Scott Shapiro's NCAA Midwest Picks for the Round of 32

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March 23rd, 2019

A classic David and Goliath matchup gets the weekend action started in a Midwest region that saw just one upset in the Round of 64.

Saturday and Sunday offer hoops fanatics four excellent matchups with the winners heading to the Sprint Center in Kansas City next week.

Here are my round of 32 picks for the Midwest region:

Kentucky Wildcats (-5) vs Wofford Terriers

For the second straight game “Big Blue Nation” will be without star forward P.J. Washington. The First-Team All-SEC performer is dealing with a sprained foot, but the Wildcats had no problem disposing of 15-seed Abilene Christian in the Round of 64, 79-44. The competition gets considerably tougher though on Saturday when UK takes on Wofford. The sharp shooting Terriers finished with a flurry on Thursday and beat Seton Hall 84-68.

Kentucky certainly has the size advantage even without Washington in the lineup, but they will need to defend the three-point line well in order to get the best of the Southern Conference champions. UK has done a lot of things at a high level during the 2018-2019 campaign, but defending behind the arc is not one of them. In fact, they rank 190th in the country allowing the opposition to knock down 34.6% of their shots from downtown.

If Wofford can handle the pressure Kentucky is likely to send at them, they can hang in this classic “David and Goliath” matchup and cover the spread at the very least.

Pick- Wofford Terriers (+5)

Auburn Tigers (-2) vs Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas failed to win the Big 12 for the first time in ages and was dominated from start-to-finish in the conference final by Iowa State. However, they put forth a solid performance in the Round of 64 crushing Northeastern 87-53. As usual, the Jayhawks were led by Dedric Lawson who had 25 points and 11 boards. They were also fortunate to run into a team on Saturday that shot just 16 for 57 from the field and only 6 for 28 from 3-point land.

The Jayhawks take on an Auburn team that led by as many as 13 points late on Thursday, but executed terribly over the last minute and nearly lost to New Mexico State. The Tigers will have to clean things up at the end of the game if they want to punch their ticket to the Regionals, but I like the way the things shake out for Bruce Pearl’s squad in this one.

Look for Auburn’s more experienced backcourt to get the best of the Jayhawks youth and for the Tigers to finish off Kansas and earn a likely Sweet 16 matchup with top-seeded North Carolina.

Pick- Auburn Tigers (-2)

 North Carolina Tar Heels (-10.5) vs Washington Huskies

North Carolina trailed after the first twenty minutes in their Round of 64 matchup versus 16-seed Iona, but came out of the locker room on fire and cruised in the end 88-73. Up next is the 2-3 zone of former Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins. His University of Washington squad shot the ball far better than normal en route to a 78-61 victory over Utah State on Friday evening.

A lot of teams struggle with the zone, but North Carolina has seen Syracuse’s rendition of it this year. In fact, the high-powered Tar Heels put up 93 points in their lone matchup with the Orangemen despite shooting just 9 of 29 from behind the arc. Washington will need another sharp shooting performance if they want to hang in there with UNC. I do not see it happening.

Pick- North Carolina Tar Heels (-10.5)

Houston Cougars (-5.5) vs Ohio State Buckeyes

Houston is a team that is capable of winning this region and they showed on Friday night that not only are the one of the nation’s best defensive teams, but they can score it too. Led by guard Corey Davis, Jr.’s 26 points the Cougars rolled past Georgia State 84-55 to set up a Round of 32 matchup with Ohio State. The Buckeyes upset Big 12 conference champions Iowa State in a game where they were able to control the tempo throughout.

Ohio State struggled down the stretch in Big 10 play, but that in large part was because they were without their best player, Kaleb Wesson. The 6-foot 9 inch forward had 21 points and 12 rebounds versus the Cyclones and presents a difficult matchup for a Houston team that lacks size on the interior. I love the Cougars toughness and expect them to survive, but I think the Buckeyes make it tough on them.

Pick- Ohio State Buckeyes (+5.5)\

Good luck this weekend!