Round of 64
#1 North Carolina vs. #16 Texas Southern: The Tar Heels enter the field coming off of a loss in the ACC Tournament to rival Duke. However, Texas Southern isn’t Duke. The overall athleticism of Roy Williams’ team will completely overwhelm the Tigers.
Winner: North Carolina
#8 Arkansas vs. #9 Seton Hall: Arkansas will get after SHU with its frenetic, pressing style of play. Seton Hall will have to take care of the ball in this matchup if they have any shot at the victory. With that said, the depth of the Razorbacks’ squad will wear down the Pirates.
#5 Minnesota vs. #12 Middle Tennessee: The Golden Gophers better be careful in this matchup. Middle Tennessee enters this contest having won 20 of their last 21 contests. Minnesota’s roster is also very inexperienced in postseason play, and the injury to senior guard Akeem Springs doesn’t help matters. The classic 5-12 upset will occur here.
Winner: Middle Tennessee
#4 Butler vs. #13 Winthrop: This contest has the potential to be one of the best matchups in the first round – regardless of region. Butler has had another workmanlike season – having gone 23-8. The Bulldogs are interestingly enough coming off of two-straight losses (Seton Hall, Xavier). Winthrop is a high-flying team with the ability to score points in bunches. While this game can go either way, Butler will earn the narrow victory on the back of its prior tournament experience.
#6 Cincinnati vs. #11 Wake Forest/Kansas State: We don’t yet know which team Cincinnati will face, but it doesn’t matter. The Bearcats turn every contest into a physical, slug-it-out affair. Cincinatti will stifle either KSU or Wake, and advance to the second round.
#3 UCLA vs. #14 Kent State: The health of Lonzo Ball is key for the Bruins. UCLA’s star point guard suffered a thumb injury in the Pac-12 tournament loss to Arizona. The Bruins have far too much firepower in this game for KSU. If Ball’s thumb is a problem, the Bruins may end up with an early exit in the tournament.
#7 Dayton vs. #10 Wichita State: Much like the Butler/Winthrop game, this one between two very good mid-major programs has the potential to be a fantastic contest. Multiple analytic studies have shown WSU appearing to be seeded much too low. Dayton’s head coach Archie Miller is one of the best up-and-coming names in the business. The Flyers and Shockers will duke it out – with WSU getting the close win due to its ability from three-point land.
Winner: Wichita State
#2 Kentucky vs. #15 Northern Kentucky: In the battle for the Commonwealth, the Wildcats will swarm its fellow in-state program with waves of quickness, speed, tempo, and athleticism.
Round of 32
#1 North Carolina vs. #8 Arkansas: Arkansas likes to speed up the tempo versus any opponent. The problem is, North Carolina thrives in this sort of setting. The Tar Heels love to get out in transition and fill the lanes with their array of long athletes. When looking at the Razorbacks’ losses this season, the vast majority of them (Florida twice, Kentucky twice, Oklahoma State, Vanderbilt, Minnesota) are against NCAA tournament teams.
Two years ago, North Carolina defeated Arkansas in the tournament. A similar scenario will unfold here – simply because UNC is the bigger and more talented squad.
Winner: North Carolina
#12 Middle Tennessee vs. #5 Butler: After pulling the upset against Minnesota in the opening round, the Blue Raiders will take on an experienced Butler squad. Middle Tennessee has proven the ability to defeat high major teams – as evidenced with wins over Vanderbilt and Ole Miss this season. Butler has struggled to both shoot the three-ball in its last two games, and is also allowing 8.6 three-point makes in its losses. However, the Bulldogs rely on three seniors (Andrew Chrabascz, Kethan Savage, Avery Woodson).
The trio has enough experience to will Butler to the Sweet 16. The big X-Factor in this contest will be freshman guard Kamar Baldwin. The Georgia native is third on the team in PPG (10.0), and is shooting at a good clip from both the field (49.2 %) and from three (36.9 %).
#6 Cincinnati vs. #3 UCLA: This game pits two teams completely contrasting in styles. Arguably the nation’s best offensive team, UCLA wants to get as many possessions as possible. The Bruins have six players averaging in double-figures, and shoot an eye-popping 40.5-percent from three-point land. On the other side of the coin, Cincinnati revels in physicality and toughness. The Bearcats are fourth in the nation defensively – allowing only 60.5 points per game. Something in this game has got to give. Ultimately, UCLA’s ability to score and shoot the basketball will be too much for Cincinnati to overcome.
#2 Kentucky vs. #10 Wichita State: This is a nightmare matchup for Kentucky. While the Wildcats have a big edge in size and athleticism, WSU is a far more experienced team. Gregg Marshall is one of the nation’s top coaches. The Shockers are a deep team – playing as many as 11 guys. They also are amongst the tops in the country in three-point field-goal percentage (40.8 %).
In the tournament, veteran teams having the ability to shoot it well from the perimeter often do well. WSU’s fifth-ranked defense gives them a plus-26.4 adjusted efficiency. This mark puts the Shockers ahead of blue-bloods such as Duke, Kansas, and Arizona. As such, look for the Shockers to shock the Wildcats in the second round.
Winner: Wichita State
#1 North Carolina vs. #4 Butler: On paper, this is your traditional David vs. Goliath matchup. North Carolina’s roster is chock-full of former McDonald’s All-Americans. Butler’s – on the other hand – is littered with unheralded recruits. You can expect the Bulldogs to come into this game with a chip on their proverbial shoulders. Statistically, North Carolina ranks No. 51 in defensive efficiency. Butler comes in at No. 128 nationally. The duo of Justin Jackson and Joel Berry should be able to “get theirs” on the offensive side of the floor. The overall length possessed by Roy Williams’ squad should also hinder Butler’s efforts in getting quality shots.
Winner: North Carolina
#3 UCLA vs. #10 Wichita State: Wichita State is the sort of team that’s given UCLA trouble this season. It’s a physical group rooted on the defensive end of the floor, and one with the ability to hit shots from three. UCLA SG Bryce Alford struggles to defend players, and he’s often picked on by opposing teams. In this case, he likely will be tasked with defending WSU sharpshooter Conner Frankamp. The Kansas transfer is shooting a blistering 44.6-percent from deep. UCLA’s defensive ability has also been a question all season long. The Bruins are allowing over 75 points a contest, and rank No. 113 in defensive efficiency. These trends certainly don’t look good for the Bruins.
UCLA is having a historically great season offensively. It leads the nation in points per game (90.4) and in assists per contest (21.5). The Bruins also have Ball. Wichita State will not have faced this potent of an offense all season long. This likely will be a very close contest, but Ball being the best (and most influential) player on the floor will be the ultimate difference.
#1 North Carolina vs. #3 UCLA: This contest is a true battle of the blue-bloods. UCLA and North Carolina have combined for 16 titles. Should this matchup ultimately occur, there will be plenty of interest and intrigue from a national standpoint. UNC’s athleticism and quickness could pose some problems for the Bruins. Athletically, the Tar Heels have a considerable advantage. The likes of Alford and Isaac Hamilton will struggle to keep Berry and Theo Pinson from slashing into the paint. Additionally, the Bruins don’t match up well with Jackson at all. Ball may be forced to guard him – which could derail his effectiveness on the offensive side of the floor. North Carolina most definitely will need to be aware of UCLA’s ability to shoot the ball. It did a poor job of that in the recent loss to Duke – allowing 10 threes in only 17 attempts.
With that said, UCLA simply doesn’t match up well with North Carolina’s length and size. The Bruins’ inability to defend at a high level will ultimately be their downfall.
South Regional Winner: North Carolina Tar Heels
Source: Richard Mackson, Jeff Curry, Bob Donnan /USA TODAY Sports, ESPN