The Midwest Region is absolutely loaded, with a 1-2-3 punch in Kansas, Duke and Michigan State that rivals what any other region has to offer. Add in dangerous teams like TCU, Clemson and Auburn, throw in NPOY contender Trae Young, and you have a recipe for a region full of big games and interesting storylines.
Editor’s Note: Big wins are typically going to be wins against Top-25 Kenpom teams, whereas bad losses include losses to teams that either didn’t make the tournament or are outside the Top 50 in Kenpom. There is some subjectivity in the bad losses department.
1 – Kansas Jayhawks (27-7, Big 12 Regular Season and Tournament Champions, Kenpom Ranking: 9)
Big Wins: TCU (x2), West Virginia (x2), Texas Tech, Kentucky
Bad Losses: Washington
The Breakdown: Kansas was a team that was questioned all year long, especially as depth issues and puzzling losses led many to conclude that this year was actually the year that their conference title streak was going to end. But the end of the season went as we have come to expect from Bill Self’s squad, and they finished on an absolute tear to win the regular season title. Even an injury to top big man Udoka Azubuike couldn’t derail them during the Big 12 tournament, as Silvio De Sousa and Malik Newman rose up to help Devonte Graham push the Jayhawks to a tournament title.
2 – Duke Blue Devils (26-7, 2nd in ACC, KR: 3)
Big Wins: Michigan State, Florida, Clemson, North Carolina
Bad Losses: Boston College, St John’s
The Breakdown: Duke is likely the favorite to come out of this region, especially since standout freshman Marvin Bagley has returned and continued to light up his opponents. Grayson Allen provides this team with some leadership, but he showed during the ACC tournament that he still isn’t a model of good sportsmanship. They have an extremely difficult road, but also have the talent to fight through and make it to the Final Four.
3 – Michigan State Spartans (29-4, Big Ten Regular Season Champions, KR: 6)
Big Wins: North Carolina, Purdue
Bad Losses: None
The Breakdown: Many are picking Michigan State to come out of this region, and the Spartans certainly have looked fairly impressive recently. Each of their losses are to Kenpom Top-15 teams, meaning they haven’t even lost to mediocre teams. But they are only 2-4 against Top-25 teams, so it’s fair to say that this squad hasn’t really been tested. Can they overcome a possible stretch of 3 of them in a row (TCU, Duke, Kansas) to make the Final Four?
4 – Auburn Tigers (25-7, SEC Regular Season Co-Champions, KR: 16)
Best Wins: Tennessee, Kentucky
Bad Losses: Temple, South Carolina
The Breakdown: Auburn has had a roller-coaster of a season, embroiled in scandal before the season even started and picked ninth in the preseason poll before rolling their way to a share of the regular season championship. They didn’t even get to participate in the Big-12 SEC challenge, which would have given them a good opportunity to showcase their team against a quality squad. This team had a hiccup in their conference tournament opener, but they have the talent to go deep in the tournament if they can get a few breaks.
5 – Clemson Tigers (23-9, T-3rd in SEC, KR: 19)
Big Wins: Ohio State, North Carolina, Florida
Bad Losses: Temple
The Breakdown: Stuck in the logjam that is 3rd place in the ACC (4 teams tied), Clemson hasn’t really done anything to distinguish itself from the rest of their ACC brethren. They are a very good defensive team (8th in Kenpom), but don’t force many turnovers and aren’t very good on the offensive glass. They have talent to make it through the first weekend, but they also could get upset very early.
6 – TCU Horned Frogs (21-11, 5th in Big 12, KR: 22)
Big Wins: West Virginia, Nevada
Bad Losses: Vanderbilt
The Breakdown: The loss of Jaylen Fisher was big for this team, but they have managed to find themselves down the stretch and turn into a formidable team down the stretch. They struggled against the top teams in their conference, but they still have the capability of pulling off a huge upset.
7 – Rhode Island Rams (25-7, Atlantic 10 Conference Regular Season Champion, KR: 50)
Best Wins: Seton Hall, Davidson
Bad Losses: St. Joseph’s
The Breakdown: Rhode Island faded down the stretch, ending the regular season with two straight losses and then losing the conference tournament championship game to allow Davidson to sneak into the field. They are fortunate to face another fading squad in Oklahoma, and their ability to force turnovers should factor greatly into the outcome there.
8 – Seton Hall Pirates (21-11, T-3rd in Big East, KR: 26)
Big Wins: Texas Tech, Butler (x2)
Bad Losses: Rutgers, Marquette, Georgetown
The Breakdown: It’s hard to believe that this team is just outside the Top-25, as they don’t really have that look and feel. They are fairly good in all facets of the game, but don’t really stand out anywhere.
9 – North Carolina State Wolfpack (21-11, T-3rd in SEC, KR: 42)
Big Wins: Duke, North Carolina, Arizona
Bad Losses: Northern Iowa, UNC Greensboro, Georgia Tech, Boston College
The Breakdown: This team is not great defensively, a fact that has led to some puzzling losses. They have some talent, but it is hard to see why they got a 9 seed, unless their 3rd place finish in conference gave them a boost.
10 – Oklahoma Sooners (18-13, 7th in Big 12, KR: 48)
Big Wins: Wichita State, TCU (x2), Texas Tech, Kansas
Bad Losses: Iowa State
The Breakdown: They really only have one bad loss (I can’t count Oklahoma State as a bad loss), but the sheer number of losses and inability to stay competitive in many of them throws some big red flags. They still have one of the top contenders for the NPOY, so you can’t count them out, but if they manage to get past Rhode Island, Duke probably waits to send them home.
11a – Arizona State Sun Devils (20-11, T-8th in Pac 12, KR: 46)
Big Wins: Xavier, Kansas
Bad Losses: Colorado (x2), Oregon (x2), Stanford (x2), Utah, Washington, Oregon State
The Breakdown: It’s clear that the selection committee weighted big wins much higher than bad losses, as you can see that ASU had a couple monster wins that overrode the huge number of bad losses. They can get past Syracuse, but I don’t expect them to put up much of a fight against TCU.
11a – Syracuse Orange (20-13, T-10th in ACC, KR: 56)
Big Wins: Clemson
Bad Losses: Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Boston College
The Breakdown: The last team in the field, I’m still baffled about how they made it. They don’t belong in the field at all, and while I think they can potentially get past Arizona State, I don’t see them being competitive with TCU at all.
12 – New Mexico State Aggies (21-11, Western Athletic Conference Regular Season and Tournament Champion, KR: 54)
Best Wins: Miami (FL), Davidson
Bad Losses: San Diego, Seattle
The Breakdown: This is a very good defensive team, although there is some question as to how much of that is a by-product of their schedule. However, this is a good rebounding team, and they have the ability to pull off an early upset or two. This is their 11th appearance, and first since 2013.
13 – College of Charleston Cougars (26-7, Mid American Conference Regular Season Co-Champions and Tournament Champions, KR: 120)
Best Wins: Northeastern (x3)
Bad Losses: Cal Poly, Drexel, Elon, Towson, William & Mary
The Breakdown: This is the first appearance for the Cougars since 1999, and the 5th overall. Their only win came in 1997.
14 – Bucknell Bison (25-9, Patriot League Regular Season and Tournament Champions, KR: 101)
Best Wins: Vermont
Bad Losses: Monmouth, VCU, Boston, Lehigh
The Breakdown: This is the 2nd straight appearance for Bucknell, and the 8th overall.
15 – Iona Gaels (20-13, 2nd in Sun Belt Conference, Sun Belt Tournament Champions, KR: 135)
Best Wins: Rider, Weber State
Bad Losses: Coastal Carolina, Albany, Fairfield
The Breakdown: This is the 3rd straight appearance for Iona, and the 13th overall.
16 – Pennsylvania Quakers (24-10, 2nd in American East Conference, American East Tournament Champions, KR: 184)
Best Wins: St Joseph’s, Harvard (x2)
Bad Losses: Fairfield, Yale, La Salle
The Breakdown: A lot of criticism has been directed towards the seeding of this team, and while I think they were probably worthy of getting a 15 seed, they aren’t unquestionably better than most of the teams seeded above them. They are great at shooting the three and also at preventing opponent’s 3-point attempts, but are extremely vulnerable inside. This is their 24th appearance in the NCAA Tournament, with their last win coming against Nebraska in the first round of the 1994 tournament.