2019 NCAA Tournament Bracket Predictions: Midwest Region
One of the tenants of chaos theory is that that if you focus long enough and hard enough on dynamic, highly-sensitive, and seemingly random systems, then patterns actually start to emerge.
There is no system in sports more imbued with chaos than the NCAA Tournament.
And if you look long enough and hard enough at the NCAA Tournament, you will see that patterns have started to emerge, almost unwittingly, in the regions. Over the past decade, the East and the South Regions have taken turns as the most basic, by-the-book regions. These two regions are usually the home of the top two seeds and consensus favorites to win the national title on any given year. And, generally, those top teams are gifted with a relatively straightforward path to the Final Four.
The West Region has become the Region of Death. Over the past 10 years, more times than not, this is the most daunting region. This region generally has the most unpredictable paths and the most combustible combination of powerhouses, sleepers, Cinderellas, and high-risk, high-reward teams. The same is true this year.
Then there is the Midwest. And if you look closely over the past several years, the Midwest seems to be the playpen of the blue bloods. This region - which has been dominated by the top teams in the Big 12 and Big Ten - is generally where you will find the most aristocratic, traditional powers packed together. This is where the selection committee throws the usual suspects. And they let them fight it out in the heartland.
That is the case again this year. Last season it was Kansas, Duke and Michigan State fighting for the crown. This season we have North Carolina, Kentucky and Kansas all vying for the lone spot in the Final Four.
The Midwest Region semifinals and finals will take place on Friday, March 29, and Sunday, March 31, in Kansas City. Here are Doc's Sports March Madness bracket predictions for the Midwest Region (with odds courtesy of Sportsbook.ag):
No. 1 Seed: North Carolina Tar Heels (+190 to win Midwest Region)
Roy Williams is just two years removed from his most recent National Championship. This year's team isn't as good as that 2016-17 squad. Yet Williams has this year's team playing its best basketball of the year at the right time, just like that championship group. Seniors Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson are the pillars of this team. They both do it all, outside and inside, on both ends of the court. The X-factor is uber-talented point guard Coby White, who is capable of exploding over the next three weeks. Here is a list of the teams that have beaten UNC the last two months: Virginia and Duke. That's it. And if Williams' Heels get hot from the outside, they will be a force to be reckoned with.
North Carolina NCAA Tournament Prediction: This team isn't good enough to win a national title. White is arguably the only NBA-caliber player on the roster, and he's just a freshman. I think that Auburn is the only team on the top half of the bracket that can take out the Heels. And if they match up again, I think that Kentucky will beat North Carolina for the second time this year.
No. 2 Seed: Kentucky Wildcats (+280 to win Midwest Region)
John Calipari does not get enough credit for being one of the best coaches in college basketball. Yes, he is a dogged recruiter that stacks his team with an overflow of talent each season. That doesn't mean that Calipari isn't a great X's and O's guy. And he's proved with this year's squad that he can nurture young talent as well as anyone in the history of the sport. Kentucky is still young and raw. But they have size, NBA talent, and enough confidence to shoot their way to a Final Four. P.J. Washington, Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson compliment each other perfectly. And if rugged power forward Reid Travis is healthy, he can be a load to deal with in the post. UK defends well and they can win a variety of ways. They are never an easy out and won't be again this tournament.
Kentucky NCAA Tournament Predictions: I think that Kentucky has the goods to make it to the Final Four. I simply don't think that Iowa State or Houston can grit their way to a win over the supremely talented Wildcats. Kentucky has already beaten Auburn twice this year, including a 27-point spanking in Rupp Arena. But I don't think the Wildcats want to see the Tigers a third time. A UNC-UK Elite Eight game would be fantastic. And if that's the case, I think Kentucky would beat the Heels a second time this season.
No. 3 Seed: Houston Cougars (+550)
Kelvin Sampson has proven yet again that he can coach. The Cougars are the biggest overachievers in the country, losing super scorer Rob Gray from last year's second-round squad and still winning over 30 games. Houston earned wins over Oregon, LSU, Utah State in the nonconference, and they are 8-3 straight up against the field. The veteran backcourt of Corey Davis, Armoni Brooks and Galen Robinson can play with anybody. And I don't know if any team in the country plays with as much effort and energy as the Cougars.
Houston NCAA Tournament Predictions: I've been wrong about Houston all season long. They are not afraid of anyone, and I think that they would love a piece of Kentucky in the Sweet 16. They may not get there, though, if the guards for Georgia State or Iowa State prove themselves better than the Cougar trio.
No. 4 Seed: Kansas Jayhawks (+1100)
How amazing is your program when not winning a conference championship and getting 'only' a No. 4 seed is considered some kind of massive disappointment? Yet here we are with the Jayhawks, who are suffering through a 'down' year. Personnel losses, particularly to their two most experienced players, crippled this team's depth. Dedric Lawson is an absolute stud, though, and will try to carry a roster comprised almost entirely of freshmen and sophomores into the second weekend.
Kansas NCAA Tournament Predictions: Northeastern is going to be a popular upset pick over the Jayhawks in Round 1. And even if the Jayhawks do avoid the embarrassment of a first-round exit, it is hard to see them shooting their way past smoking-hot Auburn in the second round.
No. 5 Seed: Auburn Tigers (+700)
Is any team in the country as hot as Auburn heading into The Big Dance? The Tigers won the SEC Championship on the strength of four wins in four nights, including a 20-point thrashing of Tennessee in the title game. That was Auburn's second win over the Vols in eight days, and Auburn is riding an eight-game winning streak into the tournament. Jared Harper and Bryce Brown form arguably the best backcourt in the nation. And with Auburn now getting more production and defense from its host of long, athletic win players, the Tigers are rolling. Auburn was a Top 10 team for most of the first two months of the season, so this shouldn't be all that surprising.
Auburn NCAA Tournament Predictions: I've seen this before. Auburn may have blown its top in the SEC Tournament, and this team could be ripe for a flat spot in the first round against New Mexico State. If they do avoid a letdown in that game, though, then this team absolutely has the talent to make a run to the Elite Eight.
No. 6 Seed: Iowa State Cyclones (+1200)
The Cyclones have been fool's gold for most of this season. Despite a five-guard rotation that most teams would kill for, the Cyclones had been an erratic, unreliable mess for most of the past two months. They've had injuries and suspensions to deal with, and the season was spiraling out of control. But Iowa State got it all together at the Big 12 Tournament, won three games in three nights, and blew out Kansas to claim the league title. Marial Shayok, Lindell Wigginton and Talen Horton-Tucker are a handful in the backcourt. And if Iowa State can get absolutely anything - offensively or defensively - out of the post, then they can play with anyone in the field.
Iowa State Tournament Predictions: Can the Cyclones keep it going? I doubt it. Every time I think that this team has turned a corner, they do something to make me feel foolish for ever trusting them. Iowa State is a very talented team. But they stand zero chance of surviving this bracket due to shaky decision-making and a total lack of size.
Best first-round matchup: No. 6 Iowa State (-5.5) vs. No. 11 Ohio State
As I just touched on, Iowa State is coming off an emotional run to the Big 12 title. I've seen this 100 times before: a team pops its top in the conference tournament and then has a total letdown/meltdown in the NCAA Tournament. Iowa State fits the mold of that type of team to a "T". Ohio State is just happy to be in the NCAA Tournament after losing seven of its last 10 games. They can still make some noise now that they are here, though, led by bulky power forward Kaleb Wesson. The Buckeyes are a well-coached team that played in the NCAA Tournament last year. They won't be overwhelmed by the moment and will go all out for an upset.
Best potential second-round matchup: No. 4 Kansas vs. No. 5 Auburn
Kansas is not a national title contender this year. That doesn't mean that they are a pushover. The Jayhawks have one of the best players in the nation in Dedric Lawson. They also have some young guards with a lot of potential. Match that up with an Auburn backcourt that has a wealth of experience, and it could make for an exciting game.
Upset Alert (first round): No. 3 Houston (-10.5) vs. No. 14 Georgia State
There are several potential upsets in the first round of this region. Ohio State, New Mexico State and Northeastern are all potential bracket busters. However, I think that Georgia State is a team to keep an eye on, and the Panthers have the potential to pull a real shocker. This Georgia State team bombed UGA by 24 points and also won outright at Alabama as a double-digit underdog. Ron Hunter has pulled first-round upsets with GSU before, and he has an experienced team that could turn the trick again. Georgia State takes - and makes - a lot of 3-point shots. If they get hot for one evening, they could knock off one of the top 12 seeds in the dance.
Upset Alert (second round): No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 10 Seton Hall
Seton Hall has already pulled this upset once. They beat Kentucky 84-83 on a neutral court back on Dec. 8. Now, this Kentucky team is definitely playing much better basketball now than it was a month into the season. (And the Pirates may not even survive Wofford.) The Pirates won't be scared of Kentucky, though, and they will also have the best player on the floor in Myles Powell. Powell can explode at any time, and he has scored 35 or more points in four of his last seven games. This is definitely a dangerous Pirates squad, and Kentucky may have to earn their spot in the Sweet 16.
Dark Horse Team: No. 5 Auburn
As I mentioned, Auburn started the year as a Top 10 team. They are legit. Brown and Harper are exceptional guards, and right now this team is firing on all cylinders, winning eight in a row. Bruce Pearl has been a dud in the NCAA Tournament. However, as a No. 5 seed, this Tigers team comes into The Big Dance without a lot of attention or expectations. If they continue to play like they did in Tennessee last week at the SEC Tournament, they may be able to shoot their way to an Elite Eight.
Team That Makes Me Nervous: No. 3 Houston
Take whatever I say about the Cougars with a grain of salt. I have been wrong about this team all season long. Are they any good? I'm honestly asking. I've seen them play 10 times and I have seen them absolutely truck some hapless opponents. Yet I still don't have that much confidence in this group. They have a really tricky first-round matchup and could get chopped down early. Or this team could continue to overachieve, continue to exert max effort, and they could force their way into the Elite Eight. I think that this team has the most boom-or-bust potential in this region. And that is saying something with teams like Iowa State and Auburn just a few seed lines behind the Cougars.
2019 Midwest Region Predictions: This region is as top-heavy as any in the NCAA Tournament. Sure, there are some potential spoilers lurking the first round weeds. But when you have blue bloods like North Carolina, Kentucky and Kansas along with the amazing backcourts of Auburn, Iowa State and Houston, you can kind of tell where this region is going. Rarely do we ever get the 1-vs.-2 matchup that everyone wants when the bracket is revealed. But I have a hard time predicting anything other than a classic North Carolina-Kentucky regional final. I will say this: it is rare to get more than two No. 1 seeds in the Final Four. Duke is already one. If Gonzaga or Virginia wins their respective regions, that won't bode well for the Tar Heels. If not, UNC could streak to Minneapolis. I think that Kentucky has a little easier path, though, and I think that the Wildcats will be able to hold off UNC for a second time en route to the Final Four.
Robert Ferringo is a member of the Basketball Writer's Association of America and a professional sports handicapper for Doc's Sports. He is considered one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and has posted 10 of 12 winning seasons. He is looking for a monster March run and will have an 8-Unit NCAA Tournament Game of the Year this week. You can sign up for his college basketball picks and get more information here .
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