Self, Coach K, Izzo and Boeheim. Hall of Fame reunion or region of death?
On Selection Sunday, Kansas secured the third one-seed and a fan-friendly path with their Midwest region games played in Wichita and Omaha. The draw, however, has some formidable opponents on the road to San Antonio.
It’s hard not to be weary of the college basketball villian Blue Devils. Duke plays under the same monumental fan expectation with the added pressure of national hatred every year. Coach K is a living legend with a star senior and a freshmen phenom. Devonte’ Graham may need to channel his best Frank Mason Champions Classic impression late in the draw to make the Final Four.
Players to watch: Senior guard Grayson Allen and freshman forward Marvin Bagley III.
#3 Michigan State
The Spartans have been on a rollercoaster ride for most of the season, with its most recent turn nearly jeopardizing Miles Bridges’ eligibility. Still, they won the Big Ten regular season title and lost just four games all season, two of which were at the hands of the in-state rival Michigan Wolverines. Ranked eighth in the nation for rebounds per game and first in the nation for assists per game, Michigan State is a three-seed poised to make it difficult for Duke or Kansas to emerge from this region.
Players to watch: Sophomore forward Miles Bridges and sophomore guard Cassius Winston.
The Tigers were bounced early from the SEC tournament, playing into the season-long storyline that they are overhyped. However, the “us against the world” mentality has served Auburn well throughout the year and may continue to propel them in March Madness as well.
Players to watch: Sophomore guard Mustapha Heron and junior guard Bryce Brown.
The Tigers finished third in a highly competitive ACC, behind the number one overall seed Virginia and Midwest two-seed Duke. Back in the field for the first time since 2011, Clemson fans are cautiously optimistic that a deep run is possible. With an RPI good for 10th in the nation, Clemson has the advantage of learning and developing from a tough regular season schedule.
Players to watch: Junior guard Marcquise Reed and junior forward Elijah Thomas.
The Horned Frogs are Big 12 battle-tested but have struggled to win close games throughout the season, finishing fifth in the conference. If they can find a way to come out the victor in those tight contests, they could be a sleeper in this region.
Players to watch: Senior forward Vladimir Brodziansky and senior guard Kenrich Williams.
#7 Rhode Island
The Rhody Rams fell one point short of claiming both the A10 regular season and tournament championship. Also eliminated by the Oregon Ducks last year, URI touts the kind of strong guard play and three-point shooting to make another Cinderella kind of run that will likely stall due to size limitations in their frontcourt.
Players to watch: Senior guard E.C. Matthews and freshman guard Daron (Fatts) Russell.
#8 Seton Hall
Seton Hall finished third in the Big East behind Xavier and Villanova, both one-seeds. A potential second-round opponent for the Jayhawks, Seton Hall has struggled late in the season, losing eight of their last 14 games. While the Pirates were also eliminated early in the Big East tournament, the senior-lead team is confident that their experience against some of the country’s top teams will serve them well in late March.
Players to watch: Senior forward Desi Rodriguez and senior guard Khadeen Carrington.
#9 NC State
While the Wolfpack have quality wins over Arizona, Duke and North Carolina, they also have some ugly losses to teams like Northern Iowa and UNC Greensboro. Coming off back-to-back losing seasons, NC State has a chance to restore some joy in Raleigh. Look for Allerik Freeman to use the tournament experience from his time at Baylor to his advantage as the Wolfpack’s leading scorer.
Players to watch: Senior guard Allerik Freeman and sophomore center Omer Yurtseven.
Whether Oklahoma deserves the tournament nod or not, Trae Young has the opportunity to silence some doubters and shine for scouts against a strong Rhode Island team coming off a 2017 Sweet Sixteen appearance. Unless you are an Oklahoma State Cowboys fan, the URI/OU match up should be one of the most intriguing of the first round in the Midwest.
Players to watch: Freshman guard Trae Young and senior forward Khadeem Lattin.
In a battle of familiar faces in the First Four, the Sun Devils fall from a top-five ranking shortly after embarrassing KU in Allen Fieldhouse to one of the last eight teams selected. The Syracuse Orange got the last spot in the tournament, but don’t be fooled. With Boeheim’s pedigree and tendency for surprising tournament runs and the Sun Devils’ backcourt, either of these teams could prove to be bracket-busters down the road.
Players to watch: Arizona State: Senior guards Tra Holder and Shannon Evans III. Syracuse: Junior center Paschal Chukwu and sophomore guard Tyus Battle
#12 New Mexico State
The Aggies rank fourth in the nation for rebounds per game and 10th for points allowed, dominating the WAC conference. While New Mexico State is no stranger to the tournament, appearing six times in the last seven years, victories have been elusive. The Aggies haven’t celebrated a March Madness win since 1993, a victory that was eventually vacated.
Players to watch: Senior guard Zach Lofton and senior forward Jemerrio Jones.
Punching their tickets out of the CAA, Charleston has not had many opportunities to play against premier opponents outside of losses at Rhode Island and Wichita State this season. Charleston will have to hope Auburn’s skid continues for them to have any chance at an upset of a team that plays in a much tougher conference.
Players to watch: Senior guard Joe Chealey and junior forward Jarrell Brantley.
Bucknell finished first in the Patriot League and averages 81.1 points per game. Given the pedigree of their Spartan opponent, Bucknell will have an uphill battle as the Bison also allow 72.9 points per game.
Players to watch: Senior forward Zach Thomas and senior center Nana Foulland.
With 13 losses and only finishing fourth for the regular season in the MAAC, it seems nearly impossible for the Gaels to compete against Duke. Still, Iona has been to the tournament five of the last seven years and has four players that shoot over 40% from three.
Players to watch: Junior guard Rickey McGill and sophomore forward E.J. Crawford.
Some analysts are calling these Ivy Leaguers the best 16-seed ever. Some of those analysts (Seth Davis) also picked against Kansas almost all year long. With the closest spread of the one-seed matchups, it looks like the Jayhawks will have to outperform expectations once again. This is the Quakers’ first appearance in the tournament since 2007 and it took a 24-0 run comeback against Harvard in the Ivy League final to secure it.
Players to watch: Sophomore forward AJ Brodeur and sophomore guard Ryan Betley.