NCAA tournament Midwest Region preview: Can anyone stop top seed Houston?

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Houston guard Marcus Sasser (0) reacts after scoring a three point basket against East Carolina during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament, Friday, March 10, 2023, in Fort Worth, Texas. Houston won 60-46. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

You have probably been told to pick upsets early in your NCAA tournament bracket before settling for chalk in the later rounds. That is especially true in the Midwest Region this year, which will have its Sweet 16 and Elite Eight take place in Kansas City, Missouri, during the second weekend.

Houston is the No. 1 seed and seems poised to complete a storybook season by ending up in its own city for the Final Four. Kelvin Sampson’s squad lost the American Athletic Conference tournament championship game to Memphis on Selection Sunday, but that was without their best player in Marcus Sasser. With Sasser expected to be back, the Cougars (No. 1 team in KenPom analytic rankings) should be able to take advantage of a favorable path.

The Texas Longhorns, who won the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City last weekend, appear to be Houston’s biggest challenger as the No. 2 seed in the Midwest. But Rodney Terry’s bunch will have Xavier (No. 3 seed), Iowa State (No. 6), and Penn State (No. 10) in its way before a trip to the Elite Eight.

Opening weekend is when the real fun will take place in this region, as I expect a pair of double-digit seeds to win their opening-round matchup. Drake (No. 12 seed) is capable of pulling off an upset over Miami as a short underdog on Friday, and Kent State (No. 13 seed) got an ideal draw with Indiana. I am expecting the Golden Flashes to make it to the second weekend.

Best regional values: If not Houston, Texas at +375 to win the Midwest.

Biggest first-round upset: (12) Drake over (5) Miami, (13) Kent State over (4) Indiana, and (10) Penn State over (7) Texas A&M

Regional final: (1) Houston vs. (2) Texas

Headed to Houston: Houston

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