Busting Brackets

2024 NCAA Tournament: Ranking the top 20 players from the Midwest Region

Purdue Boilermakers guard Braden Smith (3) high-fives Purdue Boilermakers center Zach Edey (15)
Purdue Boilermakers guard Braden Smith (3) high-fives Purdue Boilermakers center Zach Edey (15) / Alex Martin/Journal and Courier / USA
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16. Enrique Freeman (Akron)

He may have only played a couple of games as a true freshman, but Freeman has been part of this Akron program for five seasons and is really reaping the benefits. Not only is he in the Big Dance for a second time in his career but has developed into one of the best forwards in mid-major basketball in recent years, earning MAC Player of the Year honors this season.

This was Freeman’s third straight season averaging a double-double as he put up 18.6 points and 12.9 rebounds per game while leading the Zips to another MAC Tournament title. Freeman was one of the nation’s most efficient players, leading the MAC at 59% from the field while finishing first in the entire nation in rebounding. Freeman had 24 points and 21 rebounds against Ohio in the MAC semifinals before winning Tourney MVP honors again. Akron leans heavily on his paint presence and he’ll need a great effort if the Zips want to be a March shocker.

15. Shahada Wells (McNeese)

McNeese has been insanely good this season and a major reason was Will Wade’s ability to bring Wells and other top talent to town. Wells began his career at Tyler Junior College then starred at UT Arlington before two seasons mostly as a benchwarmer at TCU. He’s back to playing a starring role with the Cowboys and has been putting up some astounding numbers for this 30-win program.

Wells has averaged 17.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game, setting significant career-highs in all three categories. He was the clear choice as both Southland Player of the Year and Tournament MVP, sitting among the league leaders in scoring, assists, and steals. Wells put McNeese on the map with great performances, scoring 23 (VCU), 36 (UAB), and 30 (Michigan) in massive road wins earlier in the year. McNeese is legitimate and Wells makes this program a potential second-weekend team even as the 12-seed.