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2018 NCAA Tournament Preview: Midwest Region

It’s the return of ANONYMOUSLY THROUGH THE BRACKETS!

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NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Duke vs North Carolina Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

Sick of hard-hitting analysis of the 2018 NCAA Tournament? Up to your eyeballs in expert picks chock-full of astute takes on players to watch and budding upsets?

Fear not, friends: your pals at Anonymous Eagle are here to inject some half-baked, homespun “insight” into the proceedings, with our annual region-by-region tour, as we go Anonymously Through the Brackets.

For each region, we’ll give you our patented Anonymous Eagle Half-Arsed Analysis with: a gutless pick to win the region; a sleeper regional champ; a CRUSH YOUR MAN upset special; a player/team we’d pay to watch; a player most likely to carry his team singlehandedly to the Sweet 16; and the best player in the region that you’ve never heard of before.

Without further ado, here’s Ben on the Midwest.....


I’ve watched hours of basketball since November so I can make brief write-ups about the occasional observations I would make while watching. Actually, the unit of time that would be better is weeks. I’ve easily eclipsed 168 hours of basketball watching to this point. My roommates got legitimately mad at me when I requested that we watch the first round of the Atlantic Sun Tournament a couple weeks ago. I’m going to talk about the Midwest Region here as best as I can to try and give you some insight even though I’m assuredly directly competing against you in our bracket challenge group. (You have signed up, haven’t you?) Actually I’ll probably put in a couple lies to throw you off.

Let’s start off with Kansas. If Sean Miller, Stillman White and the members of the 2008 Davidson team not named Steph Curry didn’t exist, Bill Self would have the largest reputation of a tournament choker in the league. I’m not insanely confident that trend gets bucked this year. I won’t pay that much attention to the first round game against Penn, even though the Quakers (*saves “More like Penn Quackers” tweet in drafts*) are better than the average 16 seed.

I’m looking more at that second round matchup against Seton Hall.

Kansas has one big man in Udoka Azubuike. His dunks are as crazy as God telling Ezekiel to literally eat a scroll and has a running hook that he clearly learned after watching that Full House episode with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He also sprained his MCL recently. He should be good to play, but the last time an African center missed time in March for Kansas, they lost to Stanford without the help of Joel Embiid. That’s not the connection I’m making, though. Angel Delgado exists. He’s going to get boards and easy buckets if Doke isn’t 100%.

Bill Self also has the tendency to play his stars far too much in the regular season, leaving them tired than most players come March. Devonte’ Graham, AKA The Apostrophe, is the culprit this year. He’s played the 6th most minutes in the country this year and was 2-11 from three in the first two games of the Big 12 Tournament. He does have a higher floor than most players since his contributions rely more on his passing ability, plus I conveniently left out his 3-7 long range performance against West Virginia in the Big 8 final, but he has looked gassed recently. I wouldn’t put it past the Fighting Willards to pull off the second round upset.

Speaking of devastating injuries to bigs, this region has a lot of them. Donte Grantham of Clemson and Anfernee McLemore of Auburn are both out for the year. McLemore was becoming one of my favorite players because of his shot blocking ability, and he’s really going to be missed for Auburn. Grantham will be missed because Clemson already doesn’t have much size at the 4 spot and are having to patch Aamir Simms and David Skara into that spot. The interior offense has suffered as of late because of this.

Moving further, Duke’s defense has actually improved a ton since Coach K became a coward and transitioned to a full zone. They were godawful in a man and they’re now 7th in KenPom on that end while maintaining their elite offense. I’m not too worried about their depth issue since coaches normally play only 6/7 guys anyway in the tournament.

I wouldn’t get too hyped about a Rhode Island win. Rhody ended up lower in KenPom and T-Rank than Oklahoma Sooners as E.C. Matthews ended up being pretty disappointing battling through nagging injuries. Trae Young is still an incredible player. That really hasn’t changed. He can still absolutely grab a game by the balls and drag his team to the finish line.

Cassius Winston of Michigan State is sneakily one of the best players in the country. He kind of hides behind Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson, Jr., but that kid can let ‘em rip. Plus he rocks a headband. Sparty is one of two teams with a top 10 offense and defense, per KenPom. They do have a very vulnerable Achilles heel in their turnover rates. Offensively, they can’t hold onto the ball and they can’t force easy transition opportunities on defense. It’s led to a couple stinkers against Ohio State and Michigan. The good news for them is that none of their likely opponents are that well equipped to take advantage of that.

New Mexico State’s coach Chris Jans was a former assistant coach at Wichita State. He turned their 124th ranked defense last year to the 14th this year, while Wichita State went from 13 to 107. The “Play Angry” mantra played really well in the tournament, so watch out for something in their matchup against Clemson.

I kind of like watching TCU play since they’re basically Marquette, but I absolutely will not watch a game with Arizona State or Syracuse. Get that trash out of my face.

GUTLESS WONDER Pick To Win The Region

Duke. You have to play a perfect game to beat them.

CHEX BOLD PARTY MIX Bold Pick To Win

I really did enjoy watching Auburn play this year. While McLemore is a big loss, they have a bunch of other shot blockers and do a lot of the little things right. I’ll pick them. I will warn you that their style of play is similar to West Virginia’s except Auburn actually had a modicum of structure to them. They create a lot of offense off of turnovers (7.6% of shots occur within 10 seconds of a steal, compared to 8.2% by WVU) and they can be a bit stagnant if those aren’t happening. It’s an inherently risky style of play, but the reward has been there so far for the Tigers.

CRUSH YOUR MAN Upset Special

Go Aggies. My grade school football coach went to New Mexico State, so go ahead and take them over Clemson. I don’t know how he ended up in Overland Park, Kansas after that, but that’s a question for another day. Any connection to the 2013 Shockers is a plus for me. Jemerrio Jones has rebounding down to a science and they’re going to out-tough anyone they play.

Player & Team I’d Pay To Watch

Trae Young is literally the only reason Oklahoma is in the tournament. We need to be reminded of that, especially after the way they finished the year. I will never forgive the media for neutering him into not pulling up from half court every time down the floor. After defeating Kansas at home and keeping their spot in the top 10 for the time being, Trae spent his postgame interview apologizing to his fans for shooting too much. I almost started crying. No one should be told to stop shooting.

In terms of teams, Duke is the one I’d want to see. That’s mainly because I want to view Grayson Allen: Villain in person against Trae Young

The Chiropractor Special aka: Who Can Put The Team On His Back?

Trae Young is too easy, but the answer is, almost literally, him.

My other answer is Devonte’ Graham. Worries about his durability aside, he is an absolute horse. He’s the leader of the team, arguably their best defender, and he does seem to make a lot of clutch shots. Every close Kansas win has come in large part due to him elevating his game to another level. He’s a classic Bill Self guard and I hope to God he doesn’t go 2015 Villanova Wildcats on us again.

Best Guy You’ve Never Heard Of

I really like TCU’s Kenrich Williams. He’s the embodiment of every Jamie Dixon player ever. His main source of nourishment is rebounds and he drinks buckets when he wakes up every morning. He takes the third most threes and the second most twos on the team and is well above average at both. He has some good post moves for his size and is quick enough to get past slower bodies and is strong enough to back them down if they get physical. I probably just described every halfway decent 6’7” player, but he flew under the radar since TCU never made too much noise in the Big 12.

Enough about boring stuff like the way he plays basketball, can someone tell me what’s going on with his hair? Is that part of some neo-mullet trend I’m missing out on, or is that his head? I have no idea what it is, so please someone tell me so I can see my family again.