College Sports

Midwest Regional could be toughest ticket if UNC, UK, KU, Iowa State reach Sprint Center

Roy Williams after loss to Duke: ‘Our season’s not over’

UNC basketball coach Roy Williams talks about moving into NCAA play following the Tar Heels' loss to Duke in the ACC Tournament Friday night, March 15, 2019.
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UNC basketball coach Roy Williams talks about moving into NCAA play following the Tar Heels' loss to Duke in the ACC Tournament Friday night, March 15, 2019.

The NCAA Tournament field is set, and the Midwest Region, with the semifinals and finals at the Sprint Center, is packed with intrigue.

North Carolina is the top seed in the Midwest, and if the Tar Heels win two games, they potentially can play No. 4 seed Kansas in the Sweet 16 in Kansas City.

Not only would it match North Carolina coach Roy Williams against his old school, the game would happen some 40 miles from Lawrence.

The teams previously have met in the NCAA Tournament at the Sprint Center. In 2013, top-seeded Kansas defeated No. 8 seed North Carolina in a second-round game.

During their post-bracket reveal discussion, two ESPN analysts said they don’t believe Kansas will get to Kansas City. The Jayhawks open against No. 13 seed Northeastern and that winner faces the winner of No. 5 Auburn against No. 12 New Mexico State.

“I don’t think KU is going to get by Auburn,” Jay Williams said.

“Kansas may not get past Northeastern,” said Jay Bilas.

Other teams in the Midwest Regional could make it the toughest ticket of the four. The second seed is Kentucky, which has a huge fan following.

The No. 6 seed is Iowa State, which just won the Big 12 Tournament at Sprint Center, where they had the majority of fans.

The Midwest Regional semifinals are Friday, March 29, with the regional final on Sunday, March 31. The Final Four is in Minneapolis on April 6 and 8.

The other top seeds are Duke in the East, Virginia in the South and Gonzaga in the West. The Blue Devils, who captured the ACC Tournament and are led by freshman Zion Williamson, are the tournament’s overall top seed.

Selection committee chairman Bernard Muir said the group started the week with “six or seven” teams as potential top seeds. On Sunday, Muir said the committee had 12 different backet scenarios based on the outcomes of conference tournament championship games.

“I will say is that every game across an entire season matters,” Muir said. “I think sometimes fans tend to just fixate on the last few games of a conference tournament. We are trying to make sure that we look at the full body of work.”

The Big Ten had the most teams selected, with eight. The ACC and SEC each had seven teams selected and the Big 12 had six.

The bracket announcement revealed a couple of surprises. Belmont, which did not win the Ohio Valley Conference tournament, was selected as an at-large team. It has been 32 years since a team from that league had been selected with an at-large bid.

Muir said that had Tennessee not lost to Auburn in Sunday’s SEC championship game, the Volunteers would have been a No. 1 seed over Gonzaga. “We would have made the switch,” Muir said.

Two teams are making their first NCAA Tournament appearances: Gardner-Webb from the Big South and Abilene Christian from the Southland.

Based on the overall seeding, the final at-large teams were Belmont, Temple, Arizona State and St. John’s. Also, Oregon’s upset victory in the Pac 12 championship game knocked out UNC Greensboro. The next three teams left out were Alabama, TCU and Indiana.

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