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Bracket Bits: Midwest Region

Dave2015The Midwest Region features arguably the nation’s hottest team, Illinois, NET-rated darlings Houston and Loyola-Chicago, and an Oklahoma State team with this year’s potential top pick in the NBA Draft, Cade Cunningham.  Then there’s San Diego State, which arrives with its own 14-game winning streak.  Story lines come in bunches.

Favorite: Illinois
Next in Line: Houston
Darkhorse: Rutgers
The Scarlet Knights are battle tested and have a reasonable pathway to the Sweet 16 as it relates to matchups.  They open with Clemson, which can struggle to score at times, and Houston also prefers a physical type of basketball.  Whether or not Rutgers can knock down enough shots remains to be seen, but they can force turnovers, and if they do, it makes their offense come alive.
Best chance for an upset:
(11) Syracuse over (6) San Diego State – The Orange spent much of their season on the wrong side of the tournament field and needed a late surge to sneak in.  Regardless, they are playing now and it’s never easy to prepare for Jim Boeheim’s zone, especially with a quick turnaround.  Add in these notes: Buddy Boeheim is hot, scoring 25 or more points in four of the team’s last seven games; and collectively, Syracuse knocks down over 78 percent of if its free throws.
Next best chance for an upset:
(13) Liberty over (4) Oklahoma State – Once again, it’s all about tempo. If the Flames can keep action at their preferred pace, it’ll be close down the stretch.  Liberty posted non-conference wins over Mississippi State and South Carolina, and battled Purdue and Missouri before coming up a little short.  Liberty has 4 contributors who connect on over 40 percent of their 3-point attempts and three guards who make more than 80-percent of their free throws.  It might take a near-perfect game to get it done, but there’s a chance.
Best Storyline: Georgia Tech
The Rambling Wreck are back in the Field and won the ACC tournament last weekend.  It’s been a long time since the Yellow Jackets were discussed in March.
Best opening-round matchup: (8) Loyola-Chicago vs. (9) Georgia Tech
Although Clemson-Rutgers is equally intriguing,  it’s hard to look past Sister Jean and the Ramblers taking on a resurgent Georgia Tech team that arose from two early losses to claim an ACC crown.
Best chance to get to the Final Four: Illinois
There are two minor concerns for the Illini.  The first is a propensity for turnovers; they average just over 13 per game. The second is free throw shooting.  While the Illini have been better than their season averages late in the season, it’s a group that still shoots under 70 percent as a team.  Kofi Cockburn is just over 50 percent.  The emergence of freshman PG Andre Curbelo has been instrumental.  All-in-all, it’s hard to pick against a team that has won 14 of 15 games and beaten the likes of Michigan, Ohio State (twice) and Iowa (twice) in the process.

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