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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Midwest Region, a breakdown: One man’s look at how the region shakes out

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Here’s who and what to look for in the Midwest Regional:

Most overseeded

How about Arizona and Utah? Arizona was the last at-large team to make the field, and you could’ve made a strong case that the Wildcats — who lost five of their last six games — didn’t belong at all. As for Utah, the Utes had a good RPI (ninth) but had no road wins of note — as in, just two road wins over teams in the RPI top 200. A No. 6 or 7 seed seemed more realistic. And Boston College as a No. 7 is a surprise. An 11-loss team, with an RPI of 60th, is a No. 7 seed? A No. 9 seems more in line.

Most underseeded

West Virginia has a slight gripe, especially if Utah is a No. 5. WVU has four top-100 road wins and had one less win overall than the Utes in a tougher league.

Best player

For all-around players, it’s hard to beat Louisville forward Terrence Williams. But in sheer talent, we’ll go with Arizona center Jordan Hill, who is 6 feet 10 and can run all day. He’s a good offensive player, hits the boards and blocks shots. He’s seen as an almost-certain top-five pick in the NBA draft.

Best player you’ve never heard of

Siena guard Kenny Hasbrouck has good size (6-3/194 pounds), and is an explosive player with range. Hasbrouck also has the strength and quickness to get into the lane and finish. He has become a solid defender, as well, and averages 2.0 steals per game. His performance will go a long way toward determining if the Saints can get past Ohio State in the first round.

Best first-round matchup, teams

No. 4 Wake Forest has the talent and offense to get to the Final Four. But the Demon Deacons are young and lacked consistency down the stretch. Cleveland State was the surprise winner of the Horizon League tournament, but the Vikings are an experienced group of players who could give Wake some problems with their physical nature in the first round. Other interesting matchups are Boston College against a USC team that caught fire in the Pac-10 tourney and West Virginia against a defense-minded Dayton team.

Best first-round matchup, players

Arizona’s Jordan Hill going against Utah 7-footer Luke Nevill should be enjoyable. Hill is more athletic than Nevill. But Nevill is stronger than he looks and needs to keep Hill from doing too much damage in the low post. Another matchup to watch is West Virginia’s Devin Ebanks against Dayton’s Chris Wright. Ebanks, a freshman, has come on strong of late. Wright is underrated nationally and is a big-time defensive player. If Wright can keep Ebanks under wraps, Dayton’s chances for an upset increase.

Conference tourney champs in the region

Nine — Alabama State (SWAC), Cleveland State (Horizon), Louisville (Big East), Morehead State (OVC), North Dakota State (Summit), Robert Morris (Northeast), Siena (MAAC), USC (Pac-10), Utah (Mountain West).

Non-"Big Six” schools in the region

Eight.

The buzz

Arizona is making its 25th consecutive appearance, the nation’s longest current streak and the second-longest all-time to North Carolina’s 27 (1975-2001). ... This is Kansas’ 20th consecutive appearance, which is the nation’s second-longest current streak. ... This is Michigan State’s 12th consecutive appearance. ... Alabama State coach Lewis Jackson’s wife is the Hornets’ women’s basketball coach. ... This is the first time since 2005 that a Southwestern Athletic Conference team is involved in the play-in game; it was Alabama A&M; that season. This also is the first time in the past three seasons that the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champ isn’t in the play-in game. ... USC is making a third consecutive NCAA appearance for the first time in school history. ... North Dakota State is making its first NCAA appearance, and it’s coming in the school’s first season as a full-fledged Division I member. The Bison have four fifth-year seniors who start, led by Summit League player of the year Ben Woodside. ... Cleveland State is making its first appearance since 1986, when the Vikings made it to the Sweet 16 behind guard Kenny “Mouse” McFadden. Cleveland State coach Gary Waters was Kent State’s coach in 2001, when the Golden Flashes beat Indiana in the first round as a No. 13 seed. ... Wake Forest is making its first NCAA appearance since 2005. ... Morehead State is in the field for the first time in 25 seasons. Morehead State won the OVC tourney, and this is the 20th anniversary of the last time an OVC team won an NCAA tournament game, when 13th-seeded Middle Tennessee (now a member of the Sun Belt) beat fourth-seeded Florida State in the first round. ... Louisville won the first of its two NCAA titles in 1980, when it came out of the Midwest Region. ... Siena won its first NCAA Tournament game 20 years ago, when it beat Stanford in the first round as a No. 14 seed.

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