Best round of 64 matchup
This one is a tie. Virginia coach Tony Bennett and Florida coach Mike White have to be wondering what they did to make the tournament selection committee unhappy. Their team each drew a first-round matchup against an opponent that has the ingredients to be a big problem. At least the Gators have the benefit (or will it be the pressure?) of playing in Orlando. East Tennessee State fields a starting lineup that includes three seniors and a junior. One of the seniors is guard T.J. Cromer, who averages nearly 19 points a game and had 41 in a Southern Conference tournament semifinal. The other two — forwards Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Tevin Glass — played earlier in their careers at Indiana and Wichita State, respectively. Florida is without injured 6-11 center John Egbunu, who could have been a difference-maker in a game like this. Virginia has to deal with UNC Wilmington, which gave Duke an extremely difficult time in the first round of last year’s tournament and has many key players back. The Seahawks are averaging more than 85 points per game, which might seem to make them an easy mark for a rugged defensive team like Virginia, but the Cavaliers have struggled during the second half of the season and they can have trouble scoring. They will have to avoid falling behind early, or they could be in for a long game.
Elsewhere in the bracket, Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams — who had tremendous success at Marquette before heading to Blacksburg — gets to renew acquaintances with Wisconsin in the first round and could get to see former Big East foe Villanova in second round. And speaking of acquaintances, if Duke and Marquette emerge from the first round, their second-round matchup would mean Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski having to go against former Duke point guard and assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski. And for those with a sense of history, how about a Baylor-SMU second-round matchup — a pairing straight out of the Southwest Conference.
NCAA SNUBS:Six teams left out of the tournament
RIGHT AND WRONG:Three hits and misses by the committee
BRACKET CHALLENGE: Make your selections
If the prospect of the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds facing tough first-round matchups isn’t enough, try this on for size: Villanova has three losses this season. Two of them were to Butler. Who might the Wildcats face in the second round? Another methodical, experienced team that has won its share of big games in recent seasons: Wisconsin. Or, if you’re a believer in karma, with a political twist, how about the prospect of a South Carolina-Duke pairing in the second round in Greenville, S.C. This is the site that the NCAA selected as replacement for Greensboro, N.C., in the wake of that state’s HB2 saga. Now, the Gamecocks have the potential for two games in their home state while a team from one state north that has loved playing postseason games at Greensboro Coliseum ends up in less hospitable environment.
In this space (well, actually it was in the West Region space), someone picked a fifth-seeded Baylor team as The Sleeper last year in a region featuring Oklahoma and Oregon, Texas A&M and Duke. That Baylor team lost to Yale in the first round. In an era of doubling down on controversial statements, here’s another nod to the Bears. Yes, they lost to Kansas State in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals. But surely they’ve learned from last season. Or from the season before that, when they got knocked out in the first round by Georgia State as a No. 3 seed. And star forward Jonathan Motley can lead a team that this season has beaten Oregon, VCU, Louisville, Michigan State and Xavier. All of the attention is going to be on Villanova and Duke and new darlings, SMU. Maybe that’s all Baylor needs. If it can get out of the first round.
Villanova has lost twice to Butler. Butler isn’t in this region. Although 2015 NCAA title-winner Duke is in this region — seriously, how about having the past two national champions in the same region? — and Duke is steaming into this tournament off an ACC tournament title, Villanova has been there all season. Calm. Cool. Efficient. The road to Phoenix goes through Madison Square Garden, the Wildcats’ regular postseason home. As a result, the road to Phoenix goes through Villanova.
Nickname: Wildcats. Location: Villanova, Pa.
Record: 31-3, 15-3. Bid: Big East champ
Last appearance: 2016, national champ
Coach: Jay Wright (20-12 in 13 appearances)
Overview: The Wildcats make good decisions, execute on the defensive end, have a player-of-year-caliber star in Josh Hart and are for the most part excellent free-throw shooters. The bench is short, and at some point they’ll run into teams with more interior size, so they can’t afford a bad day from the arc when that happens.
Projected starters: G Josh Hart, 6-6, Sr. (18.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.2 apg, .507 fg%, .404 3fg%); G Jalen Brunson, 6-3, So. (14.8 ppg, 4.3 apg, .536 fg%, .882 ft%); F Kris Jenkins, 6-6, Sr. (13.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, .882 ft%); G Mikal Bridges, 6-7, So. (10.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg, .566 fg%, .904 ft%, .406 3fg%); F Eric Paschall, 6-7, So. (7.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg).
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Nickname: Blue Devils. Location: Durham, N.C.
Record: 27-8, 11-7. Bid: ACC champ
Last appearance: 2016, lost to Oregon in Sweet 16.
Coach: Mike Krzyzewski (90-27 in 32 appearances)
Overview: Duke finished fifth in the ACC regular season but looked like a potential Final Four team in its run to the ACC tournament title. The tandem of Luke Kennard and Jayson Tatum push the tempo and seem to make great plays and big shots regardless of the opposing defense. The Blue Devils are 12th in the nation in points per possession. They also hold opponents to the nation’s 10th-worst three-point shooting percentage.
Projected starters: G Frank Jackson, 6-3, Fr. (10.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg); G Matt Jones, 6-5, Sr. (7.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg); G Luke Kennard, 6-6, So. (20.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.5 apg); F Amile Jefferson, 6-9, Sr. (11.2 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 1.7 bpg); F Jayson Tatum, 6-8, Fr. (16.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg).
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Nickname: Bears. Location: Waco, Texas
Record: 25-7, 12-6. Bid: Big 12 at-large
Last appearance: 2016, lost to Yale in Round of 64
Coach: Scott Drew (8-6 in six appearances)
Overview: Led by junior forward Johnathan Motley, the Bears tied the school record with 25 regular-season victories and reached No. 1 in the rankings for the first time. The Bears were 6-3 in the regular season against Top 25 opponents, including nonconference wins against Oregon and Louisville.
Projected starters: G Manu Lecomte, 5-11, Jr. (12.4 ppg, 4.0 apg, 1.9 rpg); G King McClure, 6-3, So. (5.0 ppg, 0.9 apg, 1.3 rpg); F Johnathan Motley, 6-10, Jr. (17.5 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 2.4 apg); F Jo Lual-Acuil, 7-0, Jr. (9.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 2.6 apg); F Ishmail Wainright, 6-5, Sr. (5.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.2 apg).
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Nickname: Gators. Location: Gainesville.
Record: 24-8, 14-4. Bid: SEC at-large
Last appearance: 2014, lost to Connecticut in Final Four.
Coach: Mike White (first appearance)
Overview: Defense has been the key to Florida’s climb back into the national conversation. The Gators rank among the nation’s top-40 in field goal defense, blocked shots and turnovers forced while only allowing teams to make 30.2% of their three-pointers. The Gators’ front-line size combined with the ability of their guards to create off the dribble and kick out to good shooters like Leon, Robinson and Allen — who are all near 40% for the season — make them difficult to guard.
Projected starters: G Kasey Hill, 6-1, Sr. (9.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4.6 apg); G KeVaughn Allen, 6-2, So. (13.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.5 apg); F Devin Robinson, 6-8, Jr. (10.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg); F Justin Leon, 6-8, Sr. (7.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg); C Kevarrius Hayes, 6-9, So. (6.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.6 bpg).
Nickname: Cavaliers. Location: Charlottesville.
Record: 22-10, 11-7. Bid: ACC at-large
Last appearance: 2016, lost to Syracuse in Elite Eight.
Coach: Tony Bennett (9-6 in six appearances).
Overview: The Cavaliers allow the fewest points per game of any NCAA team and are 11th in field goal percentage defense. But they have trouble scoring when they need to and have great difficulty digging out of deficits. Virginia was 16-3 when it visited then-No. 1 Villanova on Jan. 29. It is 6-7 since.
Projected starters: G Kyle Guy, 6-3, Fr. (7.7 ppg, 50% 3PT); G Devon Hall, 6-5, Jr. (8.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg); G London Perrantes, 6-2, Sr. (12.8 ppg, 3.9 apg); C Jack Salt, 6-11, So. (3.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg); G Marial Shayok, 6-5, Jr. (8.7 ppg, 2.5 rpg).
6. Southern Methodist
Nickname: Mustangs. Location: Dallas.
Record: 30-4, 17-1. Bid: American Athletic champ
Last appearance: 2015, lost to UCLA in Round of 64.
Coach: Tim Jankovich (first appearance)
Overview: The Mustangs started slow with four wins in seven games before winning 23 of their last 24 entering to the conference tournament to win the league’s regular-season title. Success starts with a defense which ranks among the nation’s leaders in points allowed and field-goal defense. F Semi Ojeleye, the conference player of the year, and G Shake Milton provide an inside-out threat on offense. A lack of depth and scoring off the bench could hamstring SMU if any of the starters get in foul trouble or are injured.
Projected starters: F Semi Ojeleye, 6-7, Jr. (18.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 43.1 3FG%); F Ben Moore, 6-8, Sr. (11.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 57.5 FG%); G Shake Milton, 6-6, So. (13.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4.5 apg); G Sterling Brown, 6-6, Sr. (12.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3.1 apg); G Jarrey Foster, 6-6, So. (9.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 52.0 FG%).
7. South Carolina
Nickname: Gamecocks. Location: Columbia.
Record: 22-10, 12-6. Bid: SEC at-large
Last appearance: 2004, lost to Memphis in Round of 64
Coach: Frank Martin (6-4 in four appearances)
Overview: The uglier the game, the more likely it is the Gamecocks will thrive. Despite a lack of traditional size and just 41.6% shooting as a team, the Gamecocks have taken on Martin’s hard-nosed personality, finishing fifth nationally in turnovers forced per game (17.4) and second in three-point field goal defense (29.2%).
Projected starters: G PJ Dozier, 6-6, So. (13.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.9 apg); G Duane Notice, 6-2, Sr. (10.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.3 apg); G Sindarius Thornwell, 6-5, Sr. (21.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 2.9 apg); F Maik Kotsar, 6-10, Fr. (6.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg); F Chris Silva, 6-9, So. (9.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.3 bpg).
Nickname: Badgers. Location: Madison.
Record: 25-9, 12-6. Bid: Big Ten at-large
Last appearance: 2016, lost to Notre Dame in the Sweet 16
Coach: Greg Gard (2-1 in one appearance)
Overview: Wisconsin lost five games during a six-game stretch in February, which is momentum in the wrong direction heading into the postseason. But the Badgers appeared to flip the switch back to the way they played for the season’s first three months during their run to the Big Ten tournament title game, meaning they could, once again, be a difficult matchup in the NCAA tournament — because they have, in abundance, what everyone wants this time of year: Experienced players who know how to win in the Big Dance.
Projected starters: G Zak Showalter, 6-3 Sr. (8.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg); G Bronson Koenig, 6-3 Sr. (14.2 ppg, 2.0 apg); F Nigel Hayes, 6-8 Sr. (13.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg); F Ethan Happ, 6-10 So. (13.9 ppg, 9.0 rpg); F Vitto Brown, 6-8 Sr. (6.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg).
9. Virginia Tech
Nickname: Hokies. Location: Blacksburg.
Record: 22-10, 10-8. Bid: ACC at-large
Last appearance: 2007, lost to Southern Illinois in Round of 32.
Coach: Buzz Williams (8-5 in five appearances).
Overview: The Hokies’ two best players come off the bench: Guard Seth Allen was the ACC’s Sixth Man of the Year, and forward Zach LeDay has led the Hokies in points and rebounds in five of their past six games. Tech ranks among the nation’s top 31 teams in points per possession and seventh in effective field-goal percentage. Its 41% three-point shooting accuracy is 10th in the nation.
Projected starters: G Justin Robinson, 6-1, So. (10.4 ppg, 4.7 apg; G Justin Bibbs, 6-5, Jr. (9.1 ppg, 2.8 rpg); G Ahmed Hill, 6-5, So. (11.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg); F Khadim Sy, 6-10, Fr. (4.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg); F Chris Clarke, 6-6, So. (11.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 3.3 apg).
Nickname: Golden Eagles. Location: Milwaukee
Record: 19-12, 10-8. Bid: Big East at-large
Last appearance: 2013, lost to Syracuse in Elite Eight
Coach: Steve Wojciechowski (first appearance)
Overview: It’s easy to point to the Golden Eagles’ upset of then-No. 1 Villanova as the turning point in Coach Wojo’s rebuilding efforts. But in truth the signs of progress were there earlier, like on opening day when Marquette laid a 24-point thumping on Vanderbilt. The Eagles were inconsistent at season’s end, especially on defense, but they have good scoring balance and a solid bench led by Katin Reinhardt (10.9 ppg).
Projected starters: G Markus Howard, 5-11, Fr. (13.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.2 apg); G Jajuan Johnson, 6-5, Sr. (12.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.7 apg, 2.0 spg); C Luke Fischer, 6-11, Sr. (11.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.6 bpg, .653 fg%); G Andrew Rowsey, 5-10, Jr. (11.2 ppg, 2.3 apg, .943 ft%); G Sam Hauser, 6-7, Fr. (8.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg).
Nickname: Friars. Location: Providence, R.I.
Record: 20-12, 10-8. Bid: Big East at-large
Last appearance: 2016, lost to North Carolina in Round of 32
Coach: Ed Cooley (1-3 in three appearances)
Overview: Seemingly out of nowhere, Providence ended the regular season on a six-game winning streak to finish above .500 in the crowded conference. The development of Kyron Cartwright at the point helped, as did key bench production from G Isaiah Jackson. They might lack a go-to star but balance and scrappiness could make the Friars dangerous.
Projected starters: F Rodney Bullock, 6-8, Jr. (16.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg); F Emmitt Holt, 6-7, Jr. (12.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg); G Kyron Cartwright, 5-11, Jr. (11.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 6.8 apg); G Jalen Lindsey, 6-7, Jr. (10.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg); G Alpha Diallo, 6-7, Fr. (5.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg).
11. Southern California
Nickname: Trojans. Location: Los Angeles.
Record: 24-9, 10-8. Bid: Pac-12 at-large
Last appearance: 2016, lost to Providence in Round of 64
Coach: Andy Enfield (2-2 in two appearances)
Overview: The Trojans did just enough to edge into the field. Most notably, they avoided any non-conference losses and earned a regular-season split with UCLA for their signature win. When they’re at their best, they’re knocking down three-pointers and forcing a lot of turnovers.
Projected starters: F Bennie Boatwright, 6-10, So. (14.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg, .924 ft%); F Chimezie Metu, 6-11, So. (14.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.6 bpg); G Jordan McLaughlin, 6-1, Jr. (12.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 5.5 apg); G Elijah Stewart, 6-5, Jr. (12.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg); G De’Anthony Melton, 6-4, Fr. (8.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.5 apg, 2.0 spg).
12. North Carolina-Wilmington
Nickname: Seahawks Location: Wilmington.
Record: 29-5 (15-3) Bid: Colonial champ
Last appearance: 2016, lost to Duke in Round of 64.
Coach: Kevin Keatts (0-1 in one appearance)
Overview: The Seahawks are one of the best offensive teams in the country, averaging more than 85 points a game — they’re fifth in points per possession — and they do so with a tantalizing backcourt that features C.J. Bryce, Chris Flemmings and Denzel Ingram averaging a combined 48 points a game. Many bracket-busting upsets have a formula that features sensational guard play, and this team has that. Defensively, this team is undersized and vulnerable, meaning a cold shooting game could spell doom.
Projected starters: F Devontae Cacok, 6-7, So. (12.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg), G C.J. Bryce, 6-5, So. (17.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.0 apg), G Denzel Ingram, 6-0, Sr. (14.5 ppg, 5.5 apg), G Ambrose Mosley, 6-2, Sr. (8.1 ppg), G Chris Flemmings, 6-5, Sr. (15.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg).
13. East Tennessee State
Nickname: Buccaneers. Location: Johnson City.
Record: 27-7, 14-4. Bid: Southern champ.
Last appearance: 2010, lost to Kentucky in Round of 64.
Coach: Steve Forbes (first appearance).
Overview: The veteran group has only one freshman or sophomore on the roster and gets scoring from throughout its rotation. ETSU has had essentially the same starting five all season and its four primary bench options all average between 3.5 and 7.4 ppg. The Buccaneers are relatively high-scoring as a whole, coming in at a top-40 79.9 ppg, with individuals having an ability to create on their own; ETSU averaged just 14.8 team apg, but 25 free-throw attempts (70.4%).
Projected starters: G T.J. Cromer, 6-3, Sr. (19.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.2 apg); G Desonta Bradford, 6-4, Jr. (10.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.0 apg); G A.J. Merriweather, 6-2, Sr. (8.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.6 spg); F Tevin Glass, 6-8, Sr. (8.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg); F Hanner Mosquera-Perea, 6-9, Sr. (8.4 ppg,4.6 rpg, 1.3 bpg).
14. New Mexico State
Nickname: Aggies. Location: Las Cruces.
Record: 28-5, 11-3. Bid: WAC champ
Last appearance: 2015, lost to Kansas in Round of 64
Coach: Paul Weir (first appearance)
Overview: The Aggies are back in the dance after a year’s absence, with longtime assistant Weir now at the helm. They’ll be a long shot to advance, but they have some veteran players — most notably Ian Baker — who are familiar with the spotlight. They can bring in some big guys but are more effective with the smaller lineup as long as they’re connecting from three-point range.
Projected starters: G Ian Baker, 6-1, Sr. (16.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.1 apg); G Braxton Huggins, 6-3, Jr. (13. Ppg, 2.7 rpg); F Eli Chuha, 6-7, So. (12.4 ppg, 9.0 rpg, .609 fg%); G Matt Taylor, 6-4, Jr. (6.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg); F Johnathan Wilkins, 6-10, Jr. (5.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg).
Nickname: Trojans. Location: Troy, Ala.
Record: 22-14, 10-8. Bid: Sun Belt champ
Last appearance: 2003, lost to Xavier in Round of 64
Coach: Phil Cunningham (first appearance)
Overview: The Trojans were showing signs of changing fortunes, snapping a string of six consecutive losing season. Then they got even hotter in a surprising run through the SBC tournament as the No. 6 seed. Expect them to bring a nothing-to-lose attitude into the postseason that could serve them well. They have decent depth for a school from their league, and they have the three-point shooting to be dangerous.
Projected starters: F Jordon Varnado, 6-6, So. (16.5 ppg, 6.9 rpg); F DeVon Walker, 6-6, Sr. (7.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg); F Juan Davis Jr., 6-8, Jr. (7.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg); G Kevin Baker, 6-2, Jr. (8.4 ppg, 3.1 apg); G Wesley Person, 6-3, Jr. (14.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg, .409 3FG%).
16. Mount St. Mary’s
Nickname: Mountaineers. Location: Emmitsburg, Md.
Record: 19-15, 14-4. Bid: Northeast champ
Last appearance: 2014, lost to Albany in opening round.
Coach: Jamion Christian (0-1 in one appearance)
Overview: From a 1-11 start that included losses to West Virginia, Iowa State and Michigan, the Mountaineers rebounded to win the Northeast regular-season title and conference tournament. The surge coincided with emergence of freshman Miles Wilson as a starter, giving the team three quality offensive options. Beyond its starting five, however, Mount St. Mary’s lacks scoring punch off the bench. The Mountaineers also have problems rebounding which is a challenge against bigger teams.
Projected starters: G Elijah Long, 6-0, So. (15.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4.4 apg); G Junior Robinson, 5-5, Jr. (14.1 ppg, 2.9 apg); F Miles Watson, 6-5, Fr. (11.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg); F Chris Wray, 6-8, Jr. (7.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 57.5 FG%); C Mawdo Sallah, 6-9, So. (6.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.2 bpg).
16. New Orleans
Nickname: Privateers. Location: New Orleans.
Record: 20-11, 13-5. Bid: Southland champ.
Last appearance: 1996, lost to North Carolina in Round of 64
Coach: Mark Slessinger (first appearance)
Overview: The Privateers shoot 47.2% from the floor, led by Southland Conference player of the year Erik Thomas, who is making nearly 60% of his shots. New Orleans is loaded with upperclassmen, and that experience could be pivotal in a frantic first-round game. Senior Nate Frye averages 10.3 ppg off the bench.
Projected starters: G Christavious Gill, 5-8, Sr. (11.8 ppg, 2.8 apg); G Tevin Broyles, 6-4, Sr. (7.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.6 apg); F Erik Thomas, 6-5, Sr. (19.7 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.3 apg); F Travin Thibodeaux, 6-9, Jr. (8.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 3.4 apg); F Makur Puou, 6-9, Jr. (5.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.3 bpg).
Contributing: Nicole Auerbach, Jace Evans, Scott Gleeson, Sam Sallick, Joshua Schmidt, George Schroeder, Eddie Timanus, Daniel Uthman, Dan Wolken, Adam Woodard, Jesse Yomtov