— Who wins, who's overrated and what's the best game? NBCSports.com has the answers for each region.
In what looks to be the most loaded region, finding a team that’s underrated is no easy task. Everything’s in its proper order, from No. 1 Kansas on down to No. 16 Lehigh. You wouldn’t switch out any of those. Compared to the rest of the field, every school is underrated at their Midwest seeding.
But if you picked one, it’d be Northern Iowa. The Panthers (28-4) crushed the Missouri Valley competition this season, have a record better than all but one of the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, and feature a defense that gives opponents fits. UNI will have its hands full against UNLV in the first round and deserved better than a 9 seed.
What to make of Oklahoma State? The 7-seed Cowboys (22-10) tend to run hot or cold. They’ve beaten Baylor, Kansas State and are one of two teams to beat Kansas this season, but have perplexing losses to Tulsa, Oklahoma and Rhode Island. They’re undersized, and apart from James Anderson, don’t feature a ton of talent.
It spells trouble against 10-seed Georgia Tech, a team with a ton of size and guards capable of limiting Anderson. The Yellow Jackets (22-12) are on a roll, too, having reached the ACC tournament final. Call it a matchup of inconsistent teams, with Oklahoma State having more to lose.
In a region with the nation’s leading scorer (Houston’s Aubrey Coleman), multiple future NBA lottery picks (Georgia Tech’s Derrick Favors, Georgetown’s Greg Monroe and Kansas’ Cole Aldrich) and the Big 12 player of the year (Anderson) and ACC player of the year (Maryland’s Greivis Vasquez), how do you pick just one?
Easy. Ohio State’s Evan Turner is playing in this region.
The Big Ten player of the year and likely national player of the year has already played the hero in leading the Buckeyes (27-7) to the Big Ten tournament title. He’s the nation’s best all-around player and the rare talent that can carry a team to a national title. How do you not pick Turner?
Most likely first-round upset?
Call this one a two-fer. G.T. beating Oklahoma State was just covered, so let’s look at No. 11 San Diego Sate against No. 6 Tennessee.
The Aztecs (25-8) are a balanced team hitting their peak. They won the MWC tournament title and face an inconsistent Vols squad that struggles on offense. They’re evenly matched in terms of size and experience and struggle in several of the same areas (free-throw shooting, perimeter shooting and defensive rebounding), which means the difference could be which team limits their turnovers most. The Vols (25-8) should win, but when does should apply in the Big Dance?
A showdown between 2-seed Ohio State and 3-seed Georgetown is no guarantee and wouldn’t happen until March 26. So cross your fingers because it would be a doozy.
The Buckeyes’ versatile starting five is one of the best around. A host of guys 6-4 to 6-7 do a little of everything and are doing it all well right now, winning seven straight. Same goes for the Hoyas (23-10), who rely on precision and teamwork to execute their intricate offense. When it works, it’s a thing of beauty. Same goes for this game.
Between Ohio State, Georgetown and Maryland, there are more than a few roadblocks for top-seeded Kansas. (To say nothing of Tennessee and Oklahoma State, the only two teams that have beaten the Jayhawks this season.)
But it’s hard to go against Bill Self’s talented, deep team. The Jayhawks started the season as the team to beat, rarely disappointed and enter the tournament as the No. 1 overall seed. Sure, no team that entered the Big Dance ranked No. 1 has won the tournament since 2004, but that applies to the whole thing, not the regional title.
There’s a reason Kansas (32-2) got the nod from Vegas as the odds-on favorite. It has fewer weaknesses — if any — than everyone else.