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NCAA Tournament: Full slate begins today

By John Marshall

AP Basketball Writer

This year’s NCAA Tournament has a chance to be just as good as 2016, when Kris Jenkins capped March Madness the most dramatic way possible with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to win Villanova a title.

North Carolina fans may not have liked it, but it was the perfect end to a wild tournament filled with upsets and great games. Plus, the Tar Heels are a No. 1 seed again opposite Villanova on the other side of the 68-team field, setting up the chance for a championship game rematch on April 3.

And so the madness of March revs up all over again — a tournament loaded with great teams, players and marquee matchups.

A few things to look for:

TOP TEAMS

Villanova. The defending national champions are the top overall seed and on a roll. No need to start anywhere else.

Kansas. The Jayhawks may have had an early exit in the Big 12 Tournament, but they have one of the most talented rosters anywhere.

North Carolina. So good, even a loss to rival Duke in the ACC Tournament wasn’t enough to knock them down from a No. 1 seed.

Gonzaga. Call them overrated all you want, these Zags are deep, athletic and probably the best team coach Mark Few has had in the Inland Northwest.

Arizona. Pac-12 Tournament and co-regular season champions have coach Sean Miller eyeing his first Final Four.

Duke. Blue Devils had their share of struggles, but appear to be peaking at the right time.

TOP PLAYERS

Frank Mason III, Kansas. Leader and go-to player for a program that won its 13th straight Big 12 title.

Josh Hart, Villanova. Does it all, already has one national title.

Lonzo Ball, UCLA. One-and-done star plays with poise and flair, led the nation in assists (7.7), could be the No. 1 overall NBA pick.

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue. Double-double machine is doing things that haven’t been done in the Big Ten for decades.

Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga. Steady, clutch, engine that makes the Zags go.

Monte Morris, Iowa State. Led the nation with a 6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio — and no else was even close.

MUST-WATCH GAMES

Northwestern vs. Vanderbilt, West Region, Thursday in Salt Lake City. The Wildcats waited 78 years to play in the NCAA Tournament and the Commodores want to spoil it.

UNC-Wilmington vs. Virginia, East Region, Friday in Buffalo. The Seahawks were 10th nationally with 85.2 points per game. The Cavaliers barely give that up in two games.

Michigan vs. Oklahoma State, Midwest Region, Friday in Indianapolis. Two of the nation’s best in offensive efficiency will put the ball in the basket.

Iona vs. Oregon, Midwest Region, Friday in Sacramento. The cameras may need to stay on wide angles to keep track of these frenetic teams.

Dayton vs. Wichita State, South Region, Friday in Indianapolis. Two mid-majors looking to make a major run through the bracket.

Kentucky vs. UCLA, South Region final. Here’s hoping they get that far. The first game in Las Vegas was epic.

MID-MAJOR STARS

Mike Daum, South Dakota State. The Summit League player of the year is the top scorer in the NCAA Tournament at 25.3 points per game.

Junior Robinson, Mount Saint Mary’s. The smallest player in the bracket — 5-foot-5 — plays big. He had 23 points and the go-ahead jumper in the Mountaineers’ 67-66 First Four win over New Orleans.

Keon Johnson, Winthrop. Another little guy — he’s 5-7 — who can score in bunches. The Big South player of the year averages 22.5 points per game.

Jimmy Hall, Kent State. He declared for the NBA draft last season before changing his mind. It worked out for the Golden Flashes; he leads them with 18.9 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.4 blocks per game.

JaCorey Williams, Middle Tennessee. Arkansas transfer was the Conference-USA player of the year after averaging 17.3 points and 7.3 rebounds.

NUMBERS

9 — ACC teams in the field, most of any conference.

13.1 — Rebounding average of Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado, best in the field.

32-1 — Best record in the field, by Gonzaga.

79.9 percent — Free-throw percentage by Notre Dame, highest of the 68 teams.

90.3 — Scoring average of UCLA, leading the nation.

2,900 — Approximate miles of the longest road trip in the tournament, by Rhode Island to Sacramento, California, for games in the East Regional.

10.4 billion — Amount in dollars expected to be bet on this year’s tournament, about $1.2 billion more than last season.

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For more AP college basketball coverage: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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