Yes, we don’t have March Madness, but because of great minds like Joe Lunardi at ESPN, we can have a glimpse at what the bracket may have looked like. In The State News' latest series, we analyze and project what the NCAA tournament may have looked like, round by round, region by region.
Here is our projection of the Midwest region, second round.
#1 Kansas vs. #8 Houston
Preview: In a year of basketball where there has been little consistency, Kansas may have been the most consistent one all year. The Jayhawks only lost three times this season, and that was to Baylor, Duke, and Villanova by a combined fifteen points, and twelve of those points came from a loss to Baylor. There’s a reason the Jayhawks are the No.1 overall seed; you have to play your best game to win.
Houston may have something the other three teams that beat Kansas don’t have, a desire for revenge. Quentin Grimes transferred from Kansas to Houston after deciding not to keep his name in the NBA Draft. When speaking to Andy Katz, he said he felt Kansas didn’t give him the platform for him to succeed best. Could he hold some resentment and some extra motivation in this matchup?
Projection: Grimes has a big night, scoring 27 against his former team. Houston just doesn’t have enough size to slow down Udoka Azubuike and the Jayhawks escape to live another day. Kansas 81-Houston 74
#12 Liberty vs. #4 Wisconsin
Preview: As I said in the first round, Liberty is a very good defensive team from the perimeter as their opponents shoot below 30% from beyond the arc. If the Flames can continue that effort into the second round, they have good chance to advance to the next round.
In the past, Wisconsin has always had a dominating big man down low with Frank Kaminsky and Ethan Happ to name a couple. Nate Reuvers is that guy for the Badgers this time around but has a much different skill set than the other two as the main source of his scoring comes from the perimeter rather than down low. The Badgers rely on their perimeter shooting from Reuvers and their backcourt, which may play right into Liberty’s game plan.
Projection: Despite the university being in the spotlight for reasons you wouldn’t want, Liberty is not fazed as their perimeter defense disrupts the Badgers’ flow. With no Frank Kaminsky or Ethan Happ down low, Wisconsin’s perimeter offense can never get going and Flames continue on. Liberty 70-Wisconsin 59
#11 East Tennessee State V. #3 Duke
Preview: This Duke team, as it wrapped up its season, began to show signs of weakness finishing 3-3 in their final six games. In their six losses over the season, there are at least one of two things that have happened, if not both. Either Vernon Carey Jr. got into foul trouble and or the Blue Devils shot poorly from beyond the arc. Want to beat Duke? This is how.
The question is, can East Tennessee State do that? This is a team that can limit the Blue Devils from beyond the arc as they hold their opponents to around a 30% average per game, but can they get Carey in foul trouble? It will be up to their guards to not be afraid to take it to him down low.
Projection: Despite a really good effort from ETSU, Duke just has too much talent across the board. The Buccaneers dare Tre Jones to beat them from the perimeter, and he does by shooting 4-7 from beyond the arc to propel the Blue Devils to victory. Duke 76-ETSU 68
#7 Providence vs. #2 Kentucky
Preview: For the casual fan, Providence is still not holding any relevance to them. Head Coach Ed Cooley got some attention from larger programs last season as even the Wolverines tried to pry him away before hiring Juwan Howard to run their program. This is a legitimate coach and basketball team that the Wildcats need to be prepared for if they want to advance.
This Kentucky team is vastly different from the ones in the past, as this one outside of Tyrese Maxey and Keion Brooks Jr. doesn’t have any freshman in its regular rotation. This is a team with a high level of talent, and the experience to back it up. Maybe that is why this is John Calipari’s favorite team.
Projection: Coach Cooley has his team thriving at the right time, and this upset puts Providence on the map, and teams like Texas and Indiana begin to wonder whether they should make the call to Cooley. Providence 79-Kentucky 77
Sweet Sixteen Matchups:
#1 Kansas vs. #12 Liberty
#3 Duke vs. #7 Providence