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Tracking Kansas’s road through the Midwest ‘Region of Death’

This is the NCAA tournament’s toughest group.

Big 12 Basketball Tournament - Championship Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

You want an easy path to the dance? Don’t look to the Midwest region. If there’s a “group of death” for this NCAA tournament, it’s made up of these 16 teams playing for the right to head to Omaha, Nebraska on the tournament’s second weekend.

Kansas is the No. 1 seed.

That’s what Kansas does. Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1981, the Jayhawks have been a No. 1 seed 14 times. It’s no surprise that a 27-7 Jayhawks team is a No. 1 seed, and the committee ranks them as the third-best No. 1 seed.

How did Kansas land the No. 1 seed?

Kansas won the Big 12 regular-season title for the 14th-straight season. They also won the conference tournament to boot, beating a hot West Virginia squad in the final. The Jayhawks are hot no matter which way you dice it, and they’re riding that momentum into the big Dance.

Top region competition.

No. 2 seed: Duke Blue Devils. The Blue Devils play a different style of ball these days with much more zone defense. But they’re anchored by Marvin Bagley, their do-everything freshman big man.

No. 3 seed: Michigan State. Continually slept on, Sparty’s 29-4 this season and only lost twice in the regular season to Big Ten opponents. Don’t be surprised if the Spartans end up cutting the nets down.

No. 4 seed: Auburn Tigers. Auburn’s team was gutted by injury and the looming specter of the FBI investigation hanging over the program. But they still won the SEC’s regular-season crown and it’s perhaps Bruce Pearl’s best coaching job yet.

The sleeping giant

Without question, it’s Michigan State. This is March, and this is when Tom Izzo is at his best.

The Cinderellas

Don’t sleep on New Mexico State or Rhode Island to pull some upsets on the tournament’s first weekend and make some serious noise.

Midwest Region Schedule & Scores

Thursday, March 15

No. 1 Kansas 76, No. 16 Penn 60
No. 8 Seton Hall 94, No. 9 NC State 83

No. 7 Rhode Island 83, No. 10 Oklahoma 78
No. 2 Duke 89, No. 15 Iona 67

Friday, March 16:

No. 5 Clemson vs. No. 12 New Mexico State (San Diego)
No. 4 Auburn vs. No. 13 College Of Charleston (San Diego)

No. 6 TCU vs. No. 11 Arizona State/Syracuse (Detroit)
No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 14 Bucknell (Detroit)