The Aggies have lost only once since Jan. 9, and that stretch includes a five-point win over Nevada, which was No. 7 nationally in the AP preseason poll.
Should Utah State advance past Washington, Merrill and Neemias Queta and Diogo Brito — who both shoot about 40 percent from three — could cause problems for UNC in the second round.
Auburn is the No. 5 seed in the Midwest Region and plays New Mexico State in the first round. Make no mistake, Bruce Pearl's Auburn squad is for real. The Tigers just won four straight games to win the SEC Tournament, including an 84-64 thrashing of No. 2 seed Tennessee to win the crown.
Auburn is led by a 1-2 scoring punch of senior Bryce Brown and junior Jared Harper. Each player averages over 15 points per game, and Harper throws in nearly six assists per contest. The duo has the ability to carry the Tigers to multiple tournament wins.
Though No. 4 seed Kansas has the most brand recognition in this region, Auburn is the team to fear. The Jayhawks are in a down year, not winning either the Big 12 regular season or tournament championship. Auburn could very likely stop Kansas before it would have to play North Carolina, something for which Roy Williams will be thankful.
Auburn could be a dangerous second-weekend matchup for UNC, but each team will have to pick up two wins before that can happen.
Out of all the teams in the Midwest Region, No. 2 seed Kentucky is the biggest obstacle on UNC's road to Minneapolis. The two teams met already this season, where Kentucky beat North Carolina handily.
Since that 80-72 Kentucky win, UNC has improved greatly. The Tar Heels are playing their best basketball of the season and have shored up deficiencies on defense and in taking care of the ball since that point. But Kentucky has improved, as well.
P.J. Washington has emerged as a star for the Wildcats, and Reid Travis is back and healthy. Washington leads Kentucky in points and rebounds, and the trio of Washington, Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson is one of the best in the nation.
Travis led Kentucky past UNC with 20 points when the two teams last met, and the 6-foot-8 power forward could be the key if these two blue bloods have a rematch of 2017's classic Elite Eight game.
If Kentucky is not the team to come out of the lower half of this bracket, No. 6 seed Iowa State might be. Like Auburn, Iowa State is on a three-game winning streak and fresh off winning its conference tournament.
Marial Shayok, the transfer from Virginia, is a force for the Cyclones, averaging 18.6 points per game. Iowa State has been up-and-down. Iowa State finished the regular season with three straight losses at the hands of Texas Tech, West Virginia and Texas, and also lost five of its last six.
Though its regular season resume may not be the most stellar in this region, Iowa State is hot. As we've seen from tournaments past, playing well at the end of the season can often be more predictive than regular season results.
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