Midwest Region preview: Virginia seeks to justify another top seed

For the second time in three seasons, Virginia earned a No. 1 seed and once again its worthiness is being questioned. But unlike before, the Cavaliers could meet up with the team that it leapfrogged to get it. Michigan State, many believed, positioned itself for a No. 1 seed by winning the Big Ten tournament.

The giants will dwell in the Midwest as Utah's Jakob Poeltl and Purdue's A.J. Hammons are two of the nation's best 7-footers. Both centers are cut from the old mold of back to the basket, rim protectors that won't be seen trying to jack 3-pointers.

Gonzaga has a pretty formidable frontcourt duo too in 6-foot-10 forward Kyle Wiltjer and 6-11 Domantas Sabonis.

Five players to watch

Denzel Valentine (Michigan State): One of the frontrunners for national player of the year, he can do it all. Don't be surprised to see Valentine post a triple-double in the tournament, he was one assist away from doing it against Purdue in the Big Ten title game.

Malcolm Brogdon (Virginia): The 6-foot-5 senior guard pulled a clean sweep with the ACC's Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards. He doesn't have to score a lot to have a tremendous impact on a game.

Jakob Poeltl (Utah): The 7-foot center will likely hear his name called out early in June's 2016 NBA draft. Poeltl led the Utes in scoring (17.6) and rebounding (9.0) while shooting 65.6 percent from the field.

Georges Niang (Iowa State): Niang was second in the Big 12 in scoring to Buddy Hield, averaging 19.8 per game. He's the prototype stretch four who could be a matchup problem for most opponents.

A.J. Hammons (Purdue): Has been noted for playing with a similar emotionless demeanor as Tim Duncan. Hammons isn't as skilled as the future Hall of Famer, but he gets things done on the blocks for the Boilermakers.

Dark horse

Purdue: The Boilermakers were just two bad possessions away from defeating Michigan State for the Big Ten tournament title. Purdue hovers around the magic number for title contenders -- ranking 21 in adjusted offense and 18 in adjusted defense, according to Ken Pomeroy research. Most national champions rank in the top 20 in both categories with few exceptions. Purdue has arguably the best frontcourt in the nation with Hammons, freshman forward Caleb Swanigan and backup 7-foot center Isaac Haas. They'll be able to overpower some teams with their size and their defense will keep them in just about any game.

Upset alert

Iowa State: The Cyclones are almost a perfect matchup for Iona because they don't have a bruising inside game and they play at about the same tempo. The Gaels will attempt to spread them out on offense and both take and make a lot of 3-pointers and Iowa State isn't exactly known for its defense. Iona scored 37.7 percent of their overall points from 3-pointers, which was the 18th highest percentage among Division I teams, according to Pomeroy. Iona's A.J. English, a 6-foot-5 guard, could be one of those tournament heroes crowned every March. He ranks 10th nationally in scoring averaging 22.4 points per game.

Matchup we'd love to see

Virginia vs. Michigan State Part III: The Spartans have become a tournament nemesis for Virginia. They eliminated the Cavaliers in the Sweet 16 of the 2014 tournament when the Cavs were a No. 1 seed. Last season, they knocked them off in the second round when the Cavs were a No. 2 seed. Virginia's goal all season has been to redeem itself for its previous exits by reaching the Final Four. It would be a bonus if the Cavs could get there by beating Michigan State. A juicy game within the game matchup would be Brogdon and Valentine going head-to-head. Who knows if that would even be the defensive assignment both players drew, but they are two of the best players in the country, both are seniors and both are the players who would have the ball to take the last shot.