Best seed prognosis: On paper, the Midwest seems to be the most open of those four regions, but we still provide No. 1 North Carolina the best chances, with a 35 percent probability of reaching the Final Four and also an 18 percent probability of appearing in the national championship match. Those odds are 8 percentage points lower compared to any other No. 1 team in the area, though, and for good reason: North Carolina’s offense is dependent on turning every play into a fast break. The Tar Heels fight to get into the free-throw lineup and give up a ton of shots along the perimeter, which, at a slowed-down, half-court matchup, can be rather problematic.
After getting chased by Duke to start the summer, No. 2 Kentucky has caught fire in recent months while discovering equilibrium on both ends of the ground and largely abstaining in the 3-point line. No. 3 Houston, meanwhile, is in the midst of its best season because Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon were revolutionizing school basketball, and they boast a defense which ranks among the top together and in the perimeter.
Sneaky Final Four select: No. 5 Auburn. Whenever the Tigers steamrolled Tennessee 84-64 in Sunday’s SEC title game, it probably got the attention of a lot of bracket-pickers. That wasn’t a one off — Auburn also beat Tennessee eight days before, a portion 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 got more of its points out of downtown compared to every other team 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 a very strong 37 percent chance of beating top-seeded North Carolina if the Tar Heels are awaiting Auburn there. The only kryptonite may be a hypothetical regional-final matchup with No. 2 seed Kentucky, which defeat the Tigers by 27 in late February to sweep their season series.
Do not wager : No. 4 Kansas. The Jayhawks went into the year ranked No. 1 in the AP’s preseason poll, and they seemed to validate 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 potential. This really is a well-balanced group, but to state it doesn’t shoot well from the exterior is a understatement — see KU’s 3-for-18 functionality from profound into Saturday’s Big 12 ouster against Iowa State. Insert an unfavorable draw that puts them on an expected second-round collision course with Auburn (see above), and also we give the Jayhawks just an 8% chance of making out of the Midwest with their championship hopes intact.
Cinderella watch: No. 11 Ohio State. If 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 increasing 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 its second Big Ten tournament game also has almost twice as many losses as wins since New Year’s. Why are the Buckeyes a potential 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 provide Big 12 champ Iowa State trouble. But mainly this tells you something about the other prospective Cinderellas in this region: Seton Hall obtained a very tough first-round matchup with underseeded Wofford; none of those other low seeds are world-beaters. That leaves the Buckeyes, a group that did all it could to perform its way out of the tournament, but has some mad potential regardless.
Player to watch: UNC, Cameron Johnson 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 campaign in which he barely made more than one third of his appearances from outside the arc, the grad student is canning 46.5 percent of his efforts, which ranks within the top 25 nationwide.
Johnson has flourished in North Carolina’s every-possession-is-a-transition-opportunity scheme this year. He has blossomed into one of the greatest scorers in the ACC, ranking between the 85th and 100th percentiles in scoring efficacy 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 true shooting percentage (64.6). Suddenly, a participant who was not viewed as a guaranteed professional now projects 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 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 lately. Though the Wildcats have reached the NCAA Tournament’s”third round” in four of the previous five seasons, that around was the Round of 32 before 2016 because of NCAA naming conventions.
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