KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — North Carolina was rewarded for navigating a brutal schedule, earning the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region after it tied Virginia for the regular-season ACC title and took Duke down to the wire in its conference tournament.
That’s just about its only reward.
The Blue Devils earned the overall No. 1 seed and were given the more preferable East Region, and that means the Tar Heels will be traveling all over the country in the NCAA Tournament. They’ll open against MAAC tournament champion Iona on Friday in Columbus, Ohio, and could face eighth-seeded Utah State or ninth-seeded Washington for a spot in the Sweet 16.
Which happens to be in Kansas City, Missouri, just down the road from where Roy Williams once coached Kansas. And who should be the No. 4 seed but the Jayhawks, who could earn another trip to the Sprint Center — where they just lost the Big 12 Tournament final — with a pair of wins.
The Jayhawks open against Northeastern in Salt Lake City, and then would face the winner of a tough showdown between SEC Tournament champion Auburn and No. 12 seed New Mexico State.
The bottom half of the Midwest Region boasts just as much intrigue.
Just as much college basketball pedigree, too.
Kentucky spent much of the season in the discussion for a No. 1 seed, particularly after a win over then-No. 1 Tennessee during conference play. But a narrow loss to the Vols in the SEC Tournament may have dropped the Wildcats a line and into a matchup with Abilene Christian.
If they advance, they would have to face seventh-seeded Wofford — the Southern Conference champ and mid-major darling, currently on a 20-game win streak — or Seton Hall, a team that already topped Kentucky once this season and knocked off Marquette twice and Villanova once.
Third-seeded Houston won a school-record 31 games along with its first regular-season conference championship since 1992. The Cougars, who will open against Sun Belt champion Georgia State, will be trying to advance to the Sweet 16 after losing to Michigan in the second round a year ago.
Iowa State packed the Sprint Center during the Big 12 Tournament, and it was that support — even in the finals against nearby Kansas — that helped propel the Cyclones to the championship. They figure to have even more support if they get past Ohio State in the first round and the Houston-Georgia State winner to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time in three years.