The 2016 NCAA Tournament Midwest region is again packed with contenders looking to cut down the nets in Chicago, Ill., before they make their way to Houston, Texas, for the Final Four. The Virginia Cavaliers snagged the No. 1 seed, despite losing in the ACC Tournament final, but with the way this season has gone, it shouldn't be any surprise that even the top seeds had some surprises.
Favorite: Michigan State Spartans
This is no slight to the Virginia Cavaliers, but Michigan State probably deserved the No. 1 seed in this region and as a result gets a slightly easier trip through the bracket. Of course, they may need to face Dayton in the Second Round, and that hasn't worked well for teams in the past couple of seasons. The Spartans are just stacked with great players, from player of the year candidate Denzel Valentine, to the emergence of former mid-major star Bryn Forbes, who is pretty much indispensable on the offensive end. Michigan State has the second-best offensive efficiency in the country and their defense is in the top 20. That is a recipe for success in the NCAA Tournament.
Darkhorse: Seton Hall Pirates
The Pirates only won the Big East tournament, and landed with a 6-seed in the bracket. They don't have an easy opening game against Gonzaga, but the Pirates have some depth inside that can help them to contend with the Bulldog bigs. Isaiah Whitehead is going to be a name that everyone is talking about as the NCAA Tournament rolls forward as he may have been one of the more under-the-radar player of the year candidates in the country. He is one of the most dynamic point guards, and can get up and deliver some impressive blocks on the defensive end. Expect the Pirates to cause some headaches.
Best First Round Upset: Iona Gaels
The Iona Gaels were one of the few teams to figure out the Monmouth Hawks this season, beating them twice and barely losing to them in the other matchup this season. Tim Cluess has a very veteran team, which is often a recipe for upset in the first round. Not that Iowa State is a pushover, but the Gaels have some shooters that can really give the Cyclones a headache. We have seen teams with great pace and shooting take down Iowa State this year, including Northern Iowa. Size could be a factor, but if Iona gets hot shooting the ball from outside, it won't matter.
Player to Know: A.J. English, Iona
If the Gaels are going to pull off the upset against Iowa State, then it will be up to A.J. English, who probably is even more under the radar than Whitehead when it comes to great players. English is an NBA prospect, and you could tell how much making the NCAA Tournament in his final season meant to him. This is his chance to shine, and you can bet he won't waste it. Despite his gaudy scoring numbers (22.4 points per game), he is a pass first point guard, averaging 6.2 assists per game. He is only 6-4 but averages 5.0 rebounds per game. Bottom line is that this kid can ball, and if we are lucky, we are going to be able to watch that through multiple games in this NCAA Tournament.