Bracket Breakdown: North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas give Midwest its blue bloods
If you want bluebloods, I know where to find them.
Three of the most storied programs in the history of college basketball sit in the Midwest this year. North Carolina is the No. 1 seed. Kentucky is the No. 2 seed. Kansas is the No. 4 seed. If all four of them can make it to Kansas City, the Sprint Center will be the toughest ticket in sports during the second weekend of the event.
And that’s not all.
Because Houston, who stormed through the American this season, is also in the Midwest, as is SEC tournament champion Auburn and Big 12 tournament champion Iowa State.
Without a doubt, this is the toughest region in the bracket.
Let’s dive into the Midwest breakdown.
- NORTH CAROLINA GOT A SWEET 16 ROAD GAME?: The Tar Heels are the No. 1 seed in the region, and the reward for that is that they get sent to the Midwest to play their regional in Kansas City. If seeds hold, they will be forced to face-off with Kansas in Kansas City in the Sweet 16. If they win that, then they’ll likely end up with: A) Kentucky, which is half the distance from Kansas City; B) Houston, which is actually located in the Midwest; or C) Iowa State, who has a fanbase that considers the Sprint Center Hilton Coliseum South. That’s tough.
- MIGHT THIS BE THE END OF BILL SELF AT KANSAS?: There have been seemingly unending rumors that are linking Bill Self to a move out of the college ranks thanks to this FBI investigation into college basketball and the association that his Kansas program has with it. If Self was ever going to jump to the NBA, this seems like it would be a good time to make the move. Get out of town before the NCAA shows up to vacate something.
- DID KENTUCKY PEAK TOO SOON?: The Wildcats spend the month of January steamrolling anyone that got in their way. They’ve struggled a bit since then, and while the only losses that they have taken during that span came against LSU and Tennessee, Kentucky was not at their best in a couple of other wins. They are going to need a dominant P.J. Washington to show up, and Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson making shots would probably be a good thing as well.
THE ELITE 8 MATCHUP IS ... No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky
It’s weird: in the bracket that has the most blueblood programs in it, I feel the least confident about two of those bluebloods battling it out for the right to get to the Final Four. That’s because the rest of the region is really strong. I think that Auburn is a dangerous team that can force turnovers and get on three-point shooting runs with the best of them. Iowa State is a matchup nightmare with a ceiling as high as anyone’s on the right day. Even North Carolina and Kentucky have proven to have a certain level of inconsistency in recent years, and there may be a reason for that: Both UNC and UK start a freshman point guard.
THE FINAL FOUR SLEEPER IS ... No. 5 Auburn or No. 6 Iowa State
I really do think both of these teams are dangerous enough to get to the Final Four, but I, for one, will not have the guts to take either one of them.
Because they both have the ability to lose in the first round of the tournament.
Auburn can put up points in a hurry. They love to press, they love to force turnovers, they lose to run and gun, and they love to put up threes. We saw against Tennessee in the SEC title game just how dangerous they can be when they are firing on all cylinders.
Iowa State, however, is a better bet to make a run. They have four play-making wins on their roster, flanking a couple of talented and productive big men. They can really shoot it, they are a nightmare to try to defend, and -- after seemingly falling off of a cliff late in the regular season -- a player’s only meeting before the Big 12 tournament turned this ship around.
HERE ARE YOUR UPSETS
No. 13 NORTHEASTERN vs. No. 4 KANSAS: Kansas starts four freshmen. One is their third string center. One was supposed to be a redshirt this season. Northeastern? They’re built like a mid-major winner: They shoot the cover off the ball, they don’t turn the rock over, they don’t give up offensive boards, and they control tempo. Upset city.
No. 6 IOWA STATE to the Elite 8: Every time that I get on the Iowa State bandwagon, the Cyclones turnaround and completely implode. That’s not going to happen this time because I am decidedly no on the Iowa State bandwagon, I’m just picking them to go to the Elite 8. There’s a very big difference.
BUT DON’T PICK THIS UPSET
No. 12 NEW MEXICO STATE vs. No. 5 AUBURN: I want to love this NMSU team, but I can’t. I don’t think they have the horses to play with this Auburn team when Bruce Pearl gets them fired up and ready to play.
- CAM JOHNSON, North Carolina: Every one loves Coby White and Nassir Little, but it’s Johnson that has been their best player this season.
- DEDRIC LAWSON, Kansas: Lawson has been the one consistently bright spot for the Jayhawks this season, posting double-doubles seemingly every single night.
- MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall: Powell is as explosive of a scorer as you’ll find in this year’s NCAA tournament. He can go for 25 in any given half.
- P.J. WASHINGTON, Kentucky: When Washington plays at his best, when he’s a 20-and-10 guy, the Wildcats are at their best.
THE STARS OF MARCH
- FLETCHER MAGEE, Wofford: He is going to set the career record for threes made in a career if he makes three in the tournament. He shoots a ton and has the ultimate green light.
- D’MARCUS SIMONDS, Georgia State: He called his shot in the Sun Belt conference tournament, guaranteeing a win. If he calls his shot to beat No. 3 seed Houston, we need to be on it.
- SAM MERRILL, Utah State: Neemias Queta is the guy with NBA potential that has folks buzzing, but Merrill is Utah State’s best player.
ONE GAME TO WATCH: No. 7 Wofford vs. No. 10 Seton Hall
Fletcher Magee is must-see TV. Myles Powell is must-see TV. When they are trading three-point haymakers in a knockout game, the only excuse for not watching is a coma.
ONE GAME THAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN: No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 5 Auburn
These two teams want to run and gun as much as anyone in the sport right now, and the best part of seeing them face off would be that both rosters are capable of making all of those threes they fired. This game could get played in the 90s. That would be fun.
AND THE WINNER IS ...
I know it’s pretty corny to pick yet another No. 1 seed from the ACC to the Final Four, but I think that this Carolina team can get the job done.