It’s finally here! The first day of the NCAA tournament is upon us! Jeremy and Sam are closing out our bracket breakdown series with a look at the Midwest region. You can find all of the other regional breakdowns here:
1 Kansas (RPI: 5, Kenpom: 9) vs. 16 Penn (RPI: 124, Kenpom: 128)
This is one of the closest 1 vs. 16 matchups in tournament history. That said, once again, a 1 will beat a 16. Penn is widely-thought to be underseeded, but not enough that it will make a difference. Kansas is led by senior Devonte Graham, who is a candidate this year’s NPOY award, playing point guard for the Jayhawks. Even without center Udoka Azubuike, they’ll have the depth inside to meet Penn’s challenge.
8 Seton Hall (RPI: 31, KenPom: 27) vs. 9 NC State (RPI: 62, KenPom: 41)
NC State was the beneficiary of a very strong ACC. They got a few good wins, and had no opportunities to get bad losses which led to this statistical overseed. Seton Hall has Angel Delgado, one of the best centers in the game. He averages at or around a double-double consistently and can be a force. He gives the Pirates the edge here.
5 Clemson (RPI: 29, Kenpom: 19) vs. 12 New Mexico St (RPI: 38, Kenpom: 53)
This is also a popular upset pick. Clemson is missing it’s star forward after Donte Grantham tore his ACL in January. Since then, they’re a measly 6-5. The Aggies have an elite scorer in Zach Lofton and a force at the 4 in Jemerrio Jones. They’re a balanced team that could give the tigers trouble, but Clemson should win it in a close one.
4 Auburn (RPI: 14, Kenpom: 16) vs. 13 Charleston (RPI: 60, Kenpom: 120)
Auburn had an extremely disappointing stay in the SEC tournament. They led the conference all year before losing after just one win in the tournament. For this reason, people are giving Charleston an extended look for a possible upset. CofC plays fast, and will likely try to speed up the tempo. If the Cougars can get into their style of game, they have a real shot at victory.
6 TCU (RPI: 43, Kenpom: 22) vs. 11 ASU/Syracuse (RPI: 66/45, Kenpom: 47/56)
Syracuse has been in this before. Two years ago they took an unexpected first four bid to the final 4. This is a different team however, as they don’t have the NBA prospects this time around. TCU is an efficient offensive team that thrived in the toughest conference in college basketball. Seniors Brodziansky and Williams will likely carry them into the next round.
3 Michigan St (RPI: 15, Kenpom: 6) vs. 14 Bucknell (RPI: 83, Kenpom: 101)
Michigan State has just one win in the past two tournaments combined, and it’s a good bet that’ll change. Bucknell has been to the tournament with this group of players before, but Michigan State just has too many weapons, including NBA prospects Jaren Jackson and Miles Bridges. Barring an MTSU-like collapse, the Spartans should win easily.
7 Rhode Island (RPI: 13, Kenpom: 48) vs. 10 Oklahoma (RPI: 47, Kenpom: 49)
Oklahoma was on a roll in early January. Trae Young was hitting shots from everywhere, and the team was clicking on all cylinders. They’ve been skidding since then however, losing 11 of their last 15 games. URI is led by a trio of seniors, and was a bad possession away from winning their conference. They should be able to handle the Sooners, barring Trae Young going into god-mode.
2 Duke (RPI: 6, Kenpom: 3) vs. 15 Iona (RPI: 108, Kenpom: 135)
The Blue Devils will face a tough 15 seed in the Gaels. They shoot well and have solid veteran leadership, all of which is needed for an upset. Duke has been on the losing end the dreaded 2/15 upset before. This won’t end that way, however, since Duke is loaded with Bagley, Trent, and Allen.
1 Kansas (RPI: 5, Kenpom: 9) vs. 8 Seton Hall (RPI: 31, KenPom: 27)
Kansas will likely not have Udoka Azubuike for this matchup but it won’t matter. They’ll be going against a Seton Hall team that got bounced in their first Big East tournament game by a lower seeded team. If Kansas has their storied “let’s lose in the second round for no reason at all” game, then the Pirates could be a viable choice, but this is unlikely with their current group of veterans.
5 Clemson (RPI: 29, Kenpom: 19) vs. 4 Auburn (RPI: 14, Kenpom: 16)
This is seriously a game that might not even come to pass. Both teams have been so shaky as of late that they’re on upset alert for their first round matchups. Auburn was very consistent in the regular season, while Clemson is without their star big man due to a knee injury, so Auburn has the uneasy edge.
6 TCU (RPI: 43, Kenpom: 22) vs. 3 Michigan St (RPI: 15, Kenpom: 6)
The Horned Frogs lost their fantastic point guard Jaylen Fisher midway through conference play. They’ve felt the pain of the injury severely since his departure, scoring significantly fewer points per game. This is a bad omen when you’re facing an high-powered offense in the Spartans such as they are. Miles Bridges and company can take over games in an instant, though they likely won’t need to here.
7 Rhode Island (RPI: 13, Kenpom: 48) vs. 2 Duke (RPI: 6, Kenpom: 3)
Rhode Island will have a chance to take down big bad Duke in this matchup. They dominated the regular season in the A-10 until right at the end when they seemed to falter, losing at home on senior night by 30, and failing to break 60 points in a title game upset at the hands of Davidson. Duke’s loaded starters should have no problem dispensing of them.
Continue to follow MSB for coverage throughout the NCAA Tournament.