Photo courtesy of Jeremy Brevard – USA TODAY Sports
It’s Madness Time ladies and gentleman, and with that comes Bracket Challenge season. I spend the entire week leading into the tournament doing bracketology, and in this series I’ll be giving you my entire 2021 Bracket Predictions as the opening tip draws near.
Each day we’ll run through my key thoughts on a specific region, and today we’ve got the Heartland of America, the Midwest. I’ll update each post with links to the other regions as they come out, so if you haven’t gotten the chance to check out the West, East, or Midwest then you’ll be able to find them as soon as the hyperlink appears on the region.
Trader’s Projected Midwest Region Bracket
This is My Favorite Region
Before we get into some other reasons, the wholistic reason above all other reasons for tis being my favorite region is the residency of the Ohio State Buckeyes. Now, it may seem like a homer pick but hear me out as there are some big reasons which make this pick not only tolerable, but potentially the difference between finishing in the money for your office pool and not.
This Ohio State team is as good as any in the country at times. Just weeks ago, the Buckeyes were in a matchup vs. Michigan for the 3rd ranking in the AP Poll, and if they are able to round back into that form then you’d be nuts to not consider them a contender. The Big Ten Tournament, while stressful at times, gave me all the reassurance in the world that this team is capable of competing to the bitter end with every team in the country. Unfortunately, that means every team, not just the great ones.
The biggest fault that I’ve noticed with this team thus far is their inability to close out blowouts. With multiple double-digit leads blown last weekend, it became nearly impossible to breathe until the final whistle blew. Despite this, the gutty performance in the final against Illinois lead me to believe that the team doesn’t panic when the going gets tough, and that’s the true mark of a contender vs. a pretender in my eyes.
Not only does the team have fight, they also have two of the best players in the country in EJ Liddell and Duane Washington Jr. I’ve said it for months now, but Washington is the best guard in the country when he’s hot, and he’s been hot for essentially two consecutive months at this point so I can’t see that changing much ahead of the biggest games of his career thus far. As for Liddell, the All-Big Ten First Teamer looks to rebound from a relatively poor tournament showing, and what better way to start than with a Summit League team such as Oral Roberts.
When the two are on in tandem, there’s nobody in the field that will beat this team. The Buckeye’s kryptonite from day one of the season has been the lack of a true big to battle with the likes of Kofi Cockburn and Hunter Dickinson. That’s where I think Kyle Young can leave his mark for this team should they make the run that I believe they will. Young’s physicality is unmatched for this roster, and the defense often goes as he does. If these three can play to their potential, and receive typical performances from CJ Walker, Justice Sueing, and Zed Key, then this team is going all the way.
Aside from the Buckeyes, the potential Arkansas vs. Texas Tech, and Arkansas vs. Ohio State matchups will be some of the most fun of the tournament. Winthrop has an opportunity to make a run starting against a Villanova team missing their best player, and I think the Eagles are going to take advantage of that. The Purdue vs. Winthrop game that I’m projecting could be one of the games of the tournament in all actuality, as the fourth-seeded Boilermakers have one of the better guards in the Big Ten in Jaden Ivey. I have Winthrop sneaking by, but that game could be one to remember for years to come.
I realize that I never got beyond the fact that I love this region, but hopefully my reasoning made you love it on the same level that I do. Our Ben Larsen wrote an in depth preview of Arkansas’ matchup with Colgate, and with experts like Seth Davis picking the Raiders, it’s a great look at why the Razorbacks may have something to say about a potential upset.
This is far and away the region that I’m most excited to watch in the coming weeks, and you may just be surprised with how hot these Buckeyes are going to come into these early rounds. Make sure to check back every day to keep up with all the Bracketology at the Trader Talks Sports Network!