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NCAA tournament preview: Midwest Region

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1 Wichita State (34-0, Missouri Valley champion) vs.

16 Play-in winner 1 (below)

The Shockers have the experience from last year's run to the Final Four, plus they can shoot, are big and physical, and have a crafty point guard in sophomore Fred VanVleet.

8 Kentucky (24-10, at-large) vs.

9 Kansas State (20-12, at-large)

Kentucky has had a disappointing season by Kentucky standards, but the Wildcats remain dangerous, as top-ranked Florida found out in the Southeastern Conference tournament final.

5 St. Louis (26-6, at-large) vs.

12 Play-in winner 2 (below)

After a tough loss to undefeated Wichita State, St. Louis had a 19-game winning streak before losing four of its last five. Seniors Dwayne Evans and Jordair Jett are top producers.

4 Louisville (29-5, American Athletic champion) vs.

13 Manhattan (25-7, MAAC champion)

Russ Smith is Louisville's top scorer, but Cardinals also have Montrezl Harrell (14.2 points, 8.2 rebounds). George Beamon paces Manhattan with averages of 19.4 points and 6.6 rebounds

6 Massachusetts (24-8, at-large) vs.

11 Play-in winner 3 (below)

Where have you gone, John Calipari? (Oh yeah, he's now at Kentucky.) This is Umass' first trip to the tournament since 1998, and it has lost three of five games. A No. 6 seed?

3 Duke (26-8, at-large) vs.

14 Mercer (26-8, Atlantic Sun champion)

These teams have the same record and entirely different pedigrees. Mercer is in its first NCAA tournament since 1985. Duke has missed one tournament since 1985.

7 Texas (23-10, at-large) vs.

10 Arizona State (21-11, at-large)

Texas has wins over Iowa State and Kansas, and at North Carolina. Arizona State has 7-2 Jordan Bachynski, the nation's top shot blocker, and sophomore Jahii Carson, All-Pac-12 twice.

2 Michigan (25-8, at-large) vs.

15 Wofford (20-12, Southern champion)

Big Ten regular-season champ Michigan had won seven straight but was no match for Michigan State in tournament final. Wofford has never won an NCAA tournament game.

PLAY-IN 1

Cal Poly (13-19, Big West champion) vs.

Texas Southern (19-4, SWAC champion)

Cal Poly lost nine of its last 11 regular-season games, then blew away the top-seeded teams at the Big West tournament. Now the Mustangs must slow 6-10 Aaric Murray, the SWAC player of the year.

PLAY-IN 2

North Carolina State (21-13, at-large) vs.

Xavier (21-12 at-large)

N.C. State has the advantage inside with T.J. Warren, whose 24.8-point average is third in nation. Xavier has a top point guard in sophomore Semaj Christon.

PLAY-IN 3

Iowa (20-12, at-large) vs.

Tennessee (21-12, at-large)

Iowa is stumbling, having lost six of seven. Tennessee, led by Jarnell Stokes, who averages 14.7 points and 10.3 rebounds, has closed strongly.

Inspecting the top seeds

1 WICHITA STATE: The Shockers won't be sneaking up on anyone. Wichita State is the first team to enter the tournament with a perfect record since Nevada Las Vegas in 1991.

2 MICHIGAN: Fundamentally sound Big Ten regular-season champion is statistically among the nation's best in team free-throw shooting and assist-to-turnover ratio.

3 DUKE: Blue Devils favorably placed in close-to-home Raleigh, N.C., for opening rounds.

4 LOUISVILLE: What does a defending national champion have to do to nab a No. 1 or 2 seed? The Cardinals won 29 games and are riding a five-game winning streak.

Cinderella search

Tennessee had won five in a row — four by double digits — before blowing a 10-point lead in the second half against top-ranked Florida in a Southeastern Conference tournament semifinal.

Top players

Jabari Parker, forward, Duke

A 6-foot-8 freshman, he leads the Blue Devils with averages of 19.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per game and is projected to be a top-three pick in the next NBA draft.

Julius Randle, forward, Kentucky

Another freshman projected to be an NBA lottery pick, the 6-9 forward leads the Wildcats with averages of 15.0 points and 10.5 rebounds.

Russ Smith, guard, Louisville

When the 6-0 senior gets going, teammates say he can be "Russdiculous" — like when he scored 42 points against Houston in an American Athletic Conference tournament semifinal.

Rim shots

Three of the top four seeded teams in this regional were Final Four participants last year. The exception: Duke.

Aaric Murray, a 6-10 center who leads Texas Southern with averages of 21.2 points and 7.7 rebounds, is playing for his third school. He started at LaSalle but decided to transfer after a season. He was then arrested, hooked on at West Virginia, was arrested again, was suspended for a team rules violation, was dismissed from school and landed at Texas Southern.

Wofford probably needs all the help it can get against Michigan, and the Terriers have a coach on their staff who could potentially provide some insight into Michigan Coach John Beilein's game plan. Wofford assistant Darris Nichols was Beilein's point guard at West Virginia.

mike.hiserman@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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