Leading up to the first round of the NCAA tournament, The Chronicle will preview one of the four regions in the bracket, touching on the true contenders in the region and potential bracket-busting Cinderellas. After starting with the South, we now move on to the Midwest:
The No.1 seed: North Carolina
It was just two years ago when North Carolina came home with a ring, although that may have been overshadowed after the Tar Heels got booted out of the tournament after the second round last year.
North Carolina ended the regular season as second in the ACC, as the Tar Heels were able to beat top teams like Duke. UNC also had a high reputation for cleaning the glass throughout the season, with top rebounder Luke Maye contributing with 10.5 rebounds a game.
Part of North Carolina’s success this season can be attributed to the team dynamic on the floor. The Tar Heels had a balanced starting line-up, with both veterans and new additions to the court. Seniors Maye, Cameron Johnson, and Kenny Williams dominated all around the floor putting up shots inside the paint and even backing up to sink treys. Coby White proved himself throughout the season, even breaking freshman school records when he tallied three 30-point games.
Although North Carolina had a successful season, they had a few bumps along the way. The Tar Heels were unable to beat Duke for a third time, losing their first game to the Blue Devils in the ACC tournament.
The other contenders: set an even playing field
North Carolina’s performance in the tournament could go either way—especially with intimidating Kentucky in their region.
The Wildcats are a solid team that relies a lot on an unstoppable trio of great shooters: PJ Washington, Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro. The Wildcats were able to close out their season as second in the SEC, but the team has taken some big hits. A couple of notable losses were against Duke and Tennessee, and the Wildcats lost by over 30 points to the former and by 19 to the latter. These hits in a sea of successes show that the Wildcats have had a pretty similar season to UNC and that a game against them could go either way.
No.3 Houston finished as first in the American conference and it’s no surprise with their impressive record. The Cougars had an overall 31 wins, with a 15-win streak to start of the season. Although their competition wasn’t too difficult, they did bring in some big wins against Oregon, Oklahoma State and LSU.
The potential Cinderella: Georgia State
Based on No. 14 Georgia State’s history of upsets, they could potentially knock No. 3 Houston out of the tournament.
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It wouldn’t be the first time the Panthers have taken out a three seed, as they upset Baylor back in 2015. Georgia State delegates on the floor, with consistent numbers all around their starting lineup. Their five starters all contribute eleven or more points per contest, with D’Marcus Simonds not too far ahead with 18.4 points per game.
The secret lies in its 3-point shooting as the team averages out at almost a 40 percent success rate. If the Panthers can reel off multiple shots from beyond the arc, they have a chance to pull off an unlikely upset.
The regional narrative: Kentucky takes the win again
UNC will likely match-up with Kentucky in the Elite Eight, which could knock them out of the tournament. The Tar Heels took on the Wildcats earlier on in the season in a non-conference game that Kentucky controlled and won by 12 points.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that North Carolina beat Virginia in the regular season. The Chronicle regrets the error.