Midwest Regional Preview
While everyone is gawking over the South and East regionals, very quietly the Midwest boasts two of the last three national champions – poised in the top two seeds nonetheless. As far as tradition and historical (as well as current) pedigree, it doesn’t get much richer than North Carolina and Kansas.
The Tarheels own the region’s #1 seed, seemingly by default after nearly every top seed contender fell in their conference tournament, including the Heels themselves to Florida State. However, don’t let a close loss in the ACC Final lull you into thinking this is a team ill-equipped to make a serious run to New Orleans and beyond. They were, after all, the undisputed preseason number one, and up till their odd bobble against UNLV and last-second “hello nation, my name is Anthony Davis” last-second, win-blocking, shot rejection of John Henson, were considered a threat to not only win it all but to do it in unblemished fashion. People REALLY loved this team.
Kansas meanwhile boasts the “other” national Player of the Year candidate in Thomas Robinson and, like UNC, suffered a tourney loss to a talented #3 seed, but won their difficult league outright in the regular season. They are as strong and dangerous as any #2 seed in the field.
So, is this region Carolina’s to win, Kansas’s to challenge and everyone else’s to simply covet? Or can someone crash the blue-bloods party? Let’s take a look at the Midwest Region and see how it is going to unfold…
In the top half of the bracket, obviously Carolina advances in Round One (for the record, YES, I am aware it is now technically called “Round Two” because the NCAA won’t appropriately label the play-in games as such; I refuse to call it round two. Sorry NCAA, you are not fooling me with your semantics!) In the #8/#9 game, give me Alabama out-athleting Creighton and frustrating the heck out of MVC P.O.Y Doug McDermott with smothering defense. From there, give me UNC with relative ease over an offensively-challenged ‘Bama squad who couldn’t score enough points to beat Carolina in a pre-game walkthrough. In the rest of the top half, give me Temple over USF (play-in victor over Cal) and Ohio to pull off a mild upset beating #4 seed Michigan. The Bobcats did it two years ago as well, then a #14 seed, not just beating but blowing out #3 Georgetown. I like a little history repeating – but then coming to a thud against the underrated Temple Owls in Round Two.
In the bottom half, give me #11 NC State over a #6 San Diego State team that has slumped of late and frankly just isn’t even close to as talented as last year’s version. In the 3/14 game, I wanted to take everybody’s upset darling pick, but will bank on Henry Sims being just enough to slip Georgetown past the valiant Belmont Bruins. I have Georgetown then prevailing over NC State, setting up a dynamic matchup in the Sweet Sixteen.
For the remainder of the bracket, don’t get seduced by all the “Detroit can upset Kansas talk.” Everyone is suddenly in love with Ray McCollum, Jr. He’s a good player, but let’s all pump the brakes and instead save the love for Thomas Robinson of Kansas, Ok?? The Jayhawks advance, to get a tough matchup with the savvy veteran backcourt of St. Mary’s who gets past Purdue, putting a sad final punctuation on Robbie Hummel’s ‘what could have been’ career. Gimme the Jayhawks to advance to the Sweet 16.
In the Sweet 16, I like North Carolina running Temple ragged, despite the Owls desperate attempts to slow them down. Carolina is perplexing in that they have a few conspicuous no-shows under their belt this season (the 16-point loss at UNLV, the massacre at Florida State), but on a neutral floor, there is no team in the country other than Kentucky even CLOSE to them. I’d put Ohio State a remote third and everyone else chasing frantically far behind. I wouldn’t bet my life they don’t slip up, but I would be a few bucks they beat Temple and survive and advance. In the other matchup, Kansas versus Georgetown is another splendid matchup. I know a lot of people think Georgetown was overseeded, but I really don’t. Are they as good as Baylor? No. Are they as good as Marquette, Florida State and every #4 and #5 seed? Sure. Absolutely.
That said… give me Kansas. I am just not confident enough in the consistency of Georgetown’s perimeter scoring to advance them any further. And though it isn’t relevant now, assuming everyone returns, Georgetown is likely my preseason #1 (also assuming Sullinger, Harrison Barnes and the Kentucky troika all go pro as expected….).
So that sets up the dream match-up for basketball purists, Kansas v. Carolina. Will the Jayhawks exact some revenge for their last Final Four defeat to Carolina? Will Carolina further erase memory of their shattered dream season in 2008? Will Roy Williams cry at the post game presser? (Yes, at least on the second and third.)
I like Carolina to advance to the Final Four, but will NOT miss this game if it happens. It will be fantastic, but the differentiator is the perimeter depth of Carolina. I like Kansas’s post and swing play with T-Rob and Jeff Withey, and I agree that oft-maligned point guard Tyshawn Taylor has had a fantastic senior year… but Carolina’s backcourt is way, way too much for Kansas. They were overwhelmed last week by Baylor’s NBA-level athleticism. They ain’t seen nothing yet… give me the Tarheels to cut down the nets and dance their way to N’Awlins.
Midwest Regional Champ: North Carolina Tarheels
Good Value Bets:
Georgetown at +800 is a decent price, considering they have the personnel to beat Kansas, and then just need to hope someone does the dirty work and eliminates Carolina for them. For a long-shot value pick, how about the veteran backcourt of St. Mary’s at +2000 or even Temple using that vaunted defense to frustrate Carolina into a shocking early-exit (a la UNLV earlier this season or FSU), and then looking incredibly delicious at +1800.