This handicapper scrutinizes the NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional projecting the team earning a spot in the Final Four. Three teams were expected to be here but the 4th was a popular upset pick this past weekend.
Game 1: Wichita State Shockers vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish: Thurs., March 26
The first game on Thursday should be extremely close, and you’re not going to find much of a betting favorite here. The point spread is likely to be extremely small. Picking an outright winner should be your only real test against the spread. Wichita State watched all five of its starters score in double figures against Kansas. The Shockers hit 49 percent of their shots and 50 percent of their threes. They made 18 of 24 free throws and really could not have been much better. Wichita State limited Kansas to 35 percent shooting and pulled away in the second half after trailing by eight in the first half and leading by only three at halftime. The Shockers did not look like a seven seed. They looked a lot more like a fourth or third seed.
Notre Dame is a third seed. The Fighting Irish are undersized except for Zach Auguste, and their lack of size left them vulnerable to a really good rebounding team in Butler over the weekend. However, Notre Dame was able to get into overtime and survive the Bulldogs to move on to the next round. Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton are skilled shooters, but Wichita State seems to have bigger and more athletic bodies at more spots on the court. Wichita State seems like the smarter NCAA Tournament pick, but the game feels too close to call.
NCAA Tournament Pick: Wichita State at Pinnacle
Game 2: West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Kentucky Wildcats: Thurs., March 26
The second game on Thursday in Cleveland should be like a lot of games involving Kentucky this season. The other team will play very hard, trying to go for a big upset. It will play active and feisty defense, trying to do whatever it can to keep the game close. This general scenario will continue into the second half, but then Kentucky’s depth will begin to take over on defense and everywhere else. The Wildcats have gotten progressively better about not turning the ball over, and as long as they don’t turn the ball over here against West Virginia’s pressure defense, they should be fine.
NCAA Tournament Pick: Kentucky
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Projected Elite Eight Game: Wichita State Shockers vs. Kentucky Wildcats: Sat., March 28
The Kentucky Wildcats eliminated Wichita State from last year’s NCAA tournament, leaving the Shockers at 35-1 for the season. Wichita State would love to be able to beat Notre Dame so that it could earn a rematch. Wichita State can shoot a little better than West Virginia, so this could be the scenario in which a shocking result comes forth. Yet, Kentucky has been so strong this season that it’s hard to think Wichita State can hang with the Wildcats in the paint. Kentucky will dominate the final 10 minutes and secure a win.
Midwest Region Pick: Kentucky