Heading into the tournament, the Midwest appeared to “chalk” heavy, with the top four seeds expected to advance to the Sweet 16. That held true for the most part, but #7 seed Michigan busted up the heavyweight party. Kansas and Oregon have an opportunity to restore order by advancing to the Elite Eight as the highest seeds remaining in the region, while Michigan and Purdue could set up a B1G showdown, guaranteeing a conference rep in the Final Four.
Blitzed by Moritz
Michigan pulled off the upset over #2 seed Louisville on Sunday by going with a heavy dose of Moritz Wagner. Whereas the Cardinals chose to go away from everything that was working in squandering a nine point second half lead, Michigan repeatedly went to Wagner. Time and time again the Wolverines set up pick and roll opportunities to exploit Louisville’s switching defense, leaving Wagner isolated on smaller defenders. John Beilein executed on the under used mantra of running the same play until the opponent stops it. The Cardinals never did, and Michigan is now set up for the Sweet 16 showdown with Oregon. It’ll be interesting if Beilein will be able to utilize as much of Moritz against the athletic frontcourt of Oregon, or if the three-point barrage which was missing for much of the game against Louisville will be the weapon of choice.
Big Man Boiling Over
It’s no surprise that as Purdue has found its way to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament that Caleb Swanigan has by and large been the driving force behind it. Swanigan has absolutely gone ballistic, displaying all the prowess which made him a blue-chip recruit; and now has him emerging as an absolute star. After hitting Vermont with 16 points and 14 rebounds in the Round of 64, he dropped 20 and 12 on Iowa State, along with an astonishing 7 assists. The Boilermakers are facing a different animal in the Kansas Jayhawks. Bill Self’s team has been playing at a high level which is expected of a #1 seed. As I mentioned prior to the tournament, the one possible sore spot for the Jayhawks is in the frontcourt. Swanigan has enough help in the frontcourt to allow him to continue the tear that he’s on. Don’t bet against the big man from being the difference maker if Purdue upends Kansas.
Putting the Chalk in Rock Chalk
March is the time of year when it can become en vogue for bracket filler-outers to pick against Kansas. There have been several occasions where it would make sense to do so; and it appeared that with a Round of 32 draw against Michigan State, that 2017 would be one of those occasions. The Jayhawks have shown through the first two rounds that was not a good idea. Not only has Kansas won, but the Jayhawks have won big. Not that anyone expected UC Davis to give Bill Self’s squad any fits, but many (myself included) thought that Tom Izzo’s Spartans would make the Rock Chalk faithful sweat a bit. Kansas has an awful lot of experience, particularly in the backcourt, where it matters most come tournament time. Frank Mason III is the catalyst, and he will be critical for the Jayhawks to continue to march on this March. Facing a Purdue team that has its legs underneath it, after such disappointment in last year’s tournament, will be no easy task.
No Ugly Ducklings
Dana Altman’s Oregon Ducks are the other remaining team in the Midwest, but that does not make them an afterthought. Oregon was another team that had some questions coming in to the Big Dance, and seemed susceptible to being bounced early. The Ducks are another example of experience paying off in large measure. Tyler Dorsey has been a beast in the first two games, and Dillon Brooks has been a steady star. Despite being on the ropes against Rhode Island much of the game on Sunday, the veteran Oregon crew found a way back, and wiggled into the Sweet 16. One of the biggest concerns – the loss of Chris Boucher – has not come back to bite the Ducks to this point. The players seem to have taken the route of motivation as opposed to desperation regarding their fallen teammate. The Ducks have the firepower and are more than capable of dispatching Michigan’s team of destiny.
The Elite Eight will be set in the Midwest by the close of business on Thursday night. The guard play of Kansas will provide enough of an edge to outlast Caleb Swanigan’s heroics, and the Jayhawks will send Purdue with some nice memories, but nothing more. Michigan on the other hand continues their path to destiny, at least for right now. Seniors Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin will provide the steady guidance, and Beilein will blitz the Ducks with more Moritz to shoot down Oregon. After getting their revenge on Louisville from the 2013 tourney, Michigan will give Kansas a crack at their own form of revenge from that same tournament. The Jayhawks and Wolverines will battle for a spot in Phoenix.
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