NCAA Tournament: Key names, teams and matchups
By Dave Skretta
AP Sports Writer
March Madness can feel a bit like sensory overload. Games are happening at sites all over the country, often several at a time, and keeping track of everything can be nearly impossible.
Fear not. Here is your NCAA Tournament primer, a look at the movers, shakers and potential noisemakers as the college basketball season heads down the home stretch.
The big boys: The tournament’s top seeds were never really in question, especially after Wisconsin took care of Michigan State in the Big Ten title game Sunday.
The biggest of the big boys is overall No. 1 seed Kentucky, which is trying to become the first team since Indiana in 1976 to cap a perfect season with a national title. The Wildcats open against Hampton or Manhattan, then would face the winner of Cincinnati-Purdue. But the road to 40-0 won’t be easy — Notre Dame and Kansas are among the schools in the Midwest Region.
“Regardless if we were perfect or not, it’s still we’re only guaranteed one game,” Kentucky forward Willie Cauley-Stein said. “So it’s really the slate is clean, whether we’re 34-0 or got five losses. From here on out, you’re 0-0.”
The Badgers earned the top seed in the West, opening against Coastal Carolina in a region that includes No. 2 seed Arizona. Villanova is tops in the East, and Duke tops in the South.
Star power: Sure, there’s no superstar like Andrew Wiggins this season. But that hardly means this year’s dance is devoid of big-time scorers and dynamic defenders.
Kentucky has a handful of players who could be headed to the NBA, and the Blue Devils’ Jahlil Okafor is the potential No. 1 pick. Jerian Grant of Notre Dame proved that seniors can still make headlines in an era of one-and-done prospects, while many believe Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky deserves the national player of the year award.
“We have a lot of goals and aspirations in the NCAA Tournament,” said Kaminsky, who helped the Badgers to the Final Four a year ago, “so we’re going to prepare for our first game and be ready when we tip the ball up and get ready to go.”
Cinderella watch: These days, with thousands of games televised every season, there are few secrets in college basketball by the time March rolls around. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few players who are envisioning their own Bryce Drew moment, or a few teams that can put together an inspired run like George Mason or Butler of years past.
Want some off-the-radar players to watch? Try someone from Drew’s own team, Valparaiso, such as 6-foot-10 Jamaican center Vashil Fernandez or high-scoring forward Alex Peters. Tyler Harvey of Eastern Washington led the nation in scoring, while Stephen F. Austin’s Jacob Parker is one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.
How about a couple of teams that could make a run? Duke icon Bobby Hurley has coached Buffalo to a No. 12 seed opposite West Virginia in the Midwest region, and everyone knows the history of the 12-5 upset. Harvard, the No. 13 seed in the West, has been to four straight NCAAs and could make fourth-seeded North Carolina a tad uncomfortable.
Intriguing matchups: The selection committee lined up several interesting matchups early in the tournament — coaches facing former teams, in-state rivals harboring plenty of hatred.
Take sixth-seeded SMU against No. 11 seed UCLA in the South. Mustangs coach Larry Brown is back in the tournament for the first time since guiding Kansas to the 1988 title, and his opener is against the team he led to the 1980 finals — a runner-up finish later vacated.
Or, take a potential third-round game in the Midwest. If second-seeded Kansas and No. 7 seed Wichita State each win, the schools would meet for the first time since 1993, despite only a few hours of highway separating their campuses. The Shockers have been trying to schedule the Jayhawks for years, but Kansas administrators believe they have nothing to gain from the matchup.
“You get ready to play Indiana,” Shockers coach Gregg Marshall said of his team’s opening game. “If we’re fortunate enough to play in the third round, if it’s Kansas or New Mexico State, we get ready to play them. We take it one round at a time.”