A Beginner’s Guide to the Midwest Region

Kentucky graduate student forward Reid Travis and two Kansas players chase down the ball during the game against Kansas on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won with a final score of 71-63. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

Chase Campbell

March Madness is officially upon us and, like for so many others, it is one of my favorite times of year. I’m here to give you the who’s who and the what’s what of the Midwest region, so that you can destroy every coworker and classmate who dares to join you in a bracket group that, oddly, only bases their results on a quarter of the bracket.

The Midwest region is full of familiar opponents for the Cats. That’s a major plus to Kentucky, because having film on how your players handled theirs is always positive. So, without any more stalling from me because commitment to brackets make me nervous, here’s your guide to the Midwest region:

No. 1: North Carolina

The Tar Heels are so, so much better than when they played Kentucky. I’d contend that after turning it over more times than a pastry fanatic in Chicago, Coby White has played like an All-ACC point guard. The Heels are far more confident and poised than in the Champions Classic, and they almost had a Duke win to show for it. Nobody wants to play these guys right now.

No. 16: Iona

Iona entered the tournament by beating Monmouth by 21 in the MAAC Championship. Yeah, I’m not too high on them either. The school’s got some tournament experience, but not nearly enough talent to handle the Tar Heels. I don’t think we’ll be seeing a repeat of last year’s UMBC victory.

No. 8: Utah State

If you like teams that score a lot of points, you like the Aggies. The regular season champions of the Mountain West boast junior guard Sam Merrill, who scores more than 21 points a game. He wears No. 5, if you turn the game on. He’ll also be the one scoring, you know, all the points. They’ve won their games by an average of just under 13 points by putting up nearly 80 a game, so they haven’t really run into a real defense yet.

No. 9: Washington

The regular season victors of the Pac-12 are in a really weird spot. They have a loss to the abysmal Cal Bears, but also won their conference’s regular season. They’re unpredictable, and they haven’t really played quality opponents. Bet on them at your own risk.

No. 5: Auburn

The Auburn Tigers might be the hottest team in the country, but I’d like to exercise a word of caution to anyone having them go too far. The Tigers do not have a deep rotation at any position, and will play a maximum of seven players in significant minutes. They shoot a ton of threes and make almost as many. If they go cold or run out of gas, they’ll probably be done. Jared Harper and Bryce Brown, their two lead guards, have some serious takeover ability. They make for good heroes.

No. 12: New Mexico State

The second set of Aggies comes from the WAC(K?), where New Mexico State ripped their opponents by an average of 14 points. They’ll play right at the rim, because their 33.8 percent three-point shooting is good for 228th in the nation. Auburn’s Austin Wiley and Horace Spencer must be licking their chops to push down a team like this. New Mexico State is really good at rebounding, so that’s going to be the primary way they beat a more talented team. Pick the Tigers, though.

No. 4: Kansas

The Streak may be over, but Kansas isn’t a team to scoff at. Though they didn’t grab a share of the conference title for the first time in over a decade, the Jayhawks play a balanced brand of basketball, when everyone’s on. Dedric Lawson is a double-double machine, and I personally love watching freshman guard Devon Dotson play defense. Their style can mold to opponents, and that matters in the tournament. They have the same depth problem that Auburn has.

No. 13: Northeastern

Northeastern is one of the most balanced teams in the tournament. They’re a tough team to game plan against, because seven of their players average at least eight points a game, and four of them average in double figures. They’ll spread it around (76th nationally in total assists) and create turnovers (6.5 steals per game in conference play). It’ll be annoying for a little bit, but pick the Jayhawks here. Northeastern’s best win is Alabama.

No. 6: Iowa State

Man, the Cyclones are fun. They score a lot of points (73.3 per game in conference play, best in the Big 12) but their defense leaves much to be desired (71.1 points allowed per game in conference play, 7th in the Big 12). If they don’t get hot during the game, they’re going to lose. They also don’t foul, like, ever, at 35th in the nation and best in the Big 12 in fewest fouls per game. You’re gonna have to beat these guys straight up, but attack and they’ll back off.

No. 11: Ohio State

I saw this group in person earlier this season. I wasn’t impressed. They’re 8-12 in a somewhat crippled Big Ten, score less than 70 points a game and don’t crack the top 100 in any kind of basic efficiency or production stat. If I were going to pick one team to just claw-machine out of this bracket and grab another one, it’d be the Buckeyes. Pick the Cyclones.

No. 3: Houston

The Cougars are solid. A great defensive team that was one Jordan Poole shot away from breaking through last year. They’ll give any team that tries to score on them fits, but their lack of a real challenge this season due to a weakened conference amplifies their losses to Temple and UCF. They’re not fakers, but they’re not dominators either.

No. 14: Georgia State

The best team in Georgia! With the Bulldogs out, and neither Georgia Tech nor Georgia Southern making the field, the Panthers can claim that title. This is another team that’ll bury you from deep; they’re 14th in the nation in three-point percentage. Unfortunately for them, Houston is second in the nation in allowed three-point percentage at just 27 percent. Panthers will get destroyed here.

No. 7: Wofford

Wofford’s become something of a national darling this season, breaking into the AP Top 25 consistently during the year. The Terriers from Spartanburg, South Carolina (hometown of Zion Williamson), do what most mid-major powers do: Destroy you from behind the arc. Fletcher Magee and Co. shoot over 41 percent from deep, which is borderline insane. They don’t go cold and they don’t go away.

No. 10: Seton Hall

This team beat Kentucky in overtime after some late-game heroics from P.J. Washington and Keldon Johnson even got the Cats in position for it. Myles Powell is a legit takeover guy, and they have a chameleon style of play that I really like. They don’t get the ball stolen a ton, and they can create a whole lot of turnovers (No. 68 in the nation in that department). I picked the Pirates. It should be a good one.

No. 2: Kentucky

Please read any Kernel sports article, thanks. I do want to mention that the Cats have an adaptable game, and that the heavy reliance on Washington is beginning to fade. Herro, Johnson, Immanuel Quickley and Ashton Hagans are stepping up as legitimate scoring options, and the Cats need that.

No. 15: Abilene Christian

They steal the ball a lot: 8.7 times a game. Do they do anything with it once they’ve stolen it? Not really; they score a modest 74.5 for playing in the Southland conference. Their defense is top-notch because of those turnovers they create, and opponents score 63.1 points a game. When opponents actually get shots off, they’ll drop them at a perfectly fine clip. Avoid an embarrassing amount of turnovers, and the Cats blow the OTHER Wildcats back to Abilene, Texas.