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NCAA Tournament 2021: Illinois, West Virginia headlines Midwest Region

Feb 28, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Cougars guard Quentin Grimes (24) smiles after a play during the first half against the South Florida Bulls at Fertitta Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 28, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Cougars guard Quentin Grimes (24) smiles after a play during the first half against the South Florida Bulls at Fertitta Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /
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NCAA Tournament Miles McBride West Virginia Mountaineers (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images)
NCAA Tournament Miles McBride West Virginia Mountaineers (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images) /

Players to watch in the Midwest Region

Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois

Illinois is affected by the way that Dosunmu plays. In the six losses on the season, in five of those games, Dosunmu shot 51% or worse from the field. Dosunmu is considered one of the best closers in college basketball and can score near the rim, with relative ease. Dosunmu isn’t the best three-point shooter, as he shoots a modest 38%. His free throw shooting isn’t the best either, but the way he can create for others is what makes him unique.

The Fighting Illini has plenty of other weapons on a team that might be playing better than any other in the country. The member of the First Team All-Big 10 will get to showcase his skills on a humongous platform.

If the cards fall into place, he might have a matchup against the best freshman in the country and the next man on our list of players to watch.

Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State

The Big 12 POTY and potential No.1 overall pick in the NBA Draft has lived up to all of the hype during the season. His 45/41/85 split line, alongside 20.2 points per game and 6.3 rebounds, shows the type of special player he is at 6’8. Cunningham has led the Cowboys to seven wins in their last nine games. The lone two losses were to Baylor in Waco and Texas in the Big 12 Championship.

Cunningham and the Cowboys just five months ago were not a lock for eligibility in the Tournament. However, the NCAA never made a decision upon the appeal and the Cowboys come in as the four seed in Indianapolis. Cunningham has only missed double figures in a game once, where he took just three shots in a win against Kansas State, back on January 9.

He is on a variety of award lists for good reason. His athleticism, shooting, and passing ability are an anomaly to many players that have the height he does.

Oklahoma State is playing very well at the right time and Cunningham continuing his play can launch the Cowboys to unseen territory, late in the tournament.

Quentin Grimes, Houston

The former Kansas standout has etched a new role in H-Town and has elevated Houston to a consistent Top 10 team this season. He flashed potential in Lawrence but never had a significant role with the Jayhawks in his first and only year with the Jayhawks.

Since transferring to Houston, Grimes is coming off the best season of his collegiate career. He’s shooting 40% from beyond the arc and at 6’5, grabs rebounds at an elite level for a guard.

Grimes was the MVP for Houston in the AAC Tournament, logging in 21 points in the Semi-Final and Finals game against Memphis and Cincinnati. He averages 18 points per game and six rebounds on the season.

His defense has also been a main stable, ranking sixth in the conference in defensive rating at 88.1.

Grimes is among the most nationally recognizable names in the conference. For good reason, with  Houston consistently being ranked so highly throughout the season. He has been a huge part of the renovation over the past two seasons for the Cougars.

Miles McBride, West Virginia

It shocked the entire country and it seemed like just a month ago, when former West Virginia C Oscar Tshiebwe, transferred from West Virginia to Kentucky. The go-to scorer and leader ever since, has been Miles McBride.

McBride shoots 42% from the field and 39% from beyond the arc. An All-Big 12 member has already flashed clutch and the ability to take over games at any point.

Although McBride wasn’t headlined on any Big-12 defensive list, his defense is no slouch. His playmaking ability and defense will be key in a deep run for the Mountaineers.

Darius McGhee, Liberty

When it comes to improved players, none may have more than Darius McGhee from last year to this year. The point guard match between 6’8 Cunningham and 5’9 McGhee will be quite a treat in the first round.

McGhee improved his three-point shot to 41.3% and shows up in big games. His 34 points against Bellarmine on 12-18 shooting, showed he can carry the load and get the Flames a big win.

Liberty being battle-tested, with playing teams like Purdue, TCU, and Mississippi State during the regular season should prepare them for the Cowboys.

Moses Wright, Georgia Tech

One team that was criminally under-ranked was Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are red hot right now and are led by the ACC Player of the Year.

Wright had a stretch of four straight double-doubles, including a 31 point, 16 rebound performance in their win over Syracuse on February 27. Georgia Tech only played two games in the conference tournament and neither game, Wright was a huge impact, shooting 8-22 from the field.

Wright is such a matchup nightmare at 6’9, 233 lbs. He was a member of the All-Defense team, with 41 blocks and 37 steals on the season, ranking in the top six in each in the conference.

A potential Wright vs. Kofi Cockburn matchup in the second round would be a tremendous matchup of centers. Wright can hold his own down low and could be a key for a Cinderella run for the Yellow Jackets.