NCAA Tournament Preview: Midwest Regional

The Midwest Regional has two play-in games going tonight, as Pat Knights’ Lamar plays Vermont for the right to take on North Carolina, while Cal meets South Florida. This bracket offers one of the more intriguing possible regional finals if Kansas and North Carolina both hold serve, since it would mark the second time that UNC head coach Roy Williams has had to face the Kansas program he coached from 1989-2003 (the first was in the 2008 Final Four, won by Kansas). Will such a matchup take place in St. Louis, where North Carolina won the 2005 national title, but is right in Kansas’ backyard? Or will upsets hold sway here? TheSportsNotebook takes a look at the Midwest bracket, breaking them down by pod…

#1 SEED POD( North Carolina-Lamar/Vermont, Creighton-Alabama)
The Creighton-Alabama is a great game in the 8-9 spot, with the Bluejays Doug McDermott being an outstanding individual talent, and ‘Bama forward JaMychal Green aggressive on the boards and able to score.  If you’re bracket pool weights its scoring system like ours does (in the first round your points are worth 2 x the seed number), then winning these 8-9 games is the key if a bracket is closely contested. But if you’re question is whether either team can beat Carolina, the answer is a resounding no.

#4 SEED POD (Michigan-Ohio, Temple-Cal/South Florida)
These games are in Nashville, which I picked earlier this week as the most desirable pod for the neutral fan to attend. Lo and behold I heard last night that the wife of a friend of mine said her boss is going to Nashville for the games because he and a few buddies always pick an opening weekend venue to hit. Maybe I missed my calling when I didn’t become a travel agent. But one of the reasons I liked this pod for its entertainment value was that upsets all weekend long are a real possibility. That’s why I’m taking South Florida to move to the Sweet 16. And if the Bulls should lose tonight to Cal in the First Four? Then just take the Golden Bears (our pool, like others, will cut you slack on the first two nights). Either way, a play-in team is moving to the Sweet 16.

#3 SEED POD (Georgetown-Belmont, San Diego State-N.C. State)
Georgetown has their weaknesses, and N.C. State is a very well-balanced team with good athletic ability, and their playing well right now. So if the Wolfpack, seeded #11, beat the overseeded Aztecs in the first-round, it would be a second-round game with the Hoyas. But Georgetown has the muscle inside, they have Jason Clark on the perimeter and they’ll bag a couple Ws this weekend.

#2 SEED POD (Kansas-Detroit, St. Mary’s-Purdue)
This pod is almost exactly like the #1 seed group. St. Mary’s-Purdue is a fabulous basketball game and will be probably be important in enlightened pool systems that use weighted scoring based on seed numbers. But I don’t see them knocking off Kansas. Neither the Gaels or the Boilers have the inside presence to match up with Thomas Robinson and the big man muscles KU to the Sweet 16.

My projected games are North Carolina-South Florida and Kansas-Georgetown, so apart from the Bulls this is a reasonably chalky bracket. But chalk can also create great games and when the top two seeds hold serve, we’ll get that juicy Carolina-Kansas regional final. Bill Self has done a great coaching job this season, with only Robinson and guard Tyshawn Taylor as consistent contributors. But the man on the far sideline is nobody’s fool either, and he’s got more talent down low and the magnificent Kendall Marshall at the point. North Carolina moves on to New Orleans.