Midwest Regional Preview
The Kansas Jayhawks are a No. 1 seed. Sound familiar?
It should, as Kansas has been placed at the top of its respected bracket for the third straight year and the 14th time under head coach Bill Self. The other top seeds in the region are No. 2 Duke, No. 3 Michigan State and No. 4 Auburn. This is a bracket full of blue-bloods, as Syracuse snuck in as well as an 11-seed, facing a potential matchup with TCU if the Orange can get past Arizona State in the First Four.
The top three seeds should have no trouble advancing to the second round, although Michigan State and Duke have both fallen in the first round as 2-seeds in recent memory, most recently Michigan State to Middle Tennessee in 2016. Penn isn’t a usual 16-seed either, as the Ivy League has historically given trouble to top teams.
However, the fun starts at 4 and 5 with Auburn and Clemson. Auburn is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2003, but it will have to do so without forward Anfernee McLemore. They face No. 13 Charleston, who erased a 17-point deficit in their conference championship game to reach the dance. Clemson, on the other hand, runs up against No. 12 New Mexico State in San Diego, where the crowd will be heavily in support of the Aggies. Keep in mind, at least one 12-seed has upset a 5-seed in each of the last seven tournaments. That being said, I still like both top seeds advancing here.
No. 6 TCU will play the winner of Arizona State and Syracuse, and give credit to Jamie Dixon for how he has turned a school without much basketball history into a Big 12 contender. However, whether it be Tra Holder or Tyus Battle running the point against the Horned Frogs, their quickness on the outside will prove too much to overcome.
The most intriguing first-round matchup is No. 7 Rhode Island vs. No. 10 Oklahoma, as Trae Young is one of the flashiest players in the country, leading the nation in both points and assists per game. But Dan Hurley’s bunch will prove too much for a struggling Sooners team and the Rams will advance to the weekend.
I like No. 9 NC State to advance as well, as No. 8 Seton Hall has fallen on hard times recently.
Kansas should have no trouble with NC State, and Clemson can exploit its size advantage inside over Auburn to set up our first regional semifinal. Michigan State’s veteran leadership should be enough to propel the Spartans into the second weekend as well since nobody from TCU, Syracuse or Arizona State is as efficient offensively as the Spartans.
The best potential for an upset is Rhode Island over Duke. The Blue Devils lost as a 2-seed in the second round last year, and the Rams were one possession away from making the Sweet 16. Rhode Island’s Jared Terrell averages 17.2 points per game and could present a problem for Duke, but Wooden Award Finalist Marvin Bagley III will prove too much for the Rams inside.
Basketball fans everywhere will salivate over a Michigan State-Duke matchup, as two of the all-time great programs and coaches will square off. Both schools are looking to go back to the Final Four for the first time since 2015 when Duke dispatched Michigan State in the national semifinals en route to Coach K’s fifth national championship. Duke also took down Michigan State in the Sweet 16 in 2013.
The matchup to watch will be inside, as Bagley III and Wendell Carter will have their hands full with Miles Bridges and Nick Ward for the Spartans. However, this game will be won on the outside, and I give the edge to Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson and Josh Langford over Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr. by a hair.
On the other side, Kansas will continue its roll, as Devonte Graham will have a field day against Clemson’s suspect perimeter defense. The season-ending injury to Clemson forward Donte Grantham inside really hurts the Tigers, which can be further exploited if Kansas center Udoka Azubuike is back at full strength.
Michigan State and Kansas will clash again for a trip to the Final Four in San Antonio. The Jayhawks and Spartans met in the second round last year, and Kansas comfortably won that game. But this Spartans team is a year more experienced than they were a season ago.
Kansas has now fallen in the Elite 8 as a No. 1-seed in back-to-back years and the Jayhawks will do everything in their power to reverse that trend. However, Miles Bridges decided to come back to Michigan State for exactly this type of moment, and the sophomore standout will be the difference in the game.
Tom Izzo’s team will ride its two likely lottery picks to the Final Four, where they will have as good a chance as any team they meet there to cut down the nets.
Tom Shively is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.