Best round of 64 matchup
Michigan vs. Oklahoma State: When Michigan’s plane skidded off a runway during an aborted takeoff in high winds, delaying the Wolverines’ trip to the Big Ten Tournament, sports was put into perspective. But it shouldn’t mask how well Michigan is playing, winning 10 of its last 12 games. During the four-game run to the Big Ten title, the Wolverines beat Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota and Wisconsin. If seniors Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin can replicate their recent play, they could continue the hot streak. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State is riding a three-game skid, but those were close losses to fellow West Region teams Kansas and Iowa State. The Cowboys will be glad to get away from the Big 12 (at least for now; though the Sweet 16 in Kansas City could look like a Big 12 Tournament remix), and they’ve already rebounded from an 0-6 start in Big 12 play to reach .500. The Cowboys are led by Jawun Evans, who is maybe the best point guard you don’t know, and swingman Jeffrey Carroll, who’s hitting almost 44% from 3-point range. The winner of this matchup could keep playing for a while.
NCAA SNUBS: Six teams left out of the tournament
RIGHT AND WRONG: Three hits and misses by the committee
BRACKET CHALLENGE: Make your selections
Rhode Island is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999, but it’s clear from the No. 11 seed the selection committee didn’t think too much of the Rams. It’s a good thing they won the Atlantic 10 Tournament; otherwise, they might have been playing in the First Four. But led by E.C. Matthews and a consistently tough defense, Rhode Island is a decent bet for a first-round upset of Creighton. Behind Marcus Foster, Justin Patton and Khyri Thomas, the Bluejays can score in bunches. But they have struggled to find consistency in the last month, since losing star Maurice Watson Jr. last month to a season-ending ACL injury and subsequent arrest on a sexual assault charge. Although Creighton made it to the Big East Tournament final, losing to Villanova, The Bluejays are 5-7 in Watson’s absence. The Rams, who have won eight in a row, led for 119 of 120 minutes in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. It’s Their defense that could provide a path into the second round.
It’s hard to call a No. 3 seed a sleeper, but when Oregon went from a potential No. 1 seed to No. 3 in about 24 hours, it was hard to argue. Not so much because of the Ducks’ loss to Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament final, but because of the shocking loss of senior forward Chris Boucher to a torn left ACL the night before. Without Boucher’s length, the Ducks struggled to rebound and keep Arizona out of the lane. His ability to stretch the floor with threes was missed, too. Without him, their offense stagnated. But give Dana Altman a week to prepare, and recognize how talented the Ducks’ mesh of interchangeable parts, led by Dillon Brooks but augmented by so many others, really is, and it’s possible Oregon could rebound to make a deep run, anyway.
Kansas regularly gets dinged for early NCAA exits, but this is a team that developed unnatural toughness during the regular season. Yes, the Jayhawks won their 13th consecutive Big 12 regular-season championship. Yeah, they won it by four games. But scratch a little deeper, and recognize how they won – a ton of nail-biters and unlikely comebacks. That’s the kind of grit that, fused with obvious talent, could take Kansas a long way. Of course, although Kansas was without freshman phenom Josh Jackson during an upset loss to TCU in a Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal, it showed the peril for a team that goes barely seven deep. But led by senior point guard Frank Mason III, USA TODAY Sports’ national player of the year, the Jayhawks are capable of getting back to the Final Four for the first time since 2012. Jackson – the nation’s consensus No. 1 recruit – has been fantastic, and come June he’ll go very early in the NBA Draft. But success in March is so often about veterans. But it’s Mason, a lightly recruited guard who developed into one of the nation’s best point guards, who led Kansas to the No. 1 seed and could lead them down a very favorable geographic path (Tulsa and then Kansas City) all the way to Phoenix.
Nickname: Jayhawks. Location: Lawrence.
Record: 28-4, 16-2. Bid: Big 12 at-large.
Last appearance: 2016, lost to Villanova in Elite Eight.
Coach: Bill Self (40-17 in 18 appearances).
Overview: After cruising to their 13th consecutive Big 12 regular-season title, the Jayhawks were upset by TCU in the first round of the conference tournament. They’ll again enter the NCAA among the favorites to win it all, but with legitimate questions about whether they’ll fade out early again. Senior guard Frank Mason III — USA TODAY’s national player of the year — and freshman forward Josh Jackson (suspended for the TCU game) lead one of the nation’s most potent offensive teams but one with little depth.
Projected starters: G Frank Mason III, 5-11, Sr. (20.5 ppg, 5.1 apg, 48.8 3FG%); G Devonte’ Graham, 6-2, Jr. (13.2 ppg, 4.3 apg, 43.1 3FG%); G Josh Jackson, 6-8, Fr. (16.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 3.1 apg); G Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, 6-8, Jr. (9.3 ppg, 1.4 apg, 39.6 3FG%); C Landen Lucas, 6-10, Sr. (7.7 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.0 bpg).
Nickname: Cardinals. Location: Louisville, Ky.
Record: 24-8 (12-6 ACC). Bid: ACC at-large.
Last appearance: 2015, lost to Michigan State in Elite Eight.
Coach: Rick Pitino (53-18 in 20 appearances).
Overview: Donovan Mitchell is the Cardinals’ most dangerous player, an all-ACC first-teamer who averaged nearly 20 points against league competition and led the league in steals. Louisville’s field goal percentage defense ranks 14th in D-I. Two of Louisville’s projected starters grew up within 13 miles of Louisville’s campus. Two others — Deng Adel and Anas Mahmoud — grew up 9,700 and 6,200 miles away, respectively.
Projected starters: G Quentin Snider, 6-2, Jr. (12.6 ppg, 4.1 apg); G Donovan Mitchell, 6-3, So. (15.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.1 spg); C Anas Mahmoud, 7-0, Jr. (5.8 ppg, 2.1 bpg), 62% FG%; F Deng Adel, 6-7, So. (11.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg); F Ray Spalding, 6-10, So. (5.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg).
Nickname: Ducks. Location: Eugene.
Record: 29-5, 16-2. Bid: Pac-12 at-large.
Last appearance: 2016, lost to Oklahoma in regional final.
Coach: Dana Altman (9-12 in 12 appearances).
Overview: Finishing at the top of a top-heavy conference certainly puts the Ducks on the short list of teams with the potential to win it all. Though Dillon Brooks has emerged as the face of the team, there are plenty of scoring options around him. The rapid development of Pritchard as a facilitator contributed to the team’s success, but 6-10 F Chris Boucher, who went out with a knee injury during the Pac-12 tournament, will be missed. The Ducks will look to dictate a moderate tempo with defense and good half-court sets. A talented team that likes to run would be an tough test for them.
Projected starters: F Dillon Brooks, 6-7, Jr. (16.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.9 apg); G Tyler Dorsey, 6-4, So. (12.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg); F Jordan Bell, 6-9, Jr. (10.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.1 bpg); G Dylan Ennis, 6-2, Sr. (10.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.1 apg); G Payton Pritchard, 6-2, Fr. (7.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.0 apg).
Nickname: Boilermakers. Location: West Lafayette, Ind.
Record: 25-7, 14-4. Bid: Big Ten at-large.
Last appearance: 2016, lost to Arkansas-Little Rock in Round of 64.
Coach: Matt Painter (8-9 in nine appearances).
Overview: Don’t let the fact that the top of the Big Ten isn’t as strong as normal fool you. Purdue — led by double-double machine Caleb Swanigan — is the real deal, and will be a hard out for any team with weaknesses in the frontcourt. The Boilermakers have suffered a few early exits in recent years, but this group is talented enough to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2010.
Projected starters: G P.J. Thompson, 5-10, Jr. (7.3 ppg, 3.0 apg); G Ryan Cline, 6-6, So. (5.7 ppg, 1.9 rpg); G Dakota Mathias, 6-4, Jr. (10.1 ppg, 3.6 apg); F Vincent Edwards, 6-8, Jr. (12.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg); F Caleb Swanigan, 6-9, So. (18.7 ppg, 12.6 rpg).
5. Iowa State
Nickname: Cyclones. Location: Ames.
Record: 23-10, 12-6. Bid: Big 12 champ.
Last appearance: 2016, lost to Virginia in the Sweet 16.
Coach: Steve Prohm (3-2 in two appearances).
Overview: Led by senior point guard Monte Morris, the Cyclones’ four-guard lineup is a matchup nightmare. With the smaller lineup, Iowa State is routinely outrebounded. But the Cyclones make up for it by taking care of the ball, averaging only 10 turnovers.
Projected starters: G Monte Morris, 6-3, Sr. (16.2 ppg, 6.2 apg, 4.6 rpg); G Nazareth Mitrou-Long, 6-4, Sr. (16.0 ppg, 2.8 apg, 4.7 rpg); G Deonte Burton, 6-5, Sr. (14.4 ppg, 1.8 apg, 6.2 rpg); G Matt Thomas, 6-5, Sr. (12.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.6 apg); G Solomon Young, 6-8, Fr. (4.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg).
Nickname: Bluejays. Location: Omaha.
Record: 25-9, 10-8. Bid: Big East at-large.
Last appearance: 2014, lost to Baylor in Round of 32.
Coach: Greg McDermott (3-6 in six appearances).
Overview: The Bluejays had to reinvent themselves when PG Maurice Watson (12.3 ppg, 8.5 apg) went down with a season-ending knee injury, resulting in a slide down the Big East standings. A committee approach at the point that includes freshman Davion Mintz has kept the offense functional at times, but most potential opponents will have more depth and seasoning.
Projected starters: G Marcus Foster, 6-3, Jr. (18.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.4 apg); G Isaiah Zierden, 6-3, Sr. (5.0 ppg); G Khyri Thomas, 6-3, So. (12.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 3.4 apg); F Cole Huff, 6-8, Sr. (9.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 84.6 FT%); C Justin Patton, 7-0, Fr. (13.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.5 bpg, 69.3 FG%)
Nickname: Wolverines. Location: Ann Arbor.
Record: 24-11, 10-8. Bid: Big Ten champ.
Last appearance: 2016, lost to Notre Dame in the Round of 64.
Coach: John Beilein (17-10 in 10 appearances).
Overview: Michigan is off to a quite memorable March already, with a fantastic run in the Big Ten tournament that followed a scary team plane accident — an aborted takeoff — that shook players up and also brought them closer together. The Wolverines are coalescing and peaking at the right time, and though they won’t be a particularly high seed, they’ll be a tough matchup as one of the hottest teams in the country.
Projected starters: G Derrick Walton, 6-1, Sr. (14.7 ppg, 4.5 apg); G Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, 6-4, Jr. (9.4 ppg, 2.0 apg); G/F Zak Irvin, 6-6, Sr. (12.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg); F Moritz Wagner, 6-11, So. (12.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg); F D.J. Wilson, 6-10, Jr. (10.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg)
8. Miami (Fla.)
Nickname: Hurricanes. Location: Coral Gables.
Record: 21-11, 10-8. Bid: ACC at-large.
Last appearance: 2016, lost to Villanova in Round of 64.
Coach: Jim Larranaga (9-7 in seven appearances).
Overview: Miami has one of the better guard groups in the tournament with Davon Reed, Ja’Quan Newton and potent freshman Bruce Brown. The Hurricanes are 17-1 when scoring 70 or more points. They didn’t reach 60 in seven of their losses. Miami has lost three of its past four games.
Projected starters: G Ja’Quan Newton, 6-2, Jr. (13.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg); G Bruce Brown, 6-5, Fr. (11.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.3 apg); G Davon Reed, 6-6, Sr. (15.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg); F Kamari Murphy, 6-8, Sr. (7.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg); G/F Anthony Lawrence Jr., 6-7, So. (7.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg).
9. Michigan State
Nickname: Spartans. Location: East Lansing.
Record: 19-14, 10-8. Bid: Big Ten at-large.
Last appearance: 2016, lost to Middle Tennessee in Round of 64.
Coach: Tom Izzo (46-18 in 19 appearances).
Overview: This has not been one of Tom Izzo’s steadiest teams, but it’s intriguing nonetheless — mostly because of freshman Miles Bridges, one of the most dynamic players in college basketball. But even following an up-and-down regular season and considering last year’s abrupt NCAA tournament exit, it’s hard to bet against Izzo this time of year.
Projected starters: G Tum Tum Nairn Jr., 5-10, Jr. (3.8 ppg, 3.6 apg); G Joshua Langford, 6-5, Fr. (6.5 ppg, 2.2 rpg); G Alvin Ellis, 6-4, Sr. (6.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg); G/F Miles Bridges, 6-7, Fr. (16.6 ppg, 8.3 rpg); F Nick Ward, 6-8, Fr. (13.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg)
10. Oklahoma State
Nickname: Cowboys. Location: Stillwater.
Record: 20-12, 9-9. Bid: Big 12 at-large.
Last appearance: 2015, lost to Oregon in Round of 64.
Coach: Brad Underwood (2-3 in three appearances).
Overview: After losing its first six Big 12 games, Oklahoma State won 10 of its last 14. Sophomore point guard Jawun Evans is the catalyst for a team that scores in bunches (85.6 ppg). OSU played the No. 2 strength of schedule according to the KenPom rankings. The Cowboys had eight wins against Top 50 KenPom teams.
Projected starters: G Jawun Evans, 6-1, So. (18.7 ppg, 6.3 apg, 3.3 rpg); G Phil Forte, 5-11, Sr. (13.4 ppg, 1.5 apg, 42.3 3FG%); G Jeffrey Carroll, 6-6, Jr. (17.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 48.3 3FG%); F Leyton Hammonds, 6-8, Sr. (8.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg); F Mitchell Solomon, 6-9, Jr. (5.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg).
11. Rhode Island
Nickname: Rams. Location: Kingston.
Record: 24-9, 13-5. Bid: Atlantic 10 champ.
Last appearance: 1999, lost to Charlotte in Round of 64.
Coach: Dan Hurley (first appearance).
Overview: The Rams found early success with a victory against then-No. 24 Cincinnati and they played then-No.1 Duke tough the next time out. They caught fire near the end of the season, winning eight in a row to claim the Atlantic 10 tournament title. The Rams their opponents to 64.9 points per game on 40.8% shooting, both the best marks in the conference. From three-point range, oppenents shot a mere 29%, No. 3 in the country.
Projected starters: G E.C. Matthews, 6-5, Jr. (14.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg); G Jared Terrell, 6-3, Jr. (12.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg); G Jeff Dowtin, 6-3, Fr. (5.0 ppg, 2.2 rpg); F Hassan Martin, 6-7, Sr. (14.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg); F Kuran Iverson, 6-9, Sr. (9.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg).
Nickname: Wolfpack Location: Reno.
Record: 28-6, 14-4. Bid: Mountain West champ.
Last appearance: 2007, lost to Memphis in Round of 32.
Coach: Eric Musselman (first appearance).
Overview: Nevada likely had a shot of squeaking into the field of 68 as an at-large, but saved the suspense for other bubble teams by beating Colorado State in the Mountain West tournament title game. Musselman has reshaped the program, and this team has the firepower to pull off a first-round upset. It starts and ends with senior Marcus Marshall, a transfer from Missouri State who energizes the entire roster with his playmaking abilities.
Projected starters: F Cameron Oliver, 6-8, So. (16.2 ppg), G Marcus Marshall, 6-3, Sr. (19.8 ppg, 3.7 apg), G D.J. Fenner, 6-6, Sr. (14.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg), G Jordan Caroline, 6-7, So. (14.6 ppg, 9.2 rpg), G Lindsey Drew, 6-7, So. (5.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.8 apg).
Nickname: Catamounts. Location: Burlington.
Record: 29-5, 16-0. Bid: America East champ.
Last appearance: 2012, lost to North Carolina in Round of 64.
Coach: John Becker (1-1 in one appearance).
Overview: Vermont, which has won 21 in a row, could play spoiler. The Catamounts go nine or 10 deep and shoot a shade under 50% from the field (49.5). UVM’s defense allows just 63.2 points per game (19th in the nation) while its offense hung 80-plus points on opponents 10 times this season.
Projected starters: F Payton Henson, 6-8, Jr. (11.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg); F Anthony Lamb, 6-6, Fr. (11.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg); G Trae Bell-Haynes, 6-2 Jr. (11.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 3.9 apg); G Ernie Duncan, 6-3, So. (9.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.0 apg); G Kurt Steidl, 6-6, Sr. (8.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg).
Nickname: Gaels Location: New Rochelle, N.Y.
Record: 22-12, 12-8. Bid: MAAC champ.
Last appearance: 2016, lost to Iowa State in the Round of 64.
Coach: Tim Cluess (0-3 in three appearances).
Overview: Cluess constantly puts his program in a position to win, steering the Gaels to their fifth consecutive MAAC title game and securing the auto bid for a second year in a row after clipping Siena by a point. Sam Cassell Jr. (10.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.1 apg), son of the former NBA star, gives the team an extra scoring spark and is an X-Factor off the bench. Because Iona plays small, it often won’t win a battle on the glass, which could be trouble against a team from a power conference. Defense also is not this team’s strength. The Gaels rank 272nd nationally in points allowed.
Projected starters: F Jordan Washington, 6-8, Sr. (17.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg), G E.J. Crawford, 6-6, Fr. (9.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg), G Deyshonee Much, 6-5, Jr. (9.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg), G Schadrac Casimir, 5-10, So. (7.0 ppg), G Rickey McGill, 6-1, So. (10.8 ppg, 5.2 apg, 3.9 rpg).
15. Jacksonville State
Nickname: Gamecocks. Location: Jacksonville, Ala.
Record: 20-14, 9-7. Bid: Ohio Valley champ.
Last appearance: First appearance.
Coach: Ray Harper (1-2 in two appearances)
Overview: Having already reinvigorated the program — improving from eight wins last season — Harper, a former Division II coach of the year who most recently led Western Kentucky to the NCAAs, helped the veteran Gamecocks earn their first NCAA appearance. JSU knocked off top-seeded Belmont in the semifinals and No. 2 seed Tennessee Martin in the championship, while limiting both teams to under 60 points thanks to a stout defense. Don’t expect explosive offense (69.7 ppg, 256th nationally).
Projected starters: F Christian Cunningham, 6-7, So. (8.4 ppg, 8.2 rpg), F Norbertas Giga, 6-10, Jr. (10.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg), G Greg Tucker, 6-2, Sr. (11.3 ppg), G Malcolm Drumright, 6-2, Jr. (12.6 ppg, 3.8 apg), G Erik Durham, 6-4, Sr. (11.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg).
16. North Carolina Central
Nickname: Eagles. Location: Durham.
Record: 25-8, 13-3. Bid: MEAC champ.
Last appearance: 2014, lost to Iowa State in Round of 64.
Coach: LeVelle Moton (0-1 in one appearance).
Overview: Senior guard Patrick Cole leads the Eagles in points and assists while his backcourt mate, Dajuan Graf, is right behind him in both categories. This team is second in the MEAC in scoring offense and they have the top scoring defense, combining for a 10.5 scoring margin, the only team in their conference with a positive margin.
Projected starters: G Patrick Cole, 6-5, Sr. (19.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 5.6 apg); G Dajuan Graf, 6-1, Sr. (14.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 5.2 apg); G Rashaun Madison, 6-1, Sr. (9.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg); F Kyle Benton, 6-7, Jr. (8.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg); F Delvin Dickerson, 6-5, Sr. (8.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg).
16. UC Davis
Nickname: Aggies. Location: Davis, Calif.
Record: 19-12, 11-5. Bid: Big West champ.
Last appearance: First appearance.
Coach: Jim Les (2-1 in one appearance).
Overview: UC Davis rolls out four seniors in the starting lineup. Brynton Lemar and Chima Moneke lead the team in scoring, and Siler Schneider ads 11.1 ppg off the bench. For a team that starts three guards, UC Davis struggled from the free-throw line, shooting just 66.3%. That could be an issue if the Aggies want to hang around in their first NCAA tournament.
Projected starters: F J.T. Adenrele, 6-7, Sr. (5.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg); F Chima Moneke, 6-6, Jr. (14.5 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 0.9 apg); G Lawrence White, 6-4, Sr. (7.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.5 apg); G Darius Graham, 5-10, Sr. (7.9 ppg, 3.4 apg); G Brynton Lemar, 6-4, Sr. (15.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.7 apg).
Contributing: Nicole Auerbach, Jace Evans, Scott Gleeson, Sam Sallick, Joshua Schmidt, George Schroeder, Eddie Timanus, Daniel Uthman, Dan Wolken, Adam Woodard, Jesse Yomtov
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