have that magic touch. Miami has also upended some quality opponents (No. 24 Virginia on the road, No. 7 Duke, No. 6 UNC) while Michigan State struggled through large portions of their easier Big Ten schedule before a second-round elimination in the conference tourney.

I’m taking Hans… I mean, Miami, to get the job done.

Pick – Miami

No. 5 Iowa State vs. No. 12 Nevada

When I spoke to CBS Sports bracketologist Jerry Palm last week about what to look for when picking upsets, he told me in no uncertain terms to search for teams with future NBA talent. The Nevada Wolfpack have one such player in Cam Oliver (15.8 ppg, 8.7 rpg). Oliver is a potential first-round draft pick and is disruptive on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.

While arguably Iowa State lacks a singular player of Oliver’s talent, they boast a more solid senior cast that’s been there before. I like experience over Oliver’s excellence here, but know that the Wolfpack will likely keep this one tight.

Pick – Iowa State

No. 4 Purdue vs. No. 12 Vermont

Vermont isn’t to be taken lightly, but the Boilermakers have one of the best frontcourts in the nation and will dominate a smaller Vermont squad that relies on their defense to keep them in games.

If Vermont’s defense can somehow guard Purdue’s big men inside, they can keep it tight, but that feels like a stretch for a team that struggled against Power-5 competition when they played them this season.

Pick – Purdue

No. 6 Creighton vs. No. 11 Rhode Island

There’s no better way to burst a bubble than to make it disappear completely and that’s exactly what Rhode Island did by beating VCU in the A-10 Tournament championship game on Sunday.

Creighton’s fortunes changed on a dime when they lost point guard Maurice Watson Jr. for the year, but they’re still an offensive juggernaut and finished second in the Big East in scoring, averaging 82.1 points per game (19th nation wide).

But, timing is everything and Rhody is rolling, they’re healthy and they have the defense to stanch Creighton’s offense, which gives them a leg up here.

Pick – Rhode Island

No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 14 Iona

While Iona can knock down the three ball and have become more accustomed to making the NCAA Tournament, competing with Oregon isn’t really much of a possibility here.

The Ducks — even with the injury to Chris Boucher — are a well-rounded, hungry team led by one of the best players in the nation in Pac-12 Player of the Year, Dillon Brooks.

They’ll have their way with Iona in this one.

Pick – Oregon

No. 7 Michigan vs. No. 10 Oklahoma State

Nobody wants to play the Michigan Wolverines right now, but that’s the way the bracket unfolds if you’re Oklahoma State.

Still, the Cowboys won’t be playing with fear here. The Cowboys can score with the best of them (85.5 ppg, 8th in the nation) and while they ended their year on a three-game losing streak, those losses came in close fashion against Iowa State and Kansas; not exactly easy opposition. Prior they won 10 of their last 11.

Add to that the fact that the Cowboys have beaten eight Top 50 KenPom teams this year and you’ve got the makeup of an upset that’ll feel bigger than the No. 10 over No. 7 upset this will be.

Pick – Oklahoma State

No. 2 Louisville vs. No. 15 Jacksonville State

Louisville opened as 22-point favorites over Jacksonville State and that might not be enough. Led by one of the top guard tandems in the nation and a wily veteran of a coach in Rick Pitino, this will be a cakewalk for the Cardinals.

Pick – Louisville

Round of 32

 

No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 8 Miami (FL) 

While Miami’s 22nd-ranked defense is ready to go toe-to-toe with the Jayhawks for 12 rounds, their offense simply can’t match the firepower of Bill Self’s squad here. Miami might find the energy to derail KU’s offense early on, but count of Frank Mason III and the 15th ranked scoring offense in college basketball to get things going and pull this one out.

Pick – Kansas

No. 4 Purdue vs. No. 5 Iowa State 

Iowa State boasts veteran savvy and is red hot coming off of their Big 12 tournament victory, but Caleb Swanigan is a matchup nightmare. If he can shake off his mediocre performance against Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament and become the national Player of the Year candidate that averages a double-double (18.5 ppg and 12.2 rpg), the Boilermakers should make it to the Sweet 16 for a date with Kansas.

Pick – Purdue

No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 11 Rhode Island

This is where the fairy tale ends for Rhode Island. Oregon — even without Boucher off the bench — is too big, too strong and too talented to lose here. Rhode Island is peaking, but their ceiling isn’t high enough to get them over the hump against the Ducks.

Pick – Oregon

No. 10 Oklahoma State vs No. 2 Louisville

So we go from watching Jawun Evans go head-to-head with Derrick Walton Jr. in the round of 64, to watching him battle Quentin Snider in the round of 32. That, will be must-see TV.

Louisville’s got one of the best backcourt tandem’s in the country and it’ll be too much for Evans and Co. to overcome.

Pick – Louisville

Sweet 16

 

No. 2 Louisville vs. No. 3 Oregon

This, will be fun. Louisville’s dominant guards should be able to play through Oregon’s difficult zone defense while Louisville’s depth — and Oregon’s lack thereof, will finally hurt the Ducks. Louisville boasts a deep roster of talented, aggressive playmakers and Oregon can’t say the same.

Pick – Louisville

No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 4 Purdue

Kansas is slightly top-heavy and will rely heavily on Mason III and Josh Jackson if they’re going to best the Boilermakers. Kansas isn’t the most imposing No. 1 seed around and rank 10th in KenPom, while Purdue sits just behind them at 15th.

I like Purdue to swing the upset here and advance to their first Elite 8 since 2000.

Pick – Purdue

Elite 8

 

No. 2 Louisville vs No. 4 Purdue

I think Louisville is the true power of the region and they prove it with a win over Purdue. They’re deep, well coached, balanced, and have proven their mettle over the course of the year by beating excellent teams and having only one loss of their eight to a team outside the Top 25.

Their schedule — the second hardest in the nation behind Vanderbilt’s — has prepared them for this run of great opponents. They’re best the Boilermakers and get back to the Final Four for the fourth time in the Rick Pitino era.

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