NCAA Tournament

Midwest is Louisville’s region to lose

Updated: 2013-03-18T02:07:16Z

By BLAIR KERKHOFF

The Kansas City Star

The first bracket mystery of the NCAA Tournament was unveiled right off the top — Louisville would be the overall No. 1 seed.

It’s the right call, with the Cardinals winning the Big East tournament and Indiana falling in the Big Ten semifinals to Wisconsin. This makes Louisville the tournament favorite, but the endorsement isn’t as strong as last year’s for Kentucky.

Still, Louisville coach Rick Pitino has to love how his team is playing. The Cardinals ride a 10-game winning streak. Their only loss in the last 14 games was a five-overtime defeat at Notre Dame. Their trapping defense turns games quickly, and the backcourt of Russ Smith (18.1 points per game) and Peyton Siva (10.0 points, 5.9 assists) ranks with the nation’s best.

The question is offense. Do the Cardinals have enough to return to the Final Four?

The bracket is a tough one. Second-seeded Duke finished as the nation’s top RPI team, but a loss in the ACC quarterfinals to Maryland knocked the Blue Devils from a No. 1 seed. But Duke, which spent five weeks this season atop the Associated Press poll, is a dangerous team, especially with the recent return of Ryan Kelly.

At times, third-seeded Michigan State looked like the Big Ten’s best team. But a late-season three-game losing streak dropped the Spartans from title contention.

Fourth-seeded Saint Louis is one of college basketball’s best stories. Coach Rick Majerus left the team for health concerns before the season and died in December. Jim Crews superbly navigated through that difficult situation and steered the Billikens to the Atlantic-10 regular season and tournament championships.

The 5-12 game matches Oklahoma State, led by Big 12 player of the year Marcus Smart, against Pac-12 tournament champion Oregon, coached by Dana Altman. The Ducks deserved a better bracket placement.

Keep an eye on seventh-seeded Creighton, led by Missouri Valley player of the year Doug McDermott. The Blue Jays won the regular season and conference tournament.

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to bkerkhoff@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.

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