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Wayne Staats | | March 21, 2019

2019 NCAA tournament predictions: Midwest Region picks, upsets

These are the best dunks from Wednesday's First Four

The bracket is out and the First Four is here. That means it's time for some 2019 predictions. Let's head to the Midwest Region, where North Carolina is the third ACC team to get a top seed.

The Tar Heels might be the favorite to make it out of Kansas City and advance to the Final Four, but it won't be easy. There could be some big upsets sprinkled in throughout the bracket.

2019 NCAA tournament predictions: Midwest Region picks, predictions

The No. 1 seed: North Carolina (27-6)

UNC started "only" 8-3 and 12-4 before running off to a 16-2 finish in the ACC regular season standings and a spot in the ACC semifinals. Cameron Johnson, Coby White and Luke Maye all average at least 14 points per game — and Nassir Little isn't far behind from averaging double-digits himself. KenPom rates the Tar Heels in the top 10 on both offense and defense. They also have a collection of wins over Wofford, Gonzaga, Virginia Tech, Florida State and Duke (twice). Whew.

The other top contender: No. 2 Kentucky (27-6)

John Calipari and the Wildcats don't need any introduction. They're expected to go far again, especially after falling in the Sweet 16 to upset-minded K-State a year ago. Record-wise, it's possible the PJ Washington, Tyler Herro and Wildcats face a trio of strong teams before even getting to a possible UNC showdown. If UK plays Abilene Christian, Wofford and Houston in the first three rounds, it would be up against three teams that currently have a combined record of 87-13.

Best First Round game: No. 5 Auburn vs. No. 12 New Mexico State

MARCH MADNESS: We picked every first-round game

Auburn looked great in the SEC tournament, going through Missouri, South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee to win the conference tournament for the first time since 1985. The Tigers' masterpiece was an 84-64 rout of Tennessee, now a No. 2 seed in the tournament. Auburn made 15 3-pointers and forced 17 turnovers as it won its eighth game in a row.

The problem? New Mexico State is one of a handful of AQ teams with big records. The Aggies are 30-4 and haven't lost since January 3.

Star player ready to destroy your bracket: Fletcher Magee, Wofford

He's two 3-pointers away from tying Oakland's Travis Bader for career 3-pointers. Magee is at 502 — and he might tie and even break the record well before the first half ends on Thursday. Magee is averaging 20.5 points per game while shooting 42.8 percent on 3s. He's been lethal lately, too. Magee is shooting 52.1 percent from distance since February.

JOIN THE MADNESS: Make your bracket picks now

Upset pick: No. 7 Wofford upsets Kentucky

This is a long shot, but the Terriers are on a roll. Wofford has the nation's longest win streak at 20 games after Gonzaga lost to Saint Mary's in the WCC title game last week. Wofford is in the NCAA tournament field for the fifth time since 2010 and is still looking for its first win. However, the Terriers have been close to pulling off upsets before. They'll be the higher seed against Seton Hall but would be the big underdog against UK.

The teams: No. 1 to No. 16

  1. North Carolina (27-6)
  2. Kentucky (27-6)
  3. Houston (31-3)
  4. Kansas (25-9)
  5. Auburn (26-9)
  6. Iowa State (23-11)
  7. Wofford (29-4)
  8. Utah State (28-6)
  9. Washington (26-8)
  10. Seton Hall (20-13)
  11. Ohio State (19-14)
  12. New Mexico State (30-4)
  13. Northeastern (23-10)
  14. Georgia State (24-9)
  15. Abilene Christian (27-6)
  16. Iona (17-15)

The pick: No. 1 North Carolina

Like Gonzaga, UNC could benefit from big early upsets that take out top contenders. No. 4 Kansas and No. 5 Auburn both have tough first-round matchups that could clear the Tar Heels' path to the Elite Eight. No. 2 Kentucky won't have an easy road, either. Wofford (or high scoring Myles Powell and Seton Hall) would be next, plus there's a 31-3 Houston team seeded third.

For all the attention Duke has received since Zion's return, UNC lost by only one point in the ACC tournament and beat the Blue Devils twice earlier in the season. After an early exit last year, UNC will be back in the Final Four.

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