NCAA Bracket 2019: Complete Guide to Midwest Region

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 18, 2019

NCAA Bracket 2019: Complete Guide to Midwest Region

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    The Midwest Region of the 2019 NCAA tournament is headlined by No. 1 seed North Carolina, but the Tar Heels won't have an easy road to the Final Four. 

    High-profile schools in Kentucky and Kansas also call the Midwest Region home, as well as two teams who will be popular Cinderella picks—Wofford and New Mexico State.

    With three bluebloods, one of the best mid-major teams in the country and plenty of potential upsets in store, there will be no shortage of excitement on the road to the Final Four.

    Before the tournament gets underway, here's a full breakdown of the Midwest Region.

First-Round Schedule and TV Info

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images


    (Games in Salt Lake City, UT)

    No. 5 Auburn (Spread: -7.5vs. No. 12 New Mexico State, 1:30 p.m. ET, TNT

    No. 4 Kansas (-8.5vs. No. 13 Northeastern, 4:00 p.m. ET, TNT


    (Games in Jacksonville, FL)

    No. 2 Kentucky (-21.5vs. No. 15 Abilene Christian, 7:10 p.m. ET, CBS

    No. 7 Wofford (-2) vs. No. 10 Seton Hall, 9:40 p.m. ET, CBS



    (Games in Columbus, OH)

    No. 8 Utah State (-2.5vs. No. 9 Washington, 6:50 p.m. ET, TNT

    No. 1 North Carolina (-24.5vs. No. 16 Iona, 9:20 p.m. ET, TNT


    (Games in Tulsa, OK)

    No. 3 Houston (-12.5vs. No. 14 Georgia State, 7:20 p.m. ET, TBS

    No. 6 Iowa State (-6) vs. No. 11 Ohio State, 9:50 p.m. ET, TBS

Must-See Games

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    Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images

    No. 5 Auburn vs. No. 12 New Mexico State

    The Auburn Tigers are flying high after a 20-point win over the Tennessee Volunteers in the SEC tournament championship game. They've won eight in a row entering the NCAA tournament, including another successful outing against the Volunteers and a victory over the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

    It would be fair to say they have momentum on their side.

    But if that's the case, what do you call a 19-game winning streak? That's what New Mexico State is riding after a 15-1 run through the WAC regular-season schedule and a conference tournament title.

    The Aggies were also a No. 12 seed last year, falling to Clemson by 11 points in the first round. But this year's team rebounds as well as any in the nation on both ends of the floor, and it finished 37th in KenPom's offensive efficiency.

    This one certainly has the potential to be a classic 5 vs. 12 upset special.


    No. 7 Wofford vs. No. 10 Seton Hall

    Seton Hall will be the first NCAA tournament test for a Wofford team that has its sights set on a deep March Madness run.

    The Terriers won 29 games and went a perfect 18-0 in a good Southern Conference. We'll take more about them in a bit. But in a nutshell, they can shoot you out of the gym.

    As for Seton Hall, it doesn't have the resume of your average No. 10 seed with seven Quadrant 1 wins, including a victory over the Midwest Region's No. 2 seed Kentucky.

    The Cinderella story could end early for Wofford, and the Pirates could pick up the glass slipper and run.

Top Storylines

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    Three Bluebloods in One Region

    North Carolina, Kentucky and Kansas are all in the same bracket? Now there's something you don't see every year.

    Granted, this was a down year for the Jayhawks, and they have some key players watching from the sidelines. But they're still a supremely talented group capable of going on a run with head coach Bill Self guiding the way.

    These teams rank first (North Carolina), second (Kansas) and fourth (Kentucky) all-time in most No. 1 seeds, and the Tar Heels added another tally to their total (17) this year.

    Who will emerge from the region? Will No. 3 seed Houston or one of the lower-ranked teams crash the party?


    Wofford Terriers: The Best Team You've Never Heard Of

    Again, we're going to talk at length about Wofford in just a little bit, so we'll keep this short and sweet.

    This is not your run-of-the-mill, upstart small school.

    The Terriers finished the season at No. 13 in the NET rankings, No. 19 in KenPom's rankings and No. 20 in the AP poll. It's not surprising the committee gave them a No. 7 seed, but they're more talented than that number might imply.


    Will Kansas and Iowa State Clash Again?

    The Jayhawks and Cyclones have met up three times already this season:

    • At ISU (Jan. 5): Iowa State 77, Kansas 60
    • At KU (Jan. 12): Kansas 80, Iowa State 76
    • Big 12 Championship (March 16): Iowa State 78, Kansas 66

    What kind of fun would a fourth meeting bring?

    If the two teams do end up playing each other again, it wouldn't be until the Elite Eight. That would mean North Carolina, Kentucky, Houston and Auburn would all have fallen.

    Hey, stranger things have happened.

Players to Watch

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    Coby White
    Coby WhiteStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Coby White, PG, North Carolina

    Nassir Little entered the year as the marquee freshman in North Carolina's 2018 recruiting class. The 6'6" slasher was the No. 3 recruit in the class, per, and he looked like a surefire one-and-done lottery pick.

    While Little has been a solid contributor, fellow 5-star Coby White (No. 25 recruit) has stolen the show in Chapel Hill.

    The 6'5" guard averaged 16.3 points and shot 36.0 percent from beyond the arc on the year, upping those marks to 18.1 points and 38.5 percent during conference play. Among his many season highlights was a 34-point game against Syracuse on Feb. 26.

    Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman had him going No. 13 overall in his most recent 2019 NBA mock draft.


    PJ Washington, SF, Kentucky

    As usual, the Kentucky roster features no shortage of NBA-caliber talent. But the best of the bunch has been sophomore PJ Washington. 

    A 5-star recruit and the No. 15 player in the 2017 class, Washington averaged a somewhat disappointing 10.8 points during his freshman season and opted to return for another year. That decision has paid off, and Wasserman now slots the 6'8" forward at No. 16 overall in his mock draft.

    Just like White, Washington has upped his scoring in conference play, jumping from 14.8 points per game on the season to 16.1 per game in SEC play. 


    Fletcher Magee, SG, Wofford

    The star of the Wofford squad, Magee averages 20.5 points on a blistering 42.8 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

    He leads the nation with 151 made threes, and the 502 triples he's knocked down over the course of his four-year career trail only Travis Bader (504) for the all-time NCAA record.

    The 6'4" guard is the kind of player who can put a team on his back during the tournament.

Favorites Most Likely to Fall

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    No. 4 Kansas

    This season has not gone as hoped for the Jayhawks.

    With strong returning talent, a marquee transfer and a vaunted recruiting class, they began the season at the No. 1 spot in the AP poll.

    However, a 12-6 run through their conference schedule snapped a streak of 14 straight years with at least a share of the Big 12 regular-season title, and a 3-8 record on the road raises a serious red flag.

    Whether it's a first-round loss to a good No. 13-seeded Northeastern team or a second-round loss to the winner of the Auburn/New Mexico State game, this Kansas team looks ripe for an early exit.


    No. 5 Auburn

    We already talked about the potential for an upset in the first round when the Tigers take on an excellent No. 12 seed in New Mexico State.

    That matchup just looks like a prove-it move by the committee after Auburn's impressive win against Tennessee in the SEC championship game.

    Before their run through the conference tournament, Auburn looked more likely to be headed for a No. 6 or 7 seed. This opening-round matchup will be a big early test for whether they were ultimately overseeded.

Most Likely Cinderella

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    Fletcher Magee
    Fletcher MageeWade Payne/Associated Press

    No. 7 Wofford

    Alright, now it's finally time to dive into the Wofford Terriers.

    We've already touched on star guard Fletcher Magee and his prolific three-point-shooting ability. He's not alone.

    As a team, the Terriers shoot a staggering 41.6 percent from deep, and their 364 made threes rank fourth in the nation. That sharpshooting comes from all angles:

    • Fletcher Magee: 151 threes, 42.8 percent
    • Nathan Hoover: 84 threes, 45.7 percent
    • Storm Murphy: 47 threes, 48.5 percent
    • Tray Hollowell: 41 threes, 41.4 percent

    Heck, even 6'8" bruiser Cameron Jackson has connected on 7-of-18 attempts.

    Speaking of Jackson, his 35.2 player efficiency rating (PER) trailed only Duke's Zion Williamson (42.0) and Gonzaga's Brandon Clarke (37.2) among all Division 1 players. He averages 14.6 points and 7.5 rebounds in 23.1 minutes per game.

    Look out for the Terriers.

Who Will Make the Sweet 16?

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    No. 1 North Carolina

    The worst game the Tar Heels lost all season was a Quadrant 1 neutral-site game against Texas (NET: 38), which just missed the tournament field. Iona (NET: 202) won't pose much of a problem in the first round.

    Utah State would be a tough draw in the second round, given the stifling interior defense led by freshman Neemias Queta. The Tar Heels are talented enough to overcome that challenge, though.


    No. 12 New Mexico State

    Reaching the Sweet 16 would mean getting past Kansas and Auburn. 

    That's a tall order, but it's not outside the realm of possibilities. This team will be playing with the swagger of a group that has won 19 games in a row, even if those victories came against far lesser opponents.


    No. 6 Iowa State

    Fresh off a dominant 12-point win over Kansas in the Big 12 tournament title game, Iowa State is poised for a March Madness run.

    While the Cyclones had some hiccups along the way, they've looked, at times, like a team capable of beating anyone. That win over the Jayhawks last time out was one of those times.

    Lindell Wigginton and Talen Horton-Tucker are the X-factors. If those two can both get hot alongside leading scorer Marial Shayok, this team is tough to stop.

    The Cyclones do a decent job on the offensive boards, and that could be a major advantage against an undersized Houston team.


    No. 7 Wofford

    We talked earlier about this region having three bluebloods.

    Could we see just one reach the Sweet 16?

    Kentucky is 222nd in the nation for opponent's three-point percentage (35.0 percent), and Wofford is the deadliest deep threat in the tournament. That sounds like a recipe for disaster for the Wildcats and a potential path to the second week for the Terriers.

The Elite Eight Matchup Will Be...

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    No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 7 Wofford

    The carriage turns back into a pumpkin when New Mexico State faces off against North Carolina.

    The Tar Heels have the size to counter the Aggies' strength on the boards, as well as the offensive firepower to run them out of the gym. Meanwhile, the underdogs don't have the weapons to climb back into the contest if they fall behind early.

    In the Iowa State vs. Wofford game, it's easy to envision the Cyclones playing right into the Terriers' hands. Iowa State might have the advantage in an up-and-down, fast-paced game, but it can get a bit three-happy from time to time.

    That's not a game it'll win against Wofford, which could wind up being the Cyclones downfall if the No. 7 seed Terriers can bait them into that kind of contest.

And the Final Four Team Is...

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    No. 1 North Carolina

    North Carolina comes out on top in the long-awaited rematch.

    All the way back on Nov. 6—the first game of the season for both teams—North Carolina beat Wofford, 78-67.

    The fact that the game was that close speaks to just how competitive this Wofford team is, seeing as it didn't play its best game by any stretch of the imagination. Fletcher Magee shot a dismal 3-of-16 from beyond the arc, and the Terriers as a team hit just 9-of-35 (25.7 percent) from deep. Yet they were still able to hang around.

    Would that first meeting be enough for the Terriers to come up with a game plan that allows them to better attack the Tar Heels?

    In the end, North Carolina just has too many weapons and too big an athletic advantage.

    At any rate, this would make for one heck of a David vs. Goliath matchup in the Elite Eight. We're just predicting a slightly different outcome for Goliath.


    All stats courtesy of Sports Reference, unless otherwise noted.