Best seed outlook: On paper, the Midwest appears to be the most open of the four regions, but we nevertheless provide No. 1 North Carolina the greatest odds, with a 35 percent probability of reaching the Final Four and an 18 percent likelihood of appearing in the national championship match. Those chances are at least 8 percentage points lower compared to any other No. 1 team in the field, though, and for good reason: North Carolina’s crime is dependent on turning every play right into a fast break. The Tar Heels fight to get to the free-throw lineup and give up a slew of shots across the perimeter, and that, in a slowed-down, half-court matchup, could be rather problematic.
After getting waxed by Duke to start the summer, No. 2 Kentucky has caught fire in recent months while discovering equilibrium on both ends of the floor and largely abstaining in the 3-point line. No. 3 Houston, meanwhile, is currently in the midst of its best season because Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon were revolutionizing college basketball, and they boast a defense which ranks among the top together and inside the perimeter.
Sneaky Final Four pick: No. 5 Auburn. Whenever the Tigers steamrolled Tennessee 84-64 in Sunday’s SEC title game, it likely got the attention of a good deal of bracket-pickers. That wasn’t a one-off — Auburn also beat Tennessee eight days earlier, part of a series of eight consecutive wins for the Tigers, and 10 in their last 11 games. Having an explosive offense (No. 8 in KenPom efficacy ) that got more of its points out of downtown than every other team in the NCAA field, Auburn can heat up in a hurry. We provide the Tigers nearly a coin-flip’s likelihood of making the Sweet 16 — and also a very solid 37 percent likelihood of beating top-seeded North Carolina when the Tar Heels are awaiting Auburn there. The only kryptonite may be a hypothetical regional-final matchup with No. 2 seed Kentucky, which defeat the Tigers from 27 in late February to sweep their season collection.
Don’t wager on: No. 4 Kansas. The Jayhawks went into the year ranked No. 1 in the AP’s preseason poll, and they seemed to validate that the choice by starting the season 10-0. But a 15-9 record (and a few key injuries) since then have cast doubt on Kansas’s NCAA Tournament potential. This is a well-balanced team, but to say it doesn’t shoot well from the outside is an understatement — watch KU’s 3-for-18 performance from profound in Saturday’s Big 12 ouster against Iowa State. Add an unfavorable draw that puts them on a potential second-round crash course with Auburn (see above), and also we provide the Jayhawks just an 8% chance of making from the Midwest with their championship hopes intact.
Cinderella watch: No. 11 Ohio State. If a Big Ten team which has made 11 Final Fours could be a Cinderella, then you’re looking at it in those Buckeyes. (Hey, the committee’s rising trend to seed underwhelming power-conference schools this way really messes with the definition.) OSU went just 18-13 during the regular season, was defeated its second Big Ten tournament game also contains almost twice as many losses as wins since New Year’s. Why are the Buckeyes a potential Cinderella? Despite the seed, this remains a dangerous group, one which ranks 27th from Pomeroy’s corrected defensive evaluations and has celebrity forwards Kaleb Wesson back from suspension. So perhaps they will provide Big 12 champ Iowa State trouble. But mainly this tells you something about another potential Cinderellas within this area: Seton Hall got an extremely tough first-round matchup with underseeded Wofford; none of the additional low seeds are world-beaters. That leaves the Buckeyes, a group which did all it could to perform its way out of the tournament, but includes some mad potential no matter.
Player to watch: UNC, Cameron Johnson On a team that doesn’t hoist a ton of shots from the perimeter, Johnson is as lethal as they come. Observing an injury-riddled campaign in which he barely made greater than one-third of his appearances from beyond the arc, the graduate student is canning 46.5 percent of his attempts, which ranks inside the top 25 nationally.
Johnson has thrived in North Carolina’s every-possession-is-a-transition-opportunity scheme this season. He’s blossomed into one of the greatest scorers in the ACC, ranking between the 85th and 100th percentiles in scoring efficiency in transition, off displays and on spot-ups.
Johnson has raised his game in conference play, boasting the ACC’s top offensive rating (132.5) and accurate shooting percentage (64.6). Unexpectedly, a player who wasn’t viewed as a bonded professional now jobs to be a second-round pick.
Likeliest first-round upsets: No. 9 Washington over No. 8 Utah State (49 percent); No. 10 Seton Hall over No. 7 Wofford (37 percent); No. 11 Ohio State over No. 6 Iowa State (33 percent)
Have a look at our newest March Madness forecasts.
CORRECTION (March 18, 2019, 3:10 p.m.): A previous version of this story misstated the amount of Sweet 16s created by Villanova in recent seasons. Although the Wildcats have reached the NCAA Tournament’s”third round” in four of their past five seasons, that round was the Round of 32 before 2016 due to NCAA naming conventions.

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