NCAA Tournament 2017: Midwest Region preview

The 2017 NCAA Tournament is upon us. Here’s your preview of the Midwest Region.

The Midwest Regional will take place at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, MO after the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament are completed. The region is loaded with talented teams capable of making the Final Four and figures to feature some of the most competitive games in March Madness. Here’s a quick look at what you need to know about the Midwest Region.

Who’s the No. 1 seed?

The Kansas Jayhawks are the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region. Kansas is a No. 1 seed for the seventh time in 14 seasons under head coach Bill Self. The Jayhawks enter the tournament with a 28-4 record after going 16-2 in the Big 12, the toughest league in a decade based on KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin. They were surprisingly ousted from their conference tournament quarterfinals by the TCU Horned Frogs.

Kansas is led by National Player of the Year favorite Frank Mason, a 5-foot-10 point guard who averages 20.8 points, 5.1 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game and shoots 48.7 percent from 3-point range. The Jayhawks second leading scorer is five-star freshman Josh Jackson. The 6-foot-8 wing is as versatile a player as there is in college basketball and has been the centerpiece of Self’s transition to a smaller starting lineup that features four guards and just one big man.

Who’s on upset alert?

The Creighton Bluejays got a tough draw as a No. 6 seed facing the No. 11 seed Rhode Island Rams. Since losing starting point guard Maurice Watson Jr. in mid-January to a torn ACL, the Bluejays have a losing record (7-8) and have only beat one team with a KenPom adjusted efficiency rating higher than Rhode Island’s.

The Rams are a tough squad on the defensive end where they do a great job of taking away 3-point opportunities from opposing teams. Just 29.8 percent (18th nationally) of the shots they’ve allowed opponents to take this season have been 3s. That could pose problems for a Creighton team that likes to shoot the 3 ball.

RELATED: Updated 2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket

The Bluejays’ best opportunity will be to play through freshman center Justin Patton. Rhode Island doesn’t have a great matchup for the big man, but Patton may not be ready to carry a full load in a high pressure NCAA Tournament game.

Player to Watch

There are plenty of excellent players in this region who deserve your attention. Mason is arguably the top point guard in the country. Monte Morris could lead Iowa State on a deep run if Cam Oliver doesn’t power Nevada to an upset. In the bottom half of the region, both Michigan’s Derrick Walton Jr. and Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans are capable of delivering in big moments. The name to keep an eye on, though, is Donovan Mitchell from Louisville.

He’s critical to the Cardinals’ success because while their defense is stellar, their offense can sputter. Mitchell is averaging 15.7 points per game this season, but Louisville is 7-2 when he tops the 20-point mark. The sophomore guard has revolutionized his game by adding a more consistent 3-point shot and if he gets rolling in the tournament, the Cardinals will have a chance to make the Final Four.

Team to Watch

If there’s a team seeded lower than No. 3 in the region that could make a run to the Final Four, it’s the No. 5 Iowa State Cyclones. Morris and Co. have the ability to get hot from behind the 3-point arc and that’s good enough to beat anybody in the country. In Big 12 play, the Cyclones knocked off Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse, beat Baylor at home and won the conference tournament because of their ability to put points on the scoreboard in bunches.

If the Cyclones can make the second weekend, they’ll get to play at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. While that arena is just over an hour away from their potential Sweet 15 opponent, Kansas, Iowa State fans have prided themselves on taking over the venue for the Big 12 tournament, affectionately dubbing it “Hilton South.”

Nobody will accuse Iowa State of being a defensive stalwart and the roster has its problems on the interior, but with Morris, Naz Mitrou-Long, Matt Thomas and Deonte Burton all capable of of scoring 20 points on a given night, the Cyclones have what it takes to make a surprise run.

Predicted Winner

The Jayhawks have had their ups and downs this season, but they’re the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region for a reason. Mason has a history of coming up big when the moment requires it, Jackson is as talented as any player in the tournament and role players like Devonte Graham and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk are dangerous from behind the 3-point arc. Plus, Kansas will likely get to spend the second weekend close to home. That should be enough to get the Jayhawks to their first Final Four since 2012.

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