It sounds boring, but it's true: the Jayhawks do have the most balanced team with the best chance to win the national title of any team in this region. Kansas started the season 20-0, struggled through three losses in seven games (all on the road), and are now on a seven-game winning streak capped by an 84-74 win in the rubber match against Texas to claim the Big XII title.
Sure, other teams like Wisconsin (also in this region) or Xavier have balanced scoring. But the Jayhawks have four guys that score at least 11.6 points per game! Nobody's teetering just above ten points per; Darrell Arthur, Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers and Darnell Jackson can all go off on you. Three more Kansas players have the scoring touch too, with at least an average of seven points.
Don't think Kansas is an offense-first team, either. The Jayhawks led the Big XII in scoring defense and had the largest positive scoring margin - 21 points - in the country. In other words, they can blow you out.
The Hoyas need more shooting, Vandy needs more consistency, and Clemson needs to take free-throw shooting lessons from Memphis (you know, since Shaquille O'Neal isn't available), which tells you how bad the Tigers are from the charity stripe. Yes, the Badgers can end up in San Antonio if they follow coach Bo Ryan's rules to perfection; also, Southern California, UNLV, and Villanova are all dangerous teams lurking in the lower seeds. But clearly, Kansas is stayin' classy in this region.
- Aaron Brenner
Most Underrated Team - Southern California
USC is the most talented No.6 seed in the tournament and probably the fourth best team in the Midwest region. The Trojans started the season (and conference season) slowly in large part due to inexperience as they only have three juniors and no seniors on their roster. Additionally, they were hampered by injuries to three key contributors.
The Trojans only bad loss was to Mercer in the first game of the season and their next worst defeat came to conference opponent California on the road. Although USC has not always succeeded against top-tier teams (close losses to Kansas, Memphis, UCLA, and Stanford) they have the talent and potential to make a deep tournament run.
The Trojans' most valuable asset is not hyped freshman and leading scorer O.J. Mayo nor sophomore big man and leading rebounder Taj Gibson. USC's Tim Floyd is one of the best coaches in the nation. He is known for making on-the-fly changes to surprise and fluster opponents and his ingenuity will come in particularly handy with the quick turnaround between tournament games. He pulled a page out of Rick Majerus' play book earlier in the year with a triangle-and-two defense that nearly knocked off No. 1 seed Memphis. Don't be surprised to see a similar scheme against Kansas State and their two freshmen stars, Michael Beasley and Bill Walker.
Although some may argue that inexperience could hurt USC in the tournament, it may also work to their advantage. This group of youngsters is fearless and won't feel the pressure that some more seasoned squads might.
- Eric C. Krueger
Best First Round Matchup - Gonzaga vs. Davidson in Raleigh, N.C.
The Zags flew beneath the radar this year, but don't be fooled, their losses this year came to the likes of Texas Tech, Washington State, Tennessee, Memphis, Oklahoma, and St. Mary's. All of these games were competitive and they have proven they can play with anyone. They are a very dangerous seven seed, especially with the return of Josh Heytvelt.
Davidson also took on all comers this year, losing to teams such as Duke, UCLA, North Carolina, and Charlotte. Like Gonzaga, they have proven they can play with the big boys. Following their tough NC slate, they have rattled off 22-straight wins and have rarely been challenged.
Both teams are experienced and either should give No.2 seed Georgetown a heck of a matchup in the second round. I believe that many high majors are happy to see them draw each other in round one.
Best Bet for an Upset - No. 10 Davidson over No. 7 Gonzaga
If you're putting money on the line, the best bet for an upset in the Midwest Region is, without a doubt, Maniac's best matchup in the region - No. 10 Davidson over No. 7 Gonzaga.
While March is typically the Bulldogs' month to shine, don't count on it this year. As ESPN analyst Andy Katz wrote, "For the first time in years, Gonzaga is coming into the tournament without much fanfare."
And it's not going to help Gonzaga's case to play the underdog card because Davidson is the real deal.
Led by the sharp shooting Stephen Curry (the son of former NBA player Dell Curry), the Wildcats won every single Southern Conference game this season.
Point guard Jason Richards has Davidson headed in the right direction, averaging 12.6 points and a nation-leading eight assists per game.
And Davidson will extend that streak to 23-straight wins against Gonzaga. Wildcats head coach Bob McKillop is no stranger to dancing – he's made the tournament four times previously at Davidson, including the last two years – and playing in the university's home state of North Carolina won't hurt, either.
Other upsets to keep an eye on in the Midwest: No. 9 Kent State over No. 8 UNLV (The Golden Flashes are hot—having won the MAC regular season and tournament titles) and No. 13 Siena over No. 4 Vanderbilt (the Commodores have been abysmal away from home).
- Michael Poppy
Region Winner - Hoya Paranoia
What? Not Kansas? Has Worgull gone off the deep end? Surprisingly no.
Kansas has plenty of reasons to be the sexy pick out of the Midwest Region. 1) a talented, deep roster that has five players score routinely over nine points a game 2) the Jayhawks lead the nation in scoring margin (21 ppg) and the Big 12 in scoring offense, scoring defense, blocked shots, steals, assists, field-goal percentage and defensive field-goal percentage (whoa, that's good) 3) Brandon Rush (12.3 ppg) has found his stride since being plagued with injuries over the early part of the season, giving Kansas that veteran prescence in the lineup and another threat on the court.
But where the Jayhawks have struggled, they've struggle against balanced, physical opponents that can perform well in the paint and shoot from the perimeter (i.e. the Texas loss and Oklahoms State loss).
For that reason, I like Georgetown. Junior Jessie Sapp, sophomore DaJuan Summers and freshman Austin Freeman all can knock down shots from the perimeter (which was the case with GU's Big East Tourny record 17 threes) and the Hoyas can hurt you with their stud in the middle - senior Roy Hibbert, who is shooting 60 percent from the floor and can score, rebound, block and do virtually anything you could ever want out of a post player.
Georgetown can be beat if you play its brand of basketball (attack the paint and draw fouls on Hibbert) and get red hot from the perimeter. Either Kansas or Georgetown would be a solid pick but if the two were to square off, I'll take the Hoyas.
- Benjamin Worgull