The Louisville Cardinals finished strong, winning 13 of their last 14 games—with the lone loss coming in five overtimes at Notre Dame on Feb. 9. That, along with the Big East tournament title the Cardinals picked up on Saturday, was enough to secure the top overall seed in this year’s 68-team field.
That being said, the tournament selection committee didn’t do the Cardinals any favors with their placement in the Midwest Region.
This region is loaded, with a capital “L.” There’s traditional powers—between Louisville’s Rick Pitino, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, there are 22 Final Four appearances and six national titles.
The top 10 seeds in the region all spent time in the Associated Press Top 25 this season, as did No. 12 seed Oregon.
Two teams will be waiting for their first opponents. Louisville gets the winner of Tuesday night’s tournament opener between the No. 16 seeds, North Carolina A&T and Liberty, while No. 6 seed Memphis draws the winner of Tuesday’s intriguing matchup between the No. 11 seeds, Middle Tennessee and Saint Mary’s.
There are some defensive stalwarts in this bracket as well. Michigan State, the No. 3 seed, is renowned for its defensive work, while No. 4 seed Saint Louis is also known for its defense and deliberate pace. No. 7 Creighton and No. 10 Cincinnati will match up the nation’s second-leading scorer, Doug McDermott, against one of the top defensive squads in the nation in the Bearcats.
Other second round matchups include No. 9 Missouri and No. 8 Colorado State, one of the top rebounding teams in America; No. 5 Oklahoma State plays No. 12 Oregon and Saint Louis takes on No. 13 New Mexico State complete the top of the bracket.
The bottom of the Midwest includes Michigan State and No. 14 Valparaiso, the aforementioned Creighton-Cincinnati clash and Duke, the No. 2 seed, taking on No. 15 Albany a year after the Blue Devils were bounced as a second seed by 15th-seeded Lehigh.
Players to watch in this region include Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, Saint Louis forward Dwayne Evans, point guard Peyton Siva of Louisville and super-shooter Seth Curry of Duke.
While Louisville is the best team in the region, it will be a gauntlet the Cardinals will likely have to run to emerge as the winner of the Midwest. They have potential dates upcoming with Saint Louis in the Sweet 16 and a possible matchup with Michigan State or a rematch with Duke in the regional final.
While Oregon, the Pac-12 tournament champion, is not a traditional Cinderella, the committee seeded the Ducks as such with the insulting No. 12 designation and thus, Oregon is a team to watch out for.
Creighton was on the fringe of the top 10 early in the season before stumbling a bit in the middle of the year.
But at the end of the day, no team in the country is playing as well as Louisville has over the last month or more and that should be enough to push Pitino and the Cardinals back to the Final Four for a second straight year.