Houston has star power, depth, and a coach with something to prove. But the other contenders include in-state rivals (Texas), upstarts (Xavier), and proven programs (Indiana).
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The March Madness Midwest Region bracket features the Houston Cougars at the very top – and they might be the best potential story in this year’s Tournament.
Now they’re back with a chance to play in the Final Four just minutes from campus at Houston’s NRG Stadium. What’s more, coach Kelvin Sampson’s story of redemption is only missing a national championship.
So who can stop Houston’s date with destiny?
The March Madness Midwest Region Favorite
Houston has it all – scoring from the backcourt (American Athletic Conference Player of the Year Marcus Sasser), a projected NBA lottery pick up front (Jarace Walker) and balance (a top-10 offense AND defense.)
So why worry? Health. Sasser strained his groin in the AAC Tournament, missing the championship game and the Cougars struggled in his absence. It looks good for his return in March Madness, but the timing couldn’t be any worse.
The Midwest Region Contenders
The Longhorns have lingered all year, and they’re getting hot at the right time.
A Big 12 Conference Tournament championship was highlighted by a 20-point win over defending national champion Kansas, and the Longhorns’ collection of transfers is playing well together after a tumultuous campaign.
Foul trouble won’t bother Texas – they can go nine deep with little drop off, one of the deepest teams in the Tournament.
The Xavier offense led the country in assists per game this season, with guards Colby Jones and Souley Boum as the ringleaders of the efficient unit.
Five different Musketeers average double figures in scoring, challenging even the best defenses to make difficult choices on who to stop.
Two outstanding players – forward Trayce Jackson-Davis and freshman Jalen Hood-Schifino – lead the way for the Hoosiers, whose talent is more impressive than their 22-11 record.
The Hoosiers have a victory over then-No. 1 Purdue to their credit this season, and are capable of anything when their star players are clicking.
The Midwest Region’s Cinderella Team
Kent State: The Golden Flashes won a showdown with Toledo to claim the MAC title, and the No. 13 seed get a vulnerable Indiana team right away. They can battle with anyone. Just ask Houston, who had to scratch to a 49-44 win over Kent State this season, or Gonzaga, who barely outscored the MAC champions 73-66.
Midwest Region’s Best First Round Game
No. 5 Miami (FL) vs. No. 12 Drake: Drake won’t impress you with statistics, they’ll just win – and do it convincingly. The 27-5 Bulldogs won all their games in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament by double digits, and have wins in 13 of their last 14 contests.
Meanwhile, ACC regular-season champion Miami hopes to have big man Norchad Omier back from injury alongside ACC Player of the Year Isaiah Wong, as the Hurricanes look to get off to a hot start and repeat or surpass last year’s Elite 8 run.
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Midwest Region Predictions
Houston’s got the best story, and pound for pound they’ve probably got the best team.
But Texas has proven their ability to go toe-to-toe with anyone, and Xavier’s versatility on offense will challenge any defense. Even one as stingy as Houston.
With Drake, Kent State, Penn State, and others, however, the story in this region may be the potential for first-round upsets. Even 14 and 15 seeds Kennesaw State and Colgate have the potential to do damage with high-scoring offenses. You won’t find a boring game in the Midwest Region.
March Madness Midwest Region Odds
Here are the odds for each team to win the Midwest Region, along with their National Championship odds (all odds from FanDuel):
|TEAM||TO WIN MIDWEST REGION||TO WIN NATIONAL TITLE|