Your Guide To The 2019 NCAA Men’s Tournament: Midwest region
Best seed prognosis: On paper, the Midwest seems to be the most open of the four areas, but we nevertheless provide No. 1 North Carolina the greatest chances, with a 35 percent probability of reaching the Final Four and an 18 percent likelihood of appearing in the championship match. Those odds are 8 percentage points lower compared to every other No. 1 team in the field, however, and for good reason: North Carolina’s crime depends on turning each play right into a fast break. The Tar Heels struggle to get into the free-throw line and give up a slew of shots along the perimeter, which, in a slowed-down, half-court matchup, can be rather problematic.
After getting waxed by Duke to start the summer, No. 2 Kentucky has caught fire in recent months while finding balance on the two ends of the ground and mostly abstaining in the 3-point line. No. 3 Houston, meanwhile, is currently in the midst of its best season since Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon were revolutionizing school basketball, and they boast a defense that ranks among the top together 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 attention of a good deal of bracket-pickers. That wasn’t a one-off — Auburn also beat Tennessee eight days earlier, part of a string of eight consecutive wins for the Tigers, and 10 in their last 11 games. Having an explosive offense (No. 8 in KenPom efficacy ) that got more of its points out of 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 an extremely strong 37 percent likelihood of beating top-seeded North Carolina when the Tar Heels are waiting for Auburn there. The sole kryptonite may be a hypothetical regional-final matchup with No. 2 seed Kentucky, which beat the Tigers from 27 in late February to sweep their season series.
Do not bet : No. 4 Kansas. The Jayhawks went to the season ranked No. 1 in the AP’s preseason poll, and they seemed to validate that the choice by starting the season 10-0. But a 15-9 record (plus a few key injuries) since then have cast doubt on Kansas’s NCAA Tournament potential. This really is a well-balanced group, but to say it doesn’t shoot well from the outside is an understatement — see KU’s 3-for-18 performance from deep in Saturday’s Big 12 ouster against Iowa State. Add a negative draw that puts them onto a potential second-round crash course with Auburn (see above), and we provide the Jayhawks just an 8% chance of making out of the Midwest with their championship hopes undamaged.
Cinderella watch: No. 11 Ohio State. In case a Big Ten team that has made 11 Final Fours can be a Cinderella, then you’re considering it in those Buckeyes. (Hey, the committee’s rising tendency to con underwhelming power-conference colleges this manner really contrasts with the definition.) OSU went only 18-13 during the regular season, was defeated in its second Big Ten tournament game and contains almost two times as many losses as wins because New Year’s. Why are the Buckeyes a possible Cinderella? Despite the seed, this is still a dangerous team, one which ranks 27th from Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive ratings and has star forwards Kaleb Wesson back out of suspension. So perhaps they will give Big 12 champ Iowa State trouble. But this tells you something about the other potential Cinderellas in this region: Seton Hall got a very tough first-round matchup with underseeded Wofford; none of the other low seeds here are world-beaters. That leaves the Buckeyes, a team which did all it could to play its way from the championship, but has some mad 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 lethal as they come. Observing an injury-riddled campaign where he barely made more than one third of his looks from outside the arc, the grad student is canning 46.5 percent of his efforts, which ranks within the top 25 nationally.
Johnson has flourished in North Carolina’s every-possession-is-a-transition-opportunity scheme this season. He has blossomed into one of the best scorers in the ACC, ranking between the 85th and 100th percentiles in scoring efficiency in transitionoff screens and on spot-ups.
Johnson has raised his game in conference play, boasting the ACC’s top offensive evaluation (132.5) and accurate shooting percentage (64.6). Suddenly, a participant who wasn’t seen as a guaranteed 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)
Check out our latest March Madness predictions.
CORRECTION (March 18, 2019, 3:10 p.m.): A previous version of this story misstated the amount of Sweet 16s made by Villanova in recent seasons. Though the Wildcats have reached the NCAA Tournament’s”third round” in four of the past five seasons, that around was the Round of 32 before 2016 due to NCAA naming conventions.
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