NCAA Tournament Breakdown: Midwest Region Finds Favorable Paths for UNC, KU

There is always the inevitable discussion around the fact that you can never expect too many #1 and #2 seeded teams to make it through the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament. There is always the chance that the one #1 seed who you picked to get into the Final Four gets bumped out in the Round of 32. Always the one ‘why didn’t I think of that!’ selection, like Virginia Commonwealth last year, that keeps you scratching your head as you find yourself stuck with a handful of #1 and #2 seeds in the Elite 8. And of course, there is always that one friend of yours who tells you after the fact that you shouldn’t have made that one pick in the regional semifinal because it was ‘totally obvious that Team X was going to outrebound Team Y and win the game easily’. Well, for the Midwest Region in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, which features a number of sexy-looking picks taking teams making deep runs, I’m not hearing any of that nonsense. #1 North Carolina and #2 Kansas are the teams to beat, and we’ll break down why as we move through the early stages of this bracket into the Elite 8, where these two powerhouse teams will inevitably meet up.

Starting with the top-half of the Midwest Region, there’s at least a couple relatively easy picks to make that few people should find cause for concern with. First, #1 North Carolina gets past either 16 seed, be it Lamar or Vermont. I’m actually taking Lamar in that First Four game, as they’ve pulled together nicely after getting called out by head coach Pat Knight a few weeks back, and have plenty of confidence against a Vermont team that hasn’t ever won an NCAA tournament game. Secondly, #8 Creighton will get past #9 Alabama. The Jays shoot better than any team in the country at 50.9 percent from the floor, and score a ton of points behind Doug McDermott (23.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg), who is simply an exciting young player to watch. Next up, #5 Temple will get around the winner of the Cal vs. USF game taking place tonight. Temple’s Ramone Moore and Khalif Wyatt, both averaging over 17 points per game, will carry the Owls through the first round. Lastly for the top-half of the Midwest bracket, #4 Michigan will smother #13 Ohio U out of the picture, avoiding a major test of their offense that hinges on two underclassmen, Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.

That scenario places #5 Temple against #4 Michigan, in a game that could really go either way. Michigan doesn’t have great depth, and is one of the worst teams in the nation on the boards, but they do know how to react in big games against big teams. Beating Wisconsin, Ohio State, Indiana and Michigan State certainly means something, right? What it means that they’ll prevail over Temple, who’s only real impressive win this season came at home over Duke, and who needs to score near their 76 points/game average to assure a victory. That’s simply not going to happen against a very good Wolverines defense, which has been tested throughout the season and will be well prepared for anything the Owls can muster against them.

#1 North Carolina should see an interesting challenge from #8 Creighton in the Round of 32, especially if UNC’s John Henson is unable to play or play well in the early goings of the tournament, but the Tar Heels’ ability to score in droves and control the game inside the paint should put them easily past a smaller Bluejays team that has to shoot well from outside to have a chance. North Carolina could be susceptible to a very good defensive team (as they were sans Henson against Florida State), but my guess is head coach Roy Williams addresses those concerns in preparation for the tournament, and has his Heels playing equally well on defense as anyone they match up against. North Carolina rolls through Creighton to face Michigan in the Sweet 16.

Can Michigan hang with North Carolina and make a surprise visit to the Elite 8? Simple answer, no, no they can’t. Michigan would have been much better off if they had perhaps been seeded into the West Region, where they wouldn’t have such a big match-up disadvantage like the one they’ll have against the Tar Heels. But since they are faced with the inevitability of running into the best front court in the nation, I just can’t see a way that Michigan can physically put up enough points to roll with UNC. Consider also that the Heels may be getting John Henson back near top form (or at least as good as he’s been at this year, frequently suffering from wrist issues), as they’ll have another 5 days off before the Sweet 16, and the Wolverines start to look incredibly thin inside against the likes of Henson, Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes. Unless something catastrophic happens, like UNC decides to only shoot 3-pointers against Michigan and benches their big men, the Tar Heels will take advantage of their inside size and rebounding advantage and move past the Wolverines to reach the Elite 8 with relative ease.

With one side of the Midwest Region bracket wrapped up, let’s take a look at the goings on in the lower half, where #2 Kansas will likely only find one worthy opponent that could truly threaten their chances of meeting up with North Carolina for a spot in the Final Four.

There are some exciting games in this section of the Midwest from the get-go, starting with a great #6 vs. #11 showdown between San Diego State and North Carolina State. The Wolfpack played well enough in the ACC tournament, beating Virginia and just being edged by North Carolina, to work their way into an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament. While the Pack has certainly struggled against top-ranked teams this year, losing all seven games to teams that were ranked at the time, they have a number of good players on their team that could give them a boost through the Round of 64, and possibly even through the Round of 32. With 5 players in double figures, led by C.J. Leslie (who has 4 double-doubles in his last 5 games), and a team that has very good size on the perimeter, they’ll make trouble for a smaller Aztecs team that doesn’t shoot that well from outside, and doesn’t have any real inside threat to challenge N.C. State’s forwards. San Diego will struggle to get good looks in front of a bigger, more physical Wolfpack squad, and N.C. State will earn an upset-in-seeding-only victory to move on to the next round.

That next round finds a tough match-up indeed, as #3 Georgetown should be able to suffocate #14 Belmont in the opening match-up, with the Bruins unable to have any proper defensive answer to Henry Sims, Hollis Thompson and Otto Porter, nor an offensive answer inside the paint to keep up with the Hoyas big guys. As Georgetown has good depth, and plays smothering defense (allowing just 59.7 points per game this season), they make for an extremely formidable opponent against N.C. State. The Wolfpack may in fact find themselves in a similar position that Belmont does against them; undersized and unable to find an answer to each of the top scorers of the opposing team. I like Georgetown to shake out their tournament demons and push through to the Sweet 16 by getting past N.C. State relatively easily, but that’s where the party stops for the Hoyas, as they’ll run head first into #2 Kansas, and will get a true test from the likes of Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson, two of the most explosive players in the country.

The Kansas Jayhawks may in fact have the easiest path to the Sweet 16 of any team in the tournament. While #15 Detroit, their Round of 64 opponent, played well down the stretch and won the Horizon Conference, they are simply no match for Bill Self’s Jayhawks, who are the real deal coming out of the Big 12, and will be hungry to avenge their conference tournament ousting at the hands of the Baylor Bears. The poor Detroit Titans won’t know what hit them from the onset of this match-up, but you and I can guess it’ll probably be wearing a #0 jersey, and will be putting up 20 points and 20 rebounds, and answers to the name of Thomas Robinson.

Kansas will take on the winner of the #7 vs. #10 seed match-up, which will feature St. Mary’s, a talented team out of the West Coast Conference, and Purdue, a Big Ten team whose only real accomplishment was a 75-61 rout of Michigan on February 25th. While you can’t ever discount a team coming out of the very good Big Ten this year, the Boilermakers are in the lower half of that conference, and will struggle against a Saint Mary’s team that is having an historic year. The Gaels do everything pretty well, scoring 75 points per game on 47.5 percent shooting, and have a pair of exciting players to watch in Matthew Delladova and Rob Jones, who have helped to carry Saint Mary’s to their third WCC conference championship. I don’t see the Gaels able to hang with the likes of Kansas however, so despite a great run this year for them, the Jayhawks will be the ones reaching the Sweet 16 to face Georgetown.

What a great match-up we have here between #2 Kansas and #3 Georgetown. There is plenty of potential for the Jayhawks to get knocked off here, as one of their biggest question marks heading into the tournament is their depth. With the Hoyas playing big, physical ball on both offense and defense in the paint, Thomas Robinson could struggle to find space against the Hoyas big men, and if either he or Tyshawn Taylor fail to find shooting space against a constrictive Georgetown defense, this could easily turn into a major win for the Hoyas on their way to a very interesting meeting with North Carolina in the Elite 8. That said, I like both Robinson and center Jeff Withey to come up big in this match-up, should it play out this way in the brackets. The only real concern is foul trouble, as the Jayhawks simply can’t afford to sit Robinson (as was the case in their loss to Baylor in the Big 12 tournament), and expect to not be at a disadvantage with Hollis Thompson, Otto Porter and Henry Sims all looming large in the paint. However, I’ll gamble on Kansas to have a better shooting night in this match-up, as Tyshawn Taylor is clearly the best player on the perimeter out of both the teams, but will expect this game to possibly go either way right near the buzzer in a close, exciting battle.

Thus, that leaves us with #1 North Carolina and #2 Kansas set to face-off in the Elite 8 for the Midwest Region. In this scenario, there isn’t many ways that I can see Kansas overcoming the dynamic front court of the Tar Heels, who will have a big advantage on the boards, and have the difference maker, Harrison Barnes, creating all kinds of problems for the Jayhawks. Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey together match-up well against Tyler Zeller and John Henson, but KU doesn’t have a proper defender capable of containing Barnes. He’ll find inside players shifting over to confront him as he penetrates from the perimeter, which will in turn expose the week side of the Jayhawks defense, allowing either Zeller or Henson to be wide open down low. Across the board, the size advantage for UNC will simply be too much to handle, and despite any let up on defense, the scoring load will be too much for a thin Kansas team to have an answer for. Also, if Georgetown doesn’t get the best of KU by getting the Jayhawks into foul trouble, the big, physical inside players of UNC certainly will find a way to do so against either Thomas Robinson or Jeff Withey, or both. Size and depth wins this match-up, and with North Carolina owning advantages in both, punch the ticket for the Heels to make the Final Four in New Orleans come March 31st.

That puts a wrap on our extended look across the 4 regional brackets ahead of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. While its near-absolutely certain that none of us will get the picks exactly right, we hope that the insight into the bracket match-ups compiled here will provide you with at least some food for thought, and possibly some good information you can use to fill out your own brackets ahead of tomorrow’s tournament tip-off. We’ll keep up to date with more analysis on a few of the best head-to-head match-ups as the tournament goes forward towards the NCAA National Championship, so stay in touch, start thinking about the best online sports betting options to be had on the best looking match-ups throughout the early stages of the tournament, and bet with confidence at the best online sportsbooks reviewed here.

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