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Midwest Regional Preview: Final Four berth in play in Kansas City

Posted at 11:48 AM, Mar 22, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-22 15:11:19-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It was a tough weekend for Kansas and Missouri fans as both teams were unable to advance to the second weekend of March Madness, but Kansas State survived and will head to New York City for a chance to earn a Final Four berth in the East Region starting Thursday.

However, this weekend in Kansas City, four teams will have the opportunity to clinch a Final Four berth as the city hosts the NCAA Regional for the Midwest Region.

Here’s a look at each of the four teams that are vying for a chance to represent the Midwest Region in the Final Four in Houston next Saturday.

Houston Cougars:

Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2022

Head Coach: Kelvin Sampson

Most famous alum: Lil Wayne

Johni Broome, Jarace Walker
Auburn forward Johni Broome, left, has a layup blocked by Houston forward Jarace Walker (25) in the second half of a second-round college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament in Birmingham, Ala., Saturday, March 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

For the third straight year in a row, the Cougars are back in the Sweet 16 and are looking to reach the Final Four, which will be played in their home city. Houston could become the sixth school to play a Final Four in their home city. Butler was the last school to have an at-home advantage in Indianapolis in 2010.

It hasn’t been smooth sailing for head coach Kelvin Sampson and the Cougars as two key starters, Marcus Sasser and Jamal Shead, are dealing with injuries.

While Houston is the No. 1 seed in the Midwest region, the team has had some troubling first halves so far this tournament. Although, the Cougars recovered in the second halves of both games, including a 50-point second half against Auburn despite the fact both Sasser and Shead were in foul trouble.

While the Cougars are not extremely tall, with center Jarace Walker as their tallest starter at 6 foot 8 inches, the team is one of the best rebounding and defensive teams in the country, ranking 11th in rebounds and second in points allowed.

Houston is the only team in the top 10 in both adjusted offense and defense, according to KenPom.

The Cougars will play the Miami Hurricanes, who have one of the best field goal percentages in the country. The Hurricanes 48.1% field goal percentage ranks tied for 17th out of 363 schools.

Texas Longhorns:

Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2008

Interim Head Coach: Rodney Terry

Most famous alum: Matthew McConaughey

NCAA Penn St Texas Basketball
Texas interim head coach Rodney Terry directs his team in the first half of a second-round college basketball game against Penn State in the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 18, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Two months after the program terminated former head coach Chris Beard's contract after he was charged for domestic violence, Rodney Terry is keeping the program afloat.

The team is 21-7 since Terry took over as the interim head coach, with Terry leading the Longhorns to their second Big 12 Tournament Championship ever.

Almost two weeks after blowing out the Kansas Jayhawks to win the Big 12 Tournament at the T-Mobile Center, the Longhorns return to Kansas City with a chance to head to a Final Four for the first time since 2003.

The Longhorns have one of the most experienced rosters in the country, ranking sixth in experience according to KenPom. They have a solid starting lineup, with four players averaging 10 or more points per game and shooting over 32% behind the 3-point line.

The Longhorns also have a solid bench, led by Lee's Summit West High School alumnus Christian Bishop.

The Longhorns breezed past their opening round matchup against Colgate. However, they earned a trip back to Kansas City by narrowly defeating Penn State, who blew out Longhorn rival Texas A&M in their opening round game, with a five-point lead at 71-66.

Xavier Musketeers:

Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2017

Head Coach: Sean Miller

Most famous alum: Tyrone Hill

APTOPIX NCAA Pitt Xavier Basketball
Xavier forward Jack Nunge blocks a shot by Pittsburgh guard Greg Elliott during the first half of a second-round college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, March 19, 2023, in Greensboro, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

The Musketeers look to head to a Final Four for the first time in the program’s history, and they hope a familiar face will lead them there as Sean Miller is back coaching the Musketeers.

Miller previously coached Xavier from 2004-2009 and lead the team to an Elite 8 in 2004 and 2008 and a Sweet Sixteen in 2009.

In Miller’s first year back with the program, Xavier is back in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2017, despite losing key starter Zach Freemantle for the year in February.

Xavier has one of the best offenses in the country, ranking 11th in points per game (PPG), tied for sixth in field goal percentage and fifth in 3-point field goal percentage.

Despite the loss of Freemantle, the Musketeers still feature offensive talent, with four other starters averaging over 10 PPG, led by guard Souley Boum on the perimeter and forward Jack Nunge in the interior.

Xavier has experienced highs and lows in the tournament.

The Musketeers had to comeback from a 13-point deficit in its opening round game against 13-seed Kennesaw State.

However, they were able to control the majority of the game against their Round of 32 opponent Pittsburgh, with the team leading by as much as 20 points at one point. The Xavier Musketeers finished the game 11 points ahead, defeating the Pittsburgh Panthers 84-73.

Miami Hurricanes:

Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2022

Head Coach: Jim Larrañaga

Most famous alum: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

Nijel Pack, Indiana
Miami guard Nijel Pack (24) scores against Indiana during the first half of a second-round college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament Sunday, March 19, 2023, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

A year after reaching an Elite Eight for the first time in its program history, Miami Hurricanes head coach Jim Larrañaga has led the team back to the Sweet 16.

The Hurricanes barely squeezed by the Drake Bulldogs in its opening tournament game with a final score of 63-56, but blew out the Indiana Hoosiers 85-69 in the Round of 32.

Like Xavier, the Hurricanes are one of the best offensive teams in the country, with the Hurricanes 48.1% field goal percentage tied for 17th out of 363 schools, and an offensive rating ranked eighth in the country

The Hurricanes know how to score, with the program’s 79.1 PPG tied for 24th in the country, led by fourth year junior guard Isaiah Wong, who averages 16.1 PPG.

The Hurricanes' starting lineup has four players who average at least 13 PPG, which includes Wong and former Kansas State guard Nijel Pack.

Pack played his first two years with Kansas State. He transferred from the Wildcats after the program fired coach Bruce Weber. Pack led K-State in scoring in his two years with the program.

However, the Hurricanes' offense will be tested against one of the best defenses in the country in the Houston Cougars.

The Cougars rarely allow teams to score more than 70 points against them, with the team allowing more than 70 points only five times this season.

The Midwest Regionals in Kansas City begin on Friday, with Houston vs. Miami set to tip off at 6:15 p.m. Texas will play Xavier 30 minutes after the Houston vs. Miami game ends.

The Midwest Regional Final will be played on Sunday. The time of the game is to be determined.