Midwest Region First-Round Preview and Predictions

March Madness is here and it is now time to break down some actual NCAA Tournament games for the first time since 2019. I will be breaking down the games in order of which they come, so early games will come first. Now let’s break down some Midwest Region games. 

1.Illinois vs. 16.Drexel

1:15 PM ET on TBS

The Illini are coming off a red-hot run through the Big Ten, where they won the league Tournament and earned the third overall one seed. They theoretically should win this game handily but they have shown themselves to overlook teams at times. The Drexel Dragons are also heading to the NCAA Tournament for this first time since 1996, thanks to a great run in the CAA Tournament as a six seed. Look for Illinois to keep this game unnecessarily close for a while, but eventually, they will win running away. 

Prediction: Illinois 81 Drexel 63

8.Loyola-Chicago vs. 9.Georgia Tech 

4 PM ET on TBS

The last time Loyola-Chicago made the NCAA Tournament they made a run to the Final Four, after a three-year hiatus, the Ramblers are back in the NCAA Tournament. The Ramblers rank Top-10 in the NET and KenPom, making a run to the Final Four of course in play. Meanwhile, Face Shield Josh Pastner, Jose Alvarado, and Moses Wright, just led Georgia Tech to the ACC Tournament Championship thanks to a win against Florida State. Unfortunately for the Yellow Jackets, Wright won’t be in action due to COVID-19 protocols. Given how both these teams are playing, you can argue that both of these teams are underseeded. The key for both teams will be dependent on Loyola-Chicago’s ability to avoid turnovers, if they do so they will win, if Jose Alvarado can get 3 steals in this game, Georgia Tech has a chance but the smart money’s on the Ramblers.

Prediction: Loyola-Chicago 71 Georgia Tech 62

5.Tennessee vs. 12.Oregon State

4:30 PM ET on TNT

Tennessee comes into this game with a questionable John Fulkerson and a very young team that has been inconsistent, to say the least. The Vols have seven players that are capable of leading them in scoring on any night, yet all of the players can have an off night. Oregon State earned an auto-bid by winning their first-ever Pac 12 Tournament Championship, Ethan Thompson and Jarod Lucas are good players but there’s a real concern as to whether they can continue this play in the NCAA Tournament. I have no idea who will show up in this game but talent favors the Volunteers, so give me them winning this game. 

Prediction: Tennessee 72 Oregon State 66

4.Oklahoma State vs. 13.Liberty

6:25 PM ET on TBS

The number one pick in the NBA Draft is in the NCAA Tournament, leading the Cowboys there for the first time since 2017. Cade Cunningham has been everything you could want, while roleplayers like Avery Anderson Isaac Likekele, and Kalib Boone have really stepped up nicely. Liberty lost a lot from last season but is back in the Tournament thanks to the improvement of Darius McGhee. I think Liberty has the potential to muck this game up but give me the Cowboys to run away with this one.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 77 Liberty 65

2.Houston vs. 15.Cleveland State

7:15 PM ET on TRUTV

The Houston Cougars are a team that has three really good guards in Quentin Grimes, Marcus Sasser, and Dejon Jarreau, and a group of rebound-dominating forwards, that will overpower teams. Credit to Dennis Gates and Cleveland State for making the NCAA Tournament in his second season leading the Vikings, Torrey Patton, and D’Moi Hodge have both been fantastic, but at the end of the day, Houston will run away with this one.

Prediction: Houston 76 Cleveland State 53

7.Clemson vs. 10.Rutgers

9:20 PM ET on TBS

Clemson has used experience and team defense to pick up some signature wins in order to get to this point. They also are coming off a really bad loss to Miami, so there are some major questions with this team. Rutgers is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 30 years thanks to a 10-10 record in Big Ten play. The Scarlet Knights are a team that is inconsistent but if they play their best basketball, they are dangerous. Give me Rutgers to win, I’ve said before that no matter what, I will be picking against Clemson in round one and I will stick to that. 

Prediction: Rutgers 66 Clemson 59

6.San Diego State vs. 11.Syracuse

9:40 PM ET on CBS

San Diego State is red-hot, winning 14 straight games, including the Mountain West Championship game. Matt Mitchell and Jordan Shackel have both been fantastic this season while leading the Aztecs to a high seed. Of course, Syracuse is a team that finished right on the bubble and a large reason for that is Buddy Boeheim. If this game was played in November-February, the easy pick is San Diego State but Syracuse is always due for a run that makes no sense. Look for Buddy Boeheim to drop 30 and lead Syracuse to a win against the Aztecs. 

Prediction: Syracuse 78 San Diego State 74

3.West Virginia vs. 14.Morehead State

9:50 PM ET on TRUTV

The West Virginia Mountaineers are known for being defensively focused, winning games of grit and toughness, well throw those narratives out the window. Miles McBride is a straight superstar, Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil are bucket getters as well, and Derek Culver mans the middle. Morehead State is looking to win an NCAA Tournament game for the first time since 2011. Johni Broome is a dominating freshman inside. I look for the Mountaineers to win a high-scoring game thanks to big games from McBride, McNeil, and Sherman, while Culver and Matthews slow down Morehead State’s freshman superstar. 

Prediction: West Virginia 83 Morehead State 74

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