The Runner Sports

2017 NCAA Tournament: Round Of 64 – Midwest Region

Selections made, brackets filled out, the First Four did a flyover in Dayton, and it’s the greatest time of the year. March Madness! The 2017 NCAA Tournament is on hand and ready to break brackets and hearts, put Cinderellas on the center dance floor, and crown a champion to a college basketball season that saw six teams claim top of the AP poll and none for more than five weeks.

East | South | West

#1 Kansas Jayhawks vs #16

A full preview of the game can be found after the First Four play-in games conclude

Prediction: Kansas

#2 Louisville Cardinals vs #15 Jacksonville State Gamecocks

Bouncing back from a self-imposed postseason ban, the Cardinals appear to have not missed a beat. They’ll look to kick the door in and make a push to their 5th straight Sweet 16, ignoring last season of course. This team can score almost as well as they can shut down offenses. Rick Pitino has got his squad looking like it could make some serious noise out of this region.

As bracket challenges look to scale upsets, many are keeping their eyes peeled for a potential 15/2 knock off. Don’t hold your breath in this matchup. Jacksonville was a 12-win improvement from last year, but are all accounts vastly ahead on their retooling of the program. They showcased a stout defense knocking off the top dogs in the Ohio Valley tournament, but with a lackluster offense just won’t have the firepower to keep up with the Cards.

Prediction: Louisville

#3 Oregon Ducks vs #14 Iona Gaels

Oregon took a big ding in the final days of the season, but a Pac-12 tournament loss to Arizona hardly signifies the sole reason they dropped from a potential top seed. The loss of senior Chris Boucher will be massive for this team. His ability to stretch bigs and provide rim protection has already been on display. That said, Oregon had little time to prepare an alternative gameplan in last weekend. Boucher’s been a focal point of Dana Altman’s gameplan, and surely with a week to prep, this team can figure out how to make a decent push. They lost by just 3 points to an Arizona team that plenty have going to the Final Four. Why would extra time to adjust to this injury result in the Gaels stunning them? Am I saying disregard the injury and slot them into the finals? No. But don’t overlook the injury, at least in this matchup.

Losing Boucher means the Gaels have one less big to worry about on the glass, where they’ve been downright awful. They still have Jordan Bell, who’s pulling 8.1 RPG, to be concerned with. With that frontcourt depth dwindled, Iona has to attack the glass and put some foul pressure on this team.

Oregon has been a well-oiled machine, and looked far from out of their depth against Arizona sans Boucher. They quietly might turn into an unexpected performer in the region as many quickly write them off.

Prediction: Oregon

#4 Purdue Boilermakers vs #13 Vermont Catamounts

People have been hard on the Big Ten this year, and while the top of the conference has been an intertwining mess, to assume upsets abound will be left in their wake might be rash. Purdue looked like the most well-rounded roster for the second half of conference play. Caleb Swanigan is a double-double threat every time he takes the court, and it’s no easy feat to slow him down. History breaths down the Boilermakers’ necks, though, as they haven’t notched a tournament win since 2012, though.

Vermont’s coming in having won 21 straight, and while their strength of schedule was abysmal playing out of the America East, that’s hard to ignore. They’re a deep roster, with three starters who average over 11 PPG.

Vermont is used to playing at a leisurely pace, and while Purdue is far from a Formula 1 race, they’re much more capable of handling the notch up in speed. The Catamounts are efficient scorers and limit the opportunities for easy buckets for their foes, but it’s still a big step up in talent that Vermont faces.

Prediction: Purdue

#5 Iowa State Cyclones vs #12 Nevada Wolf Pack

If Nevada wants to do one thing to test these Cyclones, it’s winning the battle on the glass. Iowa State runs a four-guard lineup unabashed, but it comes at the cost of routinely struggling to compete for rebounds. Nevada’s starting lineup isn’t a big threat in sheer size, but between Cameron Oliver, Elijah Foster, and Jordan Caroline the Wolf Pack average 25.3 rebounds per game; a massive advantage over the Cyclones.

Iowa State’s feeling plenty of heat, winners of 10 of their final 11 games, including a nice little run through the Big 12 tournament. They’re masters at avoiding turnovers, headlined by Monte Morris and his 5.7 assist/turnover ration, which is leaps ahead of even the next player behind him.

This could be the tightest 5/12 showdown of this field potentially. Nevada’s drawing plenty of upset intrigue here, and those 12s are always a little temptress.

Prediction: Iowa State

#6 Creighton Bluejays vs #11 Rhode Island Rams

This NCAA Tournament could be a whole lot of what could have been for Creighton. Ranked until the final two weeks of the regular season, the Bluejays went 5-7 down the stretch without Maurice Watson Jr. following a torn ACL to their star guard. They showed good fight in the Big East tournament regardless but still fell to Villanova by 14.

Rhode Island does just about everything right needed to counter what Creighton will throw at them. The Bluejays rely heavily on the deep ball, and the Rams hold opponents to just 29% from behind the arc. They close out on shooters with grace, and dumping the ball into the paint doesn’t make for an easy solution, Hassan Martin averages 2.5 blocks a contest.

Another exciting matchup as the Midwest might just turn into the most thrilling regional game of the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

Prediction: Rhode Island

#7 Michigan Wolverines vs #10 Oklahoma State Cowboys

7/10 matches are always exciting in the tournament. Not quite the coin toss 8/9, it’s still typically a chance to see a double-digit seed extend their play into at least the second batch of games. Going the distance for the 10 is a whole other story. Syracuse, last year, was the first and only 10 seed to make the Final Four in a field of 64 or more. Still, more 10 seeds have historically made the Sweet 16 (20) and Elite 8 (5) than 9 seeds (5, 2).

Michigan emerged victorious from a Big Ten tournament that had much of the top of the conference shuffling around. They overcame a scary crash on their team plane upon takeoff, but that didn’t stop them from winning four games in four days to take the tournament.

The Cowboys had a doozy of a schedule, facing the toughest schedule via KenPom rankings. The Big 12 was daunting in itself, but early season games against UConn, North Carolina, Maryland, Georgetown, and Maryland capped it off. Things got off to a rough start in conference play, but tore through the late half of the schedule. Even still, they ride a three-game losing streak, all coming to ranked opponents. In fact, the Cowboys were just 1-8 against Top 25 foes.

Destiny, cosmic justice, whatever you want to call it, Michigan’s got just about all of it in their corner currently.

Prediction: Michigan

#8 Miami Hurricanes vs #9 Michigan State Spartans

Miami goes through fits of looking like a top-tier defense, followed by spurts of disappointing outings. Still, they rank just behind Virginia in a very stout ACC that’s filled with shooters and scorers all over the place.

Normally the masters of March, Michigan State looks like they just might be on shaky legs in this rendition. Tom Izzo’s had just one worse off team make the field. Losing in this opener would mean the first time Izzo’s Spartans have been knocked out in the Round of 64 in consecutive seasons, a minor black eye to one of the nation’s top coaches.

Izzo keeps his streak alive, but he starts a new one he likely snaps off with a team that’s gonna have a lot more experience this time next year.

Prediction: Miami

East | South | West

The Midwest region boasts some of the top offenses in the 2017 NCAA Tournament. A couple solid sleepers lay dormant in this bracket and will look to rise from their eternal slumber Thursday and Friday.

Join the TRS staff in a bracket challenge. 

Tyler Arnold

Tyler Arnold

I am the founder and editor-in-chief of The Runner Sports. I've been an avid sports fan since I was a child and have turned that love into a profession. I will watch, comment, and break down anything I can get my hands on, from football to white water rafting in the Olympics. Your visit means a lot to me, so thank you for your readership.
Tyler Arnold