Sweet Sixteen Preview: Midwest Region

Sweet Sixteen Preview: Midwest Region

This article is part of our NCAA Tournament Preview series.

East Region
West Region
Midwest Region
South Region

Site: United Center, Chicago IL
Tip-Off: Friday, March 25, 7:29 p.m. EST

It's a tale of different halves in the Midwest Region with the top-half featuring how the seeds were supposed to play out, and the bottom half is a battle between a pair of double-digit seeds. After coming into the tournament with disappointing losses, No. 2 seeded Auburn and No. 3 seeded Wisconsin were upset in the second round, while 4-seed Providence was able to right the ship from their Big East Tournament loss and coast into the Sweet 16.

No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 4 Providence

Key Matchup: David McCormack vs. Nate Watson. Both teams have excelled at defending the perimeter this season which will put on emphasis on which post player for the two teams can lead its team to victory. McCormack has been held in check thus far, failing to reach double figures in the first two rounds, averaging 8.0 points and 6.5 rebounds. He was unable to take advantage of a matchup against Creighton without its 7-1 center, Ryan Kalkbrenner (knee). Meanwhile, the Friars have been able to play well without getting much from their leading scorer Watson. He was efficient against Richmond, scoring 10 points, but only played 19 minutes due to foul trouble and the blowout nature of the game.

Kansas will win IF: It turns the game into a high-scoring contest. Providence will look to slow things down and turn it into a

East Region
West Region
Midwest Region
South Region

Site: United Center, Chicago IL
Tip-Off: Friday, March 25, 7:29 p.m. EST

It's a tale of different halves in the Midwest Region with the top-half featuring how the seeds were supposed to play out, and the bottom half is a battle between a pair of double-digit seeds. After coming into the tournament with disappointing losses, No. 2 seeded Auburn and No. 3 seeded Wisconsin were upset in the second round, while 4-seed Providence was able to right the ship from their Big East Tournament loss and coast into the Sweet 16.

No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 4 Providence

Key Matchup: David McCormack vs. Nate Watson. Both teams have excelled at defending the perimeter this season which will put on emphasis on which post player for the two teams can lead its team to victory. McCormack has been held in check thus far, failing to reach double figures in the first two rounds, averaging 8.0 points and 6.5 rebounds. He was unable to take advantage of a matchup against Creighton without its 7-1 center, Ryan Kalkbrenner (knee). Meanwhile, the Friars have been able to play well without getting much from their leading scorer Watson. He was efficient against Richmond, scoring 10 points, but only played 19 minutes due to foul trouble and the blowout nature of the game.

Kansas will win IF: It turns the game into a high-scoring contest. Providence will look to slow things down and turn it into a half-court battle, controlling the tempo and keeping the game in the 60s. If the game becomes a back-and-forth affair that gets into the 70s, things favor the Jayhawks. Sixth-man Remy Martin has also been an important factor in giving Kansas an offensive boost recently, averaging 14.3 points and 3.8 assists over the last four games.

Providence will win IF: It shoots it well from the perimeter. The Friars have caught fire from long-range to start the tournament, going 20-for-44 (45 percent). They rely on shooting it well from three with at least 20 attempts in 13 straight games. In their five losses, Providence is only shooting 26 percent from deep. If things get close, the Friars are a perfect 3-0 in overtime games and 11-2 overall in games decided by five points or less. Both of those losses came to Villanova, as ultimately it was unable to keep up with the best offense in the Big East.

Player to Watch: Ochai Agbaji, G/F, Kansas. Agbaji was named the unanimous Big 12 Player of the Year and for good reason – the senior wing emerged in a bigger role for the Jayhawks this season to average 19.3 ppg with efficient 53/40/77 shooting splits. He was quiet in the first round against Texas Southern but bounced back against Creighton, coming up just two boards shy of a double-double, albeit on 36 percent shooting. Jared Bynum has also provided a spark for Providence as the team's sixth-man with three 25+ point scoring games in February. The Friars will need a big game from him in order to have a chance at the upset.

Prediction: Everyone has been betting against Providence all season long, but the Friars have proven people wrong time and again. While it may not be the prettiest basketball at times, there's something to be said about a team that continues to find a way to win. I expect this game to go down to the wire, with Kansas edging out at the end for a 2-3 point victory. Providence and the points is the side I'll be on.

No. 10 Miami Florida vs. No. 11 Iowa State

Key Machup: Izaiah Brockington vs. Kameron McGusty. A matchup between two efficient wing players is the one to keep an eye on, as both players lead their teams in scoring and have similar games. McGusty has taken his game to another level in his fifth year with the addition of point guard Charlie Moore, shooting 47 percent while showing good range and contributing across the stat sheet. Brockington played a big role in keeping Johnny Davis contained Sunday, holding him to 4-of-16 shooting with four turnovers. He'll look to do the same to McGusty and will put the Cyclones in good position to win if he's able.

Miami will win IF: It can crack the riddle of the Cyclones defense. Something has to give in this one as each team struggles in what the other does well, with Miami ranking 18th in offensive efficiency and Iowa State fifth in defensive efficiency. In upsets over LSU and Wisconsin in the first two rounds, the Cyclones held their opponents to averaging only 52.5 points while shooting just 15 percent from three. Miami, on the other hand, had no issues against Auburn's stout defense, connecting on 57 percent of its shots from inside the arc versus a lengthy Tigers' frontcourt.

Iowa State will win IF: The role players step up. Freshman Tyrese Hunter drained seven threes in the first round in the win over LSU and then it was Gabe Kalscheur's turn against Wisconsin, leading the team with 22 points. Now it's time for some of Iowa State's role players to do their part. Three-point specialists Aljaz Kunc and Caleb Grill are a combined 5-for-20 through two games, and George Conditt has mostly been a non-factor since moving to a bench role to start the tournament in favor of Robert Jones. The Cyclones will need production outside of their trio of Brockington, Hunter and Kalschuer to advance to the Elite Eight.

Player to Watch: Isaiah Wong, G, Miami. Wong has been the catalyst behind the Hurricanes' success in the opening rounds, averaging 21.5 points on 50 percent shooting to lead the team in scoring both games. He's taken on a larger role since the start of the ACC Tournament, averaging 13.3 shot attempts over the four-game stretch. Although he's struggled from deep this season, Wong is a capable three-point shooter and has been efficient when driving to the basket and getting to the line at a good rate. He'll need to do just that against Iowa State, considering it ranks in the top-10 in the country in three-point percentage defense.

Prediction: Iowa State has managed to knock off a pair of quality opponents despite inconsistent offense, and if there's something that can change that it's a matchup against a team that ranks 12th in their conference in defensive efficiency. Miami has thrived in the underdog role thus far but will be in unfamiliar territory as the favorite and hasn't faced a defense this good all season. It may not be pretty at times, but Iowa State has been well tested all season for this occasion and I expect them to pull off another gritty upset.  

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ryan Pohle
Ryan Pohle breaks down golf bets and covers college basketball for RotoWire.
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