Sweet 16 Midwest Region Primer: North Carolina-Ohio and Kansas-NC State Preview, Prediction, Poll, Spreads, and TV Info

St. Louis is the host for the Midwest Region quarterfinal and semifinal games this weekend, better known as the Sweet 16 and the Elite 8.

This primer, which contains info from our North Carolina-Ohio and Kansas-NC State previews from over the weekend, will get you ready for both Sweet 16 games this weekend. Depending on the outcomes, we could have the chalkiest of chalky regional final games or potentially a 13-seed facing an 11-seed, which would be one of the most unlikely Elite 8 matchups in tournament history.

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Kendall Marshall's wrist injury, and its impact on North Carolina's national title hopes, is the biggest storyline in St. Louis this weekend. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Roza Arzola via Wikimedia Commons)

Midwest Regional Info

#1 North Carolina v #13 Ohio

  • North Carolina-Ohio Date: Friday, 3/23
  • North Carolina-Ohio Tip Time: 7:47 ET
  • North Carolina-Ohio TV: TBA
  • North Carolina-Ohio Announcers: Marv Albert and Steve Kerr
  • North Carolina-Ohio Point Spread: UNC -10.5

What’s your pick?

[poll id=”401″]

[Related: What the history of double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16 suggests for Ohio, NC State, and Xavier]

#2 Kansas v #11 NC State

  • Kansas-NC State Date: Friday, 3/23
  • Kansas-NC State Tip Time: 10:17 ET
  • Kansas-NC State TV: TBS
  • Kansas-NC State Announcers: Marv Albert and Steve Kerr
  • Kansas-NC State Point Spread: Kansas -8

What’s your pick?

[poll id=”402″]

North Carolina-Ohio Preview, Prediction, and Team Info

North Carolina and Ohio will meet in St. Louis on Friday, although both got there in different ways.

The Tar Heels won both of their matchups handily, while the Bobcats won a pair of close games against major conference foes.  On Sunday, the Tar Heels beat Creighton by 14 points thanks to a balanced attack with five players in double figures, led by Kendall Marshall with 18 points and 11 assists.  The Bobcats took down South Florida behind a combined 40 points from guards D.J. Cooper and Walter Offutt.

The bigger story out of the UNC game was the fact that Marshall suffered a fractured wrist about midway through the second half.  At this point his status is uncertain for Friday’s game, although it’s worth noting that the injury is to his non-shooting wrist, which presumably would increase his odds of playing.

Update: The latest reports indicate that North Carolina is preparing to play without Marshall.

It certainly doesn’t take a genius to point out the potential impact of Marshall’s absence, which would leave seldom-used Stillman White as the team’s only player with experience at the point this season.  The Heels have already lost Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland to injuries and essentially use a seven-man rotation even with Marshall healthy.

UNC-Ohio By The Numbers

Ohio ranks second in defensive turnover rate this season, and with no other proven ballhandlers on the Carolina roster, the ability to force turnovers is a potential neutralizer for the Bobcats.  For the season, North Carolina has one of the ten lowest turnover rates on offense.

Outside of that, the Heels have the advantage on the offensive end, particularly on the glass, where they rebound roughly 40 percent of their own misses, which ranks in the Top 10.  However, OU ranks 242nd in defensive rebounding percentages, thanks in part to the fact that they play no one over 6-foot-8.  Consequently, the task of containing the likes of Tyler Zeller and John Henson is a tall order for the Bobcats (no pun intended).

Ohio ranks 19th in three-point defense but nearly 200th on two-pointers, which again doesn’t bode well against Carolina’s talented front line.  Surprisingly, the Heels rank outside the Top 100 in two-point shooting, but they still have a marked advantage in this matchup.

In terms of free throw rate, Ohio’s opponents have frequently gotten to the stripe based on their 42.7 defensive free throw rate.  UNC doesn’t have an overly impressive mark offensively, but again, their advantage inside could certainly lead to foul trouble for the Bobcats.

While it would likely surprise most people, North Carolina actually ranks in the Top 20 in adjusted defensive efficiency, while Ohio is just outside the Top 100 offensively.  The Bobcats’ strength lies on the offensive glass, where they rank in the Top 75, but offensive boards won’t come easy against a Carolina squad that ranks highly in defensive rebounding percentage.

UNC doesn’t force many turnovers, but they rank first in the nation in opponents’ free throw rate, and are in or around the Top 50 in both two-and three-point defense, thanks in part to the shot-blocking prowess of Henson and Zeller inside.

While the three-point shot can sometimes be the equalizer in matchups like this, Ohio makes under 34 percent from long range, but if Nick Kellogg, who makes nearly 42 percent of his triples can get loose, that certainly would help OU’s case.

UNC-Ohio Prediction

Although the Bobcats don’t match up well inside, there are questions as to who from North Carolina can slow down Ohio point guard D.J. Cooper.  Marshall certainly isn’t known as a great defender, but Stillman White isn’t going to fare any better.  It’s certainly an area where Ohio has an advantage and one they will need to exploit if they want to spring the upset.

Despite the fact that UNC may be without Marshall, I still think they will find a way to win thanks to their huge advantage in the frontcourt and on the glass.  I also wouldn’t be shocked to see Marshall try to give it a go, although obviously his effectiveness would be a big question mark.

Predicted Winner: North Carolina

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North Carolina Tar Heels Team Capsule

  • Conference: ACC
  • Record: 29-5 (14-2 conf)
  • Last 10 Games: 9-1
  • Record vs. Tournament Teams: 9-5
  • Wins vs. Tournament Teams: Duke, Long Beach State, Michigan, State, North Carolina State (3), Texas, UNC-Asheville, Virginia (2), Wisconsin
  • Losses vs. Tournament Teams: Duke, Florida State (2), Kentucky, UNLV
  • Player to Watch: Tyler Zeller (7’0” F, Sr.) – 16.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 55.5 FG%

North Carolina Bottoms Line:

The Tar Heels came into the season as one of the favorites to win it all, and they hung onto a one seed despite losing to Florida State in the ACC Championship Game on Sunday.  For the year, they ranked 13th in offensive efficiency and 12th on the defense end, the latter of which probably surprises people.  They posted the lowest opponents’ free throw rate in the country and ranked inside the Top 30 in effective field goal percentage defense and defense rebounding percentage.  Just don’t count the Heels forcing many turnovers.  You also shouldn’t count on them turning it over at a high rate, as they rank ninth in the country there.

They are also ninth in offensive rebounding percentage, led to by the duo of Tyler Zeller and John Henson.  Zeller was second on the team in points, rebounds, and blocked shots while hitting over 55 percent from the field, and he earned ACC Player of the Year honors as well.  Henson injured his wrist in the ACC Tournament, but I would imagine he plays in the NCAAs.  He averaged a double-double for the season and blocked 2.9 shots per game as well.  Both guys posted strong rebounding rates on both ends of the floor, with Zeller finishing with the superior free throw rate.

Point guard Kendall Marshall doled out nearly 10 assists per game and finished with one of the top assist rates in the country.  Last year’s top incoming freshman Harrison Barnes led the team in scoring with 17.4 points per game to go with 5.2 rebounds.  Multiple backcourt injuries have placed more pressure on Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston, and both have shown flashes this season.  If Henson is healthy, the Heels have more than enough talent to get to the Final Four.

Ohio Bobcats Team Capsule

  • Conference: MAC
  • Record: 27-7 (11-5 conf)
  • Last 10 Games: 8-2
  • Record vs. Tournament Teams: 2-1
  • Wins vs. Tournament Teams: Lamar, UNC-Asheville
  • Losses vs. Tournament Teams: Louisville
  • Player to Watch: D.J. Cooper (5’11” G, Jr.) – 14.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 5.7 apg, 2.4 spg

Ohio Bottoms Line:

The Bobcats finished third in a loaded MAC East, but they knocked off the top two teams in Cleveland to win the MAC Tournament.  Ohio ranks in the Top Five in defensive turnover rate and steal percentage, and they have also done a great job at shutting down opposing three-point shooters.  Offensively, their numbers don’t jump off the page, but they have been effective on the offensive glass.  The Bobcats have nine players who log at least 11 minutes per game, with five of them scoring at least 8.9 points as well.

D.J. Cooper makes this team go, leading the squad in points, assists, and steals and ranking among the nation’s leaders in assist rate and steal percentage.  Ohio State transfer Walter Offutt is the team’s other double figure scorer, while Reggie Keely and Ivo Baltic anchor the front line and combine for 18.2 points and 10.2 rebounds.  Nick Kellogg, son of former NBA player and current broadcaster Clark, is the team’s top shooter and hits 41.8 percent from three-point range and 90.9 percent from the stripe.

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Kansas-NC State Preview, Prediction, and Team Info

Outside of Ohio University, North Carolina State is the most surprising Sweet Sixteen squad, and they will look to pull a third straight upset in St. Louis against Kansas.

On Sunday, the Wolfpack knocked off Georgetown by three points, as four players scored at least 12 points.  Lorenzo Brown had a strong all-around game with 12 points, seven assists, and six rebounds in the win.

Kansas trailed Purdue for most of the game but scored the last four points to escape with a three-point victory.   Elijah Johnson led KU with 18 points and made a number of huge plays down the stretch.

Kansas-NC State By The Numbers

Based on the numbers, Kansas would appear to have the advantage on both ends of the floor.  They rank in the Top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, while the Wolfpack are outside of the Top 30 in both.

Offensively, the Jayhawks are in the Top 10 in two-point shooting and in the Top 15 in effective field goal percentage, while NC State is just inside of the Top 100 in effective field goal percentage defense.  Given the number of big bodies the Wolfpack have inside, it’s surprising their numbers aren’t better, but they should take a long look at the way Purdue defended Thomas Robinson inside.  They essentially dared other players to beat them and focused tons of attention (and defenders) on Robinson, holding him to 2-of-12 shooting and really frustrating him inside.

Kansas has also posted a strong free throw rate this season, but North Carolina State has done a decent of job keeping their opponents off the stripe.  That won’t be easy against Thomas Robinson, Tyshawn Taylor, and even Jeff Withey, all of whom have free throw rates over 45 this season.

The matchup on the offensive glass looks to be even, although obviously keeping Robinson off the glass is no easy task.  The Jayhawks have had turnover issues at times this year, but NC State doesn’t force them at a high rate either.

On the other end of the floor, the Wolfpack’s strength is a high offensive rebounding percentage thanks to the efforts of Richard Howell, DeShawn Painter, and C.J. Leslie.  Kansas is strong on the defensive glass though, so second chance points (or a lack thereof) will play a role in the outcome of this one.

The other key factor will be NC State’s shooting.  Thanks to the shot-blocking prowess of Robinson and Withey, the Jayhawks hold their opponents to sub-40 percent shooting on two-pointers, while the Wolfpack make over 50 percent inside the arc.  Outside of Scott Wood, North Carolina State doesn’t shoot it all that well from deep, but Kansas isn’t nearly as tough at defending the three.

Kansas-NC State Prediction

Foul trouble could loom large here, as neither team is particularly deep.  When they are at full strength though, you have to love some of the individual matchups.  Up front, you have Robinson and Withey versus Howell, Leslie, and Painter, and in the backcourt you have two guys who lead their teams in assists but can also put points on the board in Tyshawn Taylor and Lorenzo Brown.

While the numbers all seem to point to Kansas, NC State is easily playing its best basketball of the season at exactly the right time.  Still, the Jayhawks found a way to survive against Purdue despite not playing their best basketball, and ultimately I think their defensive ability is the difference here.

Predicted Winner: Kansas

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Kansas Jayhawks Team Capsule

  • Conference: Big 12
  • Record: 27-6 (16-2 conf)
  • Last 10 Games: 9-1
  • Record vs. Tournament Teams: 12-6
  • Wins vs. Tournament Teams: Baylor (2), Georgetown,  Iowa State, Kansas State (2), Long Beach State, Missouri, Ohio State, South Florida, Texas (2)
  • Losses vs. Tournament Teams: Baylor, Davidson, Duke, Iowa State, Kentucky, Missouri
  • Player to Watch: Thomas Robinson (6’9” F, Jr.) – 17.9 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 1.1 spg, 1.0 bpg, 53.1 FG%

Kansas Bottoms Line:

Despite losing a number of key contributors from last season’s team, the Jayhawks refused to relinquish their stranglehold on the Big 12 and won the league by two full games.

Player of the Year candidate Thomas Robinson is a double-double machine who is relentless on both ends of the floor.  His 31.6 defensive rebounding percentage is the best in the country, and he has proved adept at getting opposing defenders into foul trouble.  The other key offensive weapon is guard Tyshawn Taylor, who averages 17.3 points and a team-high 4.8 assists while hitting 43.5 percent from deep.  Center Jeff Withey has come up big for the Jayhawks on multiple occasions and always impacts the game with his rebounding and shot-blocking prowess.

Overall, Kansas ranks in the Top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and their two-point shooting and two-point defense are also among the nation’s best.  They have also done a solid job of getting to the line and competing on the glass.

NC State Wolfpack Team Capsule

  • Conference: ACC
  • Record: 22-12 (9-7 conf)
  • Last 10 Games: 5-5
  • Record vs. Tournament Teams: 3-8
  • Wins vs. Tournament Teams: Texas, UNC-Asheville, Virginia
  • Losses vs. Tournament Teams: Duke, Florida State, Indiana, North Carolina (3), Syracuse, Vanderbilt
  • Player to Watch: C.J. Leslie (6’8” F, So.) – 14.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.1 spg, 1.6 bpg, 53.2 FG%

NC State Bottoms Line:

The Wolfpack snuck into the tournament with a decent showing in the ACC Tournament, which is an impressive achievement in Mark Gottfried’s first year at the helm.

Five players score at least 10.6 points per game, which isn’t necessarily surprising since the team plays only seven guys in most contests.  C.J. Leslie is an explosive athlete, who has played extremely well down the stretch.  He boasts strong rebounding percentages on both ends of the floor, blocks shots at a high rate, and does a great job of getting to the free throw line.

He’s joined up front by Richard Howell, who nearly averages a double-double with 10.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game and ranks in the Top 75 in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage.  Point guard Lorenzo Brown does a little of everything with 12.7 points, 6.4 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.8 steals.  On the perimeter, N.C. State also has sharpshooter Scott Wood, who shoots over 41 percent from three-point range and over 91 percent from the line.

The Wolpfack finished 33rd in adjusted offensive efficiency, with their impressive performance on the offensive boards a big reason why.  They don’t get to the line a ton, but their other offensive numbers are all above average.  On the defensive end, they don’t force many turnovers but still managed to finish 75th in adjusted efficiency.

About the Author

Andy Bottoms

While Andy was born and raised in Indiana, he would like to point out that he grew up shooting hoops in his driveway and not against the side of a barn like you see in all the March Madness promos or in the middle of a field like Jimmy Chitwood. Andy ranks among the top bracketologists according to the Bracket Matrix and has provided his projections to Fox Sports for the past three seasons. When not compiling excuses for missing work during the NCAA Tournament, Andy enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters. He is a proud IU graduate and co-hosts The Assembly Call postgame show following every IU game. Twitter: @AndyBottoms