2019 NCAA Tournament Midwest Region Preview

by Michael Tomlin
2019 NCAA Tournament Midwest Region Preview

March Madness is officially here! With the release of the bracket, we can all get to filling out our paths for our favorite teams, planning out our knockout pool picks, or deciding on which mascots are the cutest. As you prepare for The Big Dance and whichever gambling you choose to partake in, we here at Fantasy Six Pack want to prepare you to make the most informed decisions as possible! I have the pleasure of breaking down the Midwest region of the NCAA Tournament, and Wednesday I will provide some tips for filling out your bracket and picking your knockout teams!

The Midwest region has the most storied top two seeds of any region. When you have arguably the best two college basketball programs in history as your number one and number two seeds, there will definitely be attention and fireworks.

Beyond the two perennial powerhouses, there are some sleepers that you have heard of and some dark horses that you have not. I’m here to give you the information you need to disseminate the Midwest region for the most profitable outcome.

2019 NCAA Tournament Midwest Region Preview

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Breakdown of the Top-4 Seeds

#1-Seed North Carolina Tar Heels

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The Tar Heels hung onto a #1 Seed despite losing in their conference semifinals to Duke. Before I get into it, I truly believe North Carolina is a really good basketball team. However, they are justly a benefit of the unbalanced scheduling in some of the bigger conferences. Think about it this way: of the rest of the teams in the ACC, North Carolina only played the second, third and fourth best teams once each, all at home. They lost to Virginia but beat Florida State and Virginia Tech. Moreover, they got to play the best team in their conference, Duke, without their generational talent. Twice.

North Carolina went 1-3 in non-conference play against teams either in the tournament or on the bubble. Yes, that one win was against Gonzaga, but they also lost to Texas, who you know, isn’t good.

Nevertheless, the boys from Chapel Hill have some serious talent. They have three likely NBA first round picks in Coby White, Nassir Little and Cameron Johnson. They have a senior leader in Luke Maye who has won a National Championship already. The Tar Heels have depth with ten different players averaging 10 minutes per game. North Carolina is one of only four teams to be ranked in the top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency per the Ken Pom ratings. While I think they may be slightly over-rated, they are still a force to be reckoned with.

#2-Seed Kentucky Wildcats

A team that proved their mettle against the aforementioned Tar Heels: the Kentucky Wildcats. Kentucky beat North Carolina on a neutral floor earlier in the year, leading by double digits for the majority of the game. They may not be in the group mentioned before within the respected Ken Pom ratings, but they are just outside (12th on offense, 13th on defense).

Never hurting for talent, John Calipari has a likely Top-10 NBA draft pick in freshman Keldon Johnson. Sophomore PJ Washington could work his way into the lottery consideration as well after leading the team in both points (14.8 per game) and rebounds (7.5 per game). Freshman Ashton Hagans is on the NBA radar but might be more of a 2020 prospect. Unlike most Kentucky teams, this group of Wildcats has depth as well. They can legitimately play 9-10 players so they won’t get run off the floor like previous years.

#3-Seed Houston Cougars

Veteran head coach Kelvin Sampson has turned the Houston program into something much more respectable than anything they have shown since Hakeem Olajuwon was in town. All three of their losses were respectable, with each defeat coming at the hands of a team in the NCAA Tournament. They aren’t your normal mid-major bully either. The Cougars beat the Pac-12 Tournament champion Oregon as well as the SEC regular season champion LSU.

They are not a star-laden team but hit you with versatility and depth. Eight different Cougars score more than five points per game, with only two scoring double figures each night (and none breaking the 17-point mark). They also play ten different players eleven minutes or more a game. Don’t let the letdown against Cincinnati fool you, this Houston team is a contender.

#4-Seed Kansas Jayhawks

The mainstream story out of Lawrence is that their probably unbeatable streak of 14 straight conference championships has been broken. However, this has overshadowed a team that has had to deal with more adversity than any other team in the country. Between NCAA sanctions on players, injuries to their stars, or self-imposed leaves of absence, the Jayhawks are hardly what you would have expected them to look like at this point. Through all of that, they are still a #4 Seed and a contender to make it to Minneapolis.

The reason that the Jayhawks are in contention lies on the shoulders of Junior transfer Dedric Lawson and true freshman point guard Devon Dotson. Lawson led the Big XII in scoring and rebounding as he would single-handedly take over games when Kansas needed it. Dotson has stepped up massively since Vick left the team. Nothing was expected of Dotson going into the year, but he has shown that he will be their facilitator for the next few years. While neither guy is seen as a top NBA prospect, both guys are solid college players that can take a team on an NCAA Tournament run.

Dark Horse Team of the Region

#10-Seed Seton Hall Pirates

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I would say that the Midwest region is the most top-heavy of the four regions this year. I don’t see a team that just screams Cinderella. However, Seton Hall is a team that can make some noise. The Pirates are probably the streakiest team in the tournament. They have had multiple losing streaks of three games or more, but they have also won three or more games in a row four different times, including a mid-season seven-game win streak. In their last five games, they have beat Marquette twice, beaten both Villanova and Georgetown, and lost a hard-fought, 2-point game to Villanova in the Big East Championship. They show up against the best competition

The real reason I think Seton Hall has a chance to make it to the second weekend: Myles Powell. If you did not get a chance to see the Pirates beat Marquette in the Big East semifinals, go back and check it out. Between getting ejected, getting it overturned and returning to the floor, and generally controlling the game, Powell willed his team to victory. He has scored at least 20 points in seven straight games and has the makeup of a scoring guard that can take a Big East team on a tourney run. Powell is one of the most dangerous players in the Midwest region.

Other Player(s) to Watch from the Region

Marial Shayok, Iowa State

Shayok transferred from Virginia to Iowa St. and exploded on the offensive end of the floor. After never scoring nine points per game with the Commodores, Shayok is putting up almost 19 points a game with the Cyclones while shooting nearly 50% from the field and 39% from 3-point range. Iowa St. was my long-shot pick to win the Big XII tournament and they showed that they can beat anyone. They move the ball exquisitely and Shayok is usually the beneficiary of it. If he can get hot enough, the Cyclones can make some noise in the Midwest region.

Fletcher Magee, Wofford

I would bet 99.9% of people filling out brackets will have never heard of Magee. However, he has the ability to be the Ali Farokhmanesh of this NCAA Tournament. Magee led the country in three-pointers, hitting 15 more than any other player in the nation. He is not a one-trick pony either, as he shot 43% from 3-point territory, 49% from 2-point, and 91% from the line. Magee led the Terriers in scoring putting up almost 21 points per game. I mentioned them in my conference tournament preview because they only have four losses, all against tournament teams (North Carolina, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Mississippi St.) all away from home. Magee has the ability to shoot them to the Midwest region final.

Best Game of the First Round

#7-Seed Wofford Terriers vs. #10-Seed Seton Hall Pirates

As if there was a shock over which game I liked the most in the first round, this 7/10 matchup is a true battle. I’ll set the over/under of combined points between Fletcher Magee and Myles Powell at 60… and I’m probably taking the over. Both of these teams are battle-tested and step up to the best of competition.

Most importantly, I feel like the winner of this game has a chance to decide the entire Midwest region. No, I don’t think either of these teams can make it to the Final Four. I do think they have the best chance to beat the #2 Seed Kentucky. And if one of these teams cannot get it done, then...

Pack Your Bags for Minneapolis

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As I have already mentioned, I’m not the biggest believer in North Carolina. I do believe in the top-level talent combined with the newfound depth that Kentucky provides. Do they have the hardest path of any #1 or #2 seed? Maybe. But how many years do we think a team has too hard of a road to navigate only to realize it made them stronger on their way to the Final Four?

I think Keldon Johnson takes his game to another level and pushes himself into Top-5 draft pick consideration. I think PJ Washington controls the glass and shows that while he may be a bit undersized, he can play big enough for the NBA.

All of that combined has me thinking we will see John Calipari take a more unlikely team to the Final Four. Can they win it all? Sure, but I’m not betting on that. But I will stake my claim to Kentucky coming out of the Midwest Region.

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