Kansas is No. 1 in Midwest Region featuring all-time greats
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The Midwest Region could be called the NCAA Tournament’s Blue Blood Bracket.
Top three seeds Kansas, Duke and Michigan State have combined for 271 wins in 118 tournament appearances, 39 Final Fours and 10 national championships — and all could be in Omaha for the Sweet 16 in two weeks.
Kansas is a No. 1 seed for a third straight year and eighth time since 2007. The Jayhawks, who lost by 18 points to Oklahoma State on March 3 after they had locked up their 14th straight Big 12 regular-season title, cast aside any doubts about their worthiness with a dominant three-game run through the conference tournament. The Jayhawks open in Wichita, Kansas, with a Thursday game against Penn.
Duke, runner-up to Atlantic Coast Conference champion Virginia in the regular season, plays Iona on Thursday in Pittsburgh. Michigan State , the Big Ten regular-season champ, meets Bucknell on Friday in Detroit.
Kansas coach Bill Self, whose team has lost in regional finals the last two years, said the Jayhawks’ path sets up well if they can beat Penn and then No. 8 Seton Hall or No. 9 North Carolina State. Wichita is a 2½-hour drive from their campus in Lawrence, and Omaha is three hours to the north. They played first- and second-round games in Omaha in 2008, 2012 and 2015.
“The advantage is your fans get an opportunity to come see you play,” Self said. “We have never been to Wichita and look forward to doing that. (If) we’re fortunate to win two games, Omaha is kind of a home away from home during the NCAA Tournament.”
Kansas is among three Big 12 teams in the Midwest, with TCU earning a No. 6 seed and Oklahoma a No. 10.
The inclusion of the Sooners, who lost eight of their last 10 to finish 18-13, raised some eyebrows. NCAA Selection Committee chairman Bruce Rasmussen, the athletic director at Creighton, said OU’s case was buoyed by quality nonconference wins.
“We look at the entire body of work,” Rasmussen said. “The games in November and December count the same as the games in February and March, and Oklahoma had six wins against top-35 RPI. They had some absolutely great wins. We know they stumbled down the stretch and that certainly affected their seeding, but they had enough on their resume to get in.”
The region has three ACC teams, with Clemson joining Duke and North Carolina State.
Some things to know about the Midwest Region:
Some of the biggest names in college basketball are in the region. Headliners include Big 12 player of the year Devonte Graham of Kansas, Big 12 freshman of the year and national scoring and assist leader Trae Young of Oklahoma, ACC player of the year and rookie of the year Marvin Bagley III, Grayson Allen of Duke and Miles Bridges of Michigan State.
AUBURN DROUGHT ENDS
Auburn, fresh from its first Southeastern Conference regular-season title since 1999, ended a 15-year NCAA Tournament drought. The Tigers earned a No. 4 seed after playing all season without top post players Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley. Both were entangled in the federal investigation into college basketball that cost coach Bruce Pearl his top assistant.
Auburn won just two of its final four games after losing the SEC’s top shot blocker, Anfernee McLemore, to an ankle injury.
“There’s no team in this tournament that is more prepared than Auburn as far as everything we’ve gone through,” Pearl said. “All the adversity that we’ve gone through. All the challenges that we’ve gone through. The quality of competition. This team’s prepared. Are we good enough at this time, with eight guys, to pull it off? That’s why we play the games.”
History suggests that a Michigan State-Duke matchup in Omaha would be bad news for the Spartans. The Blue Devils have won 12 of 14 matchups against Michigan State, including an 88-81 victory early this season in a meeting of the top two teams in The Associated Press poll. If the Spartans can get to the regional final, they may face a Kansas team that beat them by 20 points in the second round last year.
NAMES TO KNOW
Kansas freshman Silvio De Sousa, who joined the team at midseason, had 16 points on 8-for-8 shooting and 10 rebounds in the Big 12 title game against West Virginia. De Sousa emerged as a replacement for 7-footer Udoka Azubuike, who missed the Big 12 tournament with a knee injury. ... New Mexico State’s Jemerrio Jones was named the Western Athletic Conference Tournament MVP after averaging 18.3 rebounds and 12.3 points. His season average of 13.0 rebounds leads the nation. ... Charleston guard Joe Chealey averages 17 points and 3.7 assists per game.
QUOTE TO NOTE
“If Michigan State and Duke both play well, they would be two of the heaviest favorites to win the national championship.” — Self.
AP Sports Writers Dave Skretta in Lawrence, Kansas, and John Zenor in Auburn, Alabama, contributed to this report.