2021 NCAA Tournament Region Breakdown (Midwest): Can Anyone Stop Illinois From Making The Final Four?

I’ll be looking at each region over the next couple of days as the NCAA Tournament gets ready to tip. We’ll look at matchups to watch, previews, picks, players to watch and what team could be a sleeper to come out of each region.  I’ll be releasing my entire bracket on Thursday morning so there won’t be a ton of revealing here. 

Midwest Region


1. Can anyone stop Illinois? Illinois is arguably the hottest team in the country. They have the best inside-out duo in Ayo and Kofi. They have Trent Frazier, the exact sort of dude you see in every Final Four. The freshmen are all improving. They have been in Indianapolis for the Big 10 Tournament and are already used to quarantine life there. Their draw isn't the easiest but from a matchup standpoint they can play with anyone. 

2. Moses Wright missing the first weekend is massive - Georgia Tech will be without ACC POY Moses Wright. He was a complete mismatch for Loyola and can play with Krutwig. They don't have that now. Not only that but he's the type of guy that has given Kofi fits in the past with his ability to draw him away from the rim. 

3. What the hell is happening on the bottom half of the bracket - This is where shit can get wild. I'm convinced that San Diego State will lose to Syracuse or make the Elite Eight. We've seen Syracuse win as an 11 seed before. Houston has a favorable draw to the Sweet 16, but I don't trust them. West Virginia should be better, but they just can't string wins together. There's a ton of shit in the bottom half of the bracket that can get out of whack fast. 

4. The Cade Cunningham show - It's not even a debate that Cade Cunningham is the most talented player in the country and that Oklahoma State shouldn't be a 4 seed. They get a Liberty team in the first round that runs the packline defense since Ritchie McKay comes from Tony Bennett's staff. Then Tennessee/Oregon State. Both set up fine for them to get to the Sweet 16 where we hopefully will see Cade vs Illinois. He's good enough to get them to a Final Four, but it feels wrong not seeing that game in the Elite Eight. 

5. Can Oregon State stay hot - They were the 5 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament and won the whole damn thing. They have talent on the roster - most notably Ethan Thompson. They run a unique zone that they'll mix up and we know Tennessee's offense is inconsistent at best. Can a team who won a Power conference tournament pull off an upset? 

Players to Watch: 

There are a couple ways to look at this, but I’m looking at this strictly as an intrigue factor. These are players that could be lottery picks in the NBA Draft, could put a team on their back or are just flat out good players

1. Cade Cunningham (Oklahoma State) - Duh, who else would we lead off with? 

2. Ayo Dosunmu (Illinois) - Again, duh, who would be in the top-2 here? Ayo is the best closer in the game and sure you can argue he gets tunnel vision but he also flat out wins games for Illinois. He's also a way better shooter than anyone tends to give him credit for right off the bat. 

3. Matt Mitchell (San Diego State) - He's averaging 15.5 and 5.5 rebounds, good numbers but not going to jump out. That said, San Diego State lost some games with him injured. He's vital to what they want to do. He shoots 37% from three and can be the focal point against the Syracuse zone. They'll run him as the small ball 4 and really gives a unique mismatch. 

4. Deuce McBride (West Virginia) - This isn't your standard WVU team. They press, but it's not Press Virginia. They also play uptempo and they can flat out score. They are awesome on offense and most of that is due to Deuce McBride. When Oscar transferred it let them go 4-out 1-in with Culver and really opened up space for McBride to drive. They have shooters around him too most notably McNeil, but McBride is how WVU gets to the Final Four. 

5. Quentin Grimes (Houston) - You remember the name. McDonald's All-American who went to Kansas and had a huge game in his first ever game against Michigan State in the Champions Classic. Then he fizzled out and transferred to Houston. In year 2 at Houston he turned into an All-American. Having that sort of talent at Houston is huge. Yes their resume isn't great, but the guard play is fantastic. 

Other names: Ron Harper Jr (Rutgers), Aamir Sims (Clemson), Cam Krutwig (Loyola Chicago), Jose Alvarado (Georgia Tech), Jaden Springer (Tennessee) 


Best 1st Round Matchup

No. 6 San Diego State vs No. 11 Syracuse

The line is extremely low, especially for a 6/11 game. Syracuse always seems to show up for the NCAA Tournament after a below average year. The 2-3 zone isn't shit this year but San Diego State still needs to hit shots. Throw in the fact there's the whole missing last year when SDSU would have been a top-2 seed and a lot of these guys returned and there's some built up tension for the Tournament. 

Most likely to reach the Final Four

1. Illinois

2. WVU

3. Oklahoma State

4. Houston

5. San Diego State

6. Tennessee

7. Georgia Tech

8. Loyola Chicago

9. Syracuse

10. Clemson

11. Rutgers

12. Oregon State

13. Liberty

14. Morehead State

15. Cleveland State

16. Drexel

Team underseeded: Oklahoma State (4)

Team overseeded: Houston (2), WVU (3)

Matchup you want to see: No. 1 Illinois vs No. 4 Oklahoma State in the Sweet 16

Most likely first round upset: No. 11 over No. 6 San Diego State

Best value prop bet on Barstool Sportsbook: West Virginia +335 to make the Elite 8