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Midwest Regional Preview: Louisville will face an obstacle-laden path to Atlanta

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Louisville will be the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament (Getty Images)

The Dagger previews the Midwest Region of the 2013 NCAA tournament. Read our previews of the East, South and West.

Three who can carry their teams:

Marcus Smart, G, Oklahoma State

• Mason Plumlee, F, Duke

• Doug McDermott, F, Creighton

[The NCAA tournament is almost here, fill out your bracket now!]

Most intriguing opening round matchup: No. 5 Oklahoma State vs. No. 12 Oregon

It's a disservice to Oklahoma State having to face a team of Oregon's caliber in the opening round, but the upside to the committee seeding the Ducks incorrectly is it does make for an intriguing early matchup. Oregon isn't playing at the same level as it was when it started the season 18-2 before an injury to Dominic Artis, but the Ducks do have their starting point guard back and they were able to play well enough in Las Vegas last week to capture the Pac-12 tournament title. What Oregon does well is speed up its opponents, force turnovers and dominate the offensive glass. Considering the Ducks will have a supportive crowd in San Jose and plenty of motivation courtesy of the selection committee, Marcus Smart, LeBryan Nash and Oklahoma State will have to be at their best to avoid an upset.

Best potential round of 32 game: No. 6 Memphis vs. No. 3 Michigan State

Memphis hasn't won a game in the NCAA tournament under Josh Pastner, falling in the opening round to Arizona two years ago and to Saint Louis last year. But if the Tigers are able to escape either Middle Tennessee State or Saint Mary's in the opening round this season, their potential matchup with Michigan State in the round of 32 could be all kinds of fun. Even though Memphis didn't beat anyone of consequence in the regular season while amassing 30 wins, the deep, athletic Tigers were still good enough to go unbeaten in Conference USA and to put a scare into Louisville in December. Quick, guard-oriented teams have sometimes given Michigan State trouble this year, but the Spartans will have an advantage in the paint with Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix and in the stands with the Auburn Hills crowd sure to be behind them.

[Related: Breaking down the Midwest Region]

Ripe for an upset: No. 7 Creighton vs. No. 10 Cincinnati

The contrast in styles between Creighton and Cincinnati will make this game fascinating to watch. Behind All-American candidate Doug McDermott and an array of outside shooters, the Bluejays have as efficient an offense as any team in the nation, but they tend to struggle on defense. The Bearcats are one of the elite defensive teams in the nation, but they're often anemic offensively because they lack any semblance of an inside game and rely too heavily on Sean Kilpatrick. The key to the game will be whether Cincinnati can find other ways to score besides Kilpatrick, whether that's via Cashmere Wright continuing his recent upswing or via the big men dominating the offensive glass. The length and athleticism of Cincinnati should slow down Creighton's ultra-efficient offense somewhat, but the Bearcats will have to score above their season average to win.

Bound for the Final Four: No. 1 Louisville

The road to Atlanta may not take Louisville far from home, but it will feature plenty of challenges. Both eighth-seeded Colorado State or ninth-seeded Missouri are among the nation's elite rebounding teams. Potential Sweet 16 opponent Saint Louis has won 15 of 16 games and poses all sorts of matchup problems for the Cardinals. And looming in the regional title game is either Michigan State or Duke, the latter of which already beat the Cardinals this year, albeit without Gorgui Dieng. With that said, if there's any team in this field that can run that gauntlet, it may be Louisville, which has won 10 straight games and captured the Big East tournament title this past week. Not only do the Cardinals have the experience of last year's Final Four run to fall back on, they're also peaking at the right time.

[Related: Louisville looks like NCAA tourney favorite]

Possible Dark Horse: No. 4 Saint Louis

The toughest potential opponent for Louisville in the Midwest Region may very well be the Billikens because of how many matchup problems the Atlantic 10 champions pose the Cardinals. Louisville likes to speed up the tempo. Saint Louis is more comfortable at a slower pace. Louisville thrives on forcing turnovers and turning that into transition points. Saint Louis has eight seniors who protect the ball and don't get flustered easily. If Louisville has a weakness, it's that it sometimes goes through cold spells from the perimeter and struggles to score in a half-court game. What's Saint Louis' biggest strength? Probably it's half-court defense. Of course, the Billikens will have to get to the Sweet 16 to have a chance to make any of this matter, but 15 wins in their last 16 games suggests they're playing well enough to have a good chance to defeat New Mexico State and either Oregon or Oklahoma State. If so, it could set up one of the more intriguing contrasts of style of the tournament in the Sweet 16.

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