Sweet 16 Preview: Midwest Region

Sweet 16 Preview: Midwest Region

This article is part of our Sweet 16 Preview series.

Midwest Region
West Region
East Region
South Region

Site: Kansas City
Tip-off: Friday

There were no major upsets in the Midwest so we're getting the matchups we always wanted. Sure, Kansas playing in Kansas City would've been interesting, but the pace of North Carolina and Auburn could result in the best game of the Sweet 16. As for Kentucky, it's clinging onto to hopes of another Final Four, but the status of PJ Washington doesn't look good and that could finally come to bite the Wildcats against a Houston team that has multiple big bodies in the paint to limit easy looks.

No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 5 Auburn

Key Matchup: UNC three-point defense vs. Auburn shooters. The Tigers have hit at least 12 threes in their last seven games and that automatically gives them a shot no matter the opponent. The question is how well UNC defends the three, as it doesn't have great numbers on the season. The Heels were ninth best in the ACC, allowing 33.8 percent from deep. Even worse is that they gave up 10 first-half threes to Iona and 15 for the game in the first-round win. Their prowess on the boards should help limit extra opportunities, but three-point defense could again be a problem for the Heels.

North Carolina will win IF: it continues to score at will. The Heels love to run and that's brought tons of success with the eighth-most efficient offense in the country. Even if the defense allows

Midwest Region
West Region
East Region
South Region

Site: Kansas City
Tip-off: Friday

There were no major upsets in the Midwest so we're getting the matchups we always wanted. Sure, Kansas playing in Kansas City would've been interesting, but the pace of North Carolina and Auburn could result in the best game of the Sweet 16. As for Kentucky, it's clinging onto to hopes of another Final Four, but the status of PJ Washington doesn't look good and that could finally come to bite the Wildcats against a Houston team that has multiple big bodies in the paint to limit easy looks.

No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 5 Auburn

Key Matchup: UNC three-point defense vs. Auburn shooters. The Tigers have hit at least 12 threes in their last seven games and that automatically gives them a shot no matter the opponent. The question is how well UNC defends the three, as it doesn't have great numbers on the season. The Heels were ninth best in the ACC, allowing 33.8 percent from deep. Even worse is that they gave up 10 first-half threes to Iona and 15 for the game in the first-round win. Their prowess on the boards should help limit extra opportunities, but three-point defense could again be a problem for the Heels.

North Carolina will win IF: it continues to score at will. The Heels love to run and that's brought tons of success with the eighth-most efficient offense in the country. Even if the defense allows a bunch of threes, Auburn might not stop them from scoring. The Tigers have a mediocre defense and actually finished last in the SEC in two-point field goal percentage allowed. Whether it's with Coby White and Cameron Johnson on the perimeter, or Luke Maye and Nassir Little in the paint, the scoring options for UNC will be too much for Auburn.

Auburn will win IF: It continues to drain threes. The Tigers are rolling and if they can repeat what they've done in the last seven games, they'll be in business. Simply put, if they don't make at least 10 threes again, they probably won't have a chance. Guys like Chuma Okeke, Anfernee McLemore and Horace Spencer can do work inside the arc, but this team lives off threes. To win, they'll also need to have one of their better defensive performances of the season. Being more athletic than recent opponents has worked well, but that's not an advantage against the Heels.

Player to Watch: Coby White, North Carolina. In addition to his hair being must-watch, White is probably the most important player in this game. His improved defense could be a big help against the likes of Jared Harper and Bryce Brown, but his speed on the break will also force those guys to be more active defensively than usual. There aren't many, if any, guards like White in the country that has the speed to get to the rim, but also a solid shooting stroke. If he has success, the Heels will have success.

Prediction: Auburn is playing well, but North Carolina is arguably better all-around than any other team in the SEC. The Heels won't be overwhelmed by Auburn's pace and ability to hit threes on the break. They also have more consistent scoring in White, Johnson and Maye. Even someone like Little can come off the bench and be a problem. Harper, Brown and Okeke are all playing great, but the other positions will likely be where UNC thrives.

No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 3 Houston

Key Matchup: Tyler Herro vs. Houston defense. There aren't any huge 1-on-1 matchups in this game, especially if PJ Washington can't play again. With Washington out, Herro is the most important player for Kentucky as the leading scorer at 14.1 points per game. He struggled against Wofford on 2-for-11 shooting and can't repeat that performance for the Wildcats to win. He'll have a size advantage most of the time, but Houston has a deep and talented backcourt that could cause problems for him and Keldon Johnson all game.

Kentucky will win IF: Everyone steps up without Washington. It's hard to write on this since Washington's status likely won't be known until day of the game, but it appears unlikely that he'll be available due to a foot injury. Without Washington, Kentucky can't repeat what it did offensively against Wofford. Reid Travis doesn't have a good matchup, so it'll depend on Herro, Johnson and Ashton Hagans. If those guys can hit their season averages and a little more, UK's defense could be enough to grab another win.

Houston will win IF: It can limit Kentucky's offensive rebounding. The Wildcats are one of the best in the nation at getting offensive boards and even without Washington, they still grabbed 11 against Wofford. Since Kentucky doesn't have the best shooters, it will likely lean on the offensive glass again and that's where the likes of Breaon Brady and Fabian White come into play for the Cougars. If they can stay elite on defense and get rebounds, things could fall into place for the underdog.

Player to Watch: Corey Davis, Houston. Davis is Houston's leading scorer (17.1 ppg) and the main guy Kentucky has to worry about on the defensive end. Hagans will likely draw the assignment and if he can keep Davis in check, that's a big boost for UK. In the last 11 games, Davis has failed to reach 15 points just once and that was a loss to Cincinnati in the AAC tournament final. He scored 12 points on 3-for-13 shooting. He can take anyone off the dribble, but he's also one of two main three-point shooters for the Cougars.

Prediction: If Washington doesn't play, I'm not sure Kentucky can steal another win since Houston isn't going to force threes like Wofford did. Travis led the Wildcats in scoring with 14 points against Wofford, but he's going to have a harder time against the Houston bigs, which just limited a better offensive big man in Kaleb Wesson last game to only one shot inside the arc. Kentucky may have the better defensive guards, but I'm comfortable backing a deeper Houston team that has more scoring options in addition to Davis, Armoni Brooks and Galen Robinson.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adam Zdroik
Adam, a 2019, 2018 and 2017 Finalist for FSWA Soccer Writer of the Year, is RotoWire's soccer editor. He also runs RotoWire's Bracketology, as well as writes on other various college basketball content. He has previously worked at ESPN and Sporting Kansas City, and he is a former Streak for the Cash winner and Michigan State graduate.
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