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NCAA Tournament filled with great early match-ups

By John Marshall

AP Basketball Writer

Villanova is the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament to start its bid to become the first repeat national champion since Florida in 2006-07.

To get there, the Wildcats may have to face the Gators. If both teams win their first two games, they’ll play in the Sweet 16. That’s just one of the great potential match-ups and interesting story lines revealed when the NCAA Tournament bracket was released Sunday.

Great openers

Several opening games stick out, some for a contrast in styles, the other for the similarities.

In the East Region, No. 5 seed Virginia pits its shutdown defense against high-scoring UNC-Wilmington. The Cavaliers were No. 1 in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com, and Seahawks were 10th nationally in scoring offense at 85.2 points per game.

Two more style clashes could come in the Midwest second round between power Big Ten teams and up-tempo Big 12 teams: Purdue against Iowa State and Michigan State against Kansas.

Also the Midwest Region, two of the nation’s top offensive teams will meet when Michigan faces Oklahoma State Friday in Indianapolis. Oklahoma State was the top team in offensive efficiency and Michigan was fifth.

And watch out for Oregon and Iona, in the Midwest Region as well. The cameras might have a hard time keeping up with these high-octane teams.

Speedy South

Speaking of offense, the South Region will have plenty of it.

North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA are all in the South and all love to get up and down the floor.

Kentucky and UCLA, the No. 2 and 3 seeds, have the potential to meet in the Sweet 16. The Tar Heels, the No. 1 seed, would meet the Wildcats in the regional final if both get through the bracket. They played arguably the best game of the season in December, a fast-paced thriller in Las Vegas won 103-100 by Kentucky behind Malik Monk’s 47-point night. A rematch with a spot in the Final Four on the line could be epic.

Individual matchups

Two games will have must-watch individual matchups.

In the West, it will be a battle of big men when Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski faces South Dakota State’s Mike Daum.

Karnowski is one of the biggest and craftiest big men in the country, 7-foot-1, 300-pound force on the inside. He’ll have his hands full in Salt Lake City on Thursday against Daum, the highest-scoring player to make the tournament. The 6-9 sophomore was the Summit League player of the year after averaging 25.3 points and 8.2 rebounds.

Also worth watching will be the battle between Creighton’s Justin Patton faces Rhode Island’s Hassan Martin, Friday in the Midwest Region.

Patton is a versatile 6-11 freshman who can shoot 3-pointers or play inside. Martin, a senior, was Rhode Island’s second-leading scorer at 14.1 points and shot 59 percent from the floor.

In-state battles

The selection committee occasionally throws in intriguing match-ups and this year was no different with two games between teams from the same state.

The battle of the Bluegrass State will take place Friday in Indianapolis when Kentucky faces Northern Kentucky, a game that’s not expected to be close.

The West Region game between Florida State and Florida Gulf Coast could be a trendy pick for an upset, in large part because of their Dunk City run in 2013. The game is also in Orlando, adding to the in-state flair.

Left out

As is the case every year, several teams were disappointed when the bracket was announced.

Illinois State won 27 games, finished 17-1 in the Missouri Valley Conference and lost to Wichita State in the tournament title game. The Redbirds were left out when the teams were called, leaving them devastated.

“My team is crushed,” Illinois State coach Dan Muller said.

Syracuse also came up short. The Orange had too many bad losses early, a 2-11 record away from home and a high RPI of 84.

Others that had their hopes crushed: California, Georgia, Illinois, Monmouth, Texas-Arlington and Iowa.

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