The NCAA Tournament bracket has an amazing ability to make every fan base feel as if it got screwed with a brutal road to the Final Four as soon as it’s released. The obvious reason for this is there are a lot of good teams when the field contains the nation’s 68 (arguably) best.
Kansas earned the No. 1 seed in the Midwest region, and looks down at two blue blood programs with hall-of-fame coaches as the No. 2 and No. 3 seed in Duke and Michigan State. As payment, the Jayhawks missed surging, athletic teams like Arizona, Gonzaga, and Kentucky as potential 4-5 seeds.
It’s all about the matchups in a single-elimination tournament. No one knows who will be waiting in the next round, but these teams would provide tough tests for Kansas should the matchup fall for each round.
Round of 64: No. 16 Penn
This one is set, as it’s known Kansas will kick off its tourney run against the 16-seed Penn Quakers. Much has already been made about how Penn is one of the most talented 16 seeds in recent memory. The Quakers are good about limiting opponents’ three-point attempts, but lucky for Kansas, they are 285th in the country in offensive rebounds, 217th in steals, and 263rd in blocks. Kansas should have a big advantage in the post, even if Udoka isn’t 100 percent.
Round of 32: No. 9 NC State
Seton Hall and NC State are evenly matched, more so than I realized and so much so that I went back and forth on this multiple times. And while Seton Hall is rated more favorably in Kenpom (26 to NC State’s 42), I’m going with the Wolfpack. Both potential opponents grab offensive rebounds well (SH is 60th in the country, while NCSU is 51st) and have high-scoring offenses (79 ppg for the Pirates and 81 for the Wolfpack) that focus much more on 2s than 3s. But where NC State separates itself is at the 3-point line. The Wolfpack shoot 37 percent from long range, but more importantly they are 37th in the country in 3-pointers allowed, while holding opponents to 31.6%.
Sweet 16: No. 4 Auburn
Both Auburn and No. 5 Clemson are dealing with injuries to significant players (Anfernee McLemore and Donte Grantham) and have struggled down the stretch. Since neither team is at full strength, I considered picking New Mexico State, but even without the aforementioned McLemore (who averaged 2.7 blocks per game this season), Auburn poses a threat. The Tigers are 18th best at getting to the line and are eighth nationally in free-throw percentage at 78.6 percent. Along with scoring 83 points per game, Auburn is pretty good on the glass, ranking 57th in offensive rebounding and 79th nationally in total rebounds. While Clemson has a strong defense, the other Tigers don’t grab boards or get to the line nearly as well.
Elite 8: No. 2 Duke
Just like in the rounds of 32 and 16, there’s quite a few similarities between the two most difficult teams in the bottom half of the region. Duke and Michigan state are evenly matched—Duke is third in adjusted offensive efficiency and seventh in defensive efficiency in Kenpom, while Michigan state is 10th in offense and ninth in defense. But they go about it in different ways. Duke plays faster and pounds the paint, while the Spartans slow it down and shoot it better from downtown.
The difference for me is Duke’s post presence of Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter. Duke is tops in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and Bagley has been known to post 30-point, 15-rebound games while making it look easy. Other factors? Michigan State is more turnover prone, and by playing at a slower pace, it leaves fewer possessions to score.