Ryan Knuppel  |  Sat 23rd Mar   | NCAAB

The Midwest Region has been relatively tame all things considered with only two real upsets in the region that were not too far out there. We saw every favorite win besides the #6 seed Iowa State and the #8 seed Utah State. This region has the least amount of upsets, which has also led to a lot of close spreads ranging from 2-10.5 points.

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Wofford (+5) vs. Kentucky:

Both teams are coming into pretty convincing wins relative to their opponents. Wofford posted a 16 point win over the Seton Hall Pirates, a very solid team. Fletcher Magee scored 14 points on 7-11 from 3-point range, which made him the leader in NCAA three-pointers made. Magee is the most important player in this game because he is a constant game changer. Magee shoots over 43% on over 10 shots a game from beyond the arc, which is absolutely insane. Magee is relied upon a lot to be Wofford’s rock and if he doesn’t produce, it could get ugly. The good news for Wofford is that P.J. Washington is likely out for this game, which would lead to Kentucky playing a different rotation. What I do like about that injury is that it force the Wildcats to get Reid Travis on the floor more. I have been a Travis fan all year and he showed out with 18 and 9 against a poor Abilene Christian team. Obviously, I expect Wofford to put up a much better fight against Travis, but he should still be able to impose his will inside.

Like I stated previously, Wofford’s ability to make shots is the difference in this game, but I think they are very capable of knocking down enough shots to hang around the whole time. Kentucky also lacks a single go-to guy that could be leaned upon if Wofford does continue to make their baskets. I think Wofford hangs around and loses this one late, but I would not be shocked to see them pull the upset.

Auburn (-2) vs. Kansas:

This is a really interesting game because there are questions all over the map on this game. Auburn is a really great tournament team in terms of structure. They have two really talented guards that are generally reliable and capable of taking over a game. They also have multiple bigger players that can fill space and deal with any “big” team. On the other side, this has resulted in this team being really streaky and potentially struggling if the guards struggle at any point.

Kansas is not that scary to me and that is why the line is -2 in favor of the higher seed. The Jayhawks have lost two of their best three players and I think they lack depth at this point. Dedric Lawson has been amazing all year, but I think that they need more depth than they currently have.

The Tigers are likely considered the more talented in this spot and that often goes a long way in the tournament. I think that the seeding of these teams often has a psychological impact on the lines an who people want to bet on and this line screams for the Tigers. When a 5-seed that almost blew a nice lead to a 12 seed is a betting favorite over the 4 seed that smashed in their first round game, you should be on alert. I think the Tigers are the better team and cover the -2 in this spot.

Washington vs. North Carolina (-10.5)

This game is tough to pick due to the line. North Carolina is much better than Washington and I believe that is the first place to start. Now, are they 10.5 points better? I think so. I expect the Tar Heels to force their uptempo style onto their opponent. Washington is not skilled enough to score with the Heels over a long game, but 10.5 definitely opens the backdoor to losing this game based on the spread.

Washington won their game convincingly over Utah State while the Tar Heels struggled with a much worse opponent in Iona. Washington’s performance was very surprising to me after their massive loss to Oregon just last week. They did show some resilience, which is nice to see from an upset-minded team. The Carolina performance was not at all concerning to me due to the Iona playstyle. Iona was a good offensive team for a 16-seed and I expected Iona to keep up with the Tar Heels a bit before falling off, which eventually did happen.

What this comes down to is the recency bias surrounding these games and my lack of trust in the Huskies. This team has not shown me a ton all year and I think it is very unlikely that we see a really competitive game here down the stretch, which has me more confident in taking the Tar Heels and laying 10.5 points.

Ohio State(+5.5) vs. Houston:

This line really stood out to me because I would have pegged this line to be closer to 7.5 than 5.5. Both teams showed their backers as much as they could’ve asked for in round one. Ohio State really proved they could control the pace against a more talented team, which is a major key.

These teams both want to slow the game down and drain the clock, which was what Ohio State eventually did to Iowa State. Houston should stray away from this tempo and attempt to push the ball early and often. This is not their typical style, but I expect Houston to look much better offensively than the Buckeyes, which would lead them to being the much better team.

The counter to this is Kaleb Wesson. Wesson is THE guy for this Ohio State offense. If he can attempt to do similar things in this game, the Buckeyes are live to win this outright. The Cougars don’t have a forward on their roster that averages over 19 minutes a game. I think Houston struggles to defend Wesson, which leads to this game looking a lot like the Iowa State game. That means I like the Buckeyes here +5.5, but I think this line can run up towards +7 by the time the public money comes in.

This region is stacking up to provide us the best matchups of the tournament so far and I cannot wait. I like North Carolina, Auburn, Ohio State and Kentucky to walk away victorious and head into the second weekend for the Sweet Sixteen.

Check out all of our March Madness previews & picks here.

Ryan Knuppel