Top seed outlook: On paper, the Midwest appears to be the most open of those four areas, but we still give No. 1 North Carolina the greatest chances, using a 35 percent probability of reaching the Final Four and an 18 percent probability of appearing in the national championship match. Those odds are at least 8 percentage points lower compared to every other No. 1 team in the area, however, and for good reason: North Carolina’s offense is dependent on turning every play right into a quick break. The Tar Heels fight to get to the free-throw line and give up a ton of shots along the perimeter, which, in a slowed-down, half-court matchup, can be rather problematic.
After getting waxed by Duke to open the summer, No. 2 Kentucky has caught fire in recent months while finding balance on both ends of the floor and largely abstaining in the 3-point line. No. 3 Houston, meanwhile, is currently in the middle of its very best season because Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon were revolutionizing school basketball, and they boast a defense that ranks among the very best together and inside 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 conquer Tennessee eight days earlier, part of a series of eight straight wins for the Tigers, and 10 in their past 11 games. With an explosive offense (No. 8 in KenPom efficacy ) that acquired more of its points from downtown than every other group in the NCAA field, Auburn can heat up in a hurry. We provide the Tigers nearly a coin-flip’s odds of making the Sweet 16 — and also an extremely strong 37 percent likelihood of beating top-seeded North Carolina when the Tar Heels are awaiting Auburn there. The sole kryptonite might be a hypothetical regional-final matchup with No. 2 seed Kentucky, which defeat the Tigers from 27 in late February to sweep their season series.
Don’t wager : No. 4 Kansas. The Jayhawks went into the year 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 (and some critical injuries) since then have cast doubt on Kansas’s NCAA Tournament possible. This is a well-balanced group, but to state it doesn’t shoot well from the exterior is an understatement — watch KU’s 3-for-18 functionality from profound into Saturday’s Big 12 ouster against Iowa State. Insert an unfavorable draw that sets them on an expected second-round crash course with Auburn (see above), and we provide the Jayhawks only an 8% chance of making out of the Midwest with their championship hopes intact.
Cinderella see: No. 11 Ohio State. If a Big Ten team that has made 11 Final Fours can be a Cinderella, then you are looking at it in these Buckeyes. (Hey, the committee’s rising trend to con underwhelming power-conference colleges this way really messes with the definition) OSU went just 18-13 during the regular season, was defeated in its second Big Ten tournament game and contains nearly two times as many losses as wins because New Year’s. So why are the Buckeyes a possible Cinderella? Regardless of the seed, this is still a dangerous group, one that ranks 27th from Pomeroy’s corrected defensive ratings and has star forward Kaleb Wesson back out of suspension. So perhaps they’ll give Big 12 champ Iowa State trouble. But mainly this tells you something about another potential Cinderellas within this area: Seton Hall obtained an extremely tough first-round matchup with underseeded Wofford; none of the other low seeds here are world-beaters. That leaves the Buckeyes, a team that did all it could to play its way from the tournament, but has some upset potential no matter.
Player to watch: Cameron Johnson, UNC On a group that doesn’t hoist a ton of shots from the perimeter, Johnson is as deadly as they are come. Observing an injury-riddled campaign in which he made greater than one-third of his appearances from outside the arc, the graduate student is canning 46.5 percent of his attempts, which ranks inside the top 25 nationally.
Johnson has flourished in North Carolina’s every-possession-is-a-transition-opportunity plot this year. He has blossomed into one of the greatest scorers in the ACC, ranking between the 85th and 100th percentiles in scoring efficiency in transition, off displays 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). Unexpectedly, a participant who wasn’t viewed as a bonded professional now jobs for 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 number of Sweet 16s made by Villanova in recent seasons. Although the Wildcats have reached the NCAA Tournament’s”third round” in four of their past five seasons, that round was the Round of 32 before 2016 because of NCAA naming conventions.
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