The Midwest’s No. 1 seed, Virginia, has been one of the top teams in the nation the last three years, posting an 86-18 record since the beginning of the 2013-14 season. Tournament runs in 2014 and 2015 both ended in upsets though, with Michigan State playing the spoiler each time. The Cavaliers were surely disappointed to see that, yet again, Michigan State could impede a trip to the Final Four, with the two schools potentially meeting in the Elite Eight. Defensively, few teams are as stingy as Virginia. The Cavaliers rank third nationally with just 59.7 points allowed per game.
More than just a thorn in Virginia’s side, Michigan State is one of the hottest teams in the country. The Spartans haven’t lost since February 9th, an overtime defeat at Purdue. Their nine consecutive wins since then culminated in a 66-62 victory over Purdue in the Big Ten championship. Leading the charge is Denzel Valentine, who’s a triple-double threat whenever he steps on the court. The senior is averaging 19.4 points, 7.6 assists and 7.6 rebounds per game. While Tom Izzo is known for his March success (46-17 record in the NCAA Tournament), the Spartans haven’t cut down the nets since 2000. Could this be Michigan State’s year?
Utah captured the East’s No. 3 seed by showcasing 7-foot sophomore Jakob Poeltl. The Austrian native and projected first-round NBA selection posted 17.6 points and 9.0 rebounds while leading Utah to a second-place finish in the Pac-12 standings. If both Utah and Gonzaga survive the first round, a potential matchup between Poeltl and the Zags’ Domantas Sabonis will feature two of the nation’s best big men. The good news for Utah is that Oregon is on the opposite side of the bracket. Three of the Utes’ eight losses, including a crushing 88-57 defeat in the Pac-12 championship, were delivered by the Ducks.
The No. 4 seed in the Midwest goes to Iowa State, which will look to erase the memory of the school’s 2015 NCAA Tournament appearance. Last year, the Cyclones were seeded No. 3 but lost to No. 14 UAB in what turned out to be the final game of Fred Hoiberg’s tenure. Under new coach Steve Prohm, Iowa State finished fifth in a difficult Big 12. The team’s only nonconference loss was an 81-79 upset to the Northern Iowa Panthers. Iowa State’s best player also has its most to prove. Senior forward Georges Niang averages 19.8 points per game and has accumulated 2,142 total points as a Cyclone, but was held to 11 points on 4-15 shooting in last year’s loss to UAB.
Other notables: No. 6 Seton Hall, No. 11 Gonzaga, No. 12 Arkansas-Little Rock