By Oliver Mauntel
The Midwest Region is caked with bluebloods, and I believe the national champion may arise from this region. If Michigan State and Duke happen to meet in the Sweet 16, the winner will be my favorite to capture the title. Syracuse, New Mexico State, and Charleston are all threats to the front-runners.
Kansas (27-7): Although this isn’t one of Bill Self’s most talented teams, Kansas still found its way to a number one seed. Devonte’ Graham is the leader of this team, and a candidate for national player of the year. Malik Newman has turned his game up a notch, helping the Jayhawks play their best basketball at the right time. Keep an eye on KU’s foul totals; Kansas only plays seven players, so they must avoid foul trouble.
On the road/neutral site: (13-3) Last 10 games: (8-2)
Duke (26-7): The Blue Devils are young, but they may be the most talented team in the field. Duke struggled defensively for the majority of the season, but a recent transition to the 2-3 zone has alleviated them of those struggles. Grayson Allen has been tearing it up in the first halves of their recent games, and Marvin Bagley III has been a double-double machine. Good luck beating these guys at their best.
On the road/neutral site: (11-6) Last 10 games: (7-3)
Michigan State (29-4): The Spartans may be a number three seed, but they are as good as any team in the country. Jaren Jackson is proven to be a problem to keep off the glass, and Miles Bridges is Tom Izzo’s Swiss army-knife. Ranked in the top ten in rebounds and ranked first in blocks, Michigan State can take over any game on the boards.
On the road/neutral site: (13-3) Last 10 games: (9-1)
Auburn (25-7): Auburn has been one of college basketball’s biggest surprises this season. As one of the smallest teams in the nation, their success on the glass is definitely a surprise. This is Auburn’s first tournament appearance since 2003, so these players have no tournament experience. If the Tigers’ SEC tournament performance was any indication of what is to come, say goodbye to Auburn.
On the road/neutral site: (10-6) Last 10 games: (5-5)
Clemson (23-9): Clemson has been another pleasant surprise this season. The Tigers knocked off Ohio State on the road, Florida in a neutral site, and North Carolina at home. However, these wins all occurred before Clemson lost Donte Grantham for the remainder of the season. Since Grantham’s injury, the Tigers are 7-6. Watch out for a (5/12) upset here.
On the road/neutral site: (8-8) Last 10 games: (5-5)
TCU (21-11): In only his second season as TCU’s head coach, Jamie Dixon has brought the Horned Frogs to the Big Dance for the first time in two decades. The Horned Frogs lost their starting point guard, Jaylen Fisher, when he suffered a season ending knee injury in mid-January. With Fisher, TCU was 13-4. Without Fisher, TCU is 8-7. TCU still has offensive firepower, scoring 83.0 ppg on 49.9% shooting, which includes 40.0% from three. TCU can still win a game or two, but they are not nearly as dangerous as they would have been with Fisher.
On the road/neutral site: (6-8) Last 10 games: (5-5)
Rhode Island (25-7): For the second straight season, the Rams established themselves as the top of the food chain in the Atlantic 10. In non-conference action, Rhode Island beat Seton Hall and Providence. Defensively, the Rams are quick and pesty, averaging 8.0 spg. Rhode Island has the personnel to pester Oklahoma’s Trae Young in the first round.
On the road/neutral site: (10-6) Last 10 games: (6-4)
Seton Hall (21-11): In November/December, the Pirates won consecutive games against Texas Tech and Louisville. In February, Seton Hall lost four straight. The Pirates have four players that average over 13.0 ppg, including Angel Delgado (13.3 ppg, 11.6 rpg), a double-double machine. If Seton Hall brings their A-game, there’s no doubt they can win a game. They might even have a shot to trump Kansas.
On the road/neutral site: (7-8) Last 10 games: (4-6)
North Carolina State (21-11): The Wolfpack have been up and down all season, with losses against Northern Iowa, UNC Greensboro, and Georgia Tech. However, few teams in the country have quality wins like the Wolfpack do. NC State has wins over Arizona, Duke, North Carolina, and Clemson. If the good version of NC State shows up, then this is a team Kansas wants to avoid in the second round.
On the road/neutral site: (5-8) Last 10 games: (6-4)
Oklahoma (18-13): As they enter the tournament, the Sooners may be the coldest team in the field. Oklahoma is 4-11 in their final 15 games, and haven’t won a game away from Norman in 2018. As cold as they are, a fresh start may rejuvenate the Sooners. After all, defending Trae Young for the first time is no easy task.
On the road/neutral site: (5-11) Last 10 games: (2-8)
Syracuse (21-13) (defeated Arizona State in First Four): The Orange are not a very good shooting team, but their iconic 2-3 zone is still a force. Syracuse is a young team -the Orange play no seniors-, and uses their athleticism to their advantage. Syracuse commonly plays isolation basketball offensively, relying on Frank Howard and Tyus Battle to make something happen. If the shots for Howard and Battle aren’t falling, Syracuse has a slim chance of winning.
On the road/neutral site: (7-8) Last 10 games: (5-5)
New Mexico State (28-5): The Aggies are not ordinary 12-seed. In December, New Mexico State defeated full-strength Miami, 63-54. The Aggies also defeated Davidson and Illinois, and fought USC to the final buzzer. The Aggies top two players -Zach Lofton (19.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and Jemerrio Jones (11.0 ppg, 13.2 rpg)- can compete with any other guard-big man combo out there. New Mexico State is more than capable of pulling off not one, but two upsets in March.
On the road/neutral site: (14-4) Last 10 games: (8-2)
Charleston (26-7): After a 12-6 start to the season, the Cougars finished 14-1 to capture the CAA crown. With three players that average at least 17.0 ppg, Charleston will make life difficult for Auburn. Don’t be shocked if Charleston clips the Tigers.
On the road/neutral site: (11-7) Last 10 games: (9-1)
Bucknell (25-9): Bucknell’s offense is a force to be reckoned with. The Bison hung 81 points (also their season average) on North Carolina in November, albeit in a loss. To slow down Bucknell’s offense, Michigan State will need to contain Zach Thomas, a senior. Bucknell will try to ride Thomas -who averages 20.3 ppg and 9.2 rpg- to conquer a title favorite.
On the road/neutral site: (10-8) Last 10 games: (9-1)
Iona (20-13): The Gaels finished fourth in the regular season MAAC standings, but rallied to capture the title in the conference tournament. Iona faces a tall task against Duke, and will need to rely on the three-ball to hang around. Iona averages 38.8% from behind the three point line this year, and has five players that average double figures. It will be interesting to see how this offense fares against Duke’s new-look defense.
On the road/neutral site: (12-10) Last 10 games: (6-4)
Pennsylvania (23-8): The Quakers might be the best 16-seed in recent memory, but it is highly unlikely that they will knock off the Jayhawks. Ivy League teams typically make some noise in the NCAA tournament, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Penn gives Kansas some trouble.
On the road/neutral site: (12-5) Last 10 games: (8-2)