By Dennis Berry
The Midwest region is the toughest region remaining this year. If features three Hall of Fame coaches – Louisville's Rick Pitino, Michigan State's Tom Izzo, and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski. Then there is also Oregon, who got one of the worst seeds in the history of the NCAA when they got a 12th seed. Honestly, you could see a scenario where any of these teams could make it to the Final Four.
This regional kicks off Friday night with #12 Oregon verses #1 Louisville. Then follows #3 Michigan State verses #2 Duke. The game between the Spartans and Blue Devils is without a doubt the game of the Sweet 16.
Who is the Favorite?
Louisville has to be the pick here. They are rolling right now. They have won 12 games in a row and cruised through their first two games last weekend. In fact they have won their last 12 games by an average of 17.8 points a game. Their closest game in this streak was a five point win against Syracuse. They are the best remaining defensive team in the country and they are at their best when they score and can apply their full court press.
Michigan State is in the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in five years. This is another typical Tom Izzo team – a veteran team that is balanced on offense and plays great defense. A lot of people are going with Duke or Louisville, but you should not overlook the Spartans.
Player to Watch
Is there any other player this could be besides Louisville's Russ Smith? He is probably the most unpredictable player left in this tournament. He is a great scorer, but sometimes he goes overboard and forces shots. He did not do that last week when he scored 23 points against North Carolina A&T and 27 against Colorado State. If the Cardinals are going to make it to Atlanta, they need him to be great.
All season long, all you heard was that Duke was the best when they were healthy. Then when the brackets were announced they did not get a one seed. Instead they became the two seed in the top overall seed (Louisville) bracket. Now they are in a regional where they may have to face two of the best coaches in the game.
You can make a case for any team here, but Michigan State is going to come out of this region. Tom Izzo is one of the best coaches in the game. He has a week to prepare for Duke and then Michigan State will get revenge for a Sweet 16 loss to Louisville last year.
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