The 2010 NCAA Tournament - Sweet 16 Breakdown: Midwest Regional
The Midwest was supposed to be the tournament's toughest region.
While it has lived up to those expectations, it's done so in a way few of us predicted. Of the four pods in the Midwest Region, only one saw the highest seeded team - Ohio State - advance. The Midwest has also been home to the two most stunning upsets of the tournament, Ohio beating Georgetown and Northern Iowa knocking off Kansas.
What's left - other than the smoking remains of my bracket (and probably yours, too) - is far from chalk, but that doesn't mean we won't have some excitement in St. Louis.
Friday: 7:07 p.m. ET: (9) Northern Iowa vs. (5) Michigan State
Michigan State is banged up, and that's probably putting it delicately. Kalin Lucas is done for the year after rupturing his achilles tendon this past Sunday. Chris Allen is nursing an injured foot. Delvon Roe was noticeably limping during the Spartans' second-round game against Maryland. Heck, Raymor Morgan is even done one front tooth after catching a wayward elbow trying to block a shot.
It puts Michigan State in a familiar spot. It seems like the Spartans are at their best playing the role of the plucky underdog, battling against the odds to make a tournament run. Last year, they beat two number-one seeds and the defending national champs (Kansas, in the Sweet 16) to make a run to the title game, playing for a state that has been hit hard by the economic swoon in a city (Detroit) that epitomized the economic problems in our country.
This year, the Spartans have battled injury and leadership issues before losing the 2009 Big Ten Player of the Year (Lucas) in the first half against the ACC co-champion. Yet here they are, once again, in the Sweet 16.
Having said all that, it is difficult to label the Spartans as the underdog in this case. Thanks to the ballsy shooting of Ali Farokhmanesh, Northern Iowa has been fitted with Cinderella's glass slipper, and it seems to fit very well.
Northern Iowa plays in the scrappy Missouri Valley. While the Panthers haven't exactly been a favorite on the national radar all season long, most of the people who know anything about college basketball have been keeping an eye on this team since November.
The Panthers are a tough, senior-laden team. They play defense. They control tempo. They aren't a group that is going to get pushed around by anyone, they don't play with fear no matter the opponent. All of this was evident against Kansas, and it wasn't just the Sultan of Swish firing ill-advised three-balls. It was 7-foot, 280-pound Jordan Eglseder knocking down a pair of threes and Lucas O'Rear bullying his way through the paint against players that actually look like athletes, not the bouncer at an Irish pub.
That mindset is going to put pressure on the Spartans. It's not easy to score on Northern Iowa. The Panthers are going to be bigger inside than Michigan State and they have a couple of good defenders on the perimeter. The Spartans, if they are to win, are going to need to beat UNI down the floor for easy baskets, and they are going to need big games out of Morgan and Durrell Summers. If there is anywhere that Michigan State has an advantage, it is athleticism; the Spartans must take advantage of it.
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Friday: 9:37 pm: (6) Tennessee vs. (2) Ohio State
The Volunteers had a bit of a break in reaching the Sweet 16. After dispatching a tough San Diego State squad in the first round, the Vols played the Ohio Bobcats in the second round, cruising to a victory when Bobcat scorers D.J. Cooper and Armon Bassett finally cooled off.
Tennessee is an underdog against Ohio State, and if there is anything that Bruce Pearl has taught us this year, it is that he thrives while coaching an underdog. Ask Kansas and Kentucky - they found out the hard way.
The Vols actually match up really well with Ohio State. Like the Buckeyes, Tennessee has a bunch of kids on its roster that are around 6'6" and play on the perimeter. If you want to beat Ohio State, you have to slow down their star, a kid named Evan Turner. Ever heard of him?
There really should be no discussion as to who the best player in the country is. You don't need pundits to recite the ridiculous numbers he has put up this year. You shouldn't need experts to tell you how much he does for this Ohio State team on a nightly basis, from scoring to rebounding, and from creating shots for teammates to playing defense. What you may not know, however, is that Turner does what every great point does - he makes his teammates so much better.
Jon Diebler can shoot the lights out, but he isn't much more than a typical three-point shooter at this level. William Buford may one day end up on an NBA roster, but he is still a guy that, right now, is at his best coming off of screens, spotting up for jumpers, and using a pump fake to slash to the basket. He's not yet a guy that can consistently create his own shot (think Rip Hamilton). Dallas Lauderdale will block a shot, grab a rebound, and dunk the ball. David Lighty can play in any system, but he is more of a scrappy glue guy than a star; an athlete that happens to play basketball.
Each one of these guys is a solid player. Playing with Turner makes each of them into a legitimate threat offensively.
But as was said earlier, Tennessee is well-equipped to handle Turner. With guys like J.P. Prince and Cam Tatum and Scotty Hopson, the Vols have a number of tall, lanky defenders to throw at him. Slow down Turner, and Tennessee can win this game.
That's easier said than done, however.
By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer