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Midwest Region: Tough test for No. 1 Louisville

This year’s Midwest Regional in the NCAA basketball tournament has the nation’s No. 1 seed the Louisville Cardinals. Going into the tournament the Cardinals are the team to beat and the odds on favorite. However, with the likes of Duke, Michigan State, dark horse Oklahoma State and Memphis this bracket will be no push over for the Cardinals.

Louisville is 29-5 on the season and has won its last 10 consecutive games. Two of the most important qualities on a national championship team are senior leadership and backcourt experience and Louisville’s Head Coach Rick Pitino has both in seniors Russ Smith and Peyton Siva.

Smith is averaging a team high 18 points a game, while Siva scores 10 per game, but hands out 6 assists each game. More importantly, the two are what ignites the patented Pitino press, one of the nation’s toughest presses to crack.

Duke lost just five games all season, four in the ACC. However, they had strong wins over Ohio State, Miami, UK and the region’s No. 1 seed Louisville. With Ryan Kelly back from a foot injury, the Blue Devils are rounding into postseason form. With senior leader Mason Plumlee and sharpshooter Seth Curry, the team will be a tough match for Louisville if they both reach the regional final.

Michigan State has had its problems in the latter part of the season, but with tough rebounding and a suffocating defense, the Spartans are never out of a game. In their past 10 games, the Spartans are just 6-4, but this season they have beaten Michigan, Ohio State and Kansas.

Saint Louis has been given a No. 4 seed in the region as they have lost just 6 games all season and are 9-1 in their past 10 games. Saint Louis has defeated VCU twice this season and Butler on three occasions. The team is being helped by the incentive to prove to late coach Rick Majerus they can win. Majerus died suddenly last December.

The dark horse for this region is Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are 24-8 on the season with big wins over North Carolina State, Kansas State and Kansas. However, they did lose to Kansas and Kansas State the second time they played them as well as Gonzaga. Nevertheless, the team is playing well and playing in their first NCAA Tournament since 2010. The Cowboys were 11-2 finishing the regular season, before losing to the Kansas Jayhawks in the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament.

Not to be left out is Memphis. The Tigers won 30 games this season including wins over Tennessee and Ohio. They were undefeated during their Conference USA schedule going 16-0 and won the conference tournament for the third straight season. Their biggest loss of the season was to Louisville, but their other three were to mediocre opponents – Xavier, Minnesota and VCU. However, they have lost just once since December 15. If Oklahoma State is the dark horse in this region, Memphis is darker horse.

The tournament starts tonight with two First Four games and one is in this region with Middle Tennessee State taking on Saint Mary’s.

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