Five Best Offenses
4. North Carolina
Kansas generates more easy buckets than any other team in the region, thanks primarily to player-of-the-year candidate Thomas Robinson, who makes 53 percent of his two-pointers and draws fouls as well as anybody in the region. When Robinson is rolling, 7-footer Jeff Withey is making some putbacks, and guards Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson are making their three-pointers (they made a combined 37 percent on the season -- Taylor 44 percent, Johnson 32 percent), Kansas' offensive flow is incredible. The Jayhawks are not without their issues, however; Taylor has shored up his turnover-prone ways a bit, but Robinson hasn't, and of the four players who have taken most of Kansas' free throws (Robinson, Taylor, Withey, Travis Releford), only Withey hits better than 69 percent. They are high-upside, high-variance. If steadiness is your thing, then, you may favor Purdue or Creighton. The Boilermakers are best in the country at avoiding turnovers, and the Bluejays are best in the country at shooting.
Five Best Defenses
4. North Carolina
5. San Diego State
Good luck finding good shots in this region. Georgetown, Kansas and Alabama all rank in the nation's Top 12 in Field Goal Percentage defense, and though glitchy, North Carolina often leverages you into the same poor shots as the Hoyas, Jayhawks and Crimson Tide. Georgetown's has been the most consistently strong defense in the region, however. They are incredibly long -- of the nine primary players in the rotation, six are 6-foot-8 or taller -- and agile, and they get a hand in your face in every shot you take all game. They block two-pointers and consistently prevent good looks from three-point range. They do not necessarily force a ton of turnovers, however, which could make a Kansas-Georgetown battle in the Sweet Sixteen a strength-vs-strength, weakness-vs-weakness matchup.
As Seeded By Pomeroy
To get a glimpse into the strengths, weaknesses, overseed and underseeds of the bracket, let's re-seed the teams based on their Ken Pomeroy rankings.
2 North Carolina vs. 16 Lamar / 18 Vermont
8 Alabama vs. 10 Creighton
9 Temple vs. 7 California / 14 South Florida
6 Michigan vs. 15 Ohio
13 San Diego State vs. 11 N.C. State
3 Georgetown vs. 4 Belmont
12 St. Mary's vs. 5 Purdue
1 Kansas vs. 17 Detroit
If you were looking for proof that the NCAA selection committee doesn't use Ken Pomeroy's numbers in their deliberations, look no further than the Midwest Region. The 4-seed (Michigan) ranks just 25th overall, the 6-seed (San Diego State) 54th. Not only that, but the 14-seed (Belmont) is the fourth highest-rated team in the region ... and must play Georgetown in the Round of 64. Accordingly, you end up with some standard matchups (1 vs 17, 5 vs 12), only in odd places.
Most Likely Cinderella
(In this case, "Cinderella" refers to teams seeded 11th or worse.)
California. One could make a strong case for Purdue here -- though a 10-seed, they actual rate quite a bit better than their Round of 64 opponent -- but we'll go with the Golden Bears, who, if they get past South Florida in an all-defense battle Wednesday, could be favored against Temple and, according to Pomeroy's numbers, only a slight underdog versus Michigan. Cal's advanced stats were friendlier than anticipated this year, primarily because when they won, they won big. They failed to win the incredibly weak Pac-12, but nine of their 13 conference wins came by double digits. Cal will be an interesting test case, however, for momentum's effect on tournament performance. They lost three of their final four games, including two to eventual conference tournament champion Colorado.
This Year's Harold Arceneaux
Here are the top three players, from the list of Cinderellas, most likely to single-handedly take down a region heavyweight, a la Weber State's Harold Arceneaux in 1999.
D.J. Cooper, Ohio. Not only was the junior from Chicago Ohio's leading scorer this season, at 14.6 points per game, but he also has previous tourney success in his back pocket. Two seasons ago, when the Bobcats shocked and awed Georgetown in a 97-83 tournament win, Cooper scored 23 points, made five three-pointers and dished eight assists. He was incredible then, and he has had plenty of moments in 2011-12, including a 23-point, six-assist performance in the MAC finals versus Akron. He has scored at least 15 points in 17 games this season, dished at least seven assists in 13, and grabbed at least five rebounds in 12; with Cooper and some of the best three-point defense in the region (to the extent that good three-point defense exists), the Bobcats could give Michigan serious trouble in the Round of 64.
Kerron Johnson, Belmont. The Bruins do their damage with balance -- five players average between 9.8 and 14.1 points per game. Still, the 6-foot-1 Johnson should have Georgetown's attention. He draws fouls as well as any guard in the tournament, he has a lovely mid-range jumper, and he is adept at finding open three-point shooters. And if marksmen like Drew Hanlen (48 percent on three-pointers) and Ian Clark (41 percent) are getting good looks, Georgetown could get bombed out of the tournament just like they did against Cooper and Ohio two years ago.
Mike James, Lamar. Part of the batch of seniors Pat Knight accused of "stealing money by being on scholarship" just three weeks ago, James has been fantastic in Lamar's post-rant rebound. In the Cardinals' six-game winning streak, the 6-foot-1 James has averaged 21.5 points per game on 52-percent shooting, tossing in 4.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists for good measure. His 26 points and nine boards helped pace Lamar to a 21-point, pulling-away win over McNeese State in the Southland finals, and he is by far the most explosive player in Wednesday's Play-In Game versus Vermont. And if we're talking about potential Arceneaux clones, then we are required to discuss a potential North Carolina opponent, no?
Most Overlooked Team
Belmont. In my Monday picks column, I mentioned that the chances for chalk were quite strong in the Midwest region. That assessment may have slightly overestimated Michigan's capabilities, but it also very much underestimated Belmont's. I have a lot of faith in Georgetown this season, but they have the toughest matchup of any Top Three seed in any region, and if Belmont manages to pull the upset there, they will face what is, from the Pomeroy perspective, an opponent weaker than them in the Round of 32. That alone makes them a very interesting Cinderella candidate. It boggles the mind that Belmont got a 14-seed in this region while lesser teams like Montana and Ohio got 13-seeds, and it's unfair to both Belmont and Georgetown.
Best Round Of 64 Matchup
Georgetown vs. Belmont. For all the reasons described above. As good as Georgetown is, they will have their hands full. And considering they have been blown out by lower seeds in each of the past two NCAA Tournaments, a "Here we go again" aura could take over Nationwide Arena in Columbus if the Bruins make some early three-pointers.
Best Potential Round Of 32 Matchup
Michigan vs. Temple. In so many ways, the Wolverines and Owls are good at exactly the same things. Both shoot well, both are reliant on three-pointers (Michigan takes more, Temple makes a higher percentage), both struggle on the offensive glass, and neither team draws, or commits, fouls. This should be a pretty clean, fast game, and if a single player gets hot -- Michigan's Trey Burke or Tim Hardaway, Temple's Ramone Moore or Khalif Wyatt -- they could carry the team to the Sweet Sixteen.
Best Potential Sweet Sixteen Matchup
Kansas vs. Georgetown. With Josh Henson's health uncertain for North Carolina, many are seeing the winner of a Kansas-Georgetown battle as the favorite in the region. To be sure, this could be an incredible battle between long, athletic, evenly-matched squads, as good as any potential Final Four matchup. Can Georgetown's length disrupt the explosive-but-unstable Kansas offense? Can Robinson and Withey force Georgetown to resort to iffy outside shooting?
Best Potential Elite Eight Matchup
Kansas vs. North Carolina. The Roy Williams Bowl. Really, 'nuff said there. Since Roy Williams left Kansas for North Carolina, both programs have gotten better.
Kansas. Whether you are a Kansas fan or a fan of Kansas' opponent, Tyshawn Taylor should terrify you. But we'll give him, and the Jayhawks, the benefit of the doubt.