Wichita State won every game and got rewarded with a No. 1 seed in the Midwest region. What they didn't get rewarded with was an easy road to Dallas.
The Midwest region is full of the best teams in the country, thanks to their geographic location. The Shockers have to contend with a region that includes Duke, Louisville and Michigan. The Blue Devils and Cardinals are both in the top 10 of the Ken Pomeroy rankings.
They also have to deal with difficult defense, in the hands of Saint Louis and the Cardinals again.
There is no break for these Shockers which is probably what they were hoping for the most. They get a First Four winner and then either Kentucky or Kansas State.
They have a tough draw, but they have the stamina and ability to deal with all of the challenges in this bracket. They are our pick to make it back to the Final Four despite all the hurdles in their way. We do believe.
Top Mid-Major picks to Pull Upsets:
1. Mercer over Duke - It is a tough call here because Duke has this guy named Jabari Parker who could take control of this game early and never let go. This could be his only NCAA Tournament, and he will want to make the most of it. But Mercer has a senior-laden squad anchored by Langston Hall, who is one of the best shooters in the country. Remember that Duke's defense isn't what it used to be because of the changes in the charge/block rules. This Bears squad could shock Coach K and the Duke fans with yet another second round loss.
2. Manhattan over Louisville - Like the Bears, Manhattan is one of those teams that has a lot of senior talent and a lot of want in this tournament. Taking down Louisville will not be easy, as we saw the Cardinals starting to get hot rolling through the American conference tournament. But consider this: George Beamon was hurt last season when Louisville was supposed to play Manhattan and it really looks like that game turned on his not being available. Having him on the floor this year... Well, maybe this does the trick. Plus watch for if the Jaspers can get the Cardinals into foul trouble early. See our note on Beamon below.
3. Texas Southern over Wichita State - OK, we don't really believe it either, because Texas Southern has to get past Cal Poly in Dayton first. And there are not a lot of mid-majors on the bottom lines in this part of the bracket, so we had to pick someone. The reason for this one is all Aaric Murray who will be a tough handle in the middle of the paint for Wichita State. The Tigers have the ability to score inside and out, but I don't think they have enough concentration on defense to face down the Shockers offense in all its forms. Still, this one could be interesting to watch.
Mid-Major Players to Watch:
1. Fred VanVleet, Wichita State: We love us some Fred VanVleet and he will be the one that determines whether or not Wichita State is back in the Final Four. He makes this offense go, he is tough on defense, and he has become the best point guard in all of college basketball. He was snubbed for some of the top awards in the country and that should be something to motivate him to get to Dallas. If he can stay focused and not have one of those games where he gets into foul trouble early, he will get the Shockers back into the final weekend.
2. George Beamon, Manhattan: Not sure there could be another 6-4 player that is as dominant inside as Beamon. He mainly plays on the wing for the Jaspers, but get this: he draws 6.5 fouls per 40 minutes played. That is a lot of fouls, and a lot of free throw attempts that he will be taking. And he shoots 83 percent at the line. He is one of the best defensive rebounders in the country and he will have the ball a lot for Manhattan, surrounded by some of the best experienced talent at the mid-major level. As Beamon goes, so do the Jaspers.
3. Jordair Jett, Saint Louis: Do you like point guards? We do too. And while Jett is not VanVleet, he is still one of the premier playmakers in the country. He is not as well known because Saint Louis hasn't been in the spotlight in a while. He is one of the best passers, and he can certainly shoot inside the arc. A fearless player on the floor, he throws his body around like he was made of metal, and he certainly looks scary with that shock of dreads flying at you. Plus you really can't get around him on defense, or any Billikens player for that matter. He is the sparkplug making the Saint Louis engine run.
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