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NCAA tournament preview: Midwest is bracket of death

The NCAA tournament bracket raised many eyebrows during Selection Sunday on March 16. It surprised no one that the unbeaten Wichita State Shockers led the Midwest bracket, in spite of the debate over their worthiness as an NCAA tournament favorite. Yet perhaps because they had the softest schedule of a No. 1 seed, the Shockers got the toughest bracket of all as a reward, as the Midwest was overloaded with blue bloods and familiar faces.

No. 1: Wichita State Shockers - Fred VanVleet, Shockers perhaps punished for easy schedule with toughest route of NCAA tournament. First game: vs Cal Poly or Texas Southern [March 21]
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Shockers get toughest road to cutting down nets in NCAA tournament
Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

The most familiar face to the Shockers was the Louisville Cardinals, who handed them their last loss in last season's Final Four. As it turns out, Wichita State can possibly get revenge in the Sweet 16, now that Louisville has the No. 4 seed in the Midwest. Given how the Cardinals blew out everyone in their conference tournament, finished in the top five and won it all last year, no one had them as a mere No. 4 seed -- except the NCAA selection committee.

Even before the Shockers can face the Cardinals again, they may have to face the 2012 NCAA tournament champions first. The Kentucky Wildcats had underachieved all season, but a No. 8 seed was lower than most expected -- especially after they came close to knocking off the No. 1 overall seeded Florida Gators for the SEC championship on March 16.

Yet the Shockers and Wildcats are on track for a third round meeting, which stands to be a popular "upset" pick. If Kentucky moves on, it could face arch-rival Louisville in a Sweet 16 battle between the last two national champions.

The bottom half of the Midwest bracket is barely less crowded, as the Michigan Wolverines and Duke Blue Devils slipped to the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds after losing their conference tournament finals. As it stands, the Midwest has three of last year's Final Four teams in the same bracket, with the Cardinals and Wolverines projected to have a national title game rematch in the Elite Eight.

The NCAA tournament has at least one bracket of death per year, and there was no question which one it was this season. The accompanying slideshow has a full list of the Midwest favorites and big names, which may be as much of a formidable group as the eventual Final Four.