How the Midwest Region shakes out will ultimately be determined by the John Henson's left wrist, which he injured on a hard fall in their quarterfinal win over Maryland on Friday. North Carolina has said that the junior big man is ready to go this week, and to be fair it was better to give Henson the two days to heal as opposed to put him at risk to reinjury.
The Tar Heels are the top seed in the region and will begin in Greensboro with two wins meaning a trip to St. Louis. Kendall Marshall is one of the best point guards in the country and Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller two of the best players. Henson will improve them defensively, and if they can work as well on that end as they do offensively Roy Williams' charges can win a national title.
They'll get the winner of Lamar/Vermont, with the Cardinals on a roll since head coach Pat Knight called them out and the Catamounts winning the America East tournament final on the road. No 16 has ever beaten a one, so it's better to focus on the 8/9 matchup that offers a contrast in styles.
Creighton, led by Doug McDermott, is one of the best offensive teams in the country while Alabama is one of the better defensive teams around. If Creighton can get stops, which has been a problem at times, they can win and maybe even scare UNC. But this will be an interesting chess match to watch as Greg McDermott and Anthony Grant match wits.
Kansas gets the two-seed with the route (possibly) through St. Louis instead of rival Missouri, likely because of their superior strength of schedule and winning the Big 12 regular season title. Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor are both known commodities, but what will Elijah Johnson and Jeff Withey bring to the table?
That's the big question for the Jayhawks, who have been a trendy upset pick in some circles due to their matchup with 15-seed Detroit. Ray McCallum Jr. leads the way for a team that isn't your "standard" 15-seed, and with their interior tandem of Eli Holman and LaMarcus Lowe the can compete. But keep in mind that just four 15's have won a game in the 64/65/68 team era of the event.
The 7/10 game matches WCC regular season and tournament champ Saint Mary's with Purdue, who did enough down the stretch to ensure themselves of a bid. Robbie Hummel is the Boilermakers' best player but Lewis Jackson may be their most important when it comes to winning this week. The senior point guard is tough as nails, playing through a troublesome back injury all season long, and if he's playing well Purdue will play well.
SMC counters with Matthew Dellavedova and Rob Jones, and redshirt freshman forward Brad Waldow has played well in his first season. Which team can give Kansas more trouble in a possible third round matchup is debatable, but the Gaels may have the edge in terms of depth.
Three-seed Georgetown has, like Kansas, exceeded preseason expectations as many pegged the Hoyas to finish 10th in the Big East back in October. John Thompson III's team is led by three upperclassmen (Jason Clark, Henry Sims and Hollis Thompson) but a key cog for them this month will be freshman Otto Porter. His versatility, which has led to multiple double-doubles this season, can make for a tough matchup at the four.
And the Hoyas will need that as the face Belmont, who once again won the Atlantic Sun. Kerron Johnson leads the way for the Bruins, who go eight deep and are in constant motion offensively. Scott Saunders and Mick Hedgepeth inside will be key for Belmont if they're to beat Georgetown. The 6/11 matchup between San Diego State and NC State will be tough to pick as the Aztecs are very good on the perimeter, but the Wolfpack can counter that with superior inside depth.
The four-seed in the region is Michigan, who finished in a three-way tie atop the Big Ten. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. are the most recognizable names but seniors Stu Douglass and Zack Novak shouldn't be ignored either. The Wolverines will have their hands full with a talented Ohio squad however, led by point guard D.J. Cooper. John Groce has done a very good job with the program, which whipped Georgetown in their last NCAA appearance back in 2010.
This particular pod will feature some very good guards, especially with the three that five-seed Temple bring to the table. Juan Fernandez, Ramone Moore and Khalif Wyatt are an absolute handful for opponents, and that will be the case for either California or USF as they play in Dayton for the right to face the Owls.
Cal has Justin Cobbs, Allen Crabbe and Pac-12 POY Jorge Gutierrez while USF has a rising star in freshman point guard Anthony Collins. For the Bulls to win however they need a big night from Augustus Gilchrist, who leads the team with an average of 9.9 points per game.
While there are a number of potential road blocks in front of North Carolina, who has won two national titles in the Crescent City (1982, 1993), the biggest question mark is the health of John Henson.
Winner: North Carolina
Best second round game: Saint Mary's vs. Purdue
G Kendall Marshall (North Carolina)
G Matthew Dellavedova (Saint Mary's)
F Thomas Robinson (Kansas)
F Doug McDermott (Creighton)
C Henry Sims (Georgetown)