Midwest Region Teams To Watch:
No. 1 Louisville Cardinals
The Midwest region is headlined with the No. 1 overall seed, the Louisville Cardinals. The Cardinals are led by guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, and center Gorgui Dieng. They are nearly impossible to beat when they apply pressure, so opposing teams will need to be at their best on the defensive end.
No. 2 Duke Blue Devils
Many expected Duke to end up as a No. 1 seed, but they ended up as a No. 2 seed because of their loss in the ACC quarterfinals. The Blue Devils have only lost once with Ryan Kelly in the lineup this season against Maryland in the quarterfinals. They will need consistent scoring from seniors Ryan Kelly, Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee in a projected Sweet 16 matchup against the No. 3 Michigan State Spartans if they have any hope of winning it all.
No. 3 Michigan State Spartans
There are few coaches who are more trusted during tournament time than Michigan State Head Coach Tom Izzo. The Spartans are always an extremely physical and sound defensive team, which provides a challenge for their opponents. The key for this year’s team will be whether point guard Keith Appling can limit his turnovers, which should help him become a better facilitator for his teammates.
No. 4 Saint Louis Billikens
Jim Crews was named Head Coach on an interim basis, when Rick Majerus was forced to step down due to health problems. Majerus unfortunately passed away in December. But despite the distractions, St. Louis has gone on to have a tremendous season. The Billikens won both the Atlantic 10 regular season and tournament championships, and will be a difficult opponent for any team in the Midwest region.
West Region Teams To Watch:
No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs
The ‘Zags are the No. 1 seed for the first time in school history and are looking to achieve another first by making the final four. West Coast Conference Player of the Year Kelly Olynyk has dominated the competition this season, leading the team in scoring. Guard Kevin Pangos and forward Elias Harris compliment Olynyk well, which makes Gonzaga such a difficult team to beat.
No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes
The Buckeyes had a great end to their season, winning the Big 10 Tournament in impressive fashion. Point Guard Aaron Craft is one of the best leaders in the country and his defense makes it nearly impossible to score on him. Forward Deshaun Thomas is a dynamite scorer and will be the focus of opposing teams on the defensive end.
No. 3 New Mexico Lobos
Head Coach Steve Alford has done an incredible job leading the Lobos to the Mountain West Conference regular season and tournament championship. Tony Snell and Kendall Williams are Lobos’ leading scorers, who should surprise no one if they end up in the final four in Atlanta.
No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers
Just when the Badgers seem like they’re done, they come back stronger than ever. CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein put it perfectly when he tweeted, “Death. Taxes. Bo Ryan” after all of Wisconsin’s wins. The Badgers play some of the best defense in the country, which allows them to compete in virtually every game.
No. 1 Indiana Hoosiers
The preseason favorite Hoosiers have been a dominant team this season on their way to winning a Big 10 Regular Season Championship. In five years, Head Coach Tom Crean has turned Indiana into one of the best programs in the country. The team is led by the best all-around player in the country Victor Oladipo and dominant big man Cody Zeller. Opposing teams will need to be more physical than Indiana if they want to beat them.
No. 2 Miami Hurricanes
The Hurricanes surprised everyone this season when they won both the ACC regular season and tournament. Head Coach Jim Larranaga has done a great job leading his team to new heights. Second-year point guard Shane Larkin led the veteran team with his amazing leadership and facilitating abilities. The Hurricanes will go as far as their star point guard can take them.
No. 4 Syracuse Orange
Despite a mid-season slump, the Orange have turned things around as of late with an impressive run to the Big East Tournament Championship game. In order for the Orange to be successful, second-year point guard Michael Carter-Williams has to be on the attack, instead of settling for jump shots. Fourth-year forward James Southerland needs to be knocking down three pointers on a consistent basis.
No. 6 Butler Bulldogs
Butler had a successful run in their first season in the Atlantic 10. Transfer guard Rotnei Clarke has emerged as one of the best three-point shooters in the country to lead the Bulldogs’ scoring attack. After making the championship game in both 2010 and 2011, no one can doubt how far Butler will go in the tournament under Head Coach Brad Stevens.
No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks
The Jayhawks have won nine consecutive Big 12 regular season titles under Head Coach Bill Self. Many thought this would be an off year, but the emergence of first-year guard Ben McLemore has led Kansas to another terrific season. McLemore has played so well that he is considered by many to be the first overall pick in the upcoming NBA draft.
No. 2 Georgetown Hoyas
The Hoyas started off slow, but emerged as the regular season Big East champions. Second-year forward Otto Porter Jr. leads the Hoyas. He is one of the most complete players in the country, which enables him to make an impact on the game on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court.
No. 3 Florida Gators
Head Coach Billy Donovan led the Gators to another SEC regular season championship. There are some concerns with the Gators though, as they don’t have a go-to scorer who can get a basket for them at any time, and even more alarming is that they are 0-6 in single digit games.
No. 4 Michigan Wolverines
Point Guard Trey Burke made a great decision to return to Michigan for his second season. He has emerged as a National Player of the Year candidate, and being paired with Tim Hardaway Jr. makes them the nation’s best backcourt. To go far in the tournament though, the Wolverines will need a strong presence from their frontcourt, which has been inconsistent throughout the season.