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2007 NCAA Tournament Midwest teams to watch

16 Mar 2007

By Jordan Walters Contributing Writer

UNITED STATES – (PRESS RELEASE) -- To me, the team with the easiest road to the NCAA Tournament Final Four is in the Midwest Region, and that's defending champion and top-seeded Florida. The Gators had a rough stretch in February, where it looked like they were all dreaming of future NBA riches instead of concentrating on defending their title, but last weekend's steamrolling of the SEC Tournament proved otherwise.

Florida could have as many as four NBA first-round picks if they chose to make themselves eligible in guard Taurean Green, forwards Al Horford and Corey Brewer, and center Joakim Noah. At least two of them will probably turn pro after this season, and the team is gunning to be the first back-to-back champ since Duke in 1992, so the Gators will be playing like it's their final game together every single time.

To be honest, I don't see many other teams that have a shot to unseat the Gators. No. 2 seed Wisconsin probably has the best chance, as senior forward and player of the year candidate Alando Tucker could cause Florida some problems were the Badgers and Gators to meet in the conference finals.

No. 4 Maryland is probably the only other team that I see that has a chance to beat Florida, and the Terps' first-round loss to Miami in the ACC Tournament gave fiery Coach Gary Williams plenty of ammunition to use as motivation to fire up the Terps. Williams, who led his alma mater to the NCAA Basketball Championship in 2002, knows how to get his players mentally ready to play. His problem is going to be lack of talent and big guys to guard the Gators should they meet in the Sweet 16.

The Midwest actually has on their schedule a couple of teams to watch that could become this year's George Mason and make a deep run. Both 12th seed Old Dominion and 11th seed Winthrop have had fantastic seasons and are primed to upset some big boys in the next week or two. ODU had a 12-game winning streak going into the CAA Tournament, where it was upset by George Mason. Like Maryland, I could see this loss being one of the best things that happens to the Monarchs, as it will get them re-focused. They could actually face the Terps in the second round if they can get by fifth-seed Butler. If they got by the Terps, they would most likely run into Florida, however, and I think their journey would end there. Winthrop hasn't lost a game since Jan. 2 (to Texas A&M), and its only other losses on the year were all on the road to Top 25 major conference teams (North Carolina, Maryland, Wisconsin). The Eagles have a very nice draw as well, with a first-round matchup against an underwhelming Notre Dame team, then a possible matchup against third-seed Oregon, which is basically a 3-point shooting machine kind of team. If the Ducks go cold, I could easily see Winthrop winning that one, and if it was to play Wisconsin in the Sweet 16, the Eagles have a shot there as well. If I had to pick one team to play this year's Cinderella, it would be the Eagles.

I look for the Midwest to be won by Florida, but we could see many of the exciting stories of the tournament coming from those underrated teams like Winthrop and Old Dominion.

Visit and play on our 2007 March Madness Bracket Buster challenge.

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