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The Field of 65: The rough-and-tumble Midwest
Welcome to the first of four preliminary entries in The Field of 65. This is not meant to be a predictor, but a primer. Trust me, you don't want to take prediction advice from me. Today, the Midwest Region:
Kansas University's region is not only the toughest of the four, but the most intriguing.
The Midwest region includes:
• The nation's best team (Kansas)
• The two teams that have defeated the nation's best team (Oklahoma State, Tennessee)
• The nation's second-best mid-major (Northern Iowa)
• Two members of the wildly underrated Mountain West Conference (UNLV, San Diego State)
• The nation's best player (Ohio State guard Evan Turner)
• Four of KenPom.com's top 11 teams (Kansas, Ohio State, Maryland, Georgetown)
• Three teams with the best record, ties included, in three of KenPom's top four conferences (Kansas, Ohio State, Maryland)
Most Compelling Matchup
The 8/9 tilt between UNLV and Northern Iowa promises to be competitive, if not pretty. Each of these teams is outstanding on the defensive end. The Runnin' Rebels enter the tournament ranked 29th in KenPom's Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (AdjD) while the Panthers come in at 13th.
UNLV's seed and points-per-game margin are both better than those of Northern Iowa. But the Panthers dominated a decent Missouri Valley Conference in 2010, going 15-3 thanks to their impressive defense and grind-it-out pace (342nd fastest in the nation, out of 347 and slowest in the NCAA field of 65). Big men Jordan Eglseder and Lucas O'Rear may not look like elite players, but the pair helped Northern Iowa to the seventh-best Offensive Rebound Rate in the country this season. The Panthers' weak spot is point guard, where junior Kwadzo Ahelegbe misses too many shots and commits too many turnovers.
UNLV is a balanced team that plays at an average pace. Wing Tre'Von Willis is the Runnin' Rebels' most efficient and active player, posting a 54.2 eFG% and using 29.5 percent of the team's possessions. UNLV is relentless on defense: It recorded the nation's second most steals per possession, thanks largely to Chace Stanback and Anthony Marshall. On offense, the Runnin' Rebels succeed by taking care of the ball. Guards Willis, Oscar Bellfield and Derrick Jasper all boast Assist Rates better than 20 percent and Turnover Rates less than 20 percent. If Northern Iowa pulls the minor upset, it will do it on the glass. The Panthers have two elite rebounders, while UNLV has rangy athletes but no true glass-cleaners.
http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2010/Mar/15/unlv.jpg UNLV's Anthony Marshall celebrates a dunk — AP Photo
The talent gap betwen No. 10 seed Georgia Tech and No. 7 seed Oklahoma State is not substantial. The Cowboys' skill is concentrated on the perimeter with guards James Anderson and Obi Muonelo while the Yellow Jackets' best players are posts Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors.
In such an evenly matched game, style of play could end up being the deciding factor. Georgia Tech has allowed opponents to score a larger portion of their points on three-pointers than the national average, and as anyone who watched Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tournament can attest, the Cowboys like to shoot from long range. Muonelo made 42.9 percent of his three-point attempts while Anderson and Keiton Page both posted above-average percentages.
If Georgia Tech asserts itself inside, it could advance to face (presumably) Ohio State. Lawal and Favors combine to use nearly 50 percent of the Yellow Jackets' possessions during their playing time and each scores at a solid rate. Both are excellent rebounders and shot-blockers, as well.
The Region's Best...
Ohio State's do-it-all guard Evan Turner is the best player in college basketball. The 6-foot-7 point-forward shoots often, shoots well, rebounds, distributes, blocks shots and steals possessions. The only hole in Turner's game is his iffy three-point shooting, but Buckeye teammates Jon Diebler and David Lighty make up for that with their own long-distance gunnery.
http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2010/Mar/15/turner.jpg Ohio State's National Player of the Year favorite Evan Turner — AP Photo
The Midwest Region has some good ones:
• Kansas Jayhawks — fictional; unexplained pilgrim shoes
• UNLV Runnin' Rebels — mustachioed mascot
• Maryland Terrapins — creative turtle name
• Georgetown Hoyas — also fictional
• Lehigh Mountain Hawks — Combining two great things (i.e. mountains, hawks) is a recipe for unbridled greatness.
The quality of teams in the Midwest doesn't really start to taper off until No. 12 seed New Mexico State, but Kansas stands above all else as the clear-cut favorite. Ohio State and Maryland are outstanding but one-dimensional, Georgetown is inconsistent, and Michigan State lacks the pure talent to make a serious push this season. KU's 32-2 record speaks for itself.