Your Guide To The 2019 NCAA Men’s Tournament: Midwest region
Top seed outlook: On paper, the Midwest appears to be the most open of the four areas, but we nevertheless provide No. 1 North Carolina the greatest odds, with a 35 percent probability of reaching the Final Four and also an 18 percent likelihood of appearing in the championship match. Those odds are at least 8 percentage points lower compared to every other No. 1 team in the field, though, and for good reason: North Carolina’s offense is dependent on turning each play into a quick break. The Tar Heels fight to get into the free-throw lineup and give up a ton of shots across the perimeter, which, at a slowed-down, half-court matchup, can be quite problematic.
After getting waxed by Duke to start the summer, No. 2 Kentucky has caught fire in recent months while discovering balance on the two ends of the floor and mostly abstaining from the 3-point line. No. 3 Houston, meanwhile, is currently in the midst of its very best season since Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon were revolutionizing school basketball, and they boast a defense which ranks among the very best along and in the perimeter.
Sneaky Final Four pick: No. 5 Auburn. Whenever the Tigers steamrolled Tennessee 84-64 in Sunday’s SEC title game, it likely got the focus of a lot of bracket-pickers. That was not a one-off — Auburn also conquer Tennessee eight days before, a portion of a series of eight consecutive wins for the Tigers, and 10 in their last 11 games. With an explosive offense (No. 8 in KenPom efficacy ) that got more of its points from downtown than every other team in the NCAA field, Auburn can heat up in a hurry. We provide the Tigers nearly a coin-flip’s likelihood of making the Sweet 16 — and also a very strong 37 percent chance of beating top-seeded North Carolina if the Tar Heels are waiting for Auburn there. The only kryptonite might be a hypothetical regional-final matchup with No. 2 seed Kentucky, which defeat the Tigers by 27 in late February to sweep their season collection.
Don’t bet on: No. 4 Kansas. The Jayhawks went into the year ranked No. 1 in the AP’s preseason poll, and they appeared to validate that the choice by starting the season 10-0. However a 15-9 record (and a few critical injuries) since then have cast doubt on Kansas’s NCAA Tournament possible. This is a well-balanced team, but to say it doesn’t shoot well from the outside is an understatement — see KU’s 3-for-18 performance from deep into Saturday’s Big 12 ouster from Iowa State. Insert a negative draw that puts them on an expected second-round crash course with Auburn (see above), and also we give the Jayhawks only an 8 percent chance of making out of the Midwest with their championship hopes intact.
Cinderella watch: No. 11 Ohio State. In case a Big Ten team which has made 11 Final Fours could be a Cinderella, then you’re looking at it in those Buckeyes. (Hey, the committee’s rising trend to seed underwhelming power-conference schools this way really messes with the definition.) OSU went just 18-13 during the regular season, was defeated its second Big Ten tournament game and has nearly twice as many losses as wins because New Year’s. So why are the Buckeyes a possible Cinderella? Despite the seed, this remains a dangerous group, one which ranks 27th in Pomeroy’s corrected defensive evaluations and has star forward Kaleb Wesson back out of suspension. So maybe they will provide Big 12 champ Iowa State trouble. But mainly this tells you something about another prospective Cinderellas in this region: Seton Hall got a very tough first-round matchup with underseeded Wofford; none of the other low seeds are world-beaters. That leaves the Buckeyes, a group that did all it could to play its way from the championship, but includes some upset potential no matter.
Player to watch: UNC, Cameron Johnson On a group that does not hoist a lot of shots from the perimeter, Johnson is as deadly as they come. Following an injury-riddled effort in which he barely made more than one-third of his appearances from outside the arc, the grad student is canning 46.5 percent of his efforts, which positions within the top 25 nationwide.
Johnson has flourished in North Carolina’s every-possession-is-a-transition-opportunity scheme this season. He has blossomed into one of the greatest scorers in the ACC, standing between the 85th and 100th percentiles in scoring efficacy in transitionoff screens and on spot-ups.
Johnson has elevated his game in conference play, boasting the ACC’s top offensive evaluation (132.5) and true shooting percentage (64.6). Suddenly, a participant who wasn’t seen as a bonded professional now jobs to be a second-round pick.
Likeliest first-round upsets: No. 9 Washington over No. 8 Utah State (49 percent); No. 10 Seton Hall over No. 7 Wofford (37 percent); No. 11 Ohio State over No. 6 Iowa State (33 percent)
Have a look at our latest March Madness forecasts.
CORRECTION (March 18, 2019, 3:10 p.m.): A previous version of this story misstated the amount of Sweet 16s made by Villanova lately. Though the Wildcats have reached the NCAA Tournament’s»third round» in four of their previous five seasons, that round was the Round of 32 before 2016 due to NCAA naming conventions.
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