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 give No. 1 North Carolina the greatest odds, using a 35 percent probability of reaching the Final Four and an 18 percent likelihood of appearing in the championship game. Those chances are at least 8 percentage points lower compared to any other No. 1 team in the area, however, and for good reason: North Carolina’s crime depends on turning each play into a fast break. The Tar Heels fight to get into the free-throw line and give up a slew of shots across the perimeter, and that, in a slowed-down, half-court matchup, could be quite problematic.
After getting waxed by Duke to open the summer, No. 2 Kentucky has caught fire in recent months while finding equilibrium on the two ends of the floor and largely abstaining in the 3-point line. No. 3 Houston, meanwhile, is in the middle of its very best season because Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon were revolutionizing college basketball, and they boast a defense that ranks among the top along and in the perimeter.
Sneaky Final Four pick: No. 5 Auburn. When the Tigers steamrolled Tennessee 84-64 in Sunday’s SEC title game, it likely got the focus of a good deal of bracket-pickers. That wasn’t a one-off — Auburn also conquer Tennessee eight days before, a portion of a string of eight straight wins for the Tigers, and 10 in their last 11 games. With an explosive offense (No. 8 in KenPom efficacy ) that acquired more of its points out of downtown compared to any other group in the NCAA field, Auburn can heat up in a hurry. We give the Tigers nearly a coin-flip’s likelihood of making the Sweet 16 — and a very 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 collection.
Don’t wager on: No. 4 Kansas. The Jayhawks went into the year ranked No. 1 in the AP’s preseason poll, and they appeared to validate the option by starting the season 10-0. However a 15-9 record (and some key injuries) since then have cast doubt on Kansas’s NCAA Tournament potential. This is a well-balanced group, but to state it does not shoot well from the exterior is an understatement — see KU’s 3-for-18 performance from deep into Saturday’s Big 12 ouster from Iowa State. Add an unfavorable draw that puts them on an expected second-round collision course with Auburn (see above), and we give the Jayhawks just an 8 percent chance of making out of the Midwest with their championship hopes intact.
Cinderella see: No. 11 Ohio State. If a Big Ten team which has made 11 Final Fours can be a Cinderella, then you are considering it in these Buckeyes. (Hey, the committee’s increasing tendency to con underwhelming power-conference schools this way really messes with the definition.) OSU went only 18-13 during the regular season, was defeated its second Big Ten tournament game and has almost twice as many losses as wins because New Year’s. So why are the Buckeyes a potential Cinderella? Regardless of the seed, this remains a dangerous group, one that ranks 27th from Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive ratings and has star forward Kaleb Wesson back out of suspension. So maybe they’ll give Big 12 champ Iowa State trouble. But mainly this tells you something about another prospective Cinderellas within this region: Seton Hall obtained a very tough first-round matchup with underseeded Wofford; none of those other low seeds here are world-beaters. That leaves the Buckeyes, a team which did all it could to perform its way out of this championship, but has some upset potential regardless.
Player to watch: Cameron Johnson, UNC On a group that doesn’t hoist a ton of shots from the perimeter, Johnson is as lethal as they are come. Following an injury-riddled effort where he barely made more than one-third of his looks from outside the arc, the graduate student is canning 46.5 percent of his attempts, which positions within the top 25 nationally.
Johnson has flourished in North Carolina’s every-possession-is-a-transition-opportunity scheme this year. He’s blossomed into one of the greatest scorers in the ACC, ranking between the 85th and 100th percentiles in scoring efficiency in transitionoff displays 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). Unexpectedly, a participant who was not 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)
Have a look at our March Madness forecasts.
CORRECTION (March 18, 2019, 3:10 p.m.): A former version of this story misstated the amount of Sweet 16s made by Villanova lately. Although the Wildcats have reached the NCAA Tournament’s”third round” in four of the previous five seasons, that around was the Round of 32 until 2016 due to NCAA naming conventions.