2019 NCAA Tournament Preview: Midwest Region

March 20, 2019
By K. Becks

The Midwest Region is bound to have some matchups that the Turner Network will be overjoyed to broadcast. Blue bloods North Carolina, Kentucky and Kansas represent three of the top four seeds with the potential for meetings in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8.

However, for every top basketball program, there is a plucky upstart looking to spoil the party (and potentially Turner’s sky high television ratings). Teams from the Mountain West and Southern conferences that have put together terrific seasons lurk amongst the big boys, itching for a chance to shock the world and bust brackets.

Chances are we’ll have a bit of both experiencing success, keeping most everyone happy.

Round of 64 Games to Watch

#4 Kansas vs. #13 Northeastern (Thursday, approximately 4 PM ET)

The Jayhawks had a down year based on their standards of success, and a team that is returning all five starters from a squad that just barely missed out on the Tournament in 2018 is smelling blood. Northeastern likes to score, and although Bill Coen’s team doesn’t get up and down the floor like Kansas, but has a gritty scorer in Serbian Vasa Pusica and size at the rim with true center Anthony Green, who is 6’10”. This will likely be a game dominated by the guards, however, as both teams employ a four guard set for significant minutes.

Kansas is young and has been inconsistent after the losses of Udoka Azubuike and Lagerald Vick earlier in the year, but there is still plenty of talent on the roster. If the Jayhawks want to avoid a Round of 64 upset for the first time since 2006, Dedric Lawson will need to stay hot and the team needs to avoid turning the ball over. The Jayhawks may not be a popular title pick, but they still have enough to beat Northeastern. Bill Self’s squad has been abysmal on the road this season, though, so playing in Salt Lake City alone could be a problem, especially if the crowd gets behind the underdog Huskies.

#7 Wofford vs. #10 Seton Hall (Thursday, approximately 9:40 PM ET)

Statistically, the Terriers are the superior offensive squad, besting Seton Hall over the course of the season in points per game, field goal percentage and three point shooting percentage. Wofford also allows fewer points per game than the Pirates and hold opponents to a lower field goal percentage (42 percent) than Seton Hall shoots (44 percent). However, Mike Young’s team is not superior in the “has Myles Powell” category, which could be a problem. A terrific scorer, Powell will seriously test the gritty Wofford defense along with the other Myles, sophomore guard Myles Cafe, the team’s second leading scorer.

Between the two Myles, there is enough guard play for the Pirates to give Wofford’s trio of Fletcher Magee, Nathan Hoover and Storm Murphy all it can handle. But where the game will likely be one is down low, where someone will serve as the X-factor. Wofford feels good about their big Cameron Jackson, who could end up battling nicely with Seton Hall’s 6’10” forward Sandro Mamukelashvili, who is a powder keg of sorts. Basketball is a game of runs, and this game should prove that perfectly, with each team having its moments, culminating in a very close game in the final minute.

Players to Watch

Fletcher Magee, Wofford

The Southern Conference’s Player of the Year is the focal point of an extremely efficient offense that could give the higher seeds in the Midwest Region a lot of trouble provided the chance. Magee is a pure scorer in the mold of a guy like Jimmer Fredette, albeit less often to jack up ridiculous three point shots. The 6’4” guard does shoot over 40 percent from behind the arc, though, and will take plenty of those shots for the Terriers.

Magee will get a shot at making an NBA roster this summer because of his offensive game. A 2,000+ point scorer for Wofford, he will already go down in the program’s history as one of the best players to don the black and gold. But a couple of Tournament victories earned by his squad, a real possibility for the Terriers, would put him at the top of that list.

Coby White, North Carolina

Let’s get this out of the way now: Coby White has the best hair in this year’s NCAA Tournament. No questions asked, don’t @ me. But aside from his terrific ‘fro, White is also among the best guards in the Tournament at getting to the basket. His speed after a crossover or stutter step in unparalleled, allowing the rest of the Tar Heels to just stand and watch when their point guard darts to the rim.

If North Carolina is to get to where it wants to be, which is in the national title game, White will need to be terrific both at finishing near the basket as well as finding his open teammates on the wing. Naturally, White leads the Tar Heels in assists per game thanks to his ability to draw additional defenders when he drives. Expect plenty of instances over the next few weeks where you’ll wonder how the Diaper Dandy managed to slip to the basket and finish high off the glass with apparent ease.

Team That Could Make a Run

Wofford

The Terriers have already garnered some attention thanks to a perfect conference record this season, something that is more impressive than it sounds from a team in the SoCon. Wofford was flanked by UNC-Greensboro and Furman as a trio of teams from the league that would have been interesting inclusions into this year’s Big Dance and had realistic aspirations to be an at-large selection. Mike Young winning the SoCon’s Coach of the Year award was really a no-brainer.

While the Terriers do have a star in senior guard Fletcher Magee (see above), the guard play overall is fantastic for Wofford. Nathan Hoover can also rack up points and Storm Murphy is an intelligent floor general. The Terriers also have a legit big man in 6’8”, 250 pound Cameron Jackson, who will need to come up big if the team makes it to the Round of 32 and has to face Kentucky. As the highest seed ever by a Southern Conference, there are expectations that this team is capable of meeting or exceeding.

My Picks

Round of 64

#1 North Carolina over #16 Iona

#8 Utah State over #9 Washington

#5 Auburn over #12 New Mexico State

#4 Kansas over #13 Northeastern

#6 Iowa State over #11 Ohio State

#3 Houston over #14 Georgia State

#7 Wofford over #10 Seton Hall

#2 Kentucky over #15 Abilene Christian

Round of 32

#1 North Carolina over #8 Utah State

#5 Auburn over #4 Kansas

#6 Iowa State over #3 Houston (upset alert)

#2 Kentucky over #7 Wofford

Sweet 16

#1 North Carolina over #5 Auburn

#2 Kentucky over #6 Iowa State

Elite 8

#1 North Carolina over #2 Kentucky

If you have read the other Region previews, you now know Around The Corn’s Final Four picks. Given the top heavy nature of the college basketball landscape this season, the top teams from the nation’s top conference overall should be well represented. Below are the national semifinals and national championship picks.

National Semifinals

#1 Duke over #2 Michigan

#1 North Carolina over #1 Virginia

National Championship

#1 Duke over #1 North Carolina

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