As always, there are plenty of juicy storylines to follow in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Will a No. 1 seed be cutting down the nets for the ninth time in 12 seasons? What teams are most likely to fit into Cinderella’s slippers? What relative unknowns could be on the verge of their one shining moment?
Here’s a region-by-region look at the field:
LOOK OUT FOR NO. 1
Opponents are shooting 37.5 percent overall and 30.3 percent from 3-point range against Virginia (31-2), which allows 53.4 points per game. The Cavaliers’ only losses this season are to West Virginia and Virginia Tech.
BEST PLAYER YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF − PEYTON ALDRIDGE
Davidson's 6-8 senior forward (above right) is averaging 21.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while shooting 84.8 percent from the foul line and 39.4 percent from 3-point range. He has scored 2,159 career points, including 45 in a triple-overtime loss to St. Bonaventure on Feb. 27.
CINDERELLA − NEVADA
The Wolf Pack (27-7) average 83.1 points per game and are No. 10 nationally in the KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency ratings. They lost to San Diego State to close the regular season and again in the Mountain West tournament, which is concerning. But Nevada could do damage with an offense that includes four players averaging at least 13 points per game, including twin junior forwards
Caleb Martin (19.1) (above) and Cody Martin (13.6).
BEST FIRST-ROUND MATCHUP − CREIGHTON VS. KANSAS STATE
One player makes this an interesting game: Bluejays senior guard
Marcus Foster (above) played two seasons at Kansas State before getting kicked off the team by Wildcats coach Bruce Weber. Foster transferred to Creighton, where he’s scored 1,287 over the past two seasons. Weber could face another one of his former guards in the round of 32. Nigel Johnson also left Kansas State following the 2014-15 season and ended up at Virginia via Rutgers.
LOOK OUT FOR NO. 1
Villanova (30-4) is going for its second national title in three seasons. They were the top overall seed in the 2017 tournament but got knocked out by
Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig and the Badgers in the round of 32. This season, the nation’s most efficient offense includes six players averaging in double figures, a group led by junior point guard Jalen Brunson (19.4) and junior swingman Mikal Bridges (18.0).
BEST PLAYER YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF − JON ELMORE
Marshall’s junior guard (above) is averaging 22.8 points per game and ranks fourth nationally with 217 made free throws. Elmore’s teammate, junior guard
C.J. Burks, averages 20.5 points per game on a team that prefers to push the pace. Among the teams in the NCAA tournament field, only Oklahoma averages fewer seconds per possession.
CINDERELLA − ARKANSAS
The Razorbacks (23-11) have a pair of senior guards,
Jaylen Barford (above) and Daryl Macon, who can light it up from beyond the arc. Arkansas vs. Purdue in the round of 32 would be a great matchup featuring two of the best 3-point shooting teams in the nation.
BEST FIRST-ROUND MATCHUP − WEST VIRGINIA VS. MURRAY STATE
Pay close attention to the battle of senior point guards: West Virginia’s
Jevon Carter (above) is averaging 17.0 points and 6.6 assists per game, while Murray State’s Jonathan Stark is averaging 21.8 points and 3.9 assists per game. Stark has connected 109 times from 3-point range this season, but he’ll likely have the tenacious Carter hounding him in San Diego.
LOOK OUT FOR NO. 1
Kansas won its 14th consecutive Big 12 conference title under
Bill Self, breaking a tie with UCLA for the longest by any NCAA Division I team. Senior guards Devonte’ Graham and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk have combined to make 204 3-pointers this season for the Jayhawks (27-7), whose region includes fellow blue bloods Duke and Michigan State.
BEST PLAYER YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF − ZACH THOMAS
Bucknell’s senior forward (above right) averages 20.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game while leading the nation with 231 made free throws. The bad news for the Patriot League Player of the Year: First-round opponent Michigan State has plenty of options in the frontcourt to make him work for his baskets.
CINDERELLA − NEW MEXICO STATE
The Aggies (28-5) are fifth in the nation in field goal percentage defense (39.2). New Mexico State’s offense is led by senior guard
Zach Lofton, a journeyman averaging 19.8 points per game at the fifth stop on his college tour. Lofton’s trek includes a brief stay at Minnesota, where he was kicked off the team before he had even played a game. Standing in New Mexico State’s path to the Sweet 16 are Clemson and potentially Auburn, so an extended stay is possible for the WAC champions.
BEST FIRST-ROUND MATCHUP − RHODE ISLAND VS. OKLAHOMA
Neither team is exactly rolling into the tournament. The Rams are 4-4 over the last eight games, while the Sooners are 2-8 in their last 10 and 4-11 in their last 15.
LOOK OUT FOR NO. 1
Xavier (28-5), a No. 1 seed for the first time in program history, will try to get the Final Four monkey off its back after falling in the regional final three times since 2004. Senior guards are a valuable commodity this time of the year, and the Musketeers have a pair of good ones in
Trevon Bluiett (19.5) and J.P. Macura (12.2).
BEST PLAYER YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF − GARRISON MATHEWS
Lipscomb’s junior guard (above) was the MVP of the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament, where the Bisons knocked off top-seeded Florida Gulf Coast 108-96 to book their first trip to the NCAA tournament. Mathews is averaging 22.1 points per game and has topped the 30-point mark four times this season, including 45 in a win over Kennesaw State.
CINDERELLA − SAN DIEGO STATE
The Aztecs (22-10) have won nine consecutive games heading into the NCAA tournament, a streak that includes a pair of victories over Nevada. San Diego State enjoyed some nice runs under
Steve Fisher. Now, his longtime assistant, Brian Dutcher, is in charge of the program.
BEST FIRST-ROUND MATCHUP − OHIO STATE VS. SOUTH DAKOTA STATE
Two productive junior forwards go at it when Ohio State’s
Keita Bates-Diop (19.4 ppg, 8.8 rpg) (above) meets South Dakota State’s Mike Daum (23.8 ppg, 10.4 rpg) in Boise, Idaho.