Alabama 42, Auburn 14

Trent Richardson and No. 2 Alabama have convinced Nick Saban that they’re worthy of competing for college football’s top prize. They’ll have to wait a while before for the final decision is rendered.

<p> A bullet ridden car is seen at a Walmart parking lot in Tallassee, Ala., Tuesday, June 19, 2018. A gunman crashed into the vehicle Tuesday morning, opening fire and killing two women before taking his own life, authorities said. (Emily Enfinger/Opelika-Auburn News via AP) </p>
Authorities: 3 dead in shooting outside a Walmart in Alabama

A bullet ridden car is seen at a Walmart parking lot in Tallassee, Ala., Tuesday, June 19, 2018. A gunman crashed into the vehicle Tuesday morning, opening fire and killing two women before taking his own life, authorities said. (Emily Enfinger/Opelika-Auburn News via AP)

<p> A bullet ridden car is seen at a Walmart parking lot in Tallassee, Ala., Tuesday, June 19, 2018. A gunman crashed into the vehicle Tuesday morning, opening fire and killing two women before taking his own life, authorities said. (Emily Enfinger/Opelika-Auburn News via AP)</p>
Authorities: 3 dead in shooting outside a Walmart in Alabama

A bullet ridden car is seen at a Walmart parking lot in Tallassee, Ala., Tuesday, June 19, 2018. A gunman crashed into the vehicle Tuesday morning, opening fire and killing two women before taking his own life, authorities said. (Emily Enfinger/Opelika-Auburn News via AP)

Esta fotografía muestra un automóvil estacionado afuera de un Walmart en Tallassee, Alabama, el martes 19 de junio de 2018. Un atacante chocó su vehículo frente a la tienda, comenzó a disparar y mató a dos mujeres para después pegarse un tiro. (Emily Enfinger/Opelika-Auburn News vía AP)
Esta fotografía muestra un automóvil estacionado afuera de un Walmart en Tallassee, Alabama, el martes 19 de junio de 2018. Un atacante chocó su vehículo frente a la tienda, comenzó a disparar y mató a dos mujeres para después pegarse un tiro. (Emily Enfinger/Opelika-Auburn News vía AP)
Esta fotografía muestra un automóvil estacionado afuera de un Walmart en Tallassee, Alabama, el martes 19 de junio de 2018. Un atacante chocó su vehículo frente a la tienda, comenzó a disparar y mató a dos mujeres para después pegarse un tiro. (Emily Enfinger/Opelika-Auburn News vía AP)
Kennedy decided on Tennessee over Auburn and has two years of eligibility remaining.
Vols add Alabama grad transfer Brandon Kennedy, report says
Kennedy decided on Tennessee over Auburn and has two years of eligibility remaining.
Loved ones watch as Travis Swaggerty, an outfielder from University of South Alabama, poses for photos after being selected tenth during the first round of the Major League Baseball draft Monday, June 4, 2018, in Secaucus, N.J. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Tigers tab Auburn pitcher Casey Mize with top draft pick
Loved ones watch as Travis Swaggerty, an outfielder from University of South Alabama, poses for photos after being selected tenth during the first round of the Major League Baseball draft Monday, June 4, 2018, in Secaucus, N.J. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
ARCHIVO - El pitcher de Auburn, Casey Mize, hace un lanzamiento durante el primer inning de un partido de la Conferencia del Sureste en el Torneo de la NCAA contra Texas A&M, el 24 de mayo de 2018, en Hoover, Alabama. Los Tigres de Detroit eligieron el lunes 4 de junio de 2018 a Mize con la primera selección del draft de las Grandes Ligas. (AP Foto/Butch Dill)
ARCHIVO - El pitcher de Auburn, Casey Mize, hace un lanzamiento durante el primer inning de un partido de la Conferencia del Sureste en el Torneo de la NCAA contra Texas A&M, el 24 de mayo de 2018, en Hoover, Alabama. Los Tigres de Detroit eligieron el lunes 4 de junio de 2018 a Mize con la primera selección del draft de las Grandes Ligas. (AP Foto/Butch Dill)
ARCHIVO - El pitcher de Auburn, Casey Mize, hace un lanzamiento durante el primer inning de un partido de la Conferencia del Sureste en el Torneo de la NCAA contra Texas A&M, el 24 de mayo de 2018, en Hoover, Alabama. Los Tigres de Detroit eligieron el lunes 4 de junio de 2018 a Mize con la primera selección del draft de las Grandes Ligas. (AP Foto/Butch Dill)
No. 1 Oklahoma State knocked off Texas A&M and Auburn at to set up a clash with Alabama in Wednesday's final as it tries to win its 11th NCAA team title
Oklahoma State faces Alabama in 2018 NCAA Championship final
No. 1 Oklahoma State knocked off Texas A&M and Auburn at to set up a clash with Alabama in Wednesday's final as it tries to win its 11th NCAA team title
No. 1 Oklahoma State knocked off Texas A&M and Auburn at to set up a clash with Alabama in Wednesday's final as it tries to win its 11th NCAA team title
Oklahoma State faces Alabama in 2018 NCAA Championship final
No. 1 Oklahoma State knocked off Texas A&M and Auburn at to set up a clash with Alabama in Wednesday's final as it tries to win its 11th NCAA team title
Scott Frost helped Central Florida to an undefeated record last season, capping the season with a bowl win over Auburn.
Scott Frost takes shot at Alabama's national title count
Scott Frost helped Central Florida to an undefeated record last season, capping the season with a bowl win over Auburn.
FILE - In this April 20, 2018, file photo, Auburn pitcher Casey Mize throws against Auburn during an NCAA college baseball game against Alabama, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Mize has risen from an undrafted high school player to a potential No. 1 overall pick, adding pitches to his repertoire and striking out 119 batters while walking only seven. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP, File)
Auburn RHP Mize goes from undrafted to possible top pick
FILE - In this April 20, 2018, file photo, Auburn pitcher Casey Mize throws against Auburn during an NCAA college baseball game against Alabama, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Mize has risen from an undrafted high school player to a potential No. 1 overall pick, adding pitches to his repertoire and striking out 119 batters while walking only seven. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP, File)
FILE - In this April 20, 2018, file photo, Auburn pitcher Casey Mize throws against Auburn during an NCAA college baseball game against Alabama, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Mize has risen from an undrafted high school player to a potential No. 1 overall pick, adding pitches to his repertoire and striking out 119 batters while walking only seven. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP, File)
FILE - In this April 20, 2018, file photo, Auburn pitcher Casey Mize throws against Auburn during an NCAA college baseball game against Alabama, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Mize has risen from an undrafted high school player to a potential No. 1 overall pick, adding pitches to his repertoire and striking out 119 batters while walking only seven. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP, File)
FILE - In this April 20, 2018, file photo, Auburn pitcher Casey Mize throws against Auburn during an NCAA college baseball game against Alabama, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Mize has risen from an undrafted high school player to a potential No. 1 overall pick, adding pitches to his repertoire and striking out 119 batters while walking only seven. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP, File)
Highly-coveted defensive tackle DJ Dale of Pinson (Ala.) Clay-Chalkville announces his college decision after narrowing his list down to Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, and Tennessee.
Four-star DL DJ Dale announces college commitment
Highly-coveted defensive tackle DJ Dale of Pinson (Ala.) Clay-Chalkville announces his college decision after narrowing his list down to Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, and Tennessee.
Highly-coveted defensive tackle DJ Dale of Pinson (Ala.) Clay-Chalkville announces his college decision after narrowing his list down to Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, and Tennessee.
Four-star DL DJ Dale announces college commitment
Highly-coveted defensive tackle DJ Dale of Pinson (Ala.) Clay-Chalkville announces his college decision after narrowing his list down to Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, and Tennessee.
Highly-coveted defensive tackle DJ Dale of Pinson (Ala.) Clay-Chalkville announces his college decision after narrowing his list down to Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, and Tennessee.
Four-star DL DJ Dale announces college commitment
Highly-coveted defensive tackle DJ Dale of Pinson (Ala.) Clay-Chalkville announces his college decision after narrowing his list down to Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, and Tennessee.
Highly-coveted defensive tackle DJ Dale of Pinson (Ala.) Clay-Chalkville announces his college decision after narrowing his list down to Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, and Tennessee.
Four-star DL DJ Dale announces college commitment
Highly-coveted defensive tackle DJ Dale of Pinson (Ala.) Clay-Chalkville announces his college decision after narrowing his list down to Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, and Tennessee.
Dozens of women who attended Auburn University in Alabama say they’ve been diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer just years after graduating – and so far, doctors are puzzled as to the cause.
Rare form of eye cancer detected in 2 groups in 2 states
Dozens of women who attended Auburn University in Alabama say they’ve been diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer just years after graduating – and so far, doctors are puzzled as to the cause.
In a medical mystery that has left doctors baffled, several Auburn University graduates in Alabama and residents in Huntersville, North Carolina, were diagnosed with ocular melanoma.
Rare eye cancer detected in two separate groups in two states
In a medical mystery that has left doctors baffled, several Auburn University graduates in Alabama and residents in Huntersville, North Carolina, were diagnosed with ocular melanoma.
Researchers want to know what may be causing ocular melanoma, a rare eye cancer in two states. First, a group of 18 patients were identified in Huntersville, North Carolina. Now there's a second group in Auburn, Alabama, home of Auburn University. CBS News correspondent Anna Werner reports.
Rare eye cancer affects 2 groups of people in N.C. and Alabama
Researchers want to know what may be causing ocular melanoma, a rare eye cancer in two states. First, a group of 18 patients were identified in Huntersville, North Carolina. Now there's a second group in Auburn, Alabama, home of Auburn University. CBS News correspondent Anna Werner reports.
Researchers want to know what may be causing ocular melanoma, a rare eye cancer in two states. First, a group of 18 patients were identified in Huntersville, North Carolina. Now there's a second group in Auburn, Alabama, home of Auburn University. Anna Werner reports.
Rare eye cancer affects two groups of people in N.C. and Alabama
Researchers want to know what may be causing ocular melanoma, a rare eye cancer in two states. First, a group of 18 patients were identified in Huntersville, North Carolina. Now there's a second group in Auburn, Alabama, home of Auburn University. Anna Werner reports.
Researchers want to know what may be causing ocular melanoma, a rare eye cancer in two states. First, a group of 18 patients were identified in Huntersville, North Carolina. Now there's a second group in Auburn, Alabama, home of Auburn University. Anna Werner reports.
Rare eye cancer affects two groups of people in N.C. and Alabama
Researchers want to know what may be causing ocular melanoma, a rare eye cancer in two states. First, a group of 18 patients were identified in Huntersville, North Carolina. Now there's a second group in Auburn, Alabama, home of Auburn University. Anna Werner reports.
Researchers want to know what may be causing ocular melanoma, a rare eye cancer in two states. First, a group of 18 patients were identified in Huntersville, North Carolina. Now there's a second group in Auburn, Alabama, home of Auburn University. Anna Werner reports.
Rare eye cancer affects two groups of people in N.C. and Alabama
Researchers want to know what may be causing ocular melanoma, a rare eye cancer in two states. First, a group of 18 patients were identified in Huntersville, North Carolina. Now there's a second group in Auburn, Alabama, home of Auburn University. Anna Werner reports.
The Auburn men's golf team defeated Alabama win SEC Championship on Sunday at Sea Island, thanks to this freshman making a walk-off birdie putt on the 18th hole
Watch this Auburn freshman drain a clutch walk-off putt to stun rival Alabama and win SEC Championship
The Auburn men's golf team defeated Alabama win SEC Championship on Sunday at Sea Island, thanks to this freshman making a walk-off birdie putt on the 18th hole
Auburn's Steven Williams (41) greets Josh Anthony (3) after his two-run home run against Alabama during a college baseball game Saturday, April 21, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Auburn's Steven Williams (41) greets Josh Anthony (3) after his two-run home run against Alabama during a college baseball game Saturday, April 21, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Auburn's Steven Williams (41) greets Josh Anthony (3) after his two-run home run against Alabama during a college baseball game Saturday, April 21, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Auburn pitcher Andrew Mitchell throws to an Alabama batter during a college baseball game Saturday, April 21, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Auburn pitcher Andrew Mitchell throws to an Alabama batter during a college baseball game Saturday, April 21, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Auburn pitcher Andrew Mitchell throws to an Alabama batter during a college baseball game Saturday, April 21, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Alabama infielder Jett Manning throws to first during the team's college baseball game against Auburn on Saturday, April 21, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Alabama infielder Jett Manning throws to first during the team's college baseball game against Auburn on Saturday, April 21, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Alabama infielder Jett Manning throws to first during the team's college baseball game against Auburn on Saturday, April 21, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Auburn's Josh Anthony (3) hits a two-run home run in the fourth inning against Alabama during a college baseball game Saturday, April 21, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Auburn's Josh Anthony (3) hits a two-run home run in the fourth inning against Alabama during a college baseball game Saturday, April 21, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Auburn's Josh Anthony (3) hits a two-run home run in the fourth inning against Alabama during a college baseball game Saturday, April 21, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Alabama catcher Sam Praytor (19) tags Auburn's Steven Williams (41) out at the plate during a college baseball game Saturday, April 21, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Alabama catcher Sam Praytor (19) tags Auburn's Steven Williams (41) out at the plate during a college baseball game Saturday, April 21, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Alabama catcher Sam Praytor (19) tags Auburn's Steven Williams (41) out at the plate during a college baseball game Saturday, April 21, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Auburn's Jay Estes (25) gets to second as the ball gets away from Alabama's Jett Manning (26) during a college baseball game Friday, April 20, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Auburn's Jay Estes (25) gets to second as the ball gets away from Alabama's Jett Manning (26) during a college baseball game Friday, April 20, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Auburn's Jay Estes (25) gets to second as the ball gets away from Alabama's Jett Manning (26) during a college baseball game Friday, April 20, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Auburn's Brendan Venter hits a grand slam in the sixth inning during an NCAA college baseball game against Alabama, Friday, April 20, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Auburn's Brendan Venter hits a grand slam in the sixth inning during an NCAA college baseball game against Alabama, Friday, April 20, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Auburn's Brendan Venter hits a grand slam in the sixth inning during an NCAA college baseball game against Alabama, Friday, April 20, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Auburn infielder Will Holland delivers to first to get out Alabama's Cobie Vance during an NCAA college baseball game Friday, April 20, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Auburn infielder Will Holland delivers to first to get out Alabama's Cobie Vance during an NCAA college baseball game Friday, April 20, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Auburn infielder Will Holland delivers to first to get out Alabama's Cobie Vance during an NCAA college baseball game Friday, April 20, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Auburn's Will Holland bunts against Alabama during an NCAA college baseball game Friday, April 20, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Auburn's Will Holland bunts against Alabama during an NCAA college baseball game Friday, April 20, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Auburn's Will Holland bunts against Alabama during an NCAA college baseball game Friday, April 20, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Auburn pitcher Casey Mize throws against Auburn during an NCAA college baseball game against Alabama, Friday, April 20, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Auburn pitcher Casey Mize throws against Auburn during an NCAA college baseball game against Alabama, Friday, April 20, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Auburn pitcher Casey Mize throws against Auburn during an NCAA college baseball game against Alabama, Friday, April 20, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Alabama pitcher/outfielder Sam Finnerty (10) tosses the ball as he waits for relief from pitcher Davis Vainer (not shown) in the sixth inning of an NCAA college baseball game against Auburn, Friday, April 20, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Alabama pitcher/outfielder Sam Finnerty (10) tosses the ball as he waits for relief from pitcher Davis Vainer (not shown) in the sixth inning of an NCAA college baseball game against Auburn, Friday, April 20, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Alabama pitcher/outfielder Sam Finnerty (10) tosses the ball as he waits for relief from pitcher Davis Vainer (not shown) in the sixth inning of an NCAA college baseball game against Auburn, Friday, April 20, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)
Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton discusses whether 195-pounder Kam Martin could be an every-down running back in the SEC outside of a booster club event in Scottsboro, Alabama on April 19, 2018.
Can Kam Martin be an every-down tailback at Auburn?
Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton discusses whether 195-pounder Kam Martin could be an every-down running back in the SEC outside of a booster club event in Scottsboro, Alabama on April 19, 2018.
Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton discusses whether 195-pounder Kam Martin could be an every-down running back in the SEC outside of a booster club event in Scottsboro, Alabama on April 19, 2018.
Can Kam Martin be an every-down tailback at Auburn?
Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton discusses whether 195-pounder Kam Martin could be an every-down running back in the SEC outside of a booster club event in Scottsboro, Alabama on April 19, 2018.
Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton discusses whether 195-pounder Kam Martin could be an every-down running back in the SEC outside of a booster club event in Scottsboro, Alabama on April 19, 2018.
Can Kam Martin be an every-down tailback at Auburn?
Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton discusses whether 195-pounder Kam Martin could be an every-down running back in the SEC outside of a booster club event in Scottsboro, Alabama on April 19, 2018.
Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton discusses whether 195-pounder Kam Martin could be an every-down running back in the SEC outside of a booster club event in Scottsboro, Alabama on April 19, 2018.
Can Kam Martin be an every-down tailback at Auburn?
Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton discusses whether 195-pounder Kam Martin could be an every-down running back in the SEC outside of a booster club event in Scottsboro, Alabama on April 19, 2018.
Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton says Kam Martin would be Auburn's starter if season started today outside of a booster club event in Scottsboro, Alabama on April 19, 2018.
Tim Horton: Kam Martin would be Auburn's starter if season started today
Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton says Kam Martin would be Auburn's starter if season started today outside of a booster club event in Scottsboro, Alabama on April 19, 2018.
Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton says Kam Martin would be Auburn's starter if season started today outside of a booster club event in Scottsboro, Alabama on April 19, 2018.
Tim Horton: Kam Martin would be Auburn's starter if season started today
Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton says Kam Martin would be Auburn's starter if season started today outside of a booster club event in Scottsboro, Alabama on April 19, 2018.
Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton says Kam Martin would be Auburn's starter if season started today outside of a booster club event in Scottsboro, Alabama on April 19, 2018.
Tim Horton: Kam Martin would be Auburn's starter if season started today
Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton says Kam Martin would be Auburn's starter if season started today outside of a booster club event in Scottsboro, Alabama on April 19, 2018.
Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton says Kam Martin would be Auburn's starter if season started today outside of a booster club event in Scottsboro, Alabama on April 19, 2018.
Tim Horton: Kam Martin would be Auburn's starter if season started today
Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton says Kam Martin would be Auburn's starter if season started today outside of a booster club event in Scottsboro, Alabama on April 19, 2018.
Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton says Kam Martin would be Auburn's starter if season started today outside of a booster club event in Scottsboro, Alabama on April 19, 2018.
Tim Horton: Kam Martin would be Auburn's starter if season started today
Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton says Kam Martin would be Auburn's starter if season started today outside of a booster club event in Scottsboro, Alabama on April 19, 2018.
The new Tru by Hilton Auburn in Alabama features a mural by Jay Roeder. (Photo: Business Wire) <a href="https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20180418005844/en/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Multimedia Gallery URL" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"> Multimedia Gallery URL</a>
Tru by Hilton Opens Five New Hotels Including First College Town Properties
The new Tru by Hilton Auburn in Alabama features a mural by Jay Roeder. (Photo: Business Wire) Multimedia Gallery URL
Give ’em your best War Eagle, Erik Jones. The 21-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing driver paid a visit to what folks around town call “The Loveliest Village in the Plains” — or more commonly known as Auburn, Alabama. Jones met up with Auburn’s head football coach Gus Malzahn to do a helmet swap. Thankfully, Malzahn didn’t …
Erik Jones makes a visit to Auburn, exchanges helmets with Gus Malzahn
Give ’em your best War Eagle, Erik Jones. The 21-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing driver paid a visit to what folks around town call “The Loveliest Village in the Plains” — or more commonly known as Auburn, Alabama. Jones met up with Auburn’s head football coach Gus Malzahn to do a helmet swap. Thankfully, Malzahn didn’t …
Give ’em your best War Eagle, Erik Jones. The 21-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing driver paid a visit to what folks around town call “The Loveliest Village in the Plains” — or more commonly known as Auburn, Alabama. Jones met up with Auburn’s head football coach Gus Malzahn to do a helmet swap. Thankfully, Malzahn didn’t …
Erik Jones makes a visit to Auburn, exchanges helmets with Gus Malzahn
Give ’em your best War Eagle, Erik Jones. The 21-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing driver paid a visit to what folks around town call “The Loveliest Village in the Plains” — or more commonly known as Auburn, Alabama. Jones met up with Auburn’s head football coach Gus Malzahn to do a helmet swap. Thankfully, Malzahn didn’t …
Give ’em your best War Eagle, Erik Jones. The 21-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing driver paid a visit to what folks around town call “The Loveliest Village in the Plains” — or more commonly known as Auburn, Alabama. Jones met up with Auburn’s head football coach Gus Malzahn to do a helmet swap. Thankfully, Malzahn didn’t …
Erik Jones makes a visit to Auburn, exchanges helmets with Gus Malzahn
Give ’em your best War Eagle, Erik Jones. The 21-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing driver paid a visit to what folks around town call “The Loveliest Village in the Plains” — or more commonly known as Auburn, Alabama. Jones met up with Auburn’s head football coach Gus Malzahn to do a helmet swap. Thankfully, Malzahn didn’t …
Give ’em your best War Eagle, Erik Jones. The 21-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing driver paid a visit to what folks around town call “The Loveliest Village in the Plains” — or more commonly known as Auburn, Alabama. Jones met up with Auburn’s head football coach Gus Malzahn to do a helmet swap. Thankfully, Malzahn didn’t …
Erik Jones makes a visit to Auburn, exchanges helmets with Gus Malzahn
Give ’em your best War Eagle, Erik Jones. The 21-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing driver paid a visit to what folks around town call “The Loveliest Village in the Plains” — or more commonly known as Auburn, Alabama. Jones met up with Auburn’s head football coach Gus Malzahn to do a helmet swap. Thankfully, Malzahn didn’t …
Auburn's Mustapha Heron (5) shoots over Alabama's Collin Sexton (2) during the first half in an NCAA college basketball quarterfinals game at the Southeastern Conference tournament Friday, March 9, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Auburn's Mustapha Heron to enter draft, plans to hire agent
Auburn's Mustapha Heron (5) shoots over Alabama's Collin Sexton (2) during the first half in an NCAA college basketball quarterfinals game at the Southeastern Conference tournament Friday, March 9, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
<p>The first weekend of the NCAA tournament radically reshaped the pack of national championship contenders: Half of this year’s No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seeds were eliminated, only one No. 4 seed remains, and a pair of No. 7, No. 9 and No. 11 seeds advanced. Five of the <a href="http://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/14/ncaa-tournament-march-madness-best-teams-title-contenders" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:10 teams SI.com pegged before the tourney as most likely to win it all" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">10 teams SI.com pegged before the tourney as most likely to win it all</a> will be forced to watch the remaining rounds from their couches. Before the Sweet 16 tips off on Thursday, we’re running the same exercise with every squad left in the field.</p><h3>1. Villanova (No. 1 seed, East)</h3><p>As high-major heavyweights bowed out left and right over the first four days of the NCAAs, Villanova made quick work of its first two opponents to move on to the second weekend. After throttling No. 16 seed Radford in the round of 64, the Wildcats bombarded No. 9 seed Alabama and its sturdy defense (18th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency) with 17 three-pointers. This has the potential to turn into the type of searing shooting run that propelled Villanova to the program’s second national title two years ago. The Wildcats’ seasoned guards won’t be fazed by No. 5-seed West Virginia’s press on Friday. </p><h3>2. Michigan (No. 3 seed, West)</h3><p>The Wolverines had a close call against Houston on Saturday. A freshman who’d made only one of his previous 10 three-point attempts heading into the round of 32 rescued them with a deep, buzzer-beating trey that <a href="https://twitter.com/CBSSports/status/975234581937897472" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:temporarily turned 65-year-old head coach John Beilein into a 10-year-old at the neighborhood Poole party" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">temporarily turned 65-year-old head coach John Beilein into a 10-year-old at the neighborhood Poole party</a>. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.) Michigan didn’t shoot the ball well from deep overall against the Cougars (8-of-30), but it still managed to hold Rob Gray & Co. below a point per possession. The Wolverines’ defensive strength gives them a bigger margin of error than they’ve typically had during Beilein’s tenure in the event their offense dries up.</p><h3>3. Kentucky (No. 5 seed, South)</h3><p>The biggest reason the Wildcats’ national title chances look so good right now isn’t directly related to their play. It’s the mayhem that shook the South region during the tourney’s opening weekend. <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/16/ncaa-tournament-arizona-loses-buffalo-sean-miller-deandre-ayton" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:No. 4-seed Arizona was upset" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">No. 4-seed Arizona was upset</a> by No. 13-seed Buffalo. No. 11-seed Loyola-Chicago downed both <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/15/loyola-chicago-ramblers-donte-ingram-sister-jean-ncaa-tournament-tennessee" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:No. 6-seed Miami" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">No. 6-seed Miami</a> and <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/17/loyola-chicago-ramblers-sweet-16-ncaa-tournament-cincinnati-nevada" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:No. 3-seed Tennessee" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">No. 3-seed Tennessee</a>. And, most unexpectedly, <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/17/umbc-virginia-upset-sports-illustrated-digital-cover" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:No. 1-seed Virginia was bulldozed by No. 16-seed UMBC" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">No. 1-seed Virginia was bulldozed by No. 16-seed UMBC</a>. When the dust settled, Kentucky was the highest seed remaining in this quadrant of the bracket. Next up for the Wildcats is a meeting with middle-tier Big 12 squad Kansas State.</p><h3>4. Duke (No. 2 seed, Midwest)</h3><p>The college hoops world was eagerly anticipating a potential matchup between the Blue Devils and third-seeded Michigan State in the Sweet 16. Instead, Syracuse tripped up the Spartans in the second round to set up a meeting between the team with a higher ceiling than any other in the bracket and a No. 11 seed that arguably didn’t deserve to get in. Duke is familiar with the Orange’s 2–3 zone, and it beat them by 16 in Cameron Indoor Stadium less than a month ago. A potential game against No. 1-seed Kansas in the Elite Eight looms if the Blue Devils can notch a similar result against Syracuse on Friday.</p><h3>5. Kansas (No. 1 seed, Midwest)</h3><p>The Jayhawks’ path to San Antonio is manageable in the short term. All they need to do to get to the Elite Eight is handle a Clemson team that ranked 11th in the ACC offensively on a per-possession basis during conference play. Things get more challenging after that, with Duke likely standing between Kansas and its first Final Four appearance in six years. The good news for the Jayhawks is that sophomore big man Udoka Azubuike is making progress recovering from the knee injury that sidelined him for the Big 12 tournament and limited him to only three minutes in the first-round win over Penn. Azubuike logged 22 minutes against Seton Hall on Saturday.</p><h3>6. Texas Tech (No. 3 seed, East)</h3><p>The Red Raiders sputtered toward the end of the regular season, dropping four consecutive games against Baylor, Oklahoma State, Kansas and West Virginia before a March 3 win over TCU, as senior point guard Keenan Evans nursed a toe injury. If the toe is still bothering Evans, it didn’t prevent him from lifting Texas Tech into the Sweet 16 by combining to score 45 points on 58.3% shooting in wins against No. 14-seed Stephen F. Austin and No. 6-seed Florida over the weekend. With Evans operating at the peak of his powers, the Red Raiders could well be the strongest team from the nation’s most challenging conference.</p><h3>7. Gonzaga (No. 4 seed, West)</h3><p>A year after reaching the national title game on the strength of a veteran-heavy lineup, the Zags have ridden a group of talented underclassmen to their fourth Sweet 16 in a row. Redshirt freshman Zach Norvell Jr. was the hero in Saturday’s 90–84 conquest of Ohio State, connecting on six of his 11 three-point tries in a 28-point showing. If his shots aren’t falling, Gonzaga can turn to one of two promising sophomore forwards, 6'8" Rui Hachimura and 6'10" Killian Tillie. The Zags are one of only two teams left in the bracket that rank in the top 15 of Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. (Duke is the other one.)</p><h3>8. Purdue (No. 2 seed, East)</h3><p>Whether or not mammoth center <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/18/isaac-haas-fractured-right-elbow-purdue-ncaa-tournament" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Isaac Haas makes a miraculous return to the court" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Isaac Haas makes a miraculous return to the court</a> after fracturing his right elbow in Friday’s opening-round win over Cal State–Fullerton, the Boilermakers have enough offensive firepower to compromise Texas Tech’s stout defense, which ranks fourth in Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency. This matchup could boil down to Purdue’s ability to hold its own on the other end of the floor. Evans’s bucket-getting prowess isn’t in question, and the Boilermakers also will have to account for a pair of freshman wings, Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver, capable of burning opponents from both sides of the three-point arc.</p><h3>9. West Virginia (No. 5 seed, East)</h3><p>The biggest hurdle the Mountaineers need to clear to cut down the nets is their Sweet 16 matchup with No. 1-seed Villanova on Friday. West Virginia will spend 40 minutes trying to turn over a Wildcats team with a deep cast of talented guards that has given the ball away on only 14.7% of its possessions this season, good for 11th in the country. Failing that, the Mountaineers will count on senior point guard Jevon Carter locking down his counterpart, National Player of the Year candidate Jalen Brunson, while delivering his third consecutive game with 20 or more points while making at least half of his shot attempts.</p><h3>10. Loyola-Chicago (No. 11 seed, South)</h3><p>The Ramblers looked like one of the mid-major ranks’ best teams on Selection Sunday, and the Missouri Valley Conference champs confirmed that by beating Miami in the first round on Thursday and Tennessee in the second round on Saturday. The fact that both of those wins were decided by one-possession margins could be framed as an indication of Loyola-Chicago’s precarious survival so far. Alternatively, it could be viewed as evidence that the basketball gods are looking favorably upon the Ramblers. Either way, the South is up for grabs, and Loyola-Chicago is in position to capitalize.</p><h3>11. Clemson (No. 5 seed, Midwest)</h3><p>Clemson silenced upset-minded bracket-fillers who picked No. 12-seed New Mexico State in the first round with an 11-point win over the Aggies and followed up with one of the most impressive Ws of the tourney to date, a 31-point beatdown of Auburn in which it allowed only 0.75 points per possession. The Tigers will have a harder time taming Kansas’s offense, which ranks fifth in Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency and includes three players who have taken 180 or more three-point attempts and made at least 40% of them. A win there would likely earn Clemson an Elite Eight battle with Duke.</p><h3>12. Texas A&M (No. 7 seed, West)</h3><p>What a strange season this has been for the Aggies. Texas A&M rose as high as No. 5 in the AP Top 25 Poll while winning 11 of its first 12 games, only to drop seven of its next nine and ultimately head into the SEC tournament with a 9–9 league record. Yet after <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/18/texas-am-beats-north-carolina-ncaa-tournament" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:whipping No. 2-seed North Carolina in the second round on Sunday" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">whipping No. 2-seed North Carolina in the second round on Sunday</a>, the Aggies now stand a win over Michigan away from the program’s first Elite Eight berth. It won’t be a gimme: Texas A&M has not faced a defense as formidable as the Wolverines’ (third in Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency) so far in 2017–18.</p><h3>13. Nevada (No. 7 seed, South)</h3><p>The Wolf Pack held a lead for less than five of the 85 total minutes they played during their two wins over No. 10-seed Texas and No. 2-seed Cincinnati. Nevada isn’t going to be able to keep digging itself out of double-digit deficits in the second half, but it may not face another one of those this weekend. First, the Wolf Pack get Loyola-Chicago, whose defense rates among the best outside the high-major conferences (27th in Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency) but isn’t as stifling as the ones Nevada took on in the first two rounds. Send the Ramblers packing, and the Wolf Pack should meet Kentucky with a Final Four berth on the line.</p><h3>14. Florida State (No. 9 seed, West)</h3><p>When the bracket was released a little more than a week ago, it was hard to imagine this Seminoles team would advance further than the one that won 26 games and earned a No. 3 seed last season. Alas, not only is Florida State in the Sweet 16 for the first time in seven years, it got there by eliminating the program (Xavier) that denied the Seminoles a place in the same round of last year’s tourney. Florida State has size and depth, and that might be enough to put a scare into Gonzaga on Thursday. Either Michigan or Texas A&M would be next.</p><h3>15. Kansas State (No. 9 seed, South)</h3><p>These Wildcats will forever be linked to one of the most astonishing upsets in college basketball history. Two days after UMBC stunned Virginia in Charlotte, the Retrievers’ run came to an end at the hands of this year’s fourth-place finishers in the Big 12. The chaos in the South region could enable Kansas State to add a Final Four trip to its 2018 tourney legacy, though that will require taking down a Kentucky team that seems to be hitting its stride after a turbulent regular season. One ray of hope: Leading scorer and rebounder Dean Wade, a 6'10" junior forward who suffered a stress fracture in his foot earlier this month, said he is <a href="https://twitter.com/KellisRobinett/status/975570873703915520" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:“like 98% sure”" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">“like 98% sure”</a> he’ll suit up on Thursday.</p><h3>16. Syracuse (No. 11 seed, Midwest)</h3><p>The Orange were fortunate to hear their name called on Selection Sunday, but head coach Jim Boeheim should be commended for lifting a young, thin squad with a punchless offense to three tournament wins, the most recent of which came over popular preseason national championship pick Michigan State. Syracuse would have had more upward mobility in a different quadrant of the bracket, but it had the misfortune of being placed in the same region as ACC competitor and No. 2 seed Duke. The Blue Devils shouldn’t have any issues picking apart the Orange’s zone, and good shots will be hard to come by for Syracuse against Duke’s own zone.</p>
Ranking the National Championship Chances of Every Sweet 16 Team

The first weekend of the NCAA tournament radically reshaped the pack of national championship contenders: Half of this year’s No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seeds were eliminated, only one No. 4 seed remains, and a pair of No. 7, No. 9 and No. 11 seeds advanced. Five of the 10 teams SI.com pegged before the tourney as most likely to win it all will be forced to watch the remaining rounds from their couches. Before the Sweet 16 tips off on Thursday, we’re running the same exercise with every squad left in the field.

1. Villanova (No. 1 seed, East)

As high-major heavyweights bowed out left and right over the first four days of the NCAAs, Villanova made quick work of its first two opponents to move on to the second weekend. After throttling No. 16 seed Radford in the round of 64, the Wildcats bombarded No. 9 seed Alabama and its sturdy defense (18th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency) with 17 three-pointers. This has the potential to turn into the type of searing shooting run that propelled Villanova to the program’s second national title two years ago. The Wildcats’ seasoned guards won’t be fazed by No. 5-seed West Virginia’s press on Friday.

2. Michigan (No. 3 seed, West)

The Wolverines had a close call against Houston on Saturday. A freshman who’d made only one of his previous 10 three-point attempts heading into the round of 32 rescued them with a deep, buzzer-beating trey that temporarily turned 65-year-old head coach John Beilein into a 10-year-old at the neighborhood Poole party. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.) Michigan didn’t shoot the ball well from deep overall against the Cougars (8-of-30), but it still managed to hold Rob Gray & Co. below a point per possession. The Wolverines’ defensive strength gives them a bigger margin of error than they’ve typically had during Beilein’s tenure in the event their offense dries up.

3. Kentucky (No. 5 seed, South)

The biggest reason the Wildcats’ national title chances look so good right now isn’t directly related to their play. It’s the mayhem that shook the South region during the tourney’s opening weekend. No. 4-seed Arizona was upset by No. 13-seed Buffalo. No. 11-seed Loyola-Chicago downed both No. 6-seed Miami and No. 3-seed Tennessee. And, most unexpectedly, No. 1-seed Virginia was bulldozed by No. 16-seed UMBC. When the dust settled, Kentucky was the highest seed remaining in this quadrant of the bracket. Next up for the Wildcats is a meeting with middle-tier Big 12 squad Kansas State.

4. Duke (No. 2 seed, Midwest)

The college hoops world was eagerly anticipating a potential matchup between the Blue Devils and third-seeded Michigan State in the Sweet 16. Instead, Syracuse tripped up the Spartans in the second round to set up a meeting between the team with a higher ceiling than any other in the bracket and a No. 11 seed that arguably didn’t deserve to get in. Duke is familiar with the Orange’s 2–3 zone, and it beat them by 16 in Cameron Indoor Stadium less than a month ago. A potential game against No. 1-seed Kansas in the Elite Eight looms if the Blue Devils can notch a similar result against Syracuse on Friday.

5. Kansas (No. 1 seed, Midwest)

The Jayhawks’ path to San Antonio is manageable in the short term. All they need to do to get to the Elite Eight is handle a Clemson team that ranked 11th in the ACC offensively on a per-possession basis during conference play. Things get more challenging after that, with Duke likely standing between Kansas and its first Final Four appearance in six years. The good news for the Jayhawks is that sophomore big man Udoka Azubuike is making progress recovering from the knee injury that sidelined him for the Big 12 tournament and limited him to only three minutes in the first-round win over Penn. Azubuike logged 22 minutes against Seton Hall on Saturday.

6. Texas Tech (No. 3 seed, East)

The Red Raiders sputtered toward the end of the regular season, dropping four consecutive games against Baylor, Oklahoma State, Kansas and West Virginia before a March 3 win over TCU, as senior point guard Keenan Evans nursed a toe injury. If the toe is still bothering Evans, it didn’t prevent him from lifting Texas Tech into the Sweet 16 by combining to score 45 points on 58.3% shooting in wins against No. 14-seed Stephen F. Austin and No. 6-seed Florida over the weekend. With Evans operating at the peak of his powers, the Red Raiders could well be the strongest team from the nation’s most challenging conference.

7. Gonzaga (No. 4 seed, West)

A year after reaching the national title game on the strength of a veteran-heavy lineup, the Zags have ridden a group of talented underclassmen to their fourth Sweet 16 in a row. Redshirt freshman Zach Norvell Jr. was the hero in Saturday’s 90–84 conquest of Ohio State, connecting on six of his 11 three-point tries in a 28-point showing. If his shots aren’t falling, Gonzaga can turn to one of two promising sophomore forwards, 6'8" Rui Hachimura and 6'10" Killian Tillie. The Zags are one of only two teams left in the bracket that rank in the top 15 of Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. (Duke is the other one.)

8. Purdue (No. 2 seed, East)

Whether or not mammoth center Isaac Haas makes a miraculous return to the court after fracturing his right elbow in Friday’s opening-round win over Cal State–Fullerton, the Boilermakers have enough offensive firepower to compromise Texas Tech’s stout defense, which ranks fourth in Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency. This matchup could boil down to Purdue’s ability to hold its own on the other end of the floor. Evans’s bucket-getting prowess isn’t in question, and the Boilermakers also will have to account for a pair of freshman wings, Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver, capable of burning opponents from both sides of the three-point arc.

9. West Virginia (No. 5 seed, East)

The biggest hurdle the Mountaineers need to clear to cut down the nets is their Sweet 16 matchup with No. 1-seed Villanova on Friday. West Virginia will spend 40 minutes trying to turn over a Wildcats team with a deep cast of talented guards that has given the ball away on only 14.7% of its possessions this season, good for 11th in the country. Failing that, the Mountaineers will count on senior point guard Jevon Carter locking down his counterpart, National Player of the Year candidate Jalen Brunson, while delivering his third consecutive game with 20 or more points while making at least half of his shot attempts.

10. Loyola-Chicago (No. 11 seed, South)

The Ramblers looked like one of the mid-major ranks’ best teams on Selection Sunday, and the Missouri Valley Conference champs confirmed that by beating Miami in the first round on Thursday and Tennessee in the second round on Saturday. The fact that both of those wins were decided by one-possession margins could be framed as an indication of Loyola-Chicago’s precarious survival so far. Alternatively, it could be viewed as evidence that the basketball gods are looking favorably upon the Ramblers. Either way, the South is up for grabs, and Loyola-Chicago is in position to capitalize.

11. Clemson (No. 5 seed, Midwest)

Clemson silenced upset-minded bracket-fillers who picked No. 12-seed New Mexico State in the first round with an 11-point win over the Aggies and followed up with one of the most impressive Ws of the tourney to date, a 31-point beatdown of Auburn in which it allowed only 0.75 points per possession. The Tigers will have a harder time taming Kansas’s offense, which ranks fifth in Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency and includes three players who have taken 180 or more three-point attempts and made at least 40% of them. A win there would likely earn Clemson an Elite Eight battle with Duke.

12. Texas A&M (No. 7 seed, West)

What a strange season this has been for the Aggies. Texas A&M rose as high as No. 5 in the AP Top 25 Poll while winning 11 of its first 12 games, only to drop seven of its next nine and ultimately head into the SEC tournament with a 9–9 league record. Yet after whipping No. 2-seed North Carolina in the second round on Sunday, the Aggies now stand a win over Michigan away from the program’s first Elite Eight berth. It won’t be a gimme: Texas A&M has not faced a defense as formidable as the Wolverines’ (third in Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency) so far in 2017–18.

13. Nevada (No. 7 seed, South)

The Wolf Pack held a lead for less than five of the 85 total minutes they played during their two wins over No. 10-seed Texas and No. 2-seed Cincinnati. Nevada isn’t going to be able to keep digging itself out of double-digit deficits in the second half, but it may not face another one of those this weekend. First, the Wolf Pack get Loyola-Chicago, whose defense rates among the best outside the high-major conferences (27th in Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency) but isn’t as stifling as the ones Nevada took on in the first two rounds. Send the Ramblers packing, and the Wolf Pack should meet Kentucky with a Final Four berth on the line.

14. Florida State (No. 9 seed, West)

When the bracket was released a little more than a week ago, it was hard to imagine this Seminoles team would advance further than the one that won 26 games and earned a No. 3 seed last season. Alas, not only is Florida State in the Sweet 16 for the first time in seven years, it got there by eliminating the program (Xavier) that denied the Seminoles a place in the same round of last year’s tourney. Florida State has size and depth, and that might be enough to put a scare into Gonzaga on Thursday. Either Michigan or Texas A&M would be next.

15. Kansas State (No. 9 seed, South)

These Wildcats will forever be linked to one of the most astonishing upsets in college basketball history. Two days after UMBC stunned Virginia in Charlotte, the Retrievers’ run came to an end at the hands of this year’s fourth-place finishers in the Big 12. The chaos in the South region could enable Kansas State to add a Final Four trip to its 2018 tourney legacy, though that will require taking down a Kentucky team that seems to be hitting its stride after a turbulent regular season. One ray of hope: Leading scorer and rebounder Dean Wade, a 6'10" junior forward who suffered a stress fracture in his foot earlier this month, said he is “like 98% sure” he’ll suit up on Thursday.

16. Syracuse (No. 11 seed, Midwest)

The Orange were fortunate to hear their name called on Selection Sunday, but head coach Jim Boeheim should be commended for lifting a young, thin squad with a punchless offense to three tournament wins, the most recent of which came over popular preseason national championship pick Michigan State. Syracuse would have had more upward mobility in a different quadrant of the bracket, but it had the misfortune of being placed in the same region as ACC competitor and No. 2 seed Duke. The Blue Devils shouldn’t have any issues picking apart the Orange’s zone, and good shots will be hard to come by for Syracuse against Duke’s own zone.

<p>The defining moment of the first day of the 2018 NCAA tournament was, at once, fantastic and foreseeable. No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago was a <a href="http://www.espn.com/blog/collegebasketballnation/post/_/id/121790/tournament-challenge-loyola-chicago-upset-picked-by-35-6-percent" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:popular pick" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">popular pick</a> to upset No. 6 Miami at American Airlines Center in Dallas on Thursday. The Ramblers had already won at Florida in December. They rated out as one of the top 25 defenses in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency. They had rolled through the Missouri Valley Conference with only one loss since early January. Loyola-Chicago may be a little-known mid-major, but it did not stun the college hoops world by beating the Hurricanes.</p><p>What it did do was provide a dose of thrilling, game-swinging drama on a chalky day in which favorites mostly held serve*. As other potential Cinderellas saw their March dreams dashed—from No. 13 UNC-Greensboro (No. 4 Gonzaga) to No. 12 Davidson (No. 5 Kentucky) to No. 14 Stephen F. Austin (No. 3 Texas Tech) and everyone in between—<a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/15/ncaa-tournament-loyola-chicago-miami-buzzer-beater-upset-video" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the deep, buzzer-beating three-pointer" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the deep, buzzer-beating three-pointer</a> from 6’6’’ Ramblers senior Donte Ingram that sent Miami packing guaranteed one underdog’s passage into the second round. When it comes time to assess this tourney in full, that shot will be lumped into an <a href="https://www.ncaa.com/news/basketball-men/article/2018-03-14/watch-every-one-shining-moment-right-here" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:iconic montage" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">iconic montage</a> of highlights. On Thursday, it didn’t have much company.</p><p>Here are SI’s biggest takeaways from Day 1 of the NCAAs:</p><p>- The Pac-12 was going to have a hard time coming out a winner from this tourney no matter what happened on Thursday. It placed only one team in the final AP Top 25 Poll, had only two teams—Arizona State and UCLA—earn at-large bids, and both of them failed to make it to the first round by losing their First Four games to Syracuse and St. Bonaventure, respectively. Thursday brought more bad news, in the form of a night-window tip in which the favorite definitely did not hold serve*. A tumultuous season for the West Coast-based league’s regular-season and conference tournament champion, Arizona, came crashing down in Boise. The No. 4 seed Wildcats were run off the court by No. 13 Buffalo in an 89–68 blowout that represented the second-biggest margin of victory for a team seeded No. 13 or worse since the tourney expanded to 64 teams in 1985. <a href="https://twitter.com/ESPNStatsInfo/status/974484939419914240" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:According to" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">According to</a> ESPN Stats & Information, this is the first time dating to 1986 that the Pac-12 has failed to record a win in the NCAAs. Another ignominious first for the league: No high-major since 1996–97 <a href="https://twitter.com/JohnGasaway/status/974492634004774912" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:had failed" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">had failed</a> to put a team in the round of 32.</p><p>The Pac-12’s postseason demise may have happened sooner, and with less advance notice, than expected, but perhaps it’s preferable that the Pac-12 file away this dismaying season sooner rather than later. Commissioner Larry Scott indicated earlier this week that he was already looking to the future when he <a href="https://pac-12.com/article/2018/03/13/pac-12-sets-forth-plan-sweeping-reform-mens-basketball" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:released a plan" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">released a plan</a> calling for “unprecedented reform” in men’s basketball. And besides, with only one squad having done enough in the regular season to avoid the play-in games, the Pac-12 had little hope of accomplishing anything of substance in this postseason <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/01/arizona-sean-miller-deandre-ayton-espn-report" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:that didn’t involve" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">that didn’t involve</a> creating bad optics. The more Arizona won, the more national attention would be paid to its role in the FBI’s sweeping probe into corruption across college basketball.</p><p>- While the Pac-12 sputtered, a football-first league on the other side of the country shined. Less than a week after setting a league record by having eight teams earn invitations to the big dance, four of them took the court for first-round games, and four of them won first-round games. Tennessee got things rolling by crushing Wright State, 73–46, to move on to a winnable matchup against the aforementioned Ramblers in the second round. No. 5 Kentucky followed up by navigating a tricky matchup against an offensively potent Davidson team. Alabama did its part in a tough No. 8-No. 9 meeting with Virginia Tech thanks in large part to 25 points on 7-of-14 shooting from freshman point guard Collin Sexton. And Florida closed out the day by making easy work of a dangerous St. Bonaventure squad powered by prolific guard Jaylen Adams.</p><p>The SEC faces a far less favorable slate of matchups on Friday, including a pair of No. 7-No. 10 pairings against formidable Big East opponents: No. 7 Texas A&M vs. No. 10 Providence and No. 7 Arkansas vs. No. 10 Butler. Plus, Auburn could get a serious challenge from Colonial Athletic Association champion College of Charleston in San Diego. Still, the SEC already had plenty to celebrate from a regular season that saw multiple outfits vastly outperform preseason expectations to snatch bids, and it hardly could have asked for a better start to the tourney. The conference may not have a viable national title contender in its ranks, but there’s no quibbling with its depth of quality. An additional bonus? Georgia made a promising hire to replace the deposed Mark Fox, <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/15/tom-crean-georgia-head-coach-news" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:plucking former Indiana and Marquette head coach Tom Crean" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">plucking former Indiana and Marquette head coach Tom Crean</a> from his gig as an ESPN television analyst.</p><p>- Who needs 3s? Not Kentucky. No. 5 Big Blue’s 78–73 win over No. 12 Davidson in the South region amounted to a repudiation of the virtues of Moreyball. Kentucky attempted only six long-range shots against Bob McKillop’s team and missed all of them, marking the first time since the now-defunct Great Alaska Shootout tournament in 1988 that UK didn’t hit even once from deep. (That <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/15/kentucky-consecutive-games-three-pointer-streak-snapped" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:ended a streak" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">ended a streak</a> of 1,047 games.) Kentucky still managed 1.11 points per possession compared to 1.04 for Davidson, which knocked down 11 of its 33 tries from downtown. The Wildcats’ three-less victory would have been remarkable against any opponent in the NCAAs. That the win came against a team that ranks in the top 10 in Division I in the proportion of points it gets beyond the arc only added to the weirdness. Here’s guessing Kentucky will need at least one triple to make it past No. 13 seed Buffalo in the second round on Saturday.</p><p>- Tennessee’s miraculous turnaround is alive and well. At the risk of overreacting to a ho-hum win over an overmatched opponent, the Volunteers have an excellent opportunity to get to the second weekend after failing to qualify for the NCAAs the three previous years. Tied for the <a href="https://www.oddsshark.com/ncaab/college-basketball-futures" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:worst championship odds" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">worst championship odds</a> among No. 3 seeds as of Thursday, Tennessee smoked its opening-round opponent, No. 14 Wright State, to advance to a manageable matchup against a mid-major. Loyola Chicago’s win over Miami did not have the feel of a one-off; the Ramblers are good enough to slay another high-major. That said, the Volunteers are one victory away from clinching a spot in the sport’s ultimate group of 16 teams only a few months after they were picked to finish 13th in their own conference. In related news, Rick Barnes was <a href="http://naismithtrophy.com/werner-ladder-naismith-mens-college-coach-of-the-year-finalists-announced/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:named a finalist" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">named a finalist</a> on Thursday for the Naismith Coach of the Year award.</p>
March Madness Day 1 Takeaways: Loyola-Chicago Provides a Spark; SEC Shines While Pac-12 Flops

The defining moment of the first day of the 2018 NCAA tournament was, at once, fantastic and foreseeable. No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago was a popular pick to upset No. 6 Miami at American Airlines Center in Dallas on Thursday. The Ramblers had already won at Florida in December. They rated out as one of the top 25 defenses in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency. They had rolled through the Missouri Valley Conference with only one loss since early January. Loyola-Chicago may be a little-known mid-major, but it did not stun the college hoops world by beating the Hurricanes.

What it did do was provide a dose of thrilling, game-swinging drama on a chalky day in which favorites mostly held serve*. As other potential Cinderellas saw their March dreams dashed—from No. 13 UNC-Greensboro (No. 4 Gonzaga) to No. 12 Davidson (No. 5 Kentucky) to No. 14 Stephen F. Austin (No. 3 Texas Tech) and everyone in between—the deep, buzzer-beating three-pointer from 6’6’’ Ramblers senior Donte Ingram that sent Miami packing guaranteed one underdog’s passage into the second round. When it comes time to assess this tourney in full, that shot will be lumped into an iconic montage of highlights. On Thursday, it didn’t have much company.

Here are SI’s biggest takeaways from Day 1 of the NCAAs:

- The Pac-12 was going to have a hard time coming out a winner from this tourney no matter what happened on Thursday. It placed only one team in the final AP Top 25 Poll, had only two teams—Arizona State and UCLA—earn at-large bids, and both of them failed to make it to the first round by losing their First Four games to Syracuse and St. Bonaventure, respectively. Thursday brought more bad news, in the form of a night-window tip in which the favorite definitely did not hold serve*. A tumultuous season for the West Coast-based league’s regular-season and conference tournament champion, Arizona, came crashing down in Boise. The No. 4 seed Wildcats were run off the court by No. 13 Buffalo in an 89–68 blowout that represented the second-biggest margin of victory for a team seeded No. 13 or worse since the tourney expanded to 64 teams in 1985. According to ESPN Stats & Information, this is the first time dating to 1986 that the Pac-12 has failed to record a win in the NCAAs. Another ignominious first for the league: No high-major since 1996–97 had failed to put a team in the round of 32.

The Pac-12’s postseason demise may have happened sooner, and with less advance notice, than expected, but perhaps it’s preferable that the Pac-12 file away this dismaying season sooner rather than later. Commissioner Larry Scott indicated earlier this week that he was already looking to the future when he released a plan calling for “unprecedented reform” in men’s basketball. And besides, with only one squad having done enough in the regular season to avoid the play-in games, the Pac-12 had little hope of accomplishing anything of substance in this postseason that didn’t involve creating bad optics. The more Arizona won, the more national attention would be paid to its role in the FBI’s sweeping probe into corruption across college basketball.

- While the Pac-12 sputtered, a football-first league on the other side of the country shined. Less than a week after setting a league record by having eight teams earn invitations to the big dance, four of them took the court for first-round games, and four of them won first-round games. Tennessee got things rolling by crushing Wright State, 73–46, to move on to a winnable matchup against the aforementioned Ramblers in the second round. No. 5 Kentucky followed up by navigating a tricky matchup against an offensively potent Davidson team. Alabama did its part in a tough No. 8-No. 9 meeting with Virginia Tech thanks in large part to 25 points on 7-of-14 shooting from freshman point guard Collin Sexton. And Florida closed out the day by making easy work of a dangerous St. Bonaventure squad powered by prolific guard Jaylen Adams.

The SEC faces a far less favorable slate of matchups on Friday, including a pair of No. 7-No. 10 pairings against formidable Big East opponents: No. 7 Texas A&M vs. No. 10 Providence and No. 7 Arkansas vs. No. 10 Butler. Plus, Auburn could get a serious challenge from Colonial Athletic Association champion College of Charleston in San Diego. Still, the SEC already had plenty to celebrate from a regular season that saw multiple outfits vastly outperform preseason expectations to snatch bids, and it hardly could have asked for a better start to the tourney. The conference may not have a viable national title contender in its ranks, but there’s no quibbling with its depth of quality. An additional bonus? Georgia made a promising hire to replace the deposed Mark Fox, plucking former Indiana and Marquette head coach Tom Crean from his gig as an ESPN television analyst.

- Who needs 3s? Not Kentucky. No. 5 Big Blue’s 78–73 win over No. 12 Davidson in the South region amounted to a repudiation of the virtues of Moreyball. Kentucky attempted only six long-range shots against Bob McKillop’s team and missed all of them, marking the first time since the now-defunct Great Alaska Shootout tournament in 1988 that UK didn’t hit even once from deep. (That ended a streak of 1,047 games.) Kentucky still managed 1.11 points per possession compared to 1.04 for Davidson, which knocked down 11 of its 33 tries from downtown. The Wildcats’ three-less victory would have been remarkable against any opponent in the NCAAs. That the win came against a team that ranks in the top 10 in Division I in the proportion of points it gets beyond the arc only added to the weirdness. Here’s guessing Kentucky will need at least one triple to make it past No. 13 seed Buffalo in the second round on Saturday.

- Tennessee’s miraculous turnaround is alive and well. At the risk of overreacting to a ho-hum win over an overmatched opponent, the Volunteers have an excellent opportunity to get to the second weekend after failing to qualify for the NCAAs the three previous years. Tied for the worst championship odds among No. 3 seeds as of Thursday, Tennessee smoked its opening-round opponent, No. 14 Wright State, to advance to a manageable matchup against a mid-major. Loyola Chicago’s win over Miami did not have the feel of a one-off; the Ramblers are good enough to slay another high-major. That said, the Volunteers are one victory away from clinching a spot in the sport’s ultimate group of 16 teams only a few months after they were picked to finish 13th in their own conference. In related news, Rick Barnes was named a finalist on Thursday for the Naismith Coach of the Year award.

<p>The month of March may have started more than two weeks ago, but March Madness is officially here. Over the next 96 hours, college basketball's best teams will put it all on the line as they look to advance in the 2018 NCAA tournament. With all of the first round games set, your winning bracket submitted and the <a href="http://si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/13/what-channel-trutv-tv-listings-march-madness-ncaa-tournament" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:channel number for truTV" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">channel number for truTV</a> already keyed up on your remote, there's only one thing left to do: watch some March Madness basketball.</p><p>Below, we’re recapping every game of the first round, along with a full schedule and TV guide for a look at what’s ahead. Follow along for results and updates on all of the games and <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/ncaa-mens-basketball-bracket" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:click here for a live look at the bracket." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">click here for a live look at the bracket.</a></p><h3><strong>RESULTS</strong></h3><h3><strong>Midwest Region: Rhode Island 83, Oklahoma 78</strong></h3><p>What better way to kick off March Madness than with an overtime battle? No. 7 Rhode Island took out No. 10 Oklahoma and sensational scorer Trae Young in overtime to advance to the second round. Senior guards E.C. Matthews and Jared Terrell, and freshman Fatts Russell, led the Rams, while Young finished with 28 points on 9-for-18 shooting. Despite a late-season slide, Dan Hurley's team is looking solid.</p><h3><strong>South Region: Tennessee 73, Wright State 47</strong></h3><p>The Volunteers handed out Thursday’s first blowout, pasting Horizon League champion Wright State in Tennessee’s tournament debut under third-year coach Rick Barnes. A meeting between two teams that pride themselves on their defense went in favor of the regular season SEC co-champs, who were paced by Admiral Schofield's 15 points and 12 rebounds. The Raiders were held to 32.2% shooting from the field.</p><h3><strong>West Region: Gonzaga 68, UNC-Greensboro 64</strong></h3><p>After playing for a national championship last spring, Gonzaga needed to scratch and claw to make it out of the first round, surviving a spirited upset bid from UNC-Greensboro. The upstart Spartans struggled from the field in the first half but kept Gonzaga’s offense off-balance with their aggressive defense, limiting Bulldogs star Killian Tillie to just two points all game. Forward Johnathan Williams picked up the slack with 19 points and 13 rebounds, and freshman guard Zach Norvell Jr. drained a contested three with 21 seconds left that proved to be the difference after UNCG’s last-gasp three rattled out.</p><h3><strong>Midwest Region: Kansas 76, Penn 60</strong></h3><p>It still stands: No No. 16 seed has ever defeated a No. 1 seed. Kansas looked to be in trouble early, with Penn leading by as much as 10 in the first, but the Jayhawks closed the half on a 22-5 run and almost never looked back. Big 12 Player of the Year Devonte' Graham powered the Jayhawks with 29 points. The icing on the cake for the Jayhawks? Center Udoka Azubuike logging a few minutes on Thursday after being sidelined with injury, a good sign for the rest of the tournament for Bill Self’s squad.</p><h3><strong>Midwest Region: Duke 89, Iona 67</strong></h3><p>Looks like Trevon Duval and Wendell Carter are just fine. All eyes were on the health of two of Duke’s standout freshmen ahead of a first-round matchup with the 15-seed Gaels—Carter played the ACC tournament at less than 100% while nursing a foot injury, and Duval rolled his ankle in the semifinal loss to North Carolina—but Blue Devils fans should be able to rest easy after their performance on Thursday. Duval hit four of five threes to finish with 16 points, and Carter added nine points and eight rebounds to help the Blue Devils pull away towards the end of the first half and cruise to the finish line.</p><h3><strong>South Region: Loyola-Chicago 64, Miami (FL) 62</strong></h3><p>The Ramblers of Loyola-Chicago delivered the first upset of the tournament on Thursday, downing No. 6 Miami (FL) 64-62 in thunderous fashion to notch their first win in the NCAA tournament since 1985. Senior guard Donte Ingram hit the dagger—a deep three with .3 seconds remaining—to seal the deal for the Ramblers, who move on the face No. 3 Tennessee in the second round.</p><h3><strong>West Region: Ohio State 81, South Dakota State 73</strong></h3><p>There were more than 70 three-pointers attempted in the contest between No. 5 Ohio State and No. 12 South Dakota State, but in the end it was defensive breakdowns that cost the Jackrabbits the upset and sent Chris Holtmann’s team to the second round, where they’ll face No. 4 Gonzaga. The Buckeyes had three players score 20+, as Keita Bates-Diop finished with 24, Kam Williams with 22 and C.J. Jackson with 20.</p><h3><strong>Midwest Region: Seton Hall 94, NC State 83</strong></h3><p>The Pirates led wire-to-wire en route to their first NCAA tournament win since 2004, as seniors Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado accounted for 59 of their team’s points. With NC State’s interior options struggling, Wolfpack guard Allerik Freeman poured in 36 points to lead all scorers, but Seton Hall refused to lose its composure in the face of the Wolfpack’s press and dictated the final minutes.</p><h3><strong>East Region: Villanova 81, Radford 67</strong></h3><p>Top-seeded Villanova rolled over Radford into the second round on Thursday, as the Wildcats started the game shooting 81% and dominated until the very end. Radford won a First Four game to advance to Pittsburgh but it was tournament favorite who Villanova moved on behind solid performances from projected draft lottery pick Mikal Bridges and <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/08/ncaa-basketball-player-of-the-year-young-ayton-brunson-graham" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:leading National Player of the Year candidate" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">leading National Player of the Year candidate</a> Jalen Brunson.</p><h3><strong>South Region: Kentucky 78, Davidson 73</strong></h3><p>Despite a scare down the stretch, No. 5 Kentucky avoided an upset against No. 12 Davidson by pulling away behind free throws late. Notably, <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/15/kentucky-consecutive-games-three-pointer-streak-snapped" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:UK’s streak of 1,047 consecutive games with a three-pointer" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">UK’s streak of 1,047 consecutive games with a three-pointer</a>—which dates back to 1988—ended, as it attempted just six threes and missed them all. But the Wildcats shot 26 of 45 (57.8%) inside the arc and won the battle in the paint to hold off Davidson. Kevin Knox led Kentucky with 25 points.</p><h3><strong>East Region: Texas Tech 70, Stephen F. Austin 60</strong></h3><p>No. 3 Texas Tech outlasted No. 14 Stephen F. Austin behind 23 points from senior guard Keenan Evans. The underdog Lumberjacks led by three at halftime and were right in it for most of the night, but the Red Raiders clamped down defensively late to pull away for the 10-point win. Stephen F. Austin went the final five minutes without making a single field goal and committed nine turnovers in the second half.</p><h3><strong>West Region: Houston 67, San Diego State 65</strong></h3><p>Rob Gray scored a career-high 39 points, including the game-winner, and added eight rebounds to lead No. 6 Houston over No. 11 San Diego State in a first-round thriller. Gray spun in a lay-up with 1.1 seconds remaining to give the Cougars the lead, and while the Aztecs’ Trey Kell got off a good look at a three-pointer just before the buzzer, the shot didn’t fall, giving Houston a hard-earned win.</p><h3><strong>South Region: Buffalo 89, Arizona 68</strong></h3><p>No. 13 Buffalo pulled off the stunner of the first-round so far by routing No. 4 Arizona by 21. The Bulls hung with the Wildcats from the start, leading by two at halftime, before turning it on in a 49-point second half. Deandre Ayton finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds in his final game in an Arizona uniform, while Buffalo was led by Wes Clark’s 25 points. As a team, the Bulls shot 50% (15 of 30) from three while the Wildcats made just two of 18.</p><h3><strong>East Region: Alabama 86, Virginia Tech 83</strong></h3><p>Freshman Collin Sexton scored 25 to lead No. 9 Alabama over No. 8 Virginia Tech, while John Petty added 20 on 6 of 8 shooting from three. The Crimson Tide overcame 17 turnovers and a 66.7% mark from the free-throw line by shooting 60% from the floor as a team and outrebounding the Hokies by four. Alabama now faces No. 1 Villanova on Saturday.</p><h3><strong>East Region: Florida 77, St. Bonaventure 62</strong></h3><p>Florida's offense came to life in the second half, as the Gators scored 50 of their 77 points in the game's final 20 minutes against St. Bonavenutre. Egor Koulechov led all scorers with 20 points, while Jalen Hudson added 16. The Bonnies shot just 19.3% on three-point attempts, including their top three scorers—Jaylen Adams, Matt Mobley and Courtney Stockard—going a combined 1 of 15 from deep.</p><h3><strong>West Region: Michigan 61, Montana 47</strong></h3><p>The Big Ten tournament champions got off to a sluggish start, as Montana scored the game's first 10 points. Michigan roared back though, with Charles Matthews leading the way with 20 points. The Wolverines now advance to take on No. 6-seeded Houston in an intriguing Round of 32 battle.</p><h3><strong>Friday’s schedule</strong></h3><p>12:15 p.m., CBS<br><strong>(10) Providence vs. (7) Texas A&M</strong></p><p>12:40 p.m., truTV<br><strong>(15) Cal State–Fullerton vs. (2) Purdue</strong></p><p>1:30 p.m., TNT<br><strong>(13) Marshall vs. (4) Wichita State</strong></p><p>2 p.m., TBS<br><strong>(15) Georgia State vs. (2) Cincinnati</strong></p><p>2:45 p.m., CBS<br><strong>(15) Lipscomb vs. (2) North Carolina</strong></p><p>3:10 p.m., truTV<br><strong>(10) Butler vs. (7) Arkansas</strong></p><p>4 p.m., TNT<br><strong>(12) Murray St. vs. (5) West Virginia</strong></p><p>4:30 p.m., TBS<br><strong>(10) Texas vs. (7) Nevada</strong></p><p>6:50 p.m., TNT<br><strong>(9) Kansas State vs. (8) Creighton</strong></p><p>7:10 p.m., CBS<br><strong>(14) Bucknell vs. (3) Michigan State</strong></p><p>7:20 p.m., TBS<br><strong>(16) N.C. Central/Texas Southern vs. (1) Xavier</strong></p><p>7:27 p.m., truTV<br><strong>(13) Charleston vs. (4) Auburn</strong></p><p>9:20 p.m., TNT<br><strong>(16) UMBC vs. (1) Virginia</strong></p><p>9:40 p.m., CBS<br><strong>(11) Syracuse vs. (6) TCU</strong></p><p>9:50 p.m., TBS<br><strong>(9) Florida St. vs. (8) Missouri</strong></p><p>9:55 p.m., truTV<br><strong>(12) New Mexico State vs. (5) Clemson</strong></p>
NCAA Tournament 2018 First-Round Schedule and Scores Tracker: Recapping Day 1

The month of March may have started more than two weeks ago, but March Madness is officially here. Over the next 96 hours, college basketball's best teams will put it all on the line as they look to advance in the 2018 NCAA tournament. With all of the first round games set, your winning bracket submitted and the channel number for truTV already keyed up on your remote, there's only one thing left to do: watch some March Madness basketball.

Below, we’re recapping every game of the first round, along with a full schedule and TV guide for a look at what’s ahead. Follow along for results and updates on all of the games and click here for a live look at the bracket.

RESULTS

Midwest Region: Rhode Island 83, Oklahoma 78

What better way to kick off March Madness than with an overtime battle? No. 7 Rhode Island took out No. 10 Oklahoma and sensational scorer Trae Young in overtime to advance to the second round. Senior guards E.C. Matthews and Jared Terrell, and freshman Fatts Russell, led the Rams, while Young finished with 28 points on 9-for-18 shooting. Despite a late-season slide, Dan Hurley's team is looking solid.

South Region: Tennessee 73, Wright State 47

The Volunteers handed out Thursday’s first blowout, pasting Horizon League champion Wright State in Tennessee’s tournament debut under third-year coach Rick Barnes. A meeting between two teams that pride themselves on their defense went in favor of the regular season SEC co-champs, who were paced by Admiral Schofield's 15 points and 12 rebounds. The Raiders were held to 32.2% shooting from the field.

West Region: Gonzaga 68, UNC-Greensboro 64

After playing for a national championship last spring, Gonzaga needed to scratch and claw to make it out of the first round, surviving a spirited upset bid from UNC-Greensboro. The upstart Spartans struggled from the field in the first half but kept Gonzaga’s offense off-balance with their aggressive defense, limiting Bulldogs star Killian Tillie to just two points all game. Forward Johnathan Williams picked up the slack with 19 points and 13 rebounds, and freshman guard Zach Norvell Jr. drained a contested three with 21 seconds left that proved to be the difference after UNCG’s last-gasp three rattled out.

Midwest Region: Kansas 76, Penn 60

It still stands: No No. 16 seed has ever defeated a No. 1 seed. Kansas looked to be in trouble early, with Penn leading by as much as 10 in the first, but the Jayhawks closed the half on a 22-5 run and almost never looked back. Big 12 Player of the Year Devonte' Graham powered the Jayhawks with 29 points. The icing on the cake for the Jayhawks? Center Udoka Azubuike logging a few minutes on Thursday after being sidelined with injury, a good sign for the rest of the tournament for Bill Self’s squad.

Midwest Region: Duke 89, Iona 67

Looks like Trevon Duval and Wendell Carter are just fine. All eyes were on the health of two of Duke’s standout freshmen ahead of a first-round matchup with the 15-seed Gaels—Carter played the ACC tournament at less than 100% while nursing a foot injury, and Duval rolled his ankle in the semifinal loss to North Carolina—but Blue Devils fans should be able to rest easy after their performance on Thursday. Duval hit four of five threes to finish with 16 points, and Carter added nine points and eight rebounds to help the Blue Devils pull away towards the end of the first half and cruise to the finish line.

South Region: Loyola-Chicago 64, Miami (FL) 62

The Ramblers of Loyola-Chicago delivered the first upset of the tournament on Thursday, downing No. 6 Miami (FL) 64-62 in thunderous fashion to notch their first win in the NCAA tournament since 1985. Senior guard Donte Ingram hit the dagger—a deep three with .3 seconds remaining—to seal the deal for the Ramblers, who move on the face No. 3 Tennessee in the second round.

West Region: Ohio State 81, South Dakota State 73

There were more than 70 three-pointers attempted in the contest between No. 5 Ohio State and No. 12 South Dakota State, but in the end it was defensive breakdowns that cost the Jackrabbits the upset and sent Chris Holtmann’s team to the second round, where they’ll face No. 4 Gonzaga. The Buckeyes had three players score 20+, as Keita Bates-Diop finished with 24, Kam Williams with 22 and C.J. Jackson with 20.

Midwest Region: Seton Hall 94, NC State 83

The Pirates led wire-to-wire en route to their first NCAA tournament win since 2004, as seniors Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado accounted for 59 of their team’s points. With NC State’s interior options struggling, Wolfpack guard Allerik Freeman poured in 36 points to lead all scorers, but Seton Hall refused to lose its composure in the face of the Wolfpack’s press and dictated the final minutes.

East Region: Villanova 81, Radford 67

Top-seeded Villanova rolled over Radford into the second round on Thursday, as the Wildcats started the game shooting 81% and dominated until the very end. Radford won a First Four game to advance to Pittsburgh but it was tournament favorite who Villanova moved on behind solid performances from projected draft lottery pick Mikal Bridges and leading National Player of the Year candidate Jalen Brunson.

South Region: Kentucky 78, Davidson 73

Despite a scare down the stretch, No. 5 Kentucky avoided an upset against No. 12 Davidson by pulling away behind free throws late. Notably, UK’s streak of 1,047 consecutive games with a three-pointer—which dates back to 1988—ended, as it attempted just six threes and missed them all. But the Wildcats shot 26 of 45 (57.8%) inside the arc and won the battle in the paint to hold off Davidson. Kevin Knox led Kentucky with 25 points.

East Region: Texas Tech 70, Stephen F. Austin 60

No. 3 Texas Tech outlasted No. 14 Stephen F. Austin behind 23 points from senior guard Keenan Evans. The underdog Lumberjacks led by three at halftime and were right in it for most of the night, but the Red Raiders clamped down defensively late to pull away for the 10-point win. Stephen F. Austin went the final five minutes without making a single field goal and committed nine turnovers in the second half.

West Region: Houston 67, San Diego State 65

Rob Gray scored a career-high 39 points, including the game-winner, and added eight rebounds to lead No. 6 Houston over No. 11 San Diego State in a first-round thriller. Gray spun in a lay-up with 1.1 seconds remaining to give the Cougars the lead, and while the Aztecs’ Trey Kell got off a good look at a three-pointer just before the buzzer, the shot didn’t fall, giving Houston a hard-earned win.

South Region: Buffalo 89, Arizona 68

No. 13 Buffalo pulled off the stunner of the first-round so far by routing No. 4 Arizona by 21. The Bulls hung with the Wildcats from the start, leading by two at halftime, before turning it on in a 49-point second half. Deandre Ayton finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds in his final game in an Arizona uniform, while Buffalo was led by Wes Clark’s 25 points. As a team, the Bulls shot 50% (15 of 30) from three while the Wildcats made just two of 18.

East Region: Alabama 86, Virginia Tech 83

Freshman Collin Sexton scored 25 to lead No. 9 Alabama over No. 8 Virginia Tech, while John Petty added 20 on 6 of 8 shooting from three. The Crimson Tide overcame 17 turnovers and a 66.7% mark from the free-throw line by shooting 60% from the floor as a team and outrebounding the Hokies by four. Alabama now faces No. 1 Villanova on Saturday.

East Region: Florida 77, St. Bonaventure 62

Florida's offense came to life in the second half, as the Gators scored 50 of their 77 points in the game's final 20 minutes against St. Bonavenutre. Egor Koulechov led all scorers with 20 points, while Jalen Hudson added 16. The Bonnies shot just 19.3% on three-point attempts, including their top three scorers—Jaylen Adams, Matt Mobley and Courtney Stockard—going a combined 1 of 15 from deep.

West Region: Michigan 61, Montana 47

The Big Ten tournament champions got off to a sluggish start, as Montana scored the game's first 10 points. Michigan roared back though, with Charles Matthews leading the way with 20 points. The Wolverines now advance to take on No. 6-seeded Houston in an intriguing Round of 32 battle.

Friday’s schedule

12:15 p.m., CBS
(10) Providence vs. (7) Texas A&M

12:40 p.m., truTV
(15) Cal State–Fullerton vs. (2) Purdue

1:30 p.m., TNT
(13) Marshall vs. (4) Wichita State

2 p.m., TBS
(15) Georgia State vs. (2) Cincinnati

2:45 p.m., CBS
(15) Lipscomb vs. (2) North Carolina

3:10 p.m., truTV
(10) Butler vs. (7) Arkansas

4 p.m., TNT
(12) Murray St. vs. (5) West Virginia

4:30 p.m., TBS
(10) Texas vs. (7) Nevada

6:50 p.m., TNT
(9) Kansas State vs. (8) Creighton

7:10 p.m., CBS
(14) Bucknell vs. (3) Michigan State

7:20 p.m., TBS
(16) N.C. Central/Texas Southern vs. (1) Xavier

7:27 p.m., truTV
(13) Charleston vs. (4) Auburn

9:20 p.m., TNT
(16) UMBC vs. (1) Virginia

9:40 p.m., CBS
(11) Syracuse vs. (6) TCU

9:50 p.m., TBS
(9) Florida St. vs. (8) Missouri

9:55 p.m., truTV
(12) New Mexico State vs. (5) Clemson

<p>March Madness has begun—and bracketology has officially hit Instagram stories.?</p><p>By Thursday afternoon, your completed brackets should be submitted to your pool as the field of 68 begins the 2018 NCAA tournament. But before the madness tips off, SI wants its followers to fill out a community bracket. By checking out SI's Instagram story, you can vote for each first-round matchup using Instagram's poll feature. After the first round is completely, we'll post the results to see how SI's audience performed.</p><p><strong>UPDATE: </strong>Let's see how the picks shook out!</p><p>Virginia 91%<br>UMBC 9%</p><p>Creighton 62% </p><p>Kansas State 38%</p><p>Kentucky 85%</p><p>Davidson 15%</p><p>Arizona 94%</p><p>Buffalo 6%</p><p>Miami (FL) 68%</p><p>Loyola Chicago 32%</p><p>Tennessee 90%</p><p>Wright State 10%</p><p>Texas 69%</p><p>Nevada 31%</p><p>Cincinnati 86%</p><p>Georgia State 14%</p><p>Xavier 95%</p><p>Texas Southern 5%</p><p>Missouri 60%</p><p>Florida State 40%</p><p>Ohio State 82%</p><p>South Dakota State 18%</p><p>Gonzaga 94% </p><p>UNCG 6%</p><p>Houston 70%</p><p>San Diego State 30%</p><p>Michigan 94%</p><p>Montana 6%</p><p>Texas A&M 55%</p><p>Providence 45%</p><p>UNC 95%</p><p>Lipscomb 5%</p><p>Villanova 95%</p><p>Radford 5%</p><p>Alabama 62%</p><p>Virginia Tech 38%</p><p>West Virginia 88%</p><p>Murray State 12%</p><p>Wichita State 84%</p><p>Marshall 16%</p><p>Florida 84%</p><p>St. Bonaventure 16%</p><p>Texas Tech 86% </p><p>SF Austin 14%</p><p>Butler 66%</p><p>Arkansas 44%</p><p>Purdue 94%</p><p>CSU Fullerton 6%</p><p>Kansas 93%</p><p>Penn 7%</p><p>NC State 52%</p><p>Seton Hall 48%</p><p>Clemson 79%</p><p>New Mexico State 21%</p><p>Auburn 91%</p><p>College of Charleston 9%</p><p>TCU 69%</p><p>Syracuse 31%</p><p>Michigan State 95%</p><p>Bucknell 5%</p><p>Oklahoma 58%</p><p>Rhode Island 42%</p><p>Duke 93%</p><p>Iona 7%</p><p>Follow <a href="https://www.instagram.com/sportsillustrated/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Sports Illustrated's Instagram" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Sports Illustrated's Instagram</a> for more stuff like this! </p>
Here's who our Readers Pick in Each March Madness Game

March Madness has begun—and bracketology has officially hit Instagram stories.?

By Thursday afternoon, your completed brackets should be submitted to your pool as the field of 68 begins the 2018 NCAA tournament. But before the madness tips off, SI wants its followers to fill out a community bracket. By checking out SI's Instagram story, you can vote for each first-round matchup using Instagram's poll feature. After the first round is completely, we'll post the results to see how SI's audience performed.

UPDATE: Let's see how the picks shook out!

Virginia 91%
UMBC 9%

Creighton 62%

Kansas State 38%

Kentucky 85%

Davidson 15%

Arizona 94%

Buffalo 6%

Miami (FL) 68%

Loyola Chicago 32%

Tennessee 90%

Wright State 10%

Texas 69%

Nevada 31%

Cincinnati 86%

Georgia State 14%

Xavier 95%

Texas Southern 5%

Missouri 60%

Florida State 40%

Ohio State 82%

South Dakota State 18%

Gonzaga 94%

UNCG 6%

Houston 70%

San Diego State 30%

Michigan 94%

Montana 6%

Texas A&M 55%

Providence 45%

UNC 95%

Lipscomb 5%

Villanova 95%

Radford 5%

Alabama 62%

Virginia Tech 38%

West Virginia 88%

Murray State 12%

Wichita State 84%

Marshall 16%

Florida 84%

St. Bonaventure 16%

Texas Tech 86%

SF Austin 14%

Butler 66%

Arkansas 44%

Purdue 94%

CSU Fullerton 6%

Kansas 93%

Penn 7%

NC State 52%

Seton Hall 48%

Clemson 79%

New Mexico State 21%

Auburn 91%

College of Charleston 9%

TCU 69%

Syracuse 31%

Michigan State 95%

Bucknell 5%

Oklahoma 58%

Rhode Island 42%

Duke 93%

Iona 7%

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<p>With the deadline for submitting NCAA tournament brackets fast approaching, you probably have an idea which team (or teams) you’ll be penciling in as spoilers. St. Bonaventure? Davidson? Loyola-Chicago? One of the country’s top teams is bound see their title hopes dashed long before the Final Four, and those upsets often create the tournament’s lasting images.</p><p>In college football, we don’t get nearly as much sanctioned postseason mayhem, but there’s plenty of chaos involved as the field of College Football Playoff contenders narrows over the course of the fall, whether it’s a rusty early-season loss or a late-year stumble that looms large. Which overlooked teams are in position to foil the plans of playoff hopefuls in 2018, following in the footsteps of <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/game/1722577" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Iowa in 2017" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Iowa in 2017</a>, <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2016/09/10/pitt-panthers-beat-penn-state-nittany-lions" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Pitt in 2016" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Pitt in 2016</a>, <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2015/09/05/northwestern-wildcats-stanford-cardinal-upset" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Northwestern in 2015" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Northwestern in 2015</a> and <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2014/10/18/west-virginia-mountaineers-baylor-bears-big-12" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:West Virginia in 2014" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">West Virginia in 2014</a>? With that in mind, we embarked on a search for potential playoff bracket–busting upsets this fall.</p><h3>Appalachian State (vs. Penn State, Sept. 1)</h3><p>For the past two seasons, Appalachian State has opened the season against a top-15 team: Georgia in 2017, Tennessee in 2016. The Mountaineers lost both matchups, but they scored more points on Georgia than four of the Bulldogs’ other 2017 opponents did and took the Vols to overtime. It will be the 11-year anniversary of the day App State (then playing in the FCS) knocked off No. 5 Michigan in Ann Arbor, but you don’t need to go back a decade to see why this game has opening-weekend upset potential.</p><p>Over the past three seasons under coach Scott Satterfield, Appalachian State has averaged 10 wins a year and gone 3–0 in bowl games, never finishing lower than second in the Sun Belt. Sure, its strength of schedule—apart from the annual top-25 matchup—leaves something to be desired, but Satterfield’s team is rarely trounced, and Penn State will still be negotiating its identity in a post-Saquon Barkley world.</p><p>Beaver Stadium would be enough to overwhelm many a lower-tier nonconference opponent, but since moving up from the FCS ranks in 2014, the Mountaineers have played at Michigan, Clemson, Tennessee and Georgia. They are no strangers to the most intimidating stadiums in college football, and stranger things have happened in Week 1 than a Sun Belt team upending a Big Ten opponent. A loss would leave Penn State a long road back to playoff contention. The Big Ten East has been known to cannibalize itself at the top, with Ohio State securing a playoff nod ahead of Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan in three out of four years of the playoff era, and all four teams expect to contend once again. Starting the year with a nonconference loss would all but guarantee Penn State would need to run the table against Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and cross-division opponent Wisconsin, which is almost certain to be the best team in the Big Ten West again next year.</p><h3>Baylor (vs. TCU, Nov. 17)</h3><p>A season ago, Baylor had its worst year this century—the last time the Bears finished with just one win was in 1999—but the Bears lost several close games along the way. By Pythagorean wins, which examine points scored and allowed to estimate the number of games a team <em>should</em> have won, Matt Rhule’s first team played to the level of a 3–9 team, which is hardly great but still sets the table for regression. For that reason, along with <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/14/national-signing-day-recruiting-rankings-washington-south-carolina" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a 2018 recruiting class" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a 2018 recruiting class</a> that landed among the top 30 in the 247Sports Composite rankings, it’s not hard to see Baylor as a potential Big 12 spoiler next fall. The Bears aren’t far enough into their rebuild to contend, but they are certainly far enough along to upend the conference race, as they nearly did when Oklahoma came to Waco last September.</p><p>TCU has won the past three meetings, and the Horned Frogs look like the Big 12’s best shot at a playoff spot outside of Norman. TCU’s schedule is tough, with a Sept. 15 home game against Ohio State (which could earn it some major points with the playoff committee) and a visit from Oklahoma on Oct. 20. By the end of the season, TCU could have little wiggle room to keep its playoff hopes alive, and Baylor could be easy to overlook with Oklahoma State the next weekend and the Big 12 title game the following Saturday.</p><h3>Purdue (vs. Ohio State, Oct. 20; vs. Wisconsin, Nov. 17)</h3><p>Purdue will have two realistic shots to play spoiler next fall, when the two teams that met in last year’s Big Ten title game come to West Lafayette. A season ago, Purdue went 7–6 with a Foster Farms Bowl win over Arizona that secured the Boilermakers’ best record since 2011. After improving from 1–8 in conference games in ’16 to 4–5 last year under new head coach Jeff Brohm, it’s reasonable for fans to expect another winning year even though the road to another bowl is even tougher.</p><p>Brohm has yet to face Ohio State, but Purdue put up a solid performance against Wisconsin in last season’s 17–9 loss in Madison. And as a rash of quarterback injuries held back the early returns of Brohm’s offensive overhaul, the Boilermakers found surprising success on the defensive side of the ball. With both David Blough (dislocated ankle) and Elijah Sindelar (torn ACL) set to return by the fall, it’s not unreasonable to expect Purdue’s offense to translate continuity into marked improvement on the side of the ball Brohm has specialized in throughout his career. A Boilermakers win in either of these games would likely knock the loser out of the playoff hunt.</p><h3>South Carolina (vs. Georgia, Sept. 8; vs. Clemson, Nov. 24)</h3><p>South Carolina was another pleasant surprise in 2017, improving to 9–4 from 6–7 the previous year and making it two bowl trips in two seasons under Will Muschamp. Although they may have an outside shot at sneaking into the SEC championship game, the Gamecocks won’t figure into the playoff conversation. They do, however, have two prime opportunities to play spoiler: their SEC opener against Georgia and their season finale against Clemson. Beating the Bulldogs would certainly put South Carolina in the SEC East driver’s seat, but it would also severely damage Georgia’s chances at back-to-back playoff berths, forcing the Bulldogs to be perfect the rest of the year—against a loaded slate that includes LSU and Auburn and (presumably) Alabama in the SEC title game, should it get that far—to have a shot.</p><p>Clemson, meanwhile, could very well be undefeated going into its regular-season finale against South Carolina. It travels to Texas A&M in Week 2, at which point the Aggies should still be settling in under new coach Jimbo Fisher. Losing to South Carolina so late in the season would be a bad look for Dabo Swinney’s team at a bad time, and if the Tigers enter Thanksgiving with a blemish on their record, their in-state rivals might have what it takes to finish them off.</p><h3>Washington vs. Washington State (Nov. 23)</h3><p>Both Washington and Washington State have taken playoff hopes into recent Apple Cups, but by the end of last season the Pac-12 North had played itself out of playoff contention. If one or both teams are still alive for the conference title or the playoff on Black Friday, the spoiler potential will be high in Pullman. Washington State has the easier path to this game—its nonconference opponents are Wyoming, San Jose State and Eastern Washington, while the Huskies kick off the season against Auburn in Atlanta—but Washington’s roster is built to play for a championship in quarterback Jake Browning’s final year of eligibility. Assuming one or both of these teams can beat Stanford, the Apple Cup should matter, and if one team is out of the running by late November, it can take solace in the fact that anything can happen on the Palouse.</p>
College Football Playoff Bracket Busters: Who Could Knock the Favorites From Football's Final Four?

With the deadline for submitting NCAA tournament brackets fast approaching, you probably have an idea which team (or teams) you’ll be penciling in as spoilers. St. Bonaventure? Davidson? Loyola-Chicago? One of the country’s top teams is bound see their title hopes dashed long before the Final Four, and those upsets often create the tournament’s lasting images.

In college football, we don’t get nearly as much sanctioned postseason mayhem, but there’s plenty of chaos involved as the field of College Football Playoff contenders narrows over the course of the fall, whether it’s a rusty early-season loss or a late-year stumble that looms large. Which overlooked teams are in position to foil the plans of playoff hopefuls in 2018, following in the footsteps of Iowa in 2017, Pitt in 2016, Northwestern in 2015 and West Virginia in 2014? With that in mind, we embarked on a search for potential playoff bracket–busting upsets this fall.

Appalachian State (vs. Penn State, Sept. 1)

For the past two seasons, Appalachian State has opened the season against a top-15 team: Georgia in 2017, Tennessee in 2016. The Mountaineers lost both matchups, but they scored more points on Georgia than four of the Bulldogs’ other 2017 opponents did and took the Vols to overtime. It will be the 11-year anniversary of the day App State (then playing in the FCS) knocked off No. 5 Michigan in Ann Arbor, but you don’t need to go back a decade to see why this game has opening-weekend upset potential.

Over the past three seasons under coach Scott Satterfield, Appalachian State has averaged 10 wins a year and gone 3–0 in bowl games, never finishing lower than second in the Sun Belt. Sure, its strength of schedule—apart from the annual top-25 matchup—leaves something to be desired, but Satterfield’s team is rarely trounced, and Penn State will still be negotiating its identity in a post-Saquon Barkley world.

Beaver Stadium would be enough to overwhelm many a lower-tier nonconference opponent, but since moving up from the FCS ranks in 2014, the Mountaineers have played at Michigan, Clemson, Tennessee and Georgia. They are no strangers to the most intimidating stadiums in college football, and stranger things have happened in Week 1 than a Sun Belt team upending a Big Ten opponent. A loss would leave Penn State a long road back to playoff contention. The Big Ten East has been known to cannibalize itself at the top, with Ohio State securing a playoff nod ahead of Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan in three out of four years of the playoff era, and all four teams expect to contend once again. Starting the year with a nonconference loss would all but guarantee Penn State would need to run the table against Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and cross-division opponent Wisconsin, which is almost certain to be the best team in the Big Ten West again next year.

Baylor (vs. TCU, Nov. 17)

A season ago, Baylor had its worst year this century—the last time the Bears finished with just one win was in 1999—but the Bears lost several close games along the way. By Pythagorean wins, which examine points scored and allowed to estimate the number of games a team should have won, Matt Rhule’s first team played to the level of a 3–9 team, which is hardly great but still sets the table for regression. For that reason, along with a 2018 recruiting class that landed among the top 30 in the 247Sports Composite rankings, it’s not hard to see Baylor as a potential Big 12 spoiler next fall. The Bears aren’t far enough into their rebuild to contend, but they are certainly far enough along to upend the conference race, as they nearly did when Oklahoma came to Waco last September.

TCU has won the past three meetings, and the Horned Frogs look like the Big 12’s best shot at a playoff spot outside of Norman. TCU’s schedule is tough, with a Sept. 15 home game against Ohio State (which could earn it some major points with the playoff committee) and a visit from Oklahoma on Oct. 20. By the end of the season, TCU could have little wiggle room to keep its playoff hopes alive, and Baylor could be easy to overlook with Oklahoma State the next weekend and the Big 12 title game the following Saturday.

Purdue (vs. Ohio State, Oct. 20; vs. Wisconsin, Nov. 17)

Purdue will have two realistic shots to play spoiler next fall, when the two teams that met in last year’s Big Ten title game come to West Lafayette. A season ago, Purdue went 7–6 with a Foster Farms Bowl win over Arizona that secured the Boilermakers’ best record since 2011. After improving from 1–8 in conference games in ’16 to 4–5 last year under new head coach Jeff Brohm, it’s reasonable for fans to expect another winning year even though the road to another bowl is even tougher.

Brohm has yet to face Ohio State, but Purdue put up a solid performance against Wisconsin in last season’s 17–9 loss in Madison. And as a rash of quarterback injuries held back the early returns of Brohm’s offensive overhaul, the Boilermakers found surprising success on the defensive side of the ball. With both David Blough (dislocated ankle) and Elijah Sindelar (torn ACL) set to return by the fall, it’s not unreasonable to expect Purdue’s offense to translate continuity into marked improvement on the side of the ball Brohm has specialized in throughout his career. A Boilermakers win in either of these games would likely knock the loser out of the playoff hunt.

South Carolina (vs. Georgia, Sept. 8; vs. Clemson, Nov. 24)

South Carolina was another pleasant surprise in 2017, improving to 9–4 from 6–7 the previous year and making it two bowl trips in two seasons under Will Muschamp. Although they may have an outside shot at sneaking into the SEC championship game, the Gamecocks won’t figure into the playoff conversation. They do, however, have two prime opportunities to play spoiler: their SEC opener against Georgia and their season finale against Clemson. Beating the Bulldogs would certainly put South Carolina in the SEC East driver’s seat, but it would also severely damage Georgia’s chances at back-to-back playoff berths, forcing the Bulldogs to be perfect the rest of the year—against a loaded slate that includes LSU and Auburn and (presumably) Alabama in the SEC title game, should it get that far—to have a shot.

Clemson, meanwhile, could very well be undefeated going into its regular-season finale against South Carolina. It travels to Texas A&M in Week 2, at which point the Aggies should still be settling in under new coach Jimbo Fisher. Losing to South Carolina so late in the season would be a bad look for Dabo Swinney’s team at a bad time, and if the Tigers enter Thanksgiving with a blemish on their record, their in-state rivals might have what it takes to finish them off.

Washington vs. Washington State (Nov. 23)

Both Washington and Washington State have taken playoff hopes into recent Apple Cups, but by the end of last season the Pac-12 North had played itself out of playoff contention. If one or both teams are still alive for the conference title or the playoff on Black Friday, the spoiler potential will be high in Pullman. Washington State has the easier path to this game—its nonconference opponents are Wyoming, San Jose State and Eastern Washington, while the Huskies kick off the season against Auburn in Atlanta—but Washington’s roster is built to play for a championship in quarterback Jake Browning’s final year of eligibility. Assuming one or both of these teams can beat Stanford, the Apple Cup should matter, and if one team is out of the running by late November, it can take solace in the fact that anything can happen on the Palouse.

Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl yells from the sidelines during the first half in an NCAA college basketball quarterfinal game against Alabama at the Southeastern Conference tournament Friday, March 9, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
No. 19 Auburn's Pearl back in tourney despite uncertain fate
Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl yells from the sidelines during the first half in an NCAA college basketball quarterfinal game against Alabama at the Southeastern Conference tournament Friday, March 9, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl yells from the sidelines during the first half in an NCAA college basketball quarterfinal game against Alabama at the Southeastern Conference tournament Friday, March 9, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl yells from the sidelines during the first half in an NCAA college basketball quarterfinal game against Alabama at the Southeastern Conference tournament Friday, March 9, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl yells from the sidelines during the first half in an NCAA college basketball quarterfinal game against Alabama at the Southeastern Conference tournament Friday, March 9, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
<p>Here’s some bad news for the people in your life who join the college basketball season during the second week of March, pick the top seeds to win almost every game and somehow walk away with office pool bragging rights: Most of 2017–18’s best teams have been exceptionally bad at sticking to the script. After a regular season that featured top-five upsets on a weekly basis and left almost every team with at least one truly head-scratching loss, chalk would qualify as a surprise outcome in this year’s NCAA tournament.</p><p>The three days between Selection Sunday and Round 1 coincide with a swell of public momentum in favor of the No. 11- and 12-seeds in best position to pull off opening weekend upsets, but that focus tends to distract from the upper-echelon teams that leave us genuinely stunned when they bow out before the end of the first weekend. If it were at all easy to see those losses coming, the favorites wouldn’t be seeded high enough to enable the matchup. Still, a handful of teams that earned top-four seeds in their respective regions reside in the Danger Zone, with some fatal flaw, nightmare matchup or bad karma looming that could thwart their Sweet 16 hopes.</p><p>They may not get bounced in the first round (at least not all of them), but think long and hard before hitching your wagon to any of these six squads for a deep March run.</p><h3><strong>Auburn (No. 4 seed, Midwest Region)</strong></h3><p>The Tigers limped to a share of the SEC title, losing three of their final five regular season games before falling victim to the Collin Sexton Show in their SEC tournament opener against Alabama. That put a damper on a campaign in which head coach Bruce Pearl lit up the SEC with a relentless, three-heavy offense run by a smallball lineup born out of the school’s decision to sideline sophomore frontcourt contributors Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley in the wake of the FBI’s findings against former assistant coach Chuck Person. When Anfernee McLemore, another sophomore forward, was lost for the year with a dislocated ankle in mid-February, that rotation got critically thin, putting the Tigers on level pegging with the undersized teams standing in their way.</p><p>Both College of Charleston, which took care of the ball better than anyone in the Colonial, and potential second-round opponent Clemson, which plays relentless interior defense despite not having a player over 6’9”, could stop the shorthanded Tigers short of a measuring-stick Sweet 16 game against top-seeded Kansas.</p><h3><strong>Arizona (No. 4 seed, South Region)</strong></h3><p>Super-freshman Deandre Ayton heads into the tournament on a high after raising his game to a terrifying level in the Pac-12 tournament, finishing with 32 points and double-digit rebounds in each of Arizona’s final two games. But with a piece of net tied to his hat, Ayton was comfortable enough to reveal that nerves factored into his quiet 10-point night in the Wildcats’ win over Colorado to start the tournament, an admission that highlights how risky it can be to bank on blue-chip freshmen driving the bus this time of year. Arizona opens with Buffalo, which sits seventh in the nation with 84.8 points per game and will be eager to try its hand at a Pac-12 track meet. The Bulls don’t have the size or talent to contain Ayton inside without some good fortune, but Kentucky (a potential second-round foe as the No. 5-seed) and Virginia (the No. 1 overall seed that could be waiting in the Sweet 16) do. Sean Miller’s group may be hotter than any other team listed here, but being dropped into a region where defense and toughness are expected to reign was a less-than-ideal outcome.</p><h3><strong>Michigan State (No. 3 seed, Midwest Region)</strong></h3><p>For a team that lost four times, stayed in the AP top 10 all year and has <a href="https://twitter.com/search?q=%22tom%20izzo%20in%20march%22&src=typd" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a coach whose consistency come tournament time remains a trusted meme" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a coach whose consistency come tournament time remains a trusted meme</a> despite two first-weekend exits in two years, Michigan State has not always inspired confidence in the past month. The Spartans have the third-best scoring margin in the nation (16.2 points) but had some close shaves late in Big Ten play—including dicey wins at home against Rutgers and at Indiana, Iowa, Northwestern and Wisconsin—and then couldn’t muster an adequate response when Michigan went on a second-half run in the Big Ten tourney semifinals.</p><p>The Spartans still rebound like crazy, shoot the three better than almost anyone in the country (they sit fifth in the nation at 41.3% from deep) and boast two lottery pick candidates in freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. and sophomore Miles Bridges, but they’ve landed a dangerous draw for a top seed that likes to play with its food. Up first is No. 14 seed Bucknell, which won the Patriot League by four games on the strength of an upperclassmen-rich rotation and pulled off back-to-back first-round wins in 2005 (Kansas) and ’06 (Arkansas). For all their flaws, potential second-round opponents TCU and Arizona State both spent time in the top 10 around the holidays. And a Champions Classic rematch with Duke looms in the Sweet Sixteen.</p><h3><strong>Texas Tech (No. 3 seed, East Region)</strong></h3><p>After grabbing everyone’s attention by knocking off Kansas in Lawrence and edging West Virginia when the Mountaineers were ranked No. 2, the Red Raiders came back to Earth down the stretch with a four-game losing streak to land a No. 3 seed and a date with 2016 tournament darlings Stephen F. Austin. Star senior Keenan Evans enters the tournament at less than 100% after mid-February turf toe issues, and Texas Tech’s ability to support its stellar defense with offensive production takes a big hit when Evans isn’t right. The Red Raiders do get to play their first two games in Dallas, just a five-hour drive away from home, but they will have to limit some tricky, streaky offenses to make it to Boston.</p><h3><strong>Xavier (No. 1 seed, West Region)</strong></h3><p>Why is everyone so down on the Musketeers, which <a href="https://twitter.com/SabinAnalytics/status/973036898523295744?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=http%3A%2F%2Fthespun.com%2Fcollege-hoops%2Fespn-bpi-xavier-4-seed" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:ESPN’s Basketball Power Index rates as the third-weakest 1-seed in the past 10 years" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">ESPN’s Basketball Power Index rates as the third-weakest 1-seed in the past 10 years</a>? One answer lies in <a href="https://kenpom.com/index.php?s=RankLuck" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Kenpom.com’s Luck metric" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Kenpom.com’s Luck metric</a>, where Xavier tops all power conference teams with a +.109 deviation from its expected winning percentage based on its game-to-game efficiencies. The Musketeers have won a handful of close games against lesser opponents that might have knocked them off the top line had any swung the other way: East Tennessee State, DePaul (twice), St. John’s and Georgetown all came within five points of an upset. Xavier may be getting the same treatment Gonzaga did when the Bulldogs finally started to earn No. 1- and 2-seeds, with skeptical onlookers watching closely to see how a perennial March overachiever handles front-runner status. A tricky second-round matchup with either Missouri or Florida State in Nashville should be an adequate litmus test.</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>Cincinnati (No. 2 seed, South Region)</strong></h3><p><a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/07/virginia-cavaliers-defense-ncaa-tournament-march-madness" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Much like the No. 1 seed in their region" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Much like the No. 1 seed in their region</a>, the Bearcats have ground their opponents down with defense and are more than comfortable playing plodding games in the 50s <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/game/1966135/box-score" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:(or lower)" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">(or lower)</a>, but if those shots stop falling through unfamiliar rims, their slow pace can keep lesser teams within striking distance longer than Mick Cronin would prefer. No. 15-seed Georgia State will hang out in a zone and dare Cincy’s backcourt to bury another first-round upset bid by colorful Panthers coach Ron Hunter, and if the Bearcats reach the second round their hardworking frontcourt could have its hands full on the glass with Texas’s Mo Bamba and Dylan Osetkowski or Nevada’s Martin twins, Cody and Caleb.</p>
Six Top-Seeded Teams in the Most Danger of Losing Early in the 2018 NCAA Tournament

Here’s some bad news for the people in your life who join the college basketball season during the second week of March, pick the top seeds to win almost every game and somehow walk away with office pool bragging rights: Most of 2017–18’s best teams have been exceptionally bad at sticking to the script. After a regular season that featured top-five upsets on a weekly basis and left almost every team with at least one truly head-scratching loss, chalk would qualify as a surprise outcome in this year’s NCAA tournament.

The three days between Selection Sunday and Round 1 coincide with a swell of public momentum in favor of the No. 11- and 12-seeds in best position to pull off opening weekend upsets, but that focus tends to distract from the upper-echelon teams that leave us genuinely stunned when they bow out before the end of the first weekend. If it were at all easy to see those losses coming, the favorites wouldn’t be seeded high enough to enable the matchup. Still, a handful of teams that earned top-four seeds in their respective regions reside in the Danger Zone, with some fatal flaw, nightmare matchup or bad karma looming that could thwart their Sweet 16 hopes.

They may not get bounced in the first round (at least not all of them), but think long and hard before hitching your wagon to any of these six squads for a deep March run.

Auburn (No. 4 seed, Midwest Region)

The Tigers limped to a share of the SEC title, losing three of their final five regular season games before falling victim to the Collin Sexton Show in their SEC tournament opener against Alabama. That put a damper on a campaign in which head coach Bruce Pearl lit up the SEC with a relentless, three-heavy offense run by a smallball lineup born out of the school’s decision to sideline sophomore frontcourt contributors Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley in the wake of the FBI’s findings against former assistant coach Chuck Person. When Anfernee McLemore, another sophomore forward, was lost for the year with a dislocated ankle in mid-February, that rotation got critically thin, putting the Tigers on level pegging with the undersized teams standing in their way.

Both College of Charleston, which took care of the ball better than anyone in the Colonial, and potential second-round opponent Clemson, which plays relentless interior defense despite not having a player over 6’9”, could stop the shorthanded Tigers short of a measuring-stick Sweet 16 game against top-seeded Kansas.

Arizona (No. 4 seed, South Region)

Super-freshman Deandre Ayton heads into the tournament on a high after raising his game to a terrifying level in the Pac-12 tournament, finishing with 32 points and double-digit rebounds in each of Arizona’s final two games. But with a piece of net tied to his hat, Ayton was comfortable enough to reveal that nerves factored into his quiet 10-point night in the Wildcats’ win over Colorado to start the tournament, an admission that highlights how risky it can be to bank on blue-chip freshmen driving the bus this time of year. Arizona opens with Buffalo, which sits seventh in the nation with 84.8 points per game and will be eager to try its hand at a Pac-12 track meet. The Bulls don’t have the size or talent to contain Ayton inside without some good fortune, but Kentucky (a potential second-round foe as the No. 5-seed) and Virginia (the No. 1 overall seed that could be waiting in the Sweet 16) do. Sean Miller’s group may be hotter than any other team listed here, but being dropped into a region where defense and toughness are expected to reign was a less-than-ideal outcome.

Michigan State (No. 3 seed, Midwest Region)

For a team that lost four times, stayed in the AP top 10 all year and has a coach whose consistency come tournament time remains a trusted meme despite two first-weekend exits in two years, Michigan State has not always inspired confidence in the past month. The Spartans have the third-best scoring margin in the nation (16.2 points) but had some close shaves late in Big Ten play—including dicey wins at home against Rutgers and at Indiana, Iowa, Northwestern and Wisconsin—and then couldn’t muster an adequate response when Michigan went on a second-half run in the Big Ten tourney semifinals.

The Spartans still rebound like crazy, shoot the three better than almost anyone in the country (they sit fifth in the nation at 41.3% from deep) and boast two lottery pick candidates in freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. and sophomore Miles Bridges, but they’ve landed a dangerous draw for a top seed that likes to play with its food. Up first is No. 14 seed Bucknell, which won the Patriot League by four games on the strength of an upperclassmen-rich rotation and pulled off back-to-back first-round wins in 2005 (Kansas) and ’06 (Arkansas). For all their flaws, potential second-round opponents TCU and Arizona State both spent time in the top 10 around the holidays. And a Champions Classic rematch with Duke looms in the Sweet Sixteen.

Texas Tech (No. 3 seed, East Region)

After grabbing everyone’s attention by knocking off Kansas in Lawrence and edging West Virginia when the Mountaineers were ranked No. 2, the Red Raiders came back to Earth down the stretch with a four-game losing streak to land a No. 3 seed and a date with 2016 tournament darlings Stephen F. Austin. Star senior Keenan Evans enters the tournament at less than 100% after mid-February turf toe issues, and Texas Tech’s ability to support its stellar defense with offensive production takes a big hit when Evans isn’t right. The Red Raiders do get to play their first two games in Dallas, just a five-hour drive away from home, but they will have to limit some tricky, streaky offenses to make it to Boston.

Xavier (No. 1 seed, West Region)

Why is everyone so down on the Musketeers, which ESPN’s Basketball Power Index rates as the third-weakest 1-seed in the past 10 years? One answer lies in Kenpom.com’s Luck metric, where Xavier tops all power conference teams with a +.109 deviation from its expected winning percentage based on its game-to-game efficiencies. The Musketeers have won a handful of close games against lesser opponents that might have knocked them off the top line had any swung the other way: East Tennessee State, DePaul (twice), St. John’s and Georgetown all came within five points of an upset. Xavier may be getting the same treatment Gonzaga did when the Bulldogs finally started to earn No. 1- and 2-seeds, with skeptical onlookers watching closely to see how a perennial March overachiever handles front-runner status. A tricky second-round matchup with either Missouri or Florida State in Nashville should be an adequate litmus test.

?

Cincinnati (No. 2 seed, South Region)

Much like the No. 1 seed in their region, the Bearcats have ground their opponents down with defense and are more than comfortable playing plodding games in the 50s (or lower), but if those shots stop falling through unfamiliar rims, their slow pace can keep lesser teams within striking distance longer than Mick Cronin would prefer. No. 15-seed Georgia State will hang out in a zone and dare Cincy’s backcourt to bury another first-round upset bid by colorful Panthers coach Ron Hunter, and if the Bearcats reach the second round their hardworking frontcourt could have its hands full on the glass with Texas’s Mo Bamba and Dylan Osetkowski or Nevada’s Martin twins, Cody and Caleb.

<p>Here’s some bad news for the people in your life who join the college basketball season during the second week of March, pick the top seeds to win almost every game and somehow walk away with office pool bragging rights: Most of 2017–18’s best teams have been exceptionally bad at sticking to the script. After a regular season that featured top-five upsets on a weekly basis and left almost every team with at least one truly head-scratching loss, chalk would qualify as a surprise outcome in this year’s NCAA tournament.</p><p>The three days between Selection Sunday and Round 1 coincide with a swell of public momentum in favor of the No. 11- and 12-seeds in best position to pull off opening weekend upsets, but that focus tends to distract from the upper-echelon teams that leave us genuinely stunned when they bow out before the end of the first weekend. If it were at all easy to see those losses coming, the favorites wouldn’t be seeded high enough to enable the matchup. Still, a handful of teams that earned top-four seeds in their respective regions reside in the Danger Zone, with some fatal flaw, nightmare matchup or bad karma looming that could thwart their Sweet 16 hopes.</p><p>They may not get bounced in the first round (at least not all of them), but think long and hard before hitching your wagon to any of these six squads for a deep March run.</p><h3><strong>Auburn (No. 4 seed, Midwest Region)</strong></h3><p>The Tigers limped to a share of the SEC title, losing three of their final five regular season games before falling victim to the Collin Sexton Show in their SEC tournament opener against Alabama. That put a damper on a campaign in which head coach Bruce Pearl lit up the SEC with a relentless, three-heavy offense run by a smallball lineup born out of the school’s decision to sideline sophomore frontcourt contributors Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley in the wake of the FBI’s findings against former assistant coach Chuck Person. When Anfernee McLemore, another sophomore forward, was lost for the year with a dislocated ankle in mid-February, that rotation got critically thin, putting the Tigers on level pegging with the undersized teams standing in their way.</p><p>Both College of Charleston, which took care of the ball better than anyone in the Colonial, and potential second-round opponent Clemson, which plays relentless interior defense despite not having a player over 6’9”, could stop the shorthanded Tigers short of a measuring-stick Sweet 16 game against top-seeded Kansas.</p><h3><strong>Arizona (No. 4 seed, South Region)</strong></h3><p>Super-freshman Deandre Ayton heads into the tournament on a high after raising his game to a terrifying level in the Pac-12 tournament, finishing with 32 points and double-digit rebounds in each of Arizona’s final two games. But with a piece of net tied to his hat, Ayton was comfortable enough to reveal that nerves factored into his quiet 10-point night in the Wildcats’ win over Colorado to start the tournament, an admission that highlights how risky it can be to bank on blue-chip freshmen driving the bus this time of year. Arizona opens with Buffalo, which sits seventh in the nation with 84.8 points per game and will be eager to try its hand at a Pac-12 track meet. The Bulls don’t have the size or talent to contain Ayton inside without some good fortune, but Kentucky (a potential second-round foe as the No. 5-seed) and Virginia (the No. 1 overall seed that could be waiting in the Sweet 16) do. Sean Miller’s group may be hotter than any other team listed here, but being dropped into a region where defense and toughness are expected to reign was a less-than-ideal outcome.</p><h3><strong>Michigan State (No. 3 seed, Midwest Region)</strong></h3><p>For a team that lost four times, stayed in the AP top 10 all year and has <a href="https://twitter.com/search?q=%22tom%20izzo%20in%20march%22&src=typd" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a coach whose consistency come tournament time remains a trusted meme" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a coach whose consistency come tournament time remains a trusted meme</a> despite two first-weekend exits in two years, Michigan State has not always inspired confidence in the past month. The Spartans have the third-best scoring margin in the nation (16.2 points) but had some close shaves late in Big Ten play—including dicey wins at home against Rutgers and at Indiana, Iowa, Northwestern and Wisconsin—and then couldn’t muster an adequate response when Michigan went on a second-half run in the Big Ten tourney semifinals.</p><p>The Spartans still rebound like crazy, shoot the three better than almost anyone in the country (they sit fifth in the nation at 41.3% from deep) and boast two lottery pick candidates in freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. and sophomore Miles Bridges, but they’ve landed a dangerous draw for a top seed that likes to play with its food. Up first is No. 14 seed Bucknell, which won the Patriot League by four games on the strength of an upperclassmen-rich rotation and pulled off back-to-back first-round wins in 2005 (Kansas) and ’06 (Arkansas). For all their flaws, potential second-round opponents TCU and Arizona State both spent time in the top 10 around the holidays. And a Champions Classic rematch with Duke looms in the Sweet Sixteen.</p><h3><strong>Texas Tech (No. 3 seed, East Region)</strong></h3><p>After grabbing everyone’s attention by knocking off Kansas in Lawrence and edging West Virginia when the Mountaineers were ranked No. 2, the Red Raiders came back to Earth down the stretch with a four-game losing streak to land a No. 3 seed and a date with 2016 tournament darlings Stephen F. Austin. Star senior Keenan Evans enters the tournament at less than 100% after mid-February turf toe issues, and Texas Tech’s ability to support its stellar defense with offensive production takes a big hit when Evans isn’t right. The Red Raiders do get to play their first two games in Dallas, just a five-hour drive away from home, but they will have to limit some tricky, streaky offenses to make it to Boston.</p><h3><strong>Xavier (No. 1 seed, West Region)</strong></h3><p>Why is everyone so down on the Musketeers, which <a href="https://twitter.com/SabinAnalytics/status/973036898523295744?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=http%3A%2F%2Fthespun.com%2Fcollege-hoops%2Fespn-bpi-xavier-4-seed" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:ESPN’s Basketball Power Index rates as the third-weakest 1-seed in the past 10 years" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">ESPN’s Basketball Power Index rates as the third-weakest 1-seed in the past 10 years</a>? One answer lies in <a href="https://kenpom.com/index.php?s=RankLuck" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Kenpom.com’s Luck metric" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Kenpom.com’s Luck metric</a>, where Xavier tops all power conference teams with a +.109 deviation from its expected winning percentage based on its game-to-game efficiencies. The Musketeers have won a handful of close games against lesser opponents that might have knocked them off the top line had any swung the other way: East Tennessee State, DePaul (twice), St. John’s and Georgetown all came within five points of an upset. Xavier may be getting the same treatment Gonzaga did when the Bulldogs finally started to earn No. 1- and 2-seeds, with skeptical onlookers watching closely to see how a perennial March overachiever handles front-runner status. A tricky second-round matchup with either Missouri or Florida State in Nashville should be an adequate litmus test.</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>Cincinnati (No. 2 seed, South Region)</strong></h3><p><a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/07/virginia-cavaliers-defense-ncaa-tournament-march-madness" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Much like the No. 1 seed in their region" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Much like the No. 1 seed in their region</a>, the Bearcats have ground their opponents down with defense and are more than comfortable playing plodding games in the 50s <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/game/1966135/box-score" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:(or lower)" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">(or lower)</a>, but if those shots stop falling through unfamiliar rims, their slow pace can keep lesser teams within striking distance longer than Mick Cronin would prefer. No. 15-seed Georgia State will hang out in a zone and dare Cincy’s backcourt to bury another first-round upset bid by colorful Panthers coach Ron Hunter, and if the Bearcats reach the second round their hardworking frontcourt could have its hands full on the glass with Texas’s Mo Bamba and Dylan Osetkowski or Nevada’s Martin twins, Cody and Caleb.</p>
Six Top-Seeded Teams in the Most Danger of Losing Early in the 2018 NCAA Tournament

Here’s some bad news for the people in your life who join the college basketball season during the second week of March, pick the top seeds to win almost every game and somehow walk away with office pool bragging rights: Most of 2017–18’s best teams have been exceptionally bad at sticking to the script. After a regular season that featured top-five upsets on a weekly basis and left almost every team with at least one truly head-scratching loss, chalk would qualify as a surprise outcome in this year’s NCAA tournament.

The three days between Selection Sunday and Round 1 coincide with a swell of public momentum in favor of the No. 11- and 12-seeds in best position to pull off opening weekend upsets, but that focus tends to distract from the upper-echelon teams that leave us genuinely stunned when they bow out before the end of the first weekend. If it were at all easy to see those losses coming, the favorites wouldn’t be seeded high enough to enable the matchup. Still, a handful of teams that earned top-four seeds in their respective regions reside in the Danger Zone, with some fatal flaw, nightmare matchup or bad karma looming that could thwart their Sweet 16 hopes.

They may not get bounced in the first round (at least not all of them), but think long and hard before hitching your wagon to any of these six squads for a deep March run.

Auburn (No. 4 seed, Midwest Region)

The Tigers limped to a share of the SEC title, losing three of their final five regular season games before falling victim to the Collin Sexton Show in their SEC tournament opener against Alabama. That put a damper on a campaign in which head coach Bruce Pearl lit up the SEC with a relentless, three-heavy offense run by a smallball lineup born out of the school’s decision to sideline sophomore frontcourt contributors Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley in the wake of the FBI’s findings against former assistant coach Chuck Person. When Anfernee McLemore, another sophomore forward, was lost for the year with a dislocated ankle in mid-February, that rotation got critically thin, putting the Tigers on level pegging with the undersized teams standing in their way.

Both College of Charleston, which took care of the ball better than anyone in the Colonial, and potential second-round opponent Clemson, which plays relentless interior defense despite not having a player over 6’9”, could stop the shorthanded Tigers short of a measuring-stick Sweet 16 game against top-seeded Kansas.

Arizona (No. 4 seed, South Region)

Super-freshman Deandre Ayton heads into the tournament on a high after raising his game to a terrifying level in the Pac-12 tournament, finishing with 32 points and double-digit rebounds in each of Arizona’s final two games. But with a piece of net tied to his hat, Ayton was comfortable enough to reveal that nerves factored into his quiet 10-point night in the Wildcats’ win over Colorado to start the tournament, an admission that highlights how risky it can be to bank on blue-chip freshmen driving the bus this time of year. Arizona opens with Buffalo, which sits seventh in the nation with 84.8 points per game and will be eager to try its hand at a Pac-12 track meet. The Bulls don’t have the size or talent to contain Ayton inside without some good fortune, but Kentucky (a potential second-round foe as the No. 5-seed) and Virginia (the No. 1 overall seed that could be waiting in the Sweet 16) do. Sean Miller’s group may be hotter than any other team listed here, but being dropped into a region where defense and toughness are expected to reign was a less-than-ideal outcome.

Michigan State (No. 3 seed, Midwest Region)

For a team that lost four times, stayed in the AP top 10 all year and has a coach whose consistency come tournament time remains a trusted meme despite two first-weekend exits in two years, Michigan State has not always inspired confidence in the past month. The Spartans have the third-best scoring margin in the nation (16.2 points) but had some close shaves late in Big Ten play—including dicey wins at home against Rutgers and at Indiana, Iowa, Northwestern and Wisconsin—and then couldn’t muster an adequate response when Michigan went on a second-half run in the Big Ten tourney semifinals.

The Spartans still rebound like crazy, shoot the three better than almost anyone in the country (they sit fifth in the nation at 41.3% from deep) and boast two lottery pick candidates in freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. and sophomore Miles Bridges, but they’ve landed a dangerous draw for a top seed that likes to play with its food. Up first is No. 14 seed Bucknell, which won the Patriot League by four games on the strength of an upperclassmen-rich rotation and pulled off back-to-back first-round wins in 2005 (Kansas) and ’06 (Arkansas). For all their flaws, potential second-round opponents TCU and Arizona State both spent time in the top 10 around the holidays. And a Champions Classic rematch with Duke looms in the Sweet Sixteen.

Texas Tech (No. 3 seed, East Region)

After grabbing everyone’s attention by knocking off Kansas in Lawrence and edging West Virginia when the Mountaineers were ranked No. 2, the Red Raiders came back to Earth down the stretch with a four-game losing streak to land a No. 3 seed and a date with 2016 tournament darlings Stephen F. Austin. Star senior Keenan Evans enters the tournament at less than 100% after mid-February turf toe issues, and Texas Tech’s ability to support its stellar defense with offensive production takes a big hit when Evans isn’t right. The Red Raiders do get to play their first two games in Dallas, just a five-hour drive away from home, but they will have to limit some tricky, streaky offenses to make it to Boston.

Xavier (No. 1 seed, West Region)

Why is everyone so down on the Musketeers, which ESPN’s Basketball Power Index rates as the third-weakest 1-seed in the past 10 years? One answer lies in Kenpom.com’s Luck metric, where Xavier tops all power conference teams with a +.109 deviation from its expected winning percentage based on its game-to-game efficiencies. The Musketeers have won a handful of close games against lesser opponents that might have knocked them off the top line had any swung the other way: East Tennessee State, DePaul (twice), St. John’s and Georgetown all came within five points of an upset. Xavier may be getting the same treatment Gonzaga did when the Bulldogs finally started to earn No. 1- and 2-seeds, with skeptical onlookers watching closely to see how a perennial March overachiever handles front-runner status. A tricky second-round matchup with either Missouri or Florida State in Nashville should be an adequate litmus test.

?

Cincinnati (No. 2 seed, South Region)

Much like the No. 1 seed in their region, the Bearcats have ground their opponents down with defense and are more than comfortable playing plodding games in the 50s (or lower), but if those shots stop falling through unfamiliar rims, their slow pace can keep lesser teams within striking distance longer than Mick Cronin would prefer. No. 15-seed Georgia State will hang out in a zone and dare Cincy’s backcourt to bury another first-round upset bid by colorful Panthers coach Ron Hunter, and if the Bearcats reach the second round their hardworking frontcourt could have its hands full on the glass with Texas’s Mo Bamba and Dylan Osetkowski or Nevada’s Martin twins, Cody and Caleb.

<p>Whether you’re an NBA fan stumbling blindly into March Madness or a college diehard wondering about your favorite player’s pro outlook, The Crossover’s Front Office has you covered. On Monday, we broke down <a href="https://protect-us.mimecast.com/s/PQVjC2kXkDTn7WDqu9b1XR?domain=si.com" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the prospect to watch on all 68 teams" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the prospect to watch on all 68 teams</a>. Today, we’re looking at matchups, analyzing draft stocks and circling the games we’d love to see. </p><p>This is your guide to scouting March Madness, from an NBA draft perspective.</p><h3>SOUTH REGION</h3><p><em>Chock-full of juicy potential matchups, the South features the presumptive No. 1 draft pick (DeAndre Ayton), another top-five pick (Mo Bamba), the nation’s top defense (Virginia), second-best defense (Cincinnati) and fifth-best defense (Tennessee), another lottery hopeful (Lonnie Walker)…and Kentucky.</em></p><p><strong>First–Round Game to Watch: Nevada (7) vs. Texas (10)</strong></p><p>Nevada has a high-powered offense led by talented twins Caleb and Cody Martin. Texas has a terrific defense led by a likely top-five draft pick in Mo Bamba, who may or may not be healthy (and doesn’t always play as hard as you’d like) but can erase essentially every good look around the rim if he wants to. The Wolf Pack start four rangy 6’7” players, but their tallest guy is 6’8”, and their rotation has been thinned by injuries. If Bamba, he of the 7’9” wingspan and 9’6” standing reach, is at his best, he’s fully capable of swinging this game and making Cincinnati sweat in the second round, too. Keep an eye on hyper-athletic Texas guard Kerwin Roach and Nevada’s lanky shooting specialist Kendall Stephens. If you’ve got a keen eye, you might be able to tell the Martin twins apart by the end of this thing. </p><p><strong>Second–Round Game We Want: Arizona (4) vs. Kentucky (5)</strong></p><p>Everyone is drooling over this game, except the scouts who have to physically go to Boise to witness it. Both sets of Wildcats have tough first-round opponents, one of them (12-seed Davidson) also being Wildcats, but if the chalk holds, this is one of the juiciest matchups of the entire first weekend (and maybe the tournament on whole).</p><p>From both present and future standpoints, Deandre Ayton is the most intriguing player in the entire tournament. The 7’1” behemoth freshman cut a fiery swath through the Pac-12 tournament last week, catching lobs, draining jumpers and looking completely unguardable. Rawle Alkins supplies the glue on the wing. And if Allonzo Trier gets hot from outside, it’ll either push the Wildcats over the hump or mean nobody else touches the ball all game (or, maybe both).</p><p>Kentucky will counter with a vast array of long frontcourt players (all of whom get five fouls to use on Ayton) and rely on freshmen Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox, to supply the scoring. This set of Wildcats should be feeling great about themselves after rolling through the SEC tourney, and as usual, basically everyone on John Calipari’s team is a prospect on some level. Whoever wins gets to (presumably) go get strangled by Virginia’s top-ranked defense in the Sweet 16. Which brings us to…</p><p><strong>Optimal Sweet 16: Virginia-Arizona, Miami-Texas</strong></p><p>Neither Miami nor Texas is a seed favorite in their respective pod, and they’ll be hard-pressed to punch tickets to Atlanta. For our purposes, extra games from lottery talents Lonnie Walker and Bamba would be gravy. More importantly, watching Ayton try and demolish Virginia’s vaunted pack-line scheme could be the stuff of legend. The disciplined Cavaliers (who have a nice prospect in versatile forward De’Andre Hunter) will be favorites. But if Arizona can knock off the No. 1 seed, it’ll be in great position to win the region. How do we replace “One Shining Moment” with <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NttlPwNKd_M" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:“Feds Watching?”" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">“Feds Watching?”</a></p><p><strong>Most to Gain: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky</strong></p><p>Dating back to Kentucky’s Feb. 20 win over Arkansas, the Wildcats are 6–1. Over those games, Gilgeous-Alexander’s averages are as follows: 18.4 points, 7.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.4 turnovers on 52% shooting, while making 9 of 18 threes and 82.6% of his free throws. He’s evolved from the timid-looking ball-handler we saw in November and is now the only player on the Wildcats who seems to know where he’s going on the floor 100% of the time. He’s a crafty finisher and instinctive on-ball defender, with great size for his position. Gilgeous-Alexander’s massive strides haven’t gone unnoticed by NBA teams (“He’s really helping himself,” one scout old me last week). The 19-year-old starting to push toward late-lottery position, and might be Kentucky’s best prospect. This tourney is another big platform for him.</p><p><strong>Sleeper to Follow: D’Marcus Simonds, G, Georgia State</strong></p><p>If there’s a 15-seed upset worth poring over, it might be Cincinnati and Georgia State. Part of that is Cincy’s offensive shortcomings, but another big reason is Simonds, a sophomore guard who runs hot and cold, but can be a huge factor when he’s locked in. He scored 27 points to sink a good UT-Arlington team and get the Panthers into the tourney, and his blend of athleticism and playmaking ability makes the whole team go (he uses a whopping 35.7% of their possessions while on the court). He needs another year or two of school, but Simonds is a legit talent worthy of your attention.</p><h3>EAST REGION</h3><p><em>Here is a list of the point guards in the East region: Jalen Brunson (Villanova), Carsen Edwards (Purdue), Keenan Evans (Texas Tech), Landry Shamet (Wichita State), Jevon Carter (West Virginia), Chris Chiozza (Florida), Jaylen Barford (Arkansas), Justin Robinson (Virginia Tech), Collin Sexton (Alabama), Kamar Baldwin (Butler), Aaron Holiday (UCLA) and Jaylen Adams (St. Bonaventure). Enough said.</em></p><p><strong>First–Round Game to Watch: Florida (6) vs. St. Bonaventure/UCLA (11)</strong></p><p>No matter who wins the 11-seed play-in, this game should be high-scoring and feature some quality talent. The Gators love to launch threes, and are led by second-round prospect Jalen Hudson and rock-solid senior point guard Chris Chiozza. Whichever team they draw, there will be a solid backcourt matchup: UCLA’s Aaron Holiday and St. Bonaventure’s Jaylen Adams are both gifted scorers and playmakers with NBA potential. The Bruins also have freshmen Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, both of whom are unfinished products but plenty talented. Expect high point totals and a degree of unpredictability.</p><p><strong>Second–Round Game We Want: Villanova (1) vs. Alabama (9)</strong></p><p>Villanova is on this year’s shortlist of true title contenders, led by two soon-to-be draft picks in Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson. The Big East champs are rolling and will be heavily favored, which makes things juicy should they run into the Crimson Tide and wrecking-ball point guard Collin Sexton. Although there’s a bit of an overwrought narrative surrounding Sexton’s intangibles as a competitor, he’s been on a mission of late and has a chance to be the first guard drafted in June. Alabama is arguably the most talented team in the SEC, with Herbert Jones, Donta Hall, John Petty and Dazon Ingram all of interest. If they get past Virginia Tech, this matchup is can’t miss.</p><p>Expect Sexton to spend much of the game harassing Brunson, and in turn, Villanova can throw a variety of defenders at him including lanky shutdown specialist Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo, a tough combo guard who’s also on the NBA radar. Bridges has evolved into a quality scorer on all three levels, and while he’s not a great shot creator, playing off of Brunson (who’s in the mix as a Top 40 pick) makes life easy. Villanova has an edge when it comes to experience and should pull this out (particularly playing in Pittsburgh), but it’s far from an easy draw. </p><p><strong>Optimal Sweet 16: Villanova-West Virginia, Purdue-UCLA</strong></p><p>Watching Villanova deal with West Virginia’s all-out pressure would be fascinating, particularly given the head-to-head matchup between Brunson and the Mountaineers’ Jevon Carter, arguably the best defensive guard in college hoops. That game would be an exercise in discipline and tempo between two well-drilled groups, with one X-Factor being West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate, an elite, effortless shot-blocker. UCLA has the size and personnel to hang with Purdue, and Aaron Holiday and Carsen Edwards are two of the most potent scoring guards in the tourney.</p><p><strong>Most to Gain: Jevon Carter, G, West Virginia</strong></p><p>As we mentioned, the East is chock-full of great guards, and for Carter, a senior who’s a projected second-rounder, it could be a proving ground. He’s an elite, tenacious on-ball defender and will have a chance to solidify himself as a specialist worth a hard look. He could see Landry Shamet in the second round and Jalen Brunson or Collin Sexton in the Sweet 16, scenarios that are well within West Virginia’s reach. If Carter continues to look like a legitimate shutdown guy, the opportunity to grow his stock is significant.</p><p><strong>Sleeper to Follow: Jaylen Adams, G, St. Bonaventure</strong></p><p>Adams is one of the lesser-known talents in this region, but a prospect NBA teams are well aware of, helping the Bonnies to an at-large bid and posting a career-best 45% three-point clip coupled with a 29.4% assist rate. He’s not overly big or strong, but he’s a gutsy, experienced playmaker who’s good enough to help play spoiler. Adams can really help his case as a draft pick this week, especially given the opposition already noted above.</p><h3>MIDWEST REGION</h3><p><em>Three traditional blue bloods headline the Midwest, and it’s hard to see anyone other than Kansas, Duke and Michigan State making it out. Consider the talent on those teams and the fact that Trae Young’s one-and-done saga comes to a head here, and you’ve got more than enough drama.</em></p><p><strong>First–Round Game to Watch: Rhode Island (7) vs. Oklahoma (10)</strong></p><p>The very first game of the first round looks like appointment viewing. Oklahoma sneaking into the tournament was a surprise to many, and the Sooners’ late-season slump correlates directly with their reliance on Trae Young and his fall back to earth. From the outset, his absurd scoring numbers were unsustainable, and in an especially tough Big 12, opponents began to key on him heavily and take advantage. Some scouts think Young has disengaged a bit, and while there’s no guarantee Oklahoma wins a game, he’s certainly capable of catching fire and throwing a wrench into teams’ plans. Rhode Island has a trio of nice guards in Jared Terrell, Jeff Dowtin and E.C. Matthews, and excels at forcing turnovers. It’ll be a stiff test for Young, who’s no lock to be the first guard drafted.</p><p><strong>Second–Round Game We Want: Duke vs. Oklahoma</strong></p><p>Apologies for beating the Trae Young drum even harder, but this is the obvious potential first-weekend spotlight game. You imagine he’ll come prepared given the chance to take out Duke, with a pair of Top-10 big men in Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter and the backcourt duo of Grayson Allen and Trevon Duval. The Blue Devils play a lot of 2-3 zone, which will likely mean open threes for Young, which means this could get interesting. Plus, the thought of Young and Allen interacting on the court in any way has potential to break Twitter.</p><p>It’s unclear if Oklahoma has the horses or the creativity to whip itself into prime shape, but getting to see Young in another high-stakes environment would be a treat. When Duke is in sync, they’re as tough a team to guard as you’ll find, using the versatile skill sets of Carter and Bagley to overwhelm the opposition while Allen finds space to launch threes. This game may not actually be that close, but it sure puts whole lot of talent on one court.</p><p>?</p><p><strong>Optimal Sweet 16: Kansas-Auburn, Duke-Michigan State</strong></p><p>As usual, Kansas has a host of potential NBA players led by Devonte Graham (although there’s no can’t-miss talent on this year’s roster). Auburn’s pod is perhaps the least interesting in the whole bracket from a draft perspective, but the Tigers play a deep rotation and have guys who will get hard looks from the NBA in time (there are no seniors in their rotation). The other side is a different story: between Duke and Michigan State, there are seven guys with a chance at the first round, headlined by Bagley, Carter, Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson. This is a convenient segue into the next section.</p><p><strong>Most to Gain: Jaren Jackson Jr., F/C, Michigan State</strong></p><p>Jackson’s draft stock skyrocketed over the course of the season and he has a chance to be a top-five pick, but his recent play has been uninspired. He was plagued by foul trouble during the Big Ten tournament and still has some issues consistently imposing himself on games, despite his high-end defensive versatility and growing offensive skill set. It’s less a knock on him than a byproduct of his age — he’s one of the youngest players in college basketball and needs to mature physically and mentally. With that noted, he’s certainly good enough to turn it on and help anchor a Final Four run, and if the Spartans draw Duke, Jackson could be playing head-to-head with Marvin Bagley for draft position. His draft floor is safe, but Jackson’s play in March could elevate his ceiling — and lead Michigan State to a title.</p><p><strong>Sleeper to Follow: Kenrich Williams, F, TCU</strong></p><p>We’ve written a good bit about Williams, who despite his advanced age is a Top-60 prospect in our rankings. He’s kept a relatively low draft profile, but NBA teams are keen on his versatility and impressive grasp of the floor. Williams is a terrific rebounder and passer, has the size to defend both forward spots and doesn’t have to score to impact the game. He’s also a 40% three-point shooter. He may not get drafted, but it should be no surprise if he winds up on a roster going into next season.</p><p>?</p><h3>WEST REGION</h3><p><em>There’s less high-end NBA talent in the West, but there are a bunch of legitimately good teams, great coaches, and some sneaky prospects. Plus, Michael Porter Jr.’s health is a massive wild card.</em></p><p><strong>First–Round Game to Watch: Ohio State vs. South Dakota State</strong></p><p>Buckeyes forward Keita-Bates Diop and Jackrabbits big man Mike Daum were two of the more prolific inside-out scorers in college hoops this season, and make this a fun matchup. South Dakota State is great at limiting mistakes and generating open threes, funneling more than a third of their shots through Daum, a 6’9” post who can be a load for anyone to deal with. Bates-Diop has been fully maximized by Ohio State in Chris Holtmann’s first season and is his team’s only go-to scorer, playing his way into the second round mix (and maybe the first) with a terrific season.</p><p><strong>Second–Round Game We Want: North Carolina vs. Texas A&M</strong></p><p>Texas A&M has been wildly inconsistent all season, and it’s unclear if they’ll even win a game here. But if the Aggies knock off Providence, their massive frontcourt could make the Tar Heels sweat, the chief threat being potential late-lottery selection Robert Williams. North Carolina is experienced, tough as nails and greater than the sum of its parts, but in this matchup would likely lean on two freshmen, Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley, to combat Williams and Tyler Davis. </p><p>For Williams, the big question is his motor, as he checks in and out of games mentally when he could be dominating the glass and ducking into space for easy dunks. Engineering an upset and putting together a monster performance or two could be somewhat redeeming given the circumstances. Teammate D.J. Hogg is a terrific shooter with size, and UNC’s trio of Joel Berry, Theo Pinson and Luke Maye all still have plenty to prove. The Heels should handle business in this scenario, but A&M’s best — though fleeting — can flip the script.</p><p><strong>Optimal Sweet 16: Gonzaga-Missouri, North Carolina-Michigan </strong></p><p>Apologies to Xavier, but if Michael Porter is healthy and firing from three, he’s the guy scouts want to see deep in the tournament. His younger brother Jontay, an impeccably skilled big, has become a fascinating prospect of his own. Pitting them against Gonzaga’s red-hot Killian Tillie and powerful slasher Rui Hachimura is prime territory. Carolina and Michigan don’t have elite prospects, but their guys all have plenty to play for, particularly draft hopeful Moritz Wagner.</p><p><strong>Most to Gain: Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri</strong></p><p>Conversely, Porter might have the most to lose: if he continues to look a step slow or re-injures himself in any way, he’ll enter draft workouts with more questions surrounding his stock than answers. That said, beyond getting hurt, nothing can damn his chances to the point where he can’t address the issues in private workouts. In the scenario where Porter looks like his old self and/or leads a surprise tournament run, he’ll add to his résumé as an elite prospect. We’ll all have to tune in to find out.</p><p><strong>Sleeper to Follow: Malik Pope, F, San Diego State</strong></p><p>The Aztecs are one of the hottest teams in the tournament, chalking up nine games in a row and an auto-bid thanks to quality defense. Pope, a versatile 6’11” big, is their top pro prospect. While he’s battled injuries and has never quite delivered on his promise, he can shoot jumpers, attack the glass and bother opponents with his length. There are no guarantees here, but Pope is a legitimate NBA prospect, and a second-round matchup with Michigan and Moritz Wagner would be worth the watch.</p><p><em>Read SI’s expert bracket analysis <a href="https://protect-us.mimecast.com/s/kq9bC4x2xGsLrEwNsjNSQq?domain=si.com" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:here" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">here</a>, and click <a href="https://protect-us.mimecast.com/s/MKOHC5yMyKhqA3rmuldnh1?domain=si.com" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:here" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">here</a> to find our bracket picks.</em></p>
The NBA Draft Lover’s Guide to the 2018 NCAA Tournament

Whether you’re an NBA fan stumbling blindly into March Madness or a college diehard wondering about your favorite player’s pro outlook, The Crossover’s Front Office has you covered. On Monday, we broke down the prospect to watch on all 68 teams. Today, we’re looking at matchups, analyzing draft stocks and circling the games we’d love to see.

This is your guide to scouting March Madness, from an NBA draft perspective.

SOUTH REGION

Chock-full of juicy potential matchups, the South features the presumptive No. 1 draft pick (DeAndre Ayton), another top-five pick (Mo Bamba), the nation’s top defense (Virginia), second-best defense (Cincinnati) and fifth-best defense (Tennessee), another lottery hopeful (Lonnie Walker)…and Kentucky.

First–Round Game to Watch: Nevada (7) vs. Texas (10)

Nevada has a high-powered offense led by talented twins Caleb and Cody Martin. Texas has a terrific defense led by a likely top-five draft pick in Mo Bamba, who may or may not be healthy (and doesn’t always play as hard as you’d like) but can erase essentially every good look around the rim if he wants to. The Wolf Pack start four rangy 6’7” players, but their tallest guy is 6’8”, and their rotation has been thinned by injuries. If Bamba, he of the 7’9” wingspan and 9’6” standing reach, is at his best, he’s fully capable of swinging this game and making Cincinnati sweat in the second round, too. Keep an eye on hyper-athletic Texas guard Kerwin Roach and Nevada’s lanky shooting specialist Kendall Stephens. If you’ve got a keen eye, you might be able to tell the Martin twins apart by the end of this thing.

Second–Round Game We Want: Arizona (4) vs. Kentucky (5)

Everyone is drooling over this game, except the scouts who have to physically go to Boise to witness it. Both sets of Wildcats have tough first-round opponents, one of them (12-seed Davidson) also being Wildcats, but if the chalk holds, this is one of the juiciest matchups of the entire first weekend (and maybe the tournament on whole).

From both present and future standpoints, Deandre Ayton is the most intriguing player in the entire tournament. The 7’1” behemoth freshman cut a fiery swath through the Pac-12 tournament last week, catching lobs, draining jumpers and looking completely unguardable. Rawle Alkins supplies the glue on the wing. And if Allonzo Trier gets hot from outside, it’ll either push the Wildcats over the hump or mean nobody else touches the ball all game (or, maybe both).

Kentucky will counter with a vast array of long frontcourt players (all of whom get five fouls to use on Ayton) and rely on freshmen Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox, to supply the scoring. This set of Wildcats should be feeling great about themselves after rolling through the SEC tourney, and as usual, basically everyone on John Calipari’s team is a prospect on some level. Whoever wins gets to (presumably) go get strangled by Virginia’s top-ranked defense in the Sweet 16. Which brings us to…

Optimal Sweet 16: Virginia-Arizona, Miami-Texas

Neither Miami nor Texas is a seed favorite in their respective pod, and they’ll be hard-pressed to punch tickets to Atlanta. For our purposes, extra games from lottery talents Lonnie Walker and Bamba would be gravy. More importantly, watching Ayton try and demolish Virginia’s vaunted pack-line scheme could be the stuff of legend. The disciplined Cavaliers (who have a nice prospect in versatile forward De’Andre Hunter) will be favorites. But if Arizona can knock off the No. 1 seed, it’ll be in great position to win the region. How do we replace “One Shining Moment” with “Feds Watching?”

Most to Gain: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky

Dating back to Kentucky’s Feb. 20 win over Arkansas, the Wildcats are 6–1. Over those games, Gilgeous-Alexander’s averages are as follows: 18.4 points, 7.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.4 turnovers on 52% shooting, while making 9 of 18 threes and 82.6% of his free throws. He’s evolved from the timid-looking ball-handler we saw in November and is now the only player on the Wildcats who seems to know where he’s going on the floor 100% of the time. He’s a crafty finisher and instinctive on-ball defender, with great size for his position. Gilgeous-Alexander’s massive strides haven’t gone unnoticed by NBA teams (“He’s really helping himself,” one scout old me last week). The 19-year-old starting to push toward late-lottery position, and might be Kentucky’s best prospect. This tourney is another big platform for him.

Sleeper to Follow: D’Marcus Simonds, G, Georgia State

If there’s a 15-seed upset worth poring over, it might be Cincinnati and Georgia State. Part of that is Cincy’s offensive shortcomings, but another big reason is Simonds, a sophomore guard who runs hot and cold, but can be a huge factor when he’s locked in. He scored 27 points to sink a good UT-Arlington team and get the Panthers into the tourney, and his blend of athleticism and playmaking ability makes the whole team go (he uses a whopping 35.7% of their possessions while on the court). He needs another year or two of school, but Simonds is a legit talent worthy of your attention.

EAST REGION

Here is a list of the point guards in the East region: Jalen Brunson (Villanova), Carsen Edwards (Purdue), Keenan Evans (Texas Tech), Landry Shamet (Wichita State), Jevon Carter (West Virginia), Chris Chiozza (Florida), Jaylen Barford (Arkansas), Justin Robinson (Virginia Tech), Collin Sexton (Alabama), Kamar Baldwin (Butler), Aaron Holiday (UCLA) and Jaylen Adams (St. Bonaventure). Enough said.

First–Round Game to Watch: Florida (6) vs. St. Bonaventure/UCLA (11)

No matter who wins the 11-seed play-in, this game should be high-scoring and feature some quality talent. The Gators love to launch threes, and are led by second-round prospect Jalen Hudson and rock-solid senior point guard Chris Chiozza. Whichever team they draw, there will be a solid backcourt matchup: UCLA’s Aaron Holiday and St. Bonaventure’s Jaylen Adams are both gifted scorers and playmakers with NBA potential. The Bruins also have freshmen Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, both of whom are unfinished products but plenty talented. Expect high point totals and a degree of unpredictability.

Second–Round Game We Want: Villanova (1) vs. Alabama (9)

Villanova is on this year’s shortlist of true title contenders, led by two soon-to-be draft picks in Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson. The Big East champs are rolling and will be heavily favored, which makes things juicy should they run into the Crimson Tide and wrecking-ball point guard Collin Sexton. Although there’s a bit of an overwrought narrative surrounding Sexton’s intangibles as a competitor, he’s been on a mission of late and has a chance to be the first guard drafted in June. Alabama is arguably the most talented team in the SEC, with Herbert Jones, Donta Hall, John Petty and Dazon Ingram all of interest. If they get past Virginia Tech, this matchup is can’t miss.

Expect Sexton to spend much of the game harassing Brunson, and in turn, Villanova can throw a variety of defenders at him including lanky shutdown specialist Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo, a tough combo guard who’s also on the NBA radar. Bridges has evolved into a quality scorer on all three levels, and while he’s not a great shot creator, playing off of Brunson (who’s in the mix as a Top 40 pick) makes life easy. Villanova has an edge when it comes to experience and should pull this out (particularly playing in Pittsburgh), but it’s far from an easy draw.

Optimal Sweet 16: Villanova-West Virginia, Purdue-UCLA

Watching Villanova deal with West Virginia’s all-out pressure would be fascinating, particularly given the head-to-head matchup between Brunson and the Mountaineers’ Jevon Carter, arguably the best defensive guard in college hoops. That game would be an exercise in discipline and tempo between two well-drilled groups, with one X-Factor being West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate, an elite, effortless shot-blocker. UCLA has the size and personnel to hang with Purdue, and Aaron Holiday and Carsen Edwards are two of the most potent scoring guards in the tourney.

Most to Gain: Jevon Carter, G, West Virginia

As we mentioned, the East is chock-full of great guards, and for Carter, a senior who’s a projected second-rounder, it could be a proving ground. He’s an elite, tenacious on-ball defender and will have a chance to solidify himself as a specialist worth a hard look. He could see Landry Shamet in the second round and Jalen Brunson or Collin Sexton in the Sweet 16, scenarios that are well within West Virginia’s reach. If Carter continues to look like a legitimate shutdown guy, the opportunity to grow his stock is significant.

Sleeper to Follow: Jaylen Adams, G, St. Bonaventure

Adams is one of the lesser-known talents in this region, but a prospect NBA teams are well aware of, helping the Bonnies to an at-large bid and posting a career-best 45% three-point clip coupled with a 29.4% assist rate. He’s not overly big or strong, but he’s a gutsy, experienced playmaker who’s good enough to help play spoiler. Adams can really help his case as a draft pick this week, especially given the opposition already noted above.

MIDWEST REGION

Three traditional blue bloods headline the Midwest, and it’s hard to see anyone other than Kansas, Duke and Michigan State making it out. Consider the talent on those teams and the fact that Trae Young’s one-and-done saga comes to a head here, and you’ve got more than enough drama.

First–Round Game to Watch: Rhode Island (7) vs. Oklahoma (10)

The very first game of the first round looks like appointment viewing. Oklahoma sneaking into the tournament was a surprise to many, and the Sooners’ late-season slump correlates directly with their reliance on Trae Young and his fall back to earth. From the outset, his absurd scoring numbers were unsustainable, and in an especially tough Big 12, opponents began to key on him heavily and take advantage. Some scouts think Young has disengaged a bit, and while there’s no guarantee Oklahoma wins a game, he’s certainly capable of catching fire and throwing a wrench into teams’ plans. Rhode Island has a trio of nice guards in Jared Terrell, Jeff Dowtin and E.C. Matthews, and excels at forcing turnovers. It’ll be a stiff test for Young, who’s no lock to be the first guard drafted.

Second–Round Game We Want: Duke vs. Oklahoma

Apologies for beating the Trae Young drum even harder, but this is the obvious potential first-weekend spotlight game. You imagine he’ll come prepared given the chance to take out Duke, with a pair of Top-10 big men in Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter and the backcourt duo of Grayson Allen and Trevon Duval. The Blue Devils play a lot of 2-3 zone, which will likely mean open threes for Young, which means this could get interesting. Plus, the thought of Young and Allen interacting on the court in any way has potential to break Twitter.

It’s unclear if Oklahoma has the horses or the creativity to whip itself into prime shape, but getting to see Young in another high-stakes environment would be a treat. When Duke is in sync, they’re as tough a team to guard as you’ll find, using the versatile skill sets of Carter and Bagley to overwhelm the opposition while Allen finds space to launch threes. This game may not actually be that close, but it sure puts whole lot of talent on one court.

?

Optimal Sweet 16: Kansas-Auburn, Duke-Michigan State

As usual, Kansas has a host of potential NBA players led by Devonte Graham (although there’s no can’t-miss talent on this year’s roster). Auburn’s pod is perhaps the least interesting in the whole bracket from a draft perspective, but the Tigers play a deep rotation and have guys who will get hard looks from the NBA in time (there are no seniors in their rotation). The other side is a different story: between Duke and Michigan State, there are seven guys with a chance at the first round, headlined by Bagley, Carter, Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson. This is a convenient segue into the next section.

Most to Gain: Jaren Jackson Jr., F/C, Michigan State

Jackson’s draft stock skyrocketed over the course of the season and he has a chance to be a top-five pick, but his recent play has been uninspired. He was plagued by foul trouble during the Big Ten tournament and still has some issues consistently imposing himself on games, despite his high-end defensive versatility and growing offensive skill set. It’s less a knock on him than a byproduct of his age — he’s one of the youngest players in college basketball and needs to mature physically and mentally. With that noted, he’s certainly good enough to turn it on and help anchor a Final Four run, and if the Spartans draw Duke, Jackson could be playing head-to-head with Marvin Bagley for draft position. His draft floor is safe, but Jackson’s play in March could elevate his ceiling — and lead Michigan State to a title.

Sleeper to Follow: Kenrich Williams, F, TCU

We’ve written a good bit about Williams, who despite his advanced age is a Top-60 prospect in our rankings. He’s kept a relatively low draft profile, but NBA teams are keen on his versatility and impressive grasp of the floor. Williams is a terrific rebounder and passer, has the size to defend both forward spots and doesn’t have to score to impact the game. He’s also a 40% three-point shooter. He may not get drafted, but it should be no surprise if he winds up on a roster going into next season.

?

WEST REGION

There’s less high-end NBA talent in the West, but there are a bunch of legitimately good teams, great coaches, and some sneaky prospects. Plus, Michael Porter Jr.’s health is a massive wild card.

First–Round Game to Watch: Ohio State vs. South Dakota State

Buckeyes forward Keita-Bates Diop and Jackrabbits big man Mike Daum were two of the more prolific inside-out scorers in college hoops this season, and make this a fun matchup. South Dakota State is great at limiting mistakes and generating open threes, funneling more than a third of their shots through Daum, a 6’9” post who can be a load for anyone to deal with. Bates-Diop has been fully maximized by Ohio State in Chris Holtmann’s first season and is his team’s only go-to scorer, playing his way into the second round mix (and maybe the first) with a terrific season.

Second–Round Game We Want: North Carolina vs. Texas A&M

Texas A&M has been wildly inconsistent all season, and it’s unclear if they’ll even win a game here. But if the Aggies knock off Providence, their massive frontcourt could make the Tar Heels sweat, the chief threat being potential late-lottery selection Robert Williams. North Carolina is experienced, tough as nails and greater than the sum of its parts, but in this matchup would likely lean on two freshmen, Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley, to combat Williams and Tyler Davis.

For Williams, the big question is his motor, as he checks in and out of games mentally when he could be dominating the glass and ducking into space for easy dunks. Engineering an upset and putting together a monster performance or two could be somewhat redeeming given the circumstances. Teammate D.J. Hogg is a terrific shooter with size, and UNC’s trio of Joel Berry, Theo Pinson and Luke Maye all still have plenty to prove. The Heels should handle business in this scenario, but A&M’s best — though fleeting — can flip the script.

Optimal Sweet 16: Gonzaga-Missouri, North Carolina-Michigan

Apologies to Xavier, but if Michael Porter is healthy and firing from three, he’s the guy scouts want to see deep in the tournament. His younger brother Jontay, an impeccably skilled big, has become a fascinating prospect of his own. Pitting them against Gonzaga’s red-hot Killian Tillie and powerful slasher Rui Hachimura is prime territory. Carolina and Michigan don’t have elite prospects, but their guys all have plenty to play for, particularly draft hopeful Moritz Wagner.

Most to Gain: Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri

Conversely, Porter might have the most to lose: if he continues to look a step slow or re-injures himself in any way, he’ll enter draft workouts with more questions surrounding his stock than answers. That said, beyond getting hurt, nothing can damn his chances to the point where he can’t address the issues in private workouts. In the scenario where Porter looks like his old self and/or leads a surprise tournament run, he’ll add to his résumé as an elite prospect. We’ll all have to tune in to find out.

Sleeper to Follow: Malik Pope, F, San Diego State

The Aztecs are one of the hottest teams in the tournament, chalking up nine games in a row and an auto-bid thanks to quality defense. Pope, a versatile 6’11” big, is their top pro prospect. While he’s battled injuries and has never quite delivered on his promise, he can shoot jumpers, attack the glass and bother opponents with his length. There are no guarantees here, but Pope is a legitimate NBA prospect, and a second-round matchup with Michigan and Moritz Wagner would be worth the watch.

Read SI’s expert bracket analysis here, and click here to find our bracket picks.

<p>Whether you’re an NBA fan stumbling blindly into March Madness or a college diehard wondering about your favorite player’s pro outlook, The Crossover’s Front Office has you covered. On Monday, we broke down <a href="https://protect-us.mimecast.com/s/PQVjC2kXkDTn7WDqu9b1XR?domain=si.com" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the prospect to watch on all 68 teams" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the prospect to watch on all 68 teams</a>. Today, we’re looking at matchups, analyzing draft stocks and circling the games we’d love to see. </p><p>This is your guide to scouting March Madness, from an NBA draft perspective.</p><h3>SOUTH REGION</h3><p><em>Chock-full of juicy potential matchups, the South features the presumptive No. 1 draft pick (DeAndre Ayton), another top-five pick (Mo Bamba), the nation’s top defense (Virginia), second-best defense (Cincinnati) and fifth-best defense (Tennessee), another lottery hopeful (Lonnie Walker)…and Kentucky.</em></p><p><strong>First–Round Game to Watch: Nevada (7) vs. Texas (10)</strong></p><p>Nevada has a high-powered offense led by talented twins Caleb and Cody Martin. Texas has a terrific defense led by a likely top-five draft pick in Mo Bamba, who may or may not be healthy (and doesn’t always play as hard as you’d like) but can erase essentially every good look around the rim if he wants to. The Wolf Pack start four rangy 6’7” players, but their tallest guy is 6’8”, and their rotation has been thinned by injuries. If Bamba, he of the 7’9” wingspan and 9’6” standing reach, is at his best, he’s fully capable of swinging this game and making Cincinnati sweat in the second round, too. Keep an eye on hyper-athletic Texas guard Kerwin Roach and Nevada’s lanky shooting specialist Kendall Stephens. If you’ve got a keen eye, you might be able to tell the Martin twins apart by the end of this thing. </p><p><strong>Second–Round Game We Want: Arizona (4) vs. Kentucky (5)</strong></p><p>Everyone is drooling over this game, except the scouts who have to physically go to Boise to witness it. Both sets of Wildcats have tough first-round opponents, one of them (12-seed Davidson) also being Wildcats, but if the chalk holds, this is one of the juiciest matchups of the entire first weekend (and maybe the tournament on whole).</p><p>From both present and future standpoints, Deandre Ayton is the most intriguing player in the entire tournament. The 7’1” behemoth freshman cut a fiery swath through the Pac-12 tournament last week, catching lobs, draining jumpers and looking completely unguardable. Rawle Alkins supplies the glue on the wing. And if Allonzo Trier gets hot from outside, it’ll either push the Wildcats over the hump or mean nobody else touches the ball all game (or, maybe both).</p><p>Kentucky will counter with a vast array of long frontcourt players (all of whom get five fouls to use on Ayton) and rely on freshmen Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox, to supply the scoring. This set of Wildcats should be feeling great about themselves after rolling through the SEC tourney, and as usual, basically everyone on John Calipari’s team is a prospect on some level. Whoever wins gets to (presumably) go get strangled by Virginia’s top-ranked defense in the Sweet 16. Which brings us to…</p><p><strong>Optimal Sweet 16: Virginia-Arizona, Miami-Texas</strong></p><p>Neither Miami nor Texas is a seed favorite in their respective pod, and they’ll be hard-pressed to punch tickets to Atlanta. For our purposes, extra games from lottery talents Lonnie Walker and Bamba would be gravy. More importantly, watching Ayton try and demolish Virginia’s vaunted pack-line scheme could be the stuff of legend. The disciplined Cavaliers (who have a nice prospect in versatile forward De’Andre Hunter) will be favorites. But if Arizona can knock off the No. 1 seed, it’ll be in great position to win the region. How do we replace “One Shining Moment” with <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NttlPwNKd_M" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:“Feds Watching?”" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">“Feds Watching?”</a></p><p><strong>Most to Gain: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky</strong></p><p>Dating back to Kentucky’s Feb. 20 win over Arkansas, the Wildcats are 6–1. Over those games, Gilgeous-Alexander’s averages are as follows: 18.4 points, 7.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.4 turnovers on 52% shooting, while making 9 of 18 threes and 82.6% of his free throws. He’s evolved from the timid-looking ball-handler we saw in November and is now the only player on the Wildcats who seems to know where he’s going on the floor 100% of the time. He’s a crafty finisher and instinctive on-ball defender, with great size for his position. Gilgeous-Alexander’s massive strides haven’t gone unnoticed by NBA teams (“He’s really helping himself,” one scout old me last week). The 19-year-old starting to push toward late-lottery position, and might be Kentucky’s best prospect. This tourney is another big platform for him.</p><p><strong>Sleeper to Follow: D’Marcus Simonds, G, Georgia State</strong></p><p>If there’s a 15-seed upset worth poring over, it might be Cincinnati and Georgia State. Part of that is Cincy’s offensive shortcomings, but another big reason is Simonds, a sophomore guard who runs hot and cold, but can be a huge factor when he’s locked in. He scored 27 points to sink a good UT-Arlington team and get the Panthers into the tourney, and his blend of athleticism and playmaking ability makes the whole team go (he uses a whopping 35.7% of their possessions while on the court). He needs another year or two of school, but Simonds is a legit talent worthy of your attention.</p><h3>EAST REGION</h3><p><em>Here is a list of the point guards in the East region: Jalen Brunson (Villanova), Carsen Edwards (Purdue), Keenan Evans (Texas Tech), Landry Shamet (Wichita State), Jevon Carter (West Virginia), Chris Chiozza (Florida), Jaylen Barford (Arkansas), Justin Robinson (Virginia Tech), Collin Sexton (Alabama), Kamar Baldwin (Butler), Aaron Holiday (UCLA) and Jaylen Adams (St. Bonaventure). Enough said.</em></p><p><strong>First–Round Game to Watch: Florida (6) vs. St. Bonaventure/UCLA (11)</strong></p><p>No matter who wins the 11-seed play-in, this game should be high-scoring and feature some quality talent. The Gators love to launch threes, and are led by second-round prospect Jalen Hudson and rock-solid senior point guard Chris Chiozza. Whichever team they draw, there will be a solid backcourt matchup: UCLA’s Aaron Holiday and St. Bonaventure’s Jaylen Adams are both gifted scorers and playmakers with NBA potential. The Bruins also have freshmen Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, both of whom are unfinished products but plenty talented. Expect high point totals and a degree of unpredictability.</p><p><strong>Second–Round Game We Want: Villanova (1) vs. Alabama (9)</strong></p><p>Villanova is on this year’s shortlist of true title contenders, led by two soon-to-be draft picks in Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson. The Big East champs are rolling and will be heavily favored, which makes things juicy should they run into the Crimson Tide and wrecking-ball point guard Collin Sexton. Although there’s a bit of an overwrought narrative surrounding Sexton’s intangibles as a competitor, he’s been on a mission of late and has a chance to be the first guard drafted in June. Alabama is arguably the most talented team in the SEC, with Herbert Jones, Donta Hall, John Petty and Dazon Ingram all of interest. If they get past Virginia Tech, this matchup is can’t miss.</p><p>Expect Sexton to spend much of the game harassing Brunson, and in turn, Villanova can throw a variety of defenders at him including lanky shutdown specialist Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo, a tough combo guard who’s also on the NBA radar. Bridges has evolved into a quality scorer on all three levels, and while he’s not a great shot creator, playing off of Brunson (who’s in the mix as a Top 40 pick) makes life easy. Villanova has an edge when it comes to experience and should pull this out (particularly playing in Pittsburgh), but it’s far from an easy draw. </p><p><strong>Optimal Sweet 16: Villanova-West Virginia, Purdue-UCLA</strong></p><p>Watching Villanova deal with West Virginia’s all-out pressure would be fascinating, particularly given the head-to-head matchup between Brunson and the Mountaineers’ Jevon Carter, arguably the best defensive guard in college hoops. That game would be an exercise in discipline and tempo between two well-drilled groups, with one X-Factor being West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate, an elite, effortless shot-blocker. UCLA has the size and personnel to hang with Purdue, and Aaron Holiday and Carsen Edwards are two of the most potent scoring guards in the tourney.</p><p><strong>Most to Gain: Jevon Carter, G, West Virginia</strong></p><p>As we mentioned, the East is chock-full of great guards, and for Carter, a senior who’s a projected second-rounder, it could be a proving ground. He’s an elite, tenacious on-ball defender and will have a chance to solidify himself as a specialist worth a hard look. He could see Landry Shamet in the second round and Jalen Brunson or Collin Sexton in the Sweet 16, scenarios that are well within West Virginia’s reach. If Carter continues to look like a legitimate shutdown guy, the opportunity to grow his stock is significant.</p><p><strong>Sleeper to Follow: Jaylen Adams, G, St. Bonaventure</strong></p><p>Adams is one of the lesser-known talents in this region, but a prospect NBA teams are well aware of, helping the Bonnies to an at-large bid and posting a career-best 45% three-point clip coupled with a 29.4% assist rate. He’s not overly big or strong, but he’s a gutsy, experienced playmaker who’s good enough to help play spoiler. Adams can really help his case as a draft pick this week, especially given the opposition already noted above.</p><h3>MIDWEST REGION</h3><p><em>Three traditional blue bloods headline the Midwest, and it’s hard to see anyone other than Kansas, Duke and Michigan State making it out. Consider the talent on those teams and the fact that Trae Young’s one-and-done saga comes to a head here, and you’ve got more than enough drama.</em></p><p><strong>First–Round Game to Watch: Rhode Island (7) vs. Oklahoma (10)</strong></p><p>The very first game of the first round looks like appointment viewing. Oklahoma sneaking into the tournament was a surprise to many, and the Sooners’ late-season slump correlates directly with their reliance on Trae Young and his fall back to earth. From the outset, his absurd scoring numbers were unsustainable, and in an especially tough Big 12, opponents began to key on him heavily and take advantage. Some scouts think Young has disengaged a bit, and while there’s no guarantee Oklahoma wins a game, he’s certainly capable of catching fire and throwing a wrench into teams’ plans. Rhode Island has a trio of nice guards in Jared Terrell, Jeff Dowtin and E.C. Matthews, and excels at forcing turnovers. It’ll be a stiff test for Young, who’s no lock to be the first guard drafted.</p><p><strong>Second–Round Game We Want: Duke vs. Oklahoma</strong></p><p>Apologies for beating the Trae Young drum even harder, but this is the obvious potential first-weekend spotlight game. You imagine he’ll come prepared given the chance to take out Duke, with a pair of Top-10 big men in Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter and the backcourt duo of Grayson Allen and Trevon Duval. The Blue Devils play a lot of 2-3 zone, which will likely mean open threes for Young, which means this could get interesting. Plus, the thought of Young and Allen interacting on the court in any way has potential to break Twitter.</p><p>It’s unclear if Oklahoma has the horses or the creativity to whip itself into prime shape, but getting to see Young in another high-stakes environment would be a treat. When Duke is in sync, they’re as tough a team to guard as you’ll find, using the versatile skill sets of Carter and Bagley to overwhelm the opposition while Allen finds space to launch threes. This game may not actually be that close, but it sure puts whole lot of talent on one court.</p><p>?</p><p><strong>Optimal Sweet 16: Kansas-Auburn, Duke-Michigan State</strong></p><p>As usual, Kansas has a host of potential NBA players led by Devonte Graham (although there’s no can’t-miss talent on this year’s roster). Auburn’s pod is perhaps the least interesting in the whole bracket from a draft perspective, but the Tigers play a deep rotation and have guys who will get hard looks from the NBA in time (there are no seniors in their rotation). The other side is a different story: between Duke and Michigan State, there are seven guys with a chance at the first round, headlined by Bagley, Carter, Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson. This is a convenient segue into the next section.</p><p><strong>Most to Gain: Jaren Jackson Jr., F/C, Michigan State</strong></p><p>Jackson’s draft stock skyrocketed over the course of the season and he has a chance to be a top-five pick, but his recent play has been uninspired. He was plagued by foul trouble during the Big Ten tournament and still has some issues consistently imposing himself on games, despite his high-end defensive versatility and growing offensive skill set. It’s less a knock on him than a byproduct of his age — he’s one of the youngest players in college basketball and needs to mature physically and mentally. With that noted, he’s certainly good enough to turn it on and help anchor a Final Four run, and if the Spartans draw Duke, Jackson could be playing head-to-head with Marvin Bagley for draft position. His draft floor is safe, but Jackson’s play in March could elevate his ceiling — and lead Michigan State to a title.</p><p><strong>Sleeper to Follow: Kenrich Williams, F, TCU</strong></p><p>We’ve written a good bit about Williams, who despite his advanced age is a Top-60 prospect in our rankings. He’s kept a relatively low draft profile, but NBA teams are keen on his versatility and impressive grasp of the floor. Williams is a terrific rebounder and passer, has the size to defend both forward spots and doesn’t have to score to impact the game. He’s also a 40% three-point shooter. He may not get drafted, but it should be no surprise if he winds up on a roster going into next season.</p><p>?</p><h3>WEST REGION</h3><p><em>There’s less high-end NBA talent in the West, but there are a bunch of legitimately good teams, great coaches, and some sneaky prospects. Plus, Michael Porter Jr.’s health is a massive wild card.</em></p><p><strong>First–Round Game to Watch: Ohio State vs. South Dakota State</strong></p><p>Buckeyes forward Keita-Bates Diop and Jackrabbits big man Mike Daum were two of the more prolific inside-out scorers in college hoops this season, and make this a fun matchup. South Dakota State is great at limiting mistakes and generating open threes, funneling more than a third of their shots through Daum, a 6’9” post who can be a load for anyone to deal with. Bates-Diop has been fully maximized by Ohio State in Chris Holtmann’s first season and is his team’s only go-to scorer, playing his way into the second round mix (and maybe the first) with a terrific season.</p><p><strong>Second–Round Game We Want: North Carolina vs. Texas A&M</strong></p><p>Texas A&M has been wildly inconsistent all season, and it’s unclear if they’ll even win a game here. But if the Aggies knock off Providence, their massive frontcourt could make the Tar Heels sweat, the chief threat being potential late-lottery selection Robert Williams. North Carolina is experienced, tough as nails and greater than the sum of its parts, but in this matchup would likely lean on two freshmen, Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley, to combat Williams and Tyler Davis. </p><p>For Williams, the big question is his motor, as he checks in and out of games mentally when he could be dominating the glass and ducking into space for easy dunks. Engineering an upset and putting together a monster performance or two could be somewhat redeeming given the circumstances. Teammate D.J. Hogg is a terrific shooter with size, and UNC’s trio of Joel Berry, Theo Pinson and Luke Maye all still have plenty to prove. The Heels should handle business in this scenario, but A&M’s best — though fleeting — can flip the script.</p><p><strong>Optimal Sweet 16: Gonzaga-Missouri, North Carolina-Michigan </strong></p><p>Apologies to Xavier, but if Michael Porter is healthy and firing from three, he’s the guy scouts want to see deep in the tournament. His younger brother Jontay, an impeccably skilled big, has become a fascinating prospect of his own. Pitting them against Gonzaga’s red-hot Killian Tillie and powerful slasher Rui Hachimura is prime territory. Carolina and Michigan don’t have elite prospects, but their guys all have plenty to play for, particularly draft hopeful Moritz Wagner.</p><p><strong>Most to Gain: Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri</strong></p><p>Conversely, Porter might have the most to lose: if he continues to look a step slow or re-injures himself in any way, he’ll enter draft workouts with more questions surrounding his stock than answers. That said, beyond getting hurt, nothing can damn his chances to the point where he can’t address the issues in private workouts. In the scenario where Porter looks like his old self and/or leads a surprise tournament run, he’ll add to his résumé as an elite prospect. We’ll all have to tune in to find out.</p><p><strong>Sleeper to Follow: Malik Pope, F, San Diego State</strong></p><p>The Aztecs are one of the hottest teams in the tournament, chalking up nine games in a row and an auto-bid thanks to quality defense. Pope, a versatile 6’11” big, is their top pro prospect. While he’s battled injuries and has never quite delivered on his promise, he can shoot jumpers, attack the glass and bother opponents with his length. There are no guarantees here, but Pope is a legitimate NBA prospect, and a second-round matchup with Michigan and Moritz Wagner would be worth the watch.</p><p><em>Read SI’s expert bracket analysis <a href="https://protect-us.mimecast.com/s/kq9bC4x2xGsLrEwNsjNSQq?domain=si.com" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:here" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">here</a>, and click <a href="https://protect-us.mimecast.com/s/MKOHC5yMyKhqA3rmuldnh1?domain=si.com" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:here" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">here</a> to find our bracket picks.</em></p>
The NBA Draft Lover’s Guide to the 2018 NCAA Tournament

Whether you’re an NBA fan stumbling blindly into March Madness or a college diehard wondering about your favorite player’s pro outlook, The Crossover’s Front Office has you covered. On Monday, we broke down the prospect to watch on all 68 teams. Today, we’re looking at matchups, analyzing draft stocks and circling the games we’d love to see.

This is your guide to scouting March Madness, from an NBA draft perspective.

SOUTH REGION

Chock-full of juicy potential matchups, the South features the presumptive No. 1 draft pick (DeAndre Ayton), another top-five pick (Mo Bamba), the nation’s top defense (Virginia), second-best defense (Cincinnati) and fifth-best defense (Tennessee), another lottery hopeful (Lonnie Walker)…and Kentucky.

First–Round Game to Watch: Nevada (7) vs. Texas (10)

Nevada has a high-powered offense led by talented twins Caleb and Cody Martin. Texas has a terrific defense led by a likely top-five draft pick in Mo Bamba, who may or may not be healthy (and doesn’t always play as hard as you’d like) but can erase essentially every good look around the rim if he wants to. The Wolf Pack start four rangy 6’7” players, but their tallest guy is 6’8”, and their rotation has been thinned by injuries. If Bamba, he of the 7’9” wingspan and 9’6” standing reach, is at his best, he’s fully capable of swinging this game and making Cincinnati sweat in the second round, too. Keep an eye on hyper-athletic Texas guard Kerwin Roach and Nevada’s lanky shooting specialist Kendall Stephens. If you’ve got a keen eye, you might be able to tell the Martin twins apart by the end of this thing.

Second–Round Game We Want: Arizona (4) vs. Kentucky (5)

Everyone is drooling over this game, except the scouts who have to physically go to Boise to witness it. Both sets of Wildcats have tough first-round opponents, one of them (12-seed Davidson) also being Wildcats, but if the chalk holds, this is one of the juiciest matchups of the entire first weekend (and maybe the tournament on whole).

From both present and future standpoints, Deandre Ayton is the most intriguing player in the entire tournament. The 7’1” behemoth freshman cut a fiery swath through the Pac-12 tournament last week, catching lobs, draining jumpers and looking completely unguardable. Rawle Alkins supplies the glue on the wing. And if Allonzo Trier gets hot from outside, it’ll either push the Wildcats over the hump or mean nobody else touches the ball all game (or, maybe both).

Kentucky will counter with a vast array of long frontcourt players (all of whom get five fouls to use on Ayton) and rely on freshmen Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox, to supply the scoring. This set of Wildcats should be feeling great about themselves after rolling through the SEC tourney, and as usual, basically everyone on John Calipari’s team is a prospect on some level. Whoever wins gets to (presumably) go get strangled by Virginia’s top-ranked defense in the Sweet 16. Which brings us to…

Optimal Sweet 16: Virginia-Arizona, Miami-Texas

Neither Miami nor Texas is a seed favorite in their respective pod, and they’ll be hard-pressed to punch tickets to Atlanta. For our purposes, extra games from lottery talents Lonnie Walker and Bamba would be gravy. More importantly, watching Ayton try and demolish Virginia’s vaunted pack-line scheme could be the stuff of legend. The disciplined Cavaliers (who have a nice prospect in versatile forward De’Andre Hunter) will be favorites. But if Arizona can knock off the No. 1 seed, it’ll be in great position to win the region. How do we replace “One Shining Moment” with “Feds Watching?”

Most to Gain: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky

Dating back to Kentucky’s Feb. 20 win over Arkansas, the Wildcats are 6–1. Over those games, Gilgeous-Alexander’s averages are as follows: 18.4 points, 7.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.4 turnovers on 52% shooting, while making 9 of 18 threes and 82.6% of his free throws. He’s evolved from the timid-looking ball-handler we saw in November and is now the only player on the Wildcats who seems to know where he’s going on the floor 100% of the time. He’s a crafty finisher and instinctive on-ball defender, with great size for his position. Gilgeous-Alexander’s massive strides haven’t gone unnoticed by NBA teams (“He’s really helping himself,” one scout old me last week). The 19-year-old starting to push toward late-lottery position, and might be Kentucky’s best prospect. This tourney is another big platform for him.

Sleeper to Follow: D’Marcus Simonds, G, Georgia State

If there’s a 15-seed upset worth poring over, it might be Cincinnati and Georgia State. Part of that is Cincy’s offensive shortcomings, but another big reason is Simonds, a sophomore guard who runs hot and cold, but can be a huge factor when he’s locked in. He scored 27 points to sink a good UT-Arlington team and get the Panthers into the tourney, and his blend of athleticism and playmaking ability makes the whole team go (he uses a whopping 35.7% of their possessions while on the court). He needs another year or two of school, but Simonds is a legit talent worthy of your attention.

EAST REGION

Here is a list of the point guards in the East region: Jalen Brunson (Villanova), Carsen Edwards (Purdue), Keenan Evans (Texas Tech), Landry Shamet (Wichita State), Jevon Carter (West Virginia), Chris Chiozza (Florida), Jaylen Barford (Arkansas), Justin Robinson (Virginia Tech), Collin Sexton (Alabama), Kamar Baldwin (Butler), Aaron Holiday (UCLA) and Jaylen Adams (St. Bonaventure). Enough said.

First–Round Game to Watch: Florida (6) vs. St. Bonaventure/UCLA (11)

No matter who wins the 11-seed play-in, this game should be high-scoring and feature some quality talent. The Gators love to launch threes, and are led by second-round prospect Jalen Hudson and rock-solid senior point guard Chris Chiozza. Whichever team they draw, there will be a solid backcourt matchup: UCLA’s Aaron Holiday and St. Bonaventure’s Jaylen Adams are both gifted scorers and playmakers with NBA potential. The Bruins also have freshmen Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, both of whom are unfinished products but plenty talented. Expect high point totals and a degree of unpredictability.

Second–Round Game We Want: Villanova (1) vs. Alabama (9)

Villanova is on this year’s shortlist of true title contenders, led by two soon-to-be draft picks in Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson. The Big East champs are rolling and will be heavily favored, which makes things juicy should they run into the Crimson Tide and wrecking-ball point guard Collin Sexton. Although there’s a bit of an overwrought narrative surrounding Sexton’s intangibles as a competitor, he’s been on a mission of late and has a chance to be the first guard drafted in June. Alabama is arguably the most talented team in the SEC, with Herbert Jones, Donta Hall, John Petty and Dazon Ingram all of interest. If they get past Virginia Tech, this matchup is can’t miss.

Expect Sexton to spend much of the game harassing Brunson, and in turn, Villanova can throw a variety of defenders at him including lanky shutdown specialist Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo, a tough combo guard who’s also on the NBA radar. Bridges has evolved into a quality scorer on all three levels, and while he’s not a great shot creator, playing off of Brunson (who’s in the mix as a Top 40 pick) makes life easy. Villanova has an edge when it comes to experience and should pull this out (particularly playing in Pittsburgh), but it’s far from an easy draw.

Optimal Sweet 16: Villanova-West Virginia, Purdue-UCLA

Watching Villanova deal with West Virginia’s all-out pressure would be fascinating, particularly given the head-to-head matchup between Brunson and the Mountaineers’ Jevon Carter, arguably the best defensive guard in college hoops. That game would be an exercise in discipline and tempo between two well-drilled groups, with one X-Factor being West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate, an elite, effortless shot-blocker. UCLA has the size and personnel to hang with Purdue, and Aaron Holiday and Carsen Edwards are two of the most potent scoring guards in the tourney.

Most to Gain: Jevon Carter, G, West Virginia

As we mentioned, the East is chock-full of great guards, and for Carter, a senior who’s a projected second-rounder, it could be a proving ground. He’s an elite, tenacious on-ball defender and will have a chance to solidify himself as a specialist worth a hard look. He could see Landry Shamet in the second round and Jalen Brunson or Collin Sexton in the Sweet 16, scenarios that are well within West Virginia’s reach. If Carter continues to look like a legitimate shutdown guy, the opportunity to grow his stock is significant.

Sleeper to Follow: Jaylen Adams, G, St. Bonaventure

Adams is one of the lesser-known talents in this region, but a prospect NBA teams are well aware of, helping the Bonnies to an at-large bid and posting a career-best 45% three-point clip coupled with a 29.4% assist rate. He’s not overly big or strong, but he’s a gutsy, experienced playmaker who’s good enough to help play spoiler. Adams can really help his case as a draft pick this week, especially given the opposition already noted above.

MIDWEST REGION

Three traditional blue bloods headline the Midwest, and it’s hard to see anyone other than Kansas, Duke and Michigan State making it out. Consider the talent on those teams and the fact that Trae Young’s one-and-done saga comes to a head here, and you’ve got more than enough drama.

First–Round Game to Watch: Rhode Island (7) vs. Oklahoma (10)

The very first game of the first round looks like appointment viewing. Oklahoma sneaking into the tournament was a surprise to many, and the Sooners’ late-season slump correlates directly with their reliance on Trae Young and his fall back to earth. From the outset, his absurd scoring numbers were unsustainable, and in an especially tough Big 12, opponents began to key on him heavily and take advantage. Some scouts think Young has disengaged a bit, and while there’s no guarantee Oklahoma wins a game, he’s certainly capable of catching fire and throwing a wrench into teams’ plans. Rhode Island has a trio of nice guards in Jared Terrell, Jeff Dowtin and E.C. Matthews, and excels at forcing turnovers. It’ll be a stiff test for Young, who’s no lock to be the first guard drafted.

Second–Round Game We Want: Duke vs. Oklahoma

Apologies for beating the Trae Young drum even harder, but this is the obvious potential first-weekend spotlight game. You imagine he’ll come prepared given the chance to take out Duke, with a pair of Top-10 big men in Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter and the backcourt duo of Grayson Allen and Trevon Duval. The Blue Devils play a lot of 2-3 zone, which will likely mean open threes for Young, which means this could get interesting. Plus, the thought of Young and Allen interacting on the court in any way has potential to break Twitter.

It’s unclear if Oklahoma has the horses or the creativity to whip itself into prime shape, but getting to see Young in another high-stakes environment would be a treat. When Duke is in sync, they’re as tough a team to guard as you’ll find, using the versatile skill sets of Carter and Bagley to overwhelm the opposition while Allen finds space to launch threes. This game may not actually be that close, but it sure puts whole lot of talent on one court.

?

Optimal Sweet 16: Kansas-Auburn, Duke-Michigan State

As usual, Kansas has a host of potential NBA players led by Devonte Graham (although there’s no can’t-miss talent on this year’s roster). Auburn’s pod is perhaps the least interesting in the whole bracket from a draft perspective, but the Tigers play a deep rotation and have guys who will get hard looks from the NBA in time (there are no seniors in their rotation). The other side is a different story: between Duke and Michigan State, there are seven guys with a chance at the first round, headlined by Bagley, Carter, Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson. This is a convenient segue into the next section.

Most to Gain: Jaren Jackson Jr., F/C, Michigan State

Jackson’s draft stock skyrocketed over the course of the season and he has a chance to be a top-five pick, but his recent play has been uninspired. He was plagued by foul trouble during the Big Ten tournament and still has some issues consistently imposing himself on games, despite his high-end defensive versatility and growing offensive skill set. It’s less a knock on him than a byproduct of his age — he’s one of the youngest players in college basketball and needs to mature physically and mentally. With that noted, he’s certainly good enough to turn it on and help anchor a Final Four run, and if the Spartans draw Duke, Jackson could be playing head-to-head with Marvin Bagley for draft position. His draft floor is safe, but Jackson’s play in March could elevate his ceiling — and lead Michigan State to a title.

Sleeper to Follow: Kenrich Williams, F, TCU

We’ve written a good bit about Williams, who despite his advanced age is a Top-60 prospect in our rankings. He’s kept a relatively low draft profile, but NBA teams are keen on his versatility and impressive grasp of the floor. Williams is a terrific rebounder and passer, has the size to defend both forward spots and doesn’t have to score to impact the game. He’s also a 40% three-point shooter. He may not get drafted, but it should be no surprise if he winds up on a roster going into next season.

?

WEST REGION

There’s less high-end NBA talent in the West, but there are a bunch of legitimately good teams, great coaches, and some sneaky prospects. Plus, Michael Porter Jr.’s health is a massive wild card.

First–Round Game to Watch: Ohio State vs. South Dakota State

Buckeyes forward Keita-Bates Diop and Jackrabbits big man Mike Daum were two of the more prolific inside-out scorers in college hoops this season, and make this a fun matchup. South Dakota State is great at limiting mistakes and generating open threes, funneling more than a third of their shots through Daum, a 6’9” post who can be a load for anyone to deal with. Bates-Diop has been fully maximized by Ohio State in Chris Holtmann’s first season and is his team’s only go-to scorer, playing his way into the second round mix (and maybe the first) with a terrific season.

Second–Round Game We Want: North Carolina vs. Texas A&M

Texas A&M has been wildly inconsistent all season, and it’s unclear if they’ll even win a game here. But if the Aggies knock off Providence, their massive frontcourt could make the Tar Heels sweat, the chief threat being potential late-lottery selection Robert Williams. North Carolina is experienced, tough as nails and greater than the sum of its parts, but in this matchup would likely lean on two freshmen, Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley, to combat Williams and Tyler Davis.

For Williams, the big question is his motor, as he checks in and out of games mentally when he could be dominating the glass and ducking into space for easy dunks. Engineering an upset and putting together a monster performance or two could be somewhat redeeming given the circumstances. Teammate D.J. Hogg is a terrific shooter with size, and UNC’s trio of Joel Berry, Theo Pinson and Luke Maye all still have plenty to prove. The Heels should handle business in this scenario, but A&M’s best — though fleeting — can flip the script.

Optimal Sweet 16: Gonzaga-Missouri, North Carolina-Michigan

Apologies to Xavier, but if Michael Porter is healthy and firing from three, he’s the guy scouts want to see deep in the tournament. His younger brother Jontay, an impeccably skilled big, has become a fascinating prospect of his own. Pitting them against Gonzaga’s red-hot Killian Tillie and powerful slasher Rui Hachimura is prime territory. Carolina and Michigan don’t have elite prospects, but their guys all have plenty to play for, particularly draft hopeful Moritz Wagner.

Most to Gain: Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri

Conversely, Porter might have the most to lose: if he continues to look a step slow or re-injures himself in any way, he’ll enter draft workouts with more questions surrounding his stock than answers. That said, beyond getting hurt, nothing can damn his chances to the point where he can’t address the issues in private workouts. In the scenario where Porter looks like his old self and/or leads a surprise tournament run, he’ll add to his résumé as an elite prospect. We’ll all have to tune in to find out.

Sleeper to Follow: Malik Pope, F, San Diego State

The Aztecs are one of the hottest teams in the tournament, chalking up nine games in a row and an auto-bid thanks to quality defense. Pope, a versatile 6’11” big, is their top pro prospect. While he’s battled injuries and has never quite delivered on his promise, he can shoot jumpers, attack the glass and bother opponents with his length. There are no guarantees here, but Pope is a legitimate NBA prospect, and a second-round matchup with Michigan and Moritz Wagner would be worth the watch.

Read SI’s expert bracket analysis here, and click here to find our bracket picks.

<p>Whether you’re an NBA fan stumbling blindly into March Madness or a college diehard wondering about your favorite player’s pro outlook, The Crossover’s Front Office has you covered. On Monday, we broke down <a href="https://protect-us.mimecast.com/s/PQVjC2kXkDTn7WDqu9b1XR?domain=si.com" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the prospect to watch on all 68 teams" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the prospect to watch on all 68 teams</a>. Today, we’re looking at matchups, analyzing draft stocks and circling the games we’d love to see. </p><p>This is your guide to scouting March Madness, from an NBA draft perspective.</p><h3>SOUTH REGION</h3><p><em>Chock-full of juicy potential matchups, the South features the presumptive No. 1 draft pick (DeAndre Ayton), another top-five pick (Mo Bamba), the nation’s top defense (Virginia), second-best defense (Cincinnati) and fifth-best defense (Tennessee), another lottery hopeful (Lonnie Walker)…and Kentucky.</em></p><p><strong>First–Round Game to Watch: Nevada (7) vs. Texas (10)</strong></p><p>Nevada has a high-powered offense led by talented twins Caleb and Cody Martin. Texas has a terrific defense led by a likely top-five draft pick in Mo Bamba, who may or may not be healthy (and doesn’t always play as hard as you’d like) but can erase essentially every good look around the rim if he wants to. The Wolf Pack start four rangy 6’7” players, but their tallest guy is 6’8”, and their rotation has been thinned by injuries. If Bamba, he of the 7’9” wingspan and 9’6” standing reach, is at his best, he’s fully capable of swinging this game and making Cincinnati sweat in the second round, too. Keep an eye on hyper-athletic Texas guard Kerwin Roach and Nevada’s lanky shooting specialist Kendall Stephens. If you’ve got a keen eye, you might be able to tell the Martin twins apart by the end of this thing. </p><p><strong>Second–Round Game We Want: Arizona (4) vs. Kentucky (5)</strong></p><p>Everyone is drooling over this game, except the scouts who have to physically go to Boise to witness it. Both sets of Wildcats have tough first-round opponents, one of them (12-seed Davidson) also being Wildcats, but if the chalk holds, this is one of the juiciest matchups of the entire first weekend (and maybe the tournament on whole).</p><p>From both present and future standpoints, Deandre Ayton is the most intriguing player in the entire tournament. The 7’1” behemoth freshman cut a fiery swath through the Pac-12 tournament last week, catching lobs, draining jumpers and looking completely unguardable. Rawle Alkins supplies the glue on the wing. And if Allonzo Trier gets hot from outside, it’ll either push the Wildcats over the hump or mean nobody else touches the ball all game (or, maybe both).</p><p>Kentucky will counter with a vast array of long frontcourt players (all of whom get five fouls to use on Ayton) and rely on freshmen Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox, to supply the scoring. This set of Wildcats should be feeling great about themselves after rolling through the SEC tourney, and as usual, basically everyone on John Calipari’s team is a prospect on some level. Whoever wins gets to (presumably) go get strangled by Virginia’s top-ranked defense in the Sweet 16. Which brings us to…</p><p><strong>Optimal Sweet 16: Virginia-Arizona, Miami-Texas</strong></p><p>Neither Miami nor Texas is a seed favorite in their respective pod, and they’ll be hard-pressed to punch tickets to Atlanta. For our purposes, extra games from lottery talents Lonnie Walker and Bamba would be gravy. More importantly, watching Ayton try and demolish Virginia’s vaunted pack-line scheme could be the stuff of legend. The disciplined Cavaliers (who have a nice prospect in versatile forward De’Andre Hunter) will be favorites. But if Arizona can knock off the No. 1 seed, it’ll be in great position to win the region. How do we replace “One Shining Moment” with <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NttlPwNKd_M" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:“Feds Watching?”" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">“Feds Watching?”</a></p><p><strong>Most to Gain: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky</strong></p><p>Dating back to Kentucky’s Feb. 20 win over Arkansas, the Wildcats are 6–1. Over those games, Gilgeous-Alexander’s averages are as follows: 18.4 points, 7.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.4 turnovers on 52% shooting, while making 9 of 18 threes and 82.6% of his free throws. He’s evolved from the timid-looking ball-handler we saw in November and is now the only player on the Wildcats who seems to know where he’s going on the floor 100% of the time. He’s a crafty finisher and instinctive on-ball defender, with great size for his position. Gilgeous-Alexander’s massive strides haven’t gone unnoticed by NBA teams (“He’s really helping himself,” one scout old me last week). The 19-year-old starting to push toward late-lottery position, and might be Kentucky’s best prospect. This tourney is another big platform for him.</p><p><strong>Sleeper to Follow: D’Marcus Simonds, G, Georgia State</strong></p><p>If there’s a 15-seed upset worth poring over, it might be Cincinnati and Georgia State. Part of that is Cincy’s offensive shortcomings, but another big reason is Simonds, a sophomore guard who runs hot and cold, but can be a huge factor when he’s locked in. He scored 27 points to sink a good UT-Arlington team and get the Panthers into the tourney, and his blend of athleticism and playmaking ability makes the whole team go (he uses a whopping 35.7% of their possessions while on the court). He needs another year or two of school, but Simonds is a legit talent worthy of your attention.</p><h3>EAST REGION</h3><p><em>Here is a list of the point guards in the East region: Jalen Brunson (Villanova), Carsen Edwards (Purdue), Keenan Evans (Texas Tech), Landry Shamet (Wichita State), Jevon Carter (West Virginia), Chris Chiozza (Florida), Jaylen Barford (Arkansas), Justin Robinson (Virginia Tech), Collin Sexton (Alabama), Kamar Baldwin (Butler), Aaron Holiday (UCLA) and Jaylen Adams (St. Bonaventure). Enough said.</em></p><p><strong>First–Round Game to Watch: Florida (6) vs. St. Bonaventure/UCLA (11)</strong></p><p>No matter who wins the 11-seed play-in, this game should be high-scoring and feature some quality talent. The Gators love to launch threes, and are led by second-round prospect Jalen Hudson and rock-solid senior point guard Chris Chiozza. Whichever team they draw, there will be a solid backcourt matchup: UCLA’s Aaron Holiday and St. Bonaventure’s Jaylen Adams are both gifted scorers and playmakers with NBA potential. The Bruins also have freshmen Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, both of whom are unfinished products but plenty talented. Expect high point totals and a degree of unpredictability.</p><p><strong>Second–Round Game We Want: Villanova (1) vs. Alabama (9)</strong></p><p>Villanova is on this year’s shortlist of true title contenders, led by two soon-to-be draft picks in Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson. The Big East champs are rolling and will be heavily favored, which makes things juicy should they run into the Crimson Tide and wrecking-ball point guard Collin Sexton. Although there’s a bit of an overwrought narrative surrounding Sexton’s intangibles as a competitor, he’s been on a mission of late and has a chance to be the first guard drafted in June. Alabama is arguably the most talented team in the SEC, with Herbert Jones, Donta Hall, John Petty and Dazon Ingram all of interest. If they get past Virginia Tech, this matchup is can’t miss.</p><p>Expect Sexton to spend much of the game harassing Brunson, and in turn, Villanova can throw a variety of defenders at him including lanky shutdown specialist Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo, a tough combo guard who’s also on the NBA radar. Bridges has evolved into a quality scorer on all three levels, and while he’s not a great shot creator, playing off of Brunson (who’s in the mix as a Top 40 pick) makes life easy. Villanova has an edge when it comes to experience and should pull this out (particularly playing in Pittsburgh), but it’s far from an easy draw. </p><p><strong>Optimal Sweet 16: Villanova-West Virginia, Purdue-UCLA</strong></p><p>Watching Villanova deal with West Virginia’s all-out pressure would be fascinating, particularly given the head-to-head matchup between Brunson and the Mountaineers’ Jevon Carter, arguably the best defensive guard in college hoops. That game would be an exercise in discipline and tempo between two well-drilled groups, with one X-Factor being West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate, an elite, effortless shot-blocker. UCLA has the size and personnel to hang with Purdue, and Aaron Holiday and Carsen Edwards are two of the most potent scoring guards in the tourney.</p><p><strong>Most to Gain: Jevon Carter, G, West Virginia</strong></p><p>As we mentioned, the East is chock-full of great guards, and for Carter, a senior who’s a projected second-rounder, it could be a proving ground. He’s an elite, tenacious on-ball defender and will have a chance to solidify himself as a specialist worth a hard look. He could see Landry Shamet in the second round and Jalen Brunson or Collin Sexton in the Sweet 16, scenarios that are well within West Virginia’s reach. If Carter continues to look like a legitimate shutdown guy, the opportunity to grow his stock is significant.</p><p><strong>Sleeper to Follow: Jaylen Adams, G, St. Bonaventure</strong></p><p>Adams is one of the lesser-known talents in this region, but a prospect NBA teams are well aware of, helping the Bonnies to an at-large bid and posting a career-best 45% three-point clip coupled with a 29.4% assist rate. He’s not overly big or strong, but he’s a gutsy, experienced playmaker who’s good enough to help play spoiler. Adams can really help his case as a draft pick this week, especially given the opposition already noted above.</p><h3>MIDWEST REGION</h3><p><em>Three traditional blue bloods headline the Midwest, and it’s hard to see anyone other than Kansas, Duke and Michigan State making it out. Consider the talent on those teams and the fact that Trae Young’s one-and-done saga comes to a head here, and you’ve got more than enough drama.</em></p><p><strong>First–Round Game to Watch: Rhode Island (7) vs. Oklahoma (10)</strong></p><p>The very first game of the first round looks like appointment viewing. Oklahoma sneaking into the tournament was a surprise to many, and the Sooners’ late-season slump correlates directly with their reliance on Trae Young and his fall back to earth. From the outset, his absurd scoring numbers were unsustainable, and in an especially tough Big 12, opponents began to key on him heavily and take advantage. Some scouts think Young has disengaged a bit, and while there’s no guarantee Oklahoma wins a game, he’s certainly capable of catching fire and throwing a wrench into teams’ plans. Rhode Island has a trio of nice guards in Jared Terrell, Jeff Dowtin and E.C. Matthews, and excels at forcing turnovers. It’ll be a stiff test for Young, who’s no lock to be the first guard drafted.</p><p><strong>Second–Round Game We Want: Duke vs. Oklahoma</strong></p><p>Apologies for beating the Trae Young drum even harder, but this is the obvious potential first-weekend spotlight game. You imagine he’ll come prepared given the chance to take out Duke, with a pair of Top-10 big men in Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter and the backcourt duo of Grayson Allen and Trevon Duval. The Blue Devils play a lot of 2-3 zone, which will likely mean open threes for Young, which means this could get interesting. Plus, the thought of Young and Allen interacting on the court in any way has potential to break Twitter.</p><p>It’s unclear if Oklahoma has the horses or the creativity to whip itself into prime shape, but getting to see Young in another high-stakes environment would be a treat. When Duke is in sync, they’re as tough a team to guard as you’ll find, using the versatile skill sets of Carter and Bagley to overwhelm the opposition while Allen finds space to launch threes. This game may not actually be that close, but it sure puts whole lot of talent on one court.</p><p>?</p><p><strong>Optimal Sweet 16: Kansas-Auburn, Duke-Michigan State</strong></p><p>As usual, Kansas has a host of potential NBA players led by Devonte Graham (although there’s no can’t-miss talent on this year’s roster). Auburn’s pod is perhaps the least interesting in the whole bracket from a draft perspective, but the Tigers play a deep rotation and have guys who will get hard looks from the NBA in time (there are no seniors in their rotation). The other side is a different story: between Duke and Michigan State, there are seven guys with a chance at the first round, headlined by Bagley, Carter, Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson. This is a convenient segue into the next section.</p><p><strong>Most to Gain: Jaren Jackson Jr., F/C, Michigan State</strong></p><p>Jackson’s draft stock skyrocketed over the course of the season and he has a chance to be a top-five pick, but his recent play has been uninspired. He was plagued by foul trouble during the Big Ten tournament and still has some issues consistently imposing himself on games, despite his high-end defensive versatility and growing offensive skill set. It’s less a knock on him than a byproduct of his age — he’s one of the youngest players in college basketball and needs to mature physically and mentally. With that noted, he’s certainly good enough to turn it on and help anchor a Final Four run, and if the Spartans draw Duke, Jackson could be playing head-to-head with Marvin Bagley for draft position. His draft floor is safe, but Jackson’s play in March could elevate his ceiling — and lead Michigan State to a title.</p><p><strong>Sleeper to Follow: Kenrich Williams, F, TCU</strong></p><p>We’ve written a good bit about Williams, who despite his advanced age is a Top-60 prospect in our rankings. He’s kept a relatively low draft profile, but NBA teams are keen on his versatility and impressive grasp of the floor. Williams is a terrific rebounder and passer, has the size to defend both forward spots and doesn’t have to score to impact the game. He’s also a 40% three-point shooter. He may not get drafted, but it should be no surprise if he winds up on a roster going into next season.</p><p>?</p><h3>WEST REGION</h3><p><em>There’s less high-end NBA talent in the West, but there are a bunch of legitimately good teams, great coaches, and some sneaky prospects. Plus, Michael Porter Jr.’s health is a massive wild card.</em></p><p><strong>First–Round Game to Watch: Ohio State vs. South Dakota State</strong></p><p>Buckeyes forward Keita-Bates Diop and Jackrabbits big man Mike Daum were two of the more prolific inside-out scorers in college hoops this season, and make this a fun matchup. South Dakota State is great at limiting mistakes and generating open threes, funneling more than a third of their shots through Daum, a 6’9” post who can be a load for anyone to deal with. Bates-Diop has been fully maximized by Ohio State in Chris Holtmann’s first season and is his team’s only go-to scorer, playing his way into the second round mix (and maybe the first) with a terrific season.</p><p><strong>Second–Round Game We Want: North Carolina vs. Texas A&M</strong></p><p>Texas A&M has been wildly inconsistent all season, and it’s unclear if they’ll even win a game here. But if the Aggies knock off Providence, their massive frontcourt could make the Tar Heels sweat, the chief threat being potential late-lottery selection Robert Williams. North Carolina is experienced, tough as nails and greater than the sum of its parts, but in this matchup would likely lean on two freshmen, Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley, to combat Williams and Tyler Davis. </p><p>For Williams, the big question is his motor, as he checks in and out of games mentally when he could be dominating the glass and ducking into space for easy dunks. Engineering an upset and putting together a monster performance or two could be somewhat redeeming given the circumstances. Teammate D.J. Hogg is a terrific shooter with size, and UNC’s trio of Joel Berry, Theo Pinson and Luke Maye all still have plenty to prove. The Heels should handle business in this scenario, but A&M’s best — though fleeting — can flip the script.</p><p><strong>Optimal Sweet 16: Gonzaga-Missouri, North Carolina-Michigan </strong></p><p>Apologies to Xavier, but if Michael Porter is healthy and firing from three, he’s the guy scouts want to see deep in the tournament. His younger brother Jontay, an impeccably skilled big, has become a fascinating prospect of his own. Pitting them against Gonzaga’s red-hot Killian Tillie and powerful slasher Rui Hachimura is prime territory. Carolina and Michigan don’t have elite prospects, but their guys all have plenty to play for, particularly draft hopeful Moritz Wagner.</p><p><strong>Most to Gain: Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri</strong></p><p>Conversely, Porter might have the most to lose: if he continues to look a step slow or re-injures himself in any way, he’ll enter draft workouts with more questions surrounding his stock than answers. That said, beyond getting hurt, nothing can damn his chances to the point where he can’t address the issues in private workouts. In the scenario where Porter looks like his old self and/or leads a surprise tournament run, he’ll add to his résumé as an elite prospect. We’ll all have to tune in to find out.</p><p><strong>Sleeper to Follow: Malik Pope, F, San Diego State</strong></p><p>The Aztecs are one of the hottest teams in the tournament, chalking up nine games in a row and an auto-bid thanks to quality defense. Pope, a versatile 6’11” big, is their top pro prospect. While he’s battled injuries and has never quite delivered on his promise, he can shoot jumpers, attack the glass and bother opponents with his length. There are no guarantees here, but Pope is a legitimate NBA prospect, and a second-round matchup with Michigan and Moritz Wagner would be worth the watch.</p><p><em>Read SI’s expert bracket analysis <a href="https://protect-us.mimecast.com/s/kq9bC4x2xGsLrEwNsjNSQq?domain=si.com" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:here" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">here</a>, and click <a href="https://protect-us.mimecast.com/s/MKOHC5yMyKhqA3rmuldnh1?domain=si.com" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:here" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">here</a> to find our bracket picks.</em></p>
The NBA Draft Lover’s Guide to the 2018 NCAA Tournament

Whether you’re an NBA fan stumbling blindly into March Madness or a college diehard wondering about your favorite player’s pro outlook, The Crossover’s Front Office has you covered. On Monday, we broke down the prospect to watch on all 68 teams. Today, we’re looking at matchups, analyzing draft stocks and circling the games we’d love to see.

This is your guide to scouting March Madness, from an NBA draft perspective.

SOUTH REGION

Chock-full of juicy potential matchups, the South features the presumptive No. 1 draft pick (DeAndre Ayton), another top-five pick (Mo Bamba), the nation’s top defense (Virginia), second-best defense (Cincinnati) and fifth-best defense (Tennessee), another lottery hopeful (Lonnie Walker)…and Kentucky.

First–Round Game to Watch: Nevada (7) vs. Texas (10)

Nevada has a high-powered offense led by talented twins Caleb and Cody Martin. Texas has a terrific defense led by a likely top-five draft pick in Mo Bamba, who may or may not be healthy (and doesn’t always play as hard as you’d like) but can erase essentially every good look around the rim if he wants to. The Wolf Pack start four rangy 6’7” players, but their tallest guy is 6’8”, and their rotation has been thinned by injuries. If Bamba, he of the 7’9” wingspan and 9’6” standing reach, is at his best, he’s fully capable of swinging this game and making Cincinnati sweat in the second round, too. Keep an eye on hyper-athletic Texas guard Kerwin Roach and Nevada’s lanky shooting specialist Kendall Stephens. If you’ve got a keen eye, you might be able to tell the Martin twins apart by the end of this thing.

Second–Round Game We Want: Arizona (4) vs. Kentucky (5)

Everyone is drooling over this game, except the scouts who have to physically go to Boise to witness it. Both sets of Wildcats have tough first-round opponents, one of them (12-seed Davidson) also being Wildcats, but if the chalk holds, this is one of the juiciest matchups of the entire first weekend (and maybe the tournament on whole).

From both present and future standpoints, Deandre Ayton is the most intriguing player in the entire tournament. The 7’1” behemoth freshman cut a fiery swath through the Pac-12 tournament last week, catching lobs, draining jumpers and looking completely unguardable. Rawle Alkins supplies the glue on the wing. And if Allonzo Trier gets hot from outside, it’ll either push the Wildcats over the hump or mean nobody else touches the ball all game (or, maybe both).

Kentucky will counter with a vast array of long frontcourt players (all of whom get five fouls to use on Ayton) and rely on freshmen Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox, to supply the scoring. This set of Wildcats should be feeling great about themselves after rolling through the SEC tourney, and as usual, basically everyone on John Calipari’s team is a prospect on some level. Whoever wins gets to (presumably) go get strangled by Virginia’s top-ranked defense in the Sweet 16. Which brings us to…

Optimal Sweet 16: Virginia-Arizona, Miami-Texas

Neither Miami nor Texas is a seed favorite in their respective pod, and they’ll be hard-pressed to punch tickets to Atlanta. For our purposes, extra games from lottery talents Lonnie Walker and Bamba would be gravy. More importantly, watching Ayton try and demolish Virginia’s vaunted pack-line scheme could be the stuff of legend. The disciplined Cavaliers (who have a nice prospect in versatile forward De’Andre Hunter) will be favorites. But if Arizona can knock off the No. 1 seed, it’ll be in great position to win the region. How do we replace “One Shining Moment” with “Feds Watching?”

Most to Gain: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky

Dating back to Kentucky’s Feb. 20 win over Arkansas, the Wildcats are 6–1. Over those games, Gilgeous-Alexander’s averages are as follows: 18.4 points, 7.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.4 turnovers on 52% shooting, while making 9 of 18 threes and 82.6% of his free throws. He’s evolved from the timid-looking ball-handler we saw in November and is now the only player on the Wildcats who seems to know where he’s going on the floor 100% of the time. He’s a crafty finisher and instinctive on-ball defender, with great size for his position. Gilgeous-Alexander’s massive strides haven’t gone unnoticed by NBA teams (“He’s really helping himself,” one scout old me last week). The 19-year-old starting to push toward late-lottery position, and might be Kentucky’s best prospect. This tourney is another big platform for him.

Sleeper to Follow: D’Marcus Simonds, G, Georgia State

If there’s a 15-seed upset worth poring over, it might be Cincinnati and Georgia State. Part of that is Cincy’s offensive shortcomings, but another big reason is Simonds, a sophomore guard who runs hot and cold, but can be a huge factor when he’s locked in. He scored 27 points to sink a good UT-Arlington team and get the Panthers into the tourney, and his blend of athleticism and playmaking ability makes the whole team go (he uses a whopping 35.7% of their possessions while on the court). He needs another year or two of school, but Simonds is a legit talent worthy of your attention.

EAST REGION

Here is a list of the point guards in the East region: Jalen Brunson (Villanova), Carsen Edwards (Purdue), Keenan Evans (Texas Tech), Landry Shamet (Wichita State), Jevon Carter (West Virginia), Chris Chiozza (Florida), Jaylen Barford (Arkansas), Justin Robinson (Virginia Tech), Collin Sexton (Alabama), Kamar Baldwin (Butler), Aaron Holiday (UCLA) and Jaylen Adams (St. Bonaventure). Enough said.

First–Round Game to Watch: Florida (6) vs. St. Bonaventure/UCLA (11)

No matter who wins the 11-seed play-in, this game should be high-scoring and feature some quality talent. The Gators love to launch threes, and are led by second-round prospect Jalen Hudson and rock-solid senior point guard Chris Chiozza. Whichever team they draw, there will be a solid backcourt matchup: UCLA’s Aaron Holiday and St. Bonaventure’s Jaylen Adams are both gifted scorers and playmakers with NBA potential. The Bruins also have freshmen Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, both of whom are unfinished products but plenty talented. Expect high point totals and a degree of unpredictability.

Second–Round Game We Want: Villanova (1) vs. Alabama (9)

Villanova is on this year’s shortlist of true title contenders, led by two soon-to-be draft picks in Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson. The Big East champs are rolling and will be heavily favored, which makes things juicy should they run into the Crimson Tide and wrecking-ball point guard Collin Sexton. Although there’s a bit of an overwrought narrative surrounding Sexton’s intangibles as a competitor, he’s been on a mission of late and has a chance to be the first guard drafted in June. Alabama is arguably the most talented team in the SEC, with Herbert Jones, Donta Hall, John Petty and Dazon Ingram all of interest. If they get past Virginia Tech, this matchup is can’t miss.

Expect Sexton to spend much of the game harassing Brunson, and in turn, Villanova can throw a variety of defenders at him including lanky shutdown specialist Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo, a tough combo guard who’s also on the NBA radar. Bridges has evolved into a quality scorer on all three levels, and while he’s not a great shot creator, playing off of Brunson (who’s in the mix as a Top 40 pick) makes life easy. Villanova has an edge when it comes to experience and should pull this out (particularly playing in Pittsburgh), but it’s far from an easy draw.

Optimal Sweet 16: Villanova-West Virginia, Purdue-UCLA

Watching Villanova deal with West Virginia’s all-out pressure would be fascinating, particularly given the head-to-head matchup between Brunson and the Mountaineers’ Jevon Carter, arguably the best defensive guard in college hoops. That game would be an exercise in discipline and tempo between two well-drilled groups, with one X-Factor being West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate, an elite, effortless shot-blocker. UCLA has the size and personnel to hang with Purdue, and Aaron Holiday and Carsen Edwards are two of the most potent scoring guards in the tourney.

Most to Gain: Jevon Carter, G, West Virginia

As we mentioned, the East is chock-full of great guards, and for Carter, a senior who’s a projected second-rounder, it could be a proving ground. He’s an elite, tenacious on-ball defender and will have a chance to solidify himself as a specialist worth a hard look. He could see Landry Shamet in the second round and Jalen Brunson or Collin Sexton in the Sweet 16, scenarios that are well within West Virginia’s reach. If Carter continues to look like a legitimate shutdown guy, the opportunity to grow his stock is significant.

Sleeper to Follow: Jaylen Adams, G, St. Bonaventure

Adams is one of the lesser-known talents in this region, but a prospect NBA teams are well aware of, helping the Bonnies to an at-large bid and posting a career-best 45% three-point clip coupled with a 29.4% assist rate. He’s not overly big or strong, but he’s a gutsy, experienced playmaker who’s good enough to help play spoiler. Adams can really help his case as a draft pick this week, especially given the opposition already noted above.

MIDWEST REGION

Three traditional blue bloods headline the Midwest, and it’s hard to see anyone other than Kansas, Duke and Michigan State making it out. Consider the talent on those teams and the fact that Trae Young’s one-and-done saga comes to a head here, and you’ve got more than enough drama.

First–Round Game to Watch: Rhode Island (7) vs. Oklahoma (10)

The very first game of the first round looks like appointment viewing. Oklahoma sneaking into the tournament was a surprise to many, and the Sooners’ late-season slump correlates directly with their reliance on Trae Young and his fall back to earth. From the outset, his absurd scoring numbers were unsustainable, and in an especially tough Big 12, opponents began to key on him heavily and take advantage. Some scouts think Young has disengaged a bit, and while there’s no guarantee Oklahoma wins a game, he’s certainly capable of catching fire and throwing a wrench into teams’ plans. Rhode Island has a trio of nice guards in Jared Terrell, Jeff Dowtin and E.C. Matthews, and excels at forcing turnovers. It’ll be a stiff test for Young, who’s no lock to be the first guard drafted.

Second–Round Game We Want: Duke vs. Oklahoma

Apologies for beating the Trae Young drum even harder, but this is the obvious potential first-weekend spotlight game. You imagine he’ll come prepared given the chance to take out Duke, with a pair of Top-10 big men in Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter and the backcourt duo of Grayson Allen and Trevon Duval. The Blue Devils play a lot of 2-3 zone, which will likely mean open threes for Young, which means this could get interesting. Plus, the thought of Young and Allen interacting on the court in any way has potential to break Twitter.

It’s unclear if Oklahoma has the horses or the creativity to whip itself into prime shape, but getting to see Young in another high-stakes environment would be a treat. When Duke is in sync, they’re as tough a team to guard as you’ll find, using the versatile skill sets of Carter and Bagley to overwhelm the opposition while Allen finds space to launch threes. This game may not actually be that close, but it sure puts whole lot of talent on one court.

?

Optimal Sweet 16: Kansas-Auburn, Duke-Michigan State

As usual, Kansas has a host of potential NBA players led by Devonte Graham (although there’s no can’t-miss talent on this year’s roster). Auburn’s pod is perhaps the least interesting in the whole bracket from a draft perspective, but the Tigers play a deep rotation and have guys who will get hard looks from the NBA in time (there are no seniors in their rotation). The other side is a different story: between Duke and Michigan State, there are seven guys with a chance at the first round, headlined by Bagley, Carter, Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson. This is a convenient segue into the next section.

Most to Gain: Jaren Jackson Jr., F/C, Michigan State

Jackson’s draft stock skyrocketed over the course of the season and he has a chance to be a top-five pick, but his recent play has been uninspired. He was plagued by foul trouble during the Big Ten tournament and still has some issues consistently imposing himself on games, despite his high-end defensive versatility and growing offensive skill set. It’s less a knock on him than a byproduct of his age — he’s one of the youngest players in college basketball and needs to mature physically and mentally. With that noted, he’s certainly good enough to turn it on and help anchor a Final Four run, and if the Spartans draw Duke, Jackson could be playing head-to-head with Marvin Bagley for draft position. His draft floor is safe, but Jackson’s play in March could elevate his ceiling — and lead Michigan State to a title.

Sleeper to Follow: Kenrich Williams, F, TCU

We’ve written a good bit about Williams, who despite his advanced age is a Top-60 prospect in our rankings. He’s kept a relatively low draft profile, but NBA teams are keen on his versatility and impressive grasp of the floor. Williams is a terrific rebounder and passer, has the size to defend both forward spots and doesn’t have to score to impact the game. He’s also a 40% three-point shooter. He may not get drafted, but it should be no surprise if he winds up on a roster going into next season.

?

WEST REGION

There’s less high-end NBA talent in the West, but there are a bunch of legitimately good teams, great coaches, and some sneaky prospects. Plus, Michael Porter Jr.’s health is a massive wild card.

First–Round Game to Watch: Ohio State vs. South Dakota State

Buckeyes forward Keita-Bates Diop and Jackrabbits big man Mike Daum were two of the more prolific inside-out scorers in college hoops this season, and make this a fun matchup. South Dakota State is great at limiting mistakes and generating open threes, funneling more than a third of their shots through Daum, a 6’9” post who can be a load for anyone to deal with. Bates-Diop has been fully maximized by Ohio State in Chris Holtmann’s first season and is his team’s only go-to scorer, playing his way into the second round mix (and maybe the first) with a terrific season.

Second–Round Game We Want: North Carolina vs. Texas A&M

Texas A&M has been wildly inconsistent all season, and it’s unclear if they’ll even win a game here. But if the Aggies knock off Providence, their massive frontcourt could make the Tar Heels sweat, the chief threat being potential late-lottery selection Robert Williams. North Carolina is experienced, tough as nails and greater than the sum of its parts, but in this matchup would likely lean on two freshmen, Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley, to combat Williams and Tyler Davis.

For Williams, the big question is his motor, as he checks in and out of games mentally when he could be dominating the glass and ducking into space for easy dunks. Engineering an upset and putting together a monster performance or two could be somewhat redeeming given the circumstances. Teammate D.J. Hogg is a terrific shooter with size, and UNC’s trio of Joel Berry, Theo Pinson and Luke Maye all still have plenty to prove. The Heels should handle business in this scenario, but A&M’s best — though fleeting — can flip the script.

Optimal Sweet 16: Gonzaga-Missouri, North Carolina-Michigan

Apologies to Xavier, but if Michael Porter is healthy and firing from three, he’s the guy scouts want to see deep in the tournament. His younger brother Jontay, an impeccably skilled big, has become a fascinating prospect of his own. Pitting them against Gonzaga’s red-hot Killian Tillie and powerful slasher Rui Hachimura is prime territory. Carolina and Michigan don’t have elite prospects, but their guys all have plenty to play for, particularly draft hopeful Moritz Wagner.

Most to Gain: Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri

Conversely, Porter might have the most to lose: if he continues to look a step slow or re-injures himself in any way, he’ll enter draft workouts with more questions surrounding his stock than answers. That said, beyond getting hurt, nothing can damn his chances to the point where he can’t address the issues in private workouts. In the scenario where Porter looks like his old self and/or leads a surprise tournament run, he’ll add to his résumé as an elite prospect. We’ll all have to tune in to find out.

Sleeper to Follow: Malik Pope, F, San Diego State

The Aztecs are one of the hottest teams in the tournament, chalking up nine games in a row and an auto-bid thanks to quality defense. Pope, a versatile 6’11” big, is their top pro prospect. While he’s battled injuries and has never quite delivered on his promise, he can shoot jumpers, attack the glass and bother opponents with his length. There are no guarantees here, but Pope is a legitimate NBA prospect, and a second-round matchup with Michigan and Moritz Wagner would be worth the watch.

Read SI’s expert bracket analysis here, and click here to find our bracket picks.

<p>Whether you’re an NBA fan stumbling blindly into March Madness or a college diehard wondering about your favorite player’s pro outlook, The Crossover’s Front Office has you covered. On Monday, we broke down <a href="https://protect-us.mimecast.com/s/PQVjC2kXkDTn7WDqu9b1XR?domain=si.com" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the prospect to watch on all 68 teams" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the prospect to watch on all 68 teams</a>. Today, we’re looking at matchups, analyzing draft stocks and circling the games we’d love to see. </p><p>This is your guide to scouting March Madness, from an NBA draft perspective.</p><h3>SOUTH REGION</h3><p><em>Chock-full of juicy potential matchups, the South features the presumptive No. 1 draft pick (DeAndre Ayton), another top-five pick (Mo Bamba), the nation’s top defense (Virginia), second-best defense (Cincinnati) and fifth-best defense (Tennessee), another lottery hopeful (Lonnie Walker)…and Kentucky.</em></p><p><strong>First–Round Game to Watch: Nevada (7) vs. Texas (10)</strong></p><p>Nevada has a high-powered offense led by talented twins Caleb and Cody Martin. Texas has a terrific defense led by a likely top-five draft pick in Mo Bamba, who may or may not be healthy (and doesn’t always play as hard as you’d like) but can erase essentially every good look around the rim if he wants to. The Wolf Pack start four rangy 6’7” players, but their tallest guy is 6’8”, and their rotation has been thinned by injuries. If Bamba, he of the 7’9” wingspan and 9’6” standing reach, is at his best, he’s fully capable of swinging this game and making Cincinnati sweat in the second round, too. Keep an eye on hyper-athletic Texas guard Kerwin Roach and Nevada’s lanky shooting specialist Kendall Stephens. If you’ve got a keen eye, you might be able to tell the Martin twins apart by the end of this thing. </p><p><strong>Second–Round Game We Want: Arizona (4) vs. Kentucky (5)</strong></p><p>Everyone is drooling over this game, except the scouts who have to physically go to Boise to witness it. Both sets of Wildcats have tough first-round opponents, one of them (12-seed Davidson) also being Wildcats, but if the chalk holds, this is one of the juiciest matchups of the entire first weekend (and maybe the tournament on whole).</p><p>From both present and future standpoints, Deandre Ayton is the most intriguing player in the entire tournament. The 7’1” behemoth freshman cut a fiery swath through the Pac-12 tournament last week, catching lobs, draining jumpers and looking completely unguardable. Rawle Alkins supplies the glue on the wing. And if Allonzo Trier gets hot from outside, it’ll either push the Wildcats over the hump or mean nobody else touches the ball all game (or, maybe both).</p><p>Kentucky will counter with a vast array of long frontcourt players (all of whom get five fouls to use on Ayton) and rely on freshmen Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox, to supply the scoring. This set of Wildcats should be feeling great about themselves after rolling through the SEC tourney, and as usual, basically everyone on John Calipari’s team is a prospect on some level. Whoever wins gets to (presumably) go get strangled by Virginia’s top-ranked defense in the Sweet 16. Which brings us to…</p><p><strong>Optimal Sweet 16: Virginia-Arizona, Miami-Texas</strong></p><p>Neither Miami nor Texas is a seed favorite in their respective pod, and they’ll be hard-pressed to punch tickets to Atlanta. For our purposes, extra games from lottery talents Lonnie Walker and Bamba would be gravy. More importantly, watching Ayton try and demolish Virginia’s vaunted pack-line scheme could be the stuff of legend. The disciplined Cavaliers (who have a nice prospect in versatile forward De’Andre Hunter) will be favorites. But if Arizona can knock off the No. 1 seed, it’ll be in great position to win the region. How do we replace “One Shining Moment” with <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NttlPwNKd_M" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:“Feds Watching?”" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">“Feds Watching?”</a></p><p><strong>Most to Gain: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky</strong></p><p>Dating back to Kentucky’s Feb. 20 win over Arkansas, the Wildcats are 6–1. Over those games, Gilgeous-Alexander’s averages are as follows: 18.4 points, 7.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.4 turnovers on 52% shooting, while making 9 of 18 threes and 82.6% of his free throws. He’s evolved from the timid-looking ball-handler we saw in November and is now the only player on the Wildcats who seems to know where he’s going on the floor 100% of the time. He’s a crafty finisher and instinctive on-ball defender, with great size for his position. Gilgeous-Alexander’s massive strides haven’t gone unnoticed by NBA teams (“He’s really helping himself,” one scout old me last week). The 19-year-old starting to push toward late-lottery position, and might be Kentucky’s best prospect. This tourney is another big platform for him.</p><p><strong>Sleeper to Follow: D’Marcus Simonds, G, Georgia State</strong></p><p>If there’s a 15-seed upset worth poring over, it might be Cincinnati and Georgia State. Part of that is Cincy’s offensive shortcomings, but another big reason is Simonds, a sophomore guard who runs hot and cold, but can be a huge factor when he’s locked in. He scored 27 points to sink a good UT-Arlington team and get the Panthers into the tourney, and his blend of athleticism and playmaking ability makes the whole team go (he uses a whopping 35.7% of their possessions while on the court). He needs another year or two of school, but Simonds is a legit talent worthy of your attention.</p><h3>EAST REGION</h3><p><em>Here is a list of the point guards in the East region: Jalen Brunson (Villanova), Carsen Edwards (Purdue), Keenan Evans (Texas Tech), Landry Shamet (Wichita State), Jevon Carter (West Virginia), Chris Chiozza (Florida), Jaylen Barford (Arkansas), Justin Robinson (Virginia Tech), Collin Sexton (Alabama), Kamar Baldwin (Butler), Aaron Holiday (UCLA) and Jaylen Adams (St. Bonaventure). Enough said.</em></p><p><strong>First–Round Game to Watch: Florida (6) vs. St. Bonaventure/UCLA (11)</strong></p><p>No matter who wins the 11-seed play-in, this game should be high-scoring and feature some quality talent. The Gators love to launch threes, and are led by second-round prospect Jalen Hudson and rock-solid senior point guard Chris Chiozza. Whichever team they draw, there will be a solid backcourt matchup: UCLA’s Aaron Holiday and St. Bonaventure’s Jaylen Adams are both gifted scorers and playmakers with NBA potential. The Bruins also have freshmen Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, both of whom are unfinished products but plenty talented. Expect high point totals and a degree of unpredictability.</p><p><strong>Second–Round Game We Want: Villanova (1) vs. Alabama (9)</strong></p><p>Villanova is on this year’s shortlist of true title contenders, led by two soon-to-be draft picks in Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson. The Big East champs are rolling and will be heavily favored, which makes things juicy should they run into the Crimson Tide and wrecking-ball point guard Collin Sexton. Although there’s a bit of an overwrought narrative surrounding Sexton’s intangibles as a competitor, he’s been on a mission of late and has a chance to be the first guard drafted in June. Alabama is arguably the most talented team in the SEC, with Herbert Jones, Donta Hall, John Petty and Dazon Ingram all of interest. If they get past Virginia Tech, this matchup is can’t miss.</p><p>Expect Sexton to spend much of the game harassing Brunson, and in turn, Villanova can throw a variety of defenders at him including lanky shutdown specialist Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo, a tough combo guard who’s also on the NBA radar. Bridges has evolved into a quality scorer on all three levels, and while he’s not a great shot creator, playing off of Brunson (who’s in the mix as a Top 40 pick) makes life easy. Villanova has an edge when it comes to experience and should pull this out (particularly playing in Pittsburgh), but it’s far from an easy draw. </p><p><strong>Optimal Sweet 16: Villanova-West Virginia, Purdue-UCLA</strong></p><p>Watching Villanova deal with West Virginia’s all-out pressure would be fascinating, particularly given the head-to-head matchup between Brunson and the Mountaineers’ Jevon Carter, arguably the best defensive guard in college hoops. That game would be an exercise in discipline and tempo between two well-drilled groups, with one X-Factor being West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate, an elite, effortless shot-blocker. UCLA has the size and personnel to hang with Purdue, and Aaron Holiday and Carsen Edwards are two of the most potent scoring guards in the tourney.</p><p><strong>Most to Gain: Jevon Carter, G, West Virginia</strong></p><p>As we mentioned, the East is chock-full of great guards, and for Carter, a senior who’s a projected second-rounder, it could be a proving ground. He’s an elite, tenacious on-ball defender and will have a chance to solidify himself as a specialist worth a hard look. He could see Landry Shamet in the second round and Jalen Brunson or Collin Sexton in the Sweet 16, scenarios that are well within West Virginia’s reach. If Carter continues to look like a legitimate shutdown guy, the opportunity to grow his stock is significant.</p><p><strong>Sleeper to Follow: Jaylen Adams, G, St. Bonaventure</strong></p><p>Adams is one of the lesser-known talents in this region, but a prospect NBA teams are well aware of, helping the Bonnies to an at-large bid and posting a career-best 45% three-point clip coupled with a 29.4% assist rate. He’s not overly big or strong, but he’s a gutsy, experienced playmaker who’s good enough to help play spoiler. Adams can really help his case as a draft pick this week, especially given the opposition already noted above.</p><h3>MIDWEST REGION</h3><p><em>Three traditional blue bloods headline the Midwest, and it’s hard to see anyone other than Kansas, Duke and Michigan State making it out. Consider the talent on those teams and the fact that Trae Young’s one-and-done saga comes to a head here, and you’ve got more than enough drama.</em></p><p><strong>First–Round Game to Watch: Rhode Island (7) vs. Oklahoma (10)</strong></p><p>The very first game of the first round looks like appointment viewing. Oklahoma sneaking into the tournament was a surprise to many, and the Sooners’ late-season slump correlates directly with their reliance on Trae Young and his fall back to earth. From the outset, his absurd scoring numbers were unsustainable, and in an especially tough Big 12, opponents began to key on him heavily and take advantage. Some scouts think Young has disengaged a bit, and while there’s no guarantee Oklahoma wins a game, he’s certainly capable of catching fire and throwing a wrench into teams’ plans. Rhode Island has a trio of nice guards in Jared Terrell, Jeff Dowtin and E.C. Matthews, and excels at forcing turnovers. It’ll be a stiff test for Young, who’s no lock to be the first guard drafted.</p><p><strong>Second–Round Game We Want: Duke vs. Oklahoma</strong></p><p>Apologies for beating the Trae Young drum even harder, but this is the obvious potential first-weekend spotlight game. You imagine he’ll come prepared given the chance to take out Duke, with a pair of Top-10 big men in Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter and the backcourt duo of Grayson Allen and Trevon Duval. The Blue Devils play a lot of 2-3 zone, which will likely mean open threes for Young, which means this could get interesting. Plus, the thought of Young and Allen interacting on the court in any way has potential to break Twitter.</p><p>It’s unclear if Oklahoma has the horses or the creativity to whip itself into prime shape, but getting to see Young in another high-stakes environment would be a treat. When Duke is in sync, they’re as tough a team to guard as you’ll find, using the versatile skill sets of Carter and Bagley to overwhelm the opposition while Allen finds space to launch threes. This game may not actually be that close, but it sure puts whole lot of talent on one court.</p><p>?</p><p><strong>Optimal Sweet 16: Kansas-Auburn, Duke-Michigan State</strong></p><p>As usual, Kansas has a host of potential NBA players led by Devonte Graham (although there’s no can’t-miss talent on this year’s roster). Auburn’s pod is perhaps the least interesting in the whole bracket from a draft perspective, but the Tigers play a deep rotation and have guys who will get hard looks from the NBA in time (there are no seniors in their rotation). The other side is a different story: between Duke and Michigan State, there are seven guys with a chance at the first round, headlined by Bagley, Carter, Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson. This is a convenient segue into the next section.</p><p><strong>Most to Gain: Jaren Jackson Jr., F/C, Michigan State</strong></p><p>Jackson’s draft stock skyrocketed over the course of the season and he has a chance to be a top-five pick, but his recent play has been uninspired. He was plagued by foul trouble during the Big Ten tournament and still has some issues consistently imposing himself on games, despite his high-end defensive versatility and growing offensive skill set. It’s less a knock on him than a byproduct of his age — he’s one of the youngest players in college basketball and needs to mature physically and mentally. With that noted, he’s certainly good enough to turn it on and help anchor a Final Four run, and if the Spartans draw Duke, Jackson could be playing head-to-head with Marvin Bagley for draft position. His draft floor is safe, but Jackson’s play in March could elevate his ceiling — and lead Michigan State to a title.</p><p><strong>Sleeper to Follow: Kenrich Williams, F, TCU</strong></p><p>We’ve written a good bit about Williams, who despite his advanced age is a Top-60 prospect in our rankings. He’s kept a relatively low draft profile, but NBA teams are keen on his versatility and impressive grasp of the floor. Williams is a terrific rebounder and passer, has the size to defend both forward spots and doesn’t have to score to impact the game. He’s also a 40% three-point shooter. He may not get drafted, but it should be no surprise if he winds up on a roster going into next season.</p><p>?</p><h3>WEST REGION</h3><p><em>There’s less high-end NBA talent in the West, but there are a bunch of legitimately good teams, great coaches, and some sneaky prospects. Plus, Michael Porter Jr.’s health is a massive wild card.</em></p><p><strong>First–Round Game to Watch: Ohio State vs. South Dakota State</strong></p><p>Buckeyes forward Keita-Bates Diop and Jackrabbits big man Mike Daum were two of the more prolific inside-out scorers in college hoops this season, and make this a fun matchup. South Dakota State is great at limiting mistakes and generating open threes, funneling more than a third of their shots through Daum, a 6’9” post who can be a load for anyone to deal with. Bates-Diop has been fully maximized by Ohio State in Chris Holtmann’s first season and is his team’s only go-to scorer, playing his way into the second round mix (and maybe the first) with a terrific season.</p><p><strong>Second–Round Game We Want: North Carolina vs. Texas A&M</strong></p><p>Texas A&M has been wildly inconsistent all season, and it’s unclear if they’ll even win a game here. But if the Aggies knock off Providence, their massive frontcourt could make the Tar Heels sweat, the chief threat being potential late-lottery selection Robert Williams. North Carolina is experienced, tough as nails and greater than the sum of its parts, but in this matchup would likely lean on two freshmen, Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley, to combat Williams and Tyler Davis. </p><p>For Williams, the big question is his motor, as he checks in and out of games mentally when he could be dominating the glass and ducking into space for easy dunks. Engineering an upset and putting together a monster performance or two could be somewhat redeeming given the circumstances. Teammate D.J. Hogg is a terrific shooter with size, and UNC’s trio of Joel Berry, Theo Pinson and Luke Maye all still have plenty to prove. The Heels should handle business in this scenario, but A&M’s best — though fleeting — can flip the script.</p><p><strong>Optimal Sweet 16: Gonzaga-Missouri, North Carolina-Michigan </strong></p><p>Apologies to Xavier, but if Michael Porter is healthy and firing from three, he’s the guy scouts want to see deep in the tournament. His younger brother Jontay, an impeccably skilled big, has become a fascinating prospect of his own. Pitting them against Gonzaga’s red-hot Killian Tillie and powerful slasher Rui Hachimura is prime territory. Carolina and Michigan don’t have elite prospects, but their guys all have plenty to play for, particularly draft hopeful Moritz Wagner.</p><p><strong>Most to Gain: Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri</strong></p><p>Conversely, Porter might have the most to lose: if he continues to look a step slow or re-injures himself in any way, he’ll enter draft workouts with more questions surrounding his stock than answers. That said, beyond getting hurt, nothing can damn his chances to the point where he can’t address the issues in private workouts. In the scenario where Porter looks like his old self and/or leads a surprise tournament run, he’ll add to his résumé as an elite prospect. We’ll all have to tune in to find out.</p><p><strong>Sleeper to Follow: Malik Pope, F, San Diego State</strong></p><p>The Aztecs are one of the hottest teams in the tournament, chalking up nine games in a row and an auto-bid thanks to quality defense. Pope, a versatile 6’11” big, is their top pro prospect. While he’s battled injuries and has never quite delivered on his promise, he can shoot jumpers, attack the glass and bother opponents with his length. There are no guarantees here, but Pope is a legitimate NBA prospect, and a second-round matchup with Michigan and Moritz Wagner would be worth the watch.</p><p><em>Read SI’s expert bracket analysis <a href="https://protect-us.mimecast.com/s/kq9bC4x2xGsLrEwNsjNSQq?domain=si.com" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:here" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">here</a>, and click <a href="https://protect-us.mimecast.com/s/MKOHC5yMyKhqA3rmuldnh1?domain=si.com" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:here" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">here</a> to find our bracket picks.</em></p>
The NBA Draft Lover’s Guide to the 2018 NCAA Tournament

Whether you’re an NBA fan stumbling blindly into March Madness or a college diehard wondering about your favorite player’s pro outlook, The Crossover’s Front Office has you covered. On Monday, we broke down the prospect to watch on all 68 teams. Today, we’re looking at matchups, analyzing draft stocks and circling the games we’d love to see.

This is your guide to scouting March Madness, from an NBA draft perspective.

SOUTH REGION

Chock-full of juicy potential matchups, the South features the presumptive No. 1 draft pick (DeAndre Ayton), another top-five pick (Mo Bamba), the nation’s top defense (Virginia), second-best defense (Cincinnati) and fifth-best defense (Tennessee), another lottery hopeful (Lonnie Walker)…and Kentucky.

First–Round Game to Watch: Nevada (7) vs. Texas (10)

Nevada has a high-powered offense led by talented twins Caleb and Cody Martin. Texas has a terrific defense led by a likely top-five draft pick in Mo Bamba, who may or may not be healthy (and doesn’t always play as hard as you’d like) but can erase essentially every good look around the rim if he wants to. The Wolf Pack start four rangy 6’7” players, but their tallest guy is 6’8”, and their rotation has been thinned by injuries. If Bamba, he of the 7’9” wingspan and 9’6” standing reach, is at his best, he’s fully capable of swinging this game and making Cincinnati sweat in the second round, too. Keep an eye on hyper-athletic Texas guard Kerwin Roach and Nevada’s lanky shooting specialist Kendall Stephens. If you’ve got a keen eye, you might be able to tell the Martin twins apart by the end of this thing.

Second–Round Game We Want: Arizona (4) vs. Kentucky (5)

Everyone is drooling over this game, except the scouts who have to physically go to Boise to witness it. Both sets of Wildcats have tough first-round opponents, one of them (12-seed Davidson) also being Wildcats, but if the chalk holds, this is one of the juiciest matchups of the entire first weekend (and maybe the tournament on whole).

From both present and future standpoints, Deandre Ayton is the most intriguing player in the entire tournament. The 7’1” behemoth freshman cut a fiery swath through the Pac-12 tournament last week, catching lobs, draining jumpers and looking completely unguardable. Rawle Alkins supplies the glue on the wing. And if Allonzo Trier gets hot from outside, it’ll either push the Wildcats over the hump or mean nobody else touches the ball all game (or, maybe both).

Kentucky will counter with a vast array of long frontcourt players (all of whom get five fouls to use on Ayton) and rely on freshmen Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox, to supply the scoring. This set of Wildcats should be feeling great about themselves after rolling through the SEC tourney, and as usual, basically everyone on John Calipari’s team is a prospect on some level. Whoever wins gets to (presumably) go get strangled by Virginia’s top-ranked defense in the Sweet 16. Which brings us to…

Optimal Sweet 16: Virginia-Arizona, Miami-Texas

Neither Miami nor Texas is a seed favorite in their respective pod, and they’ll be hard-pressed to punch tickets to Atlanta. For our purposes, extra games from lottery talents Lonnie Walker and Bamba would be gravy. More importantly, watching Ayton try and demolish Virginia’s vaunted pack-line scheme could be the stuff of legend. The disciplined Cavaliers (who have a nice prospect in versatile forward De’Andre Hunter) will be favorites. But if Arizona can knock off the No. 1 seed, it’ll be in great position to win the region. How do we replace “One Shining Moment” with “Feds Watching?”

Most to Gain: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky

Dating back to Kentucky’s Feb. 20 win over Arkansas, the Wildcats are 6–1. Over those games, Gilgeous-Alexander’s averages are as follows: 18.4 points, 7.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.4 turnovers on 52% shooting, while making 9 of 18 threes and 82.6% of his free throws. He’s evolved from the timid-looking ball-handler we saw in November and is now the only player on the Wildcats who seems to know where he’s going on the floor 100% of the time. He’s a crafty finisher and instinctive on-ball defender, with great size for his position. Gilgeous-Alexander’s massive strides haven’t gone unnoticed by NBA teams (“He’s really helping himself,” one scout old me last week). The 19-year-old starting to push toward late-lottery position, and might be Kentucky’s best prospect. This tourney is another big platform for him.

Sleeper to Follow: D’Marcus Simonds, G, Georgia State

If there’s a 15-seed upset worth poring over, it might be Cincinnati and Georgia State. Part of that is Cincy’s offensive shortcomings, but another big reason is Simonds, a sophomore guard who runs hot and cold, but can be a huge factor when he’s locked in. He scored 27 points to sink a good UT-Arlington team and get the Panthers into the tourney, and his blend of athleticism and playmaking ability makes the whole team go (he uses a whopping 35.7% of their possessions while on the court). He needs another year or two of school, but Simonds is a legit talent worthy of your attention.

EAST REGION

Here is a list of the point guards in the East region: Jalen Brunson (Villanova), Carsen Edwards (Purdue), Keenan Evans (Texas Tech), Landry Shamet (Wichita State), Jevon Carter (West Virginia), Chris Chiozza (Florida), Jaylen Barford (Arkansas), Justin Robinson (Virginia Tech), Collin Sexton (Alabama), Kamar Baldwin (Butler), Aaron Holiday (UCLA) and Jaylen Adams (St. Bonaventure). Enough said.

First–Round Game to Watch: Florida (6) vs. St. Bonaventure/UCLA (11)

No matter who wins the 11-seed play-in, this game should be high-scoring and feature some quality talent. The Gators love to launch threes, and are led by second-round prospect Jalen Hudson and rock-solid senior point guard Chris Chiozza. Whichever team they draw, there will be a solid backcourt matchup: UCLA’s Aaron Holiday and St. Bonaventure’s Jaylen Adams are both gifted scorers and playmakers with NBA potential. The Bruins also have freshmen Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, both of whom are unfinished products but plenty talented. Expect high point totals and a degree of unpredictability.

Second–Round Game We Want: Villanova (1) vs. Alabama (9)

Villanova is on this year’s shortlist of true title contenders, led by two soon-to-be draft picks in Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson. The Big East champs are rolling and will be heavily favored, which makes things juicy should they run into the Crimson Tide and wrecking-ball point guard Collin Sexton. Although there’s a bit of an overwrought narrative surrounding Sexton’s intangibles as a competitor, he’s been on a mission of late and has a chance to be the first guard drafted in June. Alabama is arguably the most talented team in the SEC, with Herbert Jones, Donta Hall, John Petty and Dazon Ingram all of interest. If they get past Virginia Tech, this matchup is can’t miss.

Expect Sexton to spend much of the game harassing Brunson, and in turn, Villanova can throw a variety of defenders at him including lanky shutdown specialist Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo, a tough combo guard who’s also on the NBA radar. Bridges has evolved into a quality scorer on all three levels, and while he’s not a great shot creator, playing off of Brunson (who’s in the mix as a Top 40 pick) makes life easy. Villanova has an edge when it comes to experience and should pull this out (particularly playing in Pittsburgh), but it’s far from an easy draw.

Optimal Sweet 16: Villanova-West Virginia, Purdue-UCLA

Watching Villanova deal with West Virginia’s all-out pressure would be fascinating, particularly given the head-to-head matchup between Brunson and the Mountaineers’ Jevon Carter, arguably the best defensive guard in college hoops. That game would be an exercise in discipline and tempo between two well-drilled groups, with one X-Factor being West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate, an elite, effortless shot-blocker. UCLA has the size and personnel to hang with Purdue, and Aaron Holiday and Carsen Edwards are two of the most potent scoring guards in the tourney.

Most to Gain: Jevon Carter, G, West Virginia

As we mentioned, the East is chock-full of great guards, and for Carter, a senior who’s a projected second-rounder, it could be a proving ground. He’s an elite, tenacious on-ball defender and will have a chance to solidify himself as a specialist worth a hard look. He could see Landry Shamet in the second round and Jalen Brunson or Collin Sexton in the Sweet 16, scenarios that are well within West Virginia’s reach. If Carter continues to look like a legitimate shutdown guy, the opportunity to grow his stock is significant.

Sleeper to Follow: Jaylen Adams, G, St. Bonaventure

Adams is one of the lesser-known talents in this region, but a prospect NBA teams are well aware of, helping the Bonnies to an at-large bid and posting a career-best 45% three-point clip coupled with a 29.4% assist rate. He’s not overly big or strong, but he’s a gutsy, experienced playmaker who’s good enough to help play spoiler. Adams can really help his case as a draft pick this week, especially given the opposition already noted above.

MIDWEST REGION

Three traditional blue bloods headline the Midwest, and it’s hard to see anyone other than Kansas, Duke and Michigan State making it out. Consider the talent on those teams and the fact that Trae Young’s one-and-done saga comes to a head here, and you’ve got more than enough drama.

First–Round Game to Watch: Rhode Island (7) vs. Oklahoma (10)

The very first game of the first round looks like appointment viewing. Oklahoma sneaking into the tournament was a surprise to many, and the Sooners’ late-season slump correlates directly with their reliance on Trae Young and his fall back to earth. From the outset, his absurd scoring numbers were unsustainable, and in an especially tough Big 12, opponents began to key on him heavily and take advantage. Some scouts think Young has disengaged a bit, and while there’s no guarantee Oklahoma wins a game, he’s certainly capable of catching fire and throwing a wrench into teams’ plans. Rhode Island has a trio of nice guards in Jared Terrell, Jeff Dowtin and E.C. Matthews, and excels at forcing turnovers. It’ll be a stiff test for Young, who’s no lock to be the first guard drafted.

Second–Round Game We Want: Duke vs. Oklahoma

Apologies for beating the Trae Young drum even harder, but this is the obvious potential first-weekend spotlight game. You imagine he’ll come prepared given the chance to take out Duke, with a pair of Top-10 big men in Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter and the backcourt duo of Grayson Allen and Trevon Duval. The Blue Devils play a lot of 2-3 zone, which will likely mean open threes for Young, which means this could get interesting. Plus, the thought of Young and Allen interacting on the court in any way has potential to break Twitter.

It’s unclear if Oklahoma has the horses or the creativity to whip itself into prime shape, but getting to see Young in another high-stakes environment would be a treat. When Duke is in sync, they’re as tough a team to guard as you’ll find, using the versatile skill sets of Carter and Bagley to overwhelm the opposition while Allen finds space to launch threes. This game may not actually be that close, but it sure puts whole lot of talent on one court.

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Optimal Sweet 16: Kansas-Auburn, Duke-Michigan State

As usual, Kansas has a host of potential NBA players led by Devonte Graham (although there’s no can’t-miss talent on this year’s roster). Auburn’s pod is perhaps the least interesting in the whole bracket from a draft perspective, but the Tigers play a deep rotation and have guys who will get hard looks from the NBA in time (there are no seniors in their rotation). The other side is a different story: between Duke and Michigan State, there are seven guys with a chance at the first round, headlined by Bagley, Carter, Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson. This is a convenient segue into the next section.

Most to Gain: Jaren Jackson Jr., F/C, Michigan State

Jackson’s draft stock skyrocketed over the course of the season and he has a chance to be a top-five pick, but his recent play has been uninspired. He was plagued by foul trouble during the Big Ten tournament and still has some issues consistently imposing himself on games, despite his high-end defensive versatility and growing offensive skill set. It’s less a knock on him than a byproduct of his age — he’s one of the youngest players in college basketball and needs to mature physically and mentally. With that noted, he’s certainly good enough to turn it on and help anchor a Final Four run, and if the Spartans draw Duke, Jackson could be playing head-to-head with Marvin Bagley for draft position. His draft floor is safe, but Jackson’s play in March could elevate his ceiling — and lead Michigan State to a title.

Sleeper to Follow: Kenrich Williams, F, TCU

We’ve written a good bit about Williams, who despite his advanced age is a Top-60 prospect in our rankings. He’s kept a relatively low draft profile, but NBA teams are keen on his versatility and impressive grasp of the floor. Williams is a terrific rebounder and passer, has the size to defend both forward spots and doesn’t have to score to impact the game. He’s also a 40% three-point shooter. He may not get drafted, but it should be no surprise if he winds up on a roster going into next season.

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WEST REGION

There’s less high-end NBA talent in the West, but there are a bunch of legitimately good teams, great coaches, and some sneaky prospects. Plus, Michael Porter Jr.’s health is a massive wild card.

First–Round Game to Watch: Ohio State vs. South Dakota State

Buckeyes forward Keita-Bates Diop and Jackrabbits big man Mike Daum were two of the more prolific inside-out scorers in college hoops this season, and make this a fun matchup. South Dakota State is great at limiting mistakes and generating open threes, funneling more than a third of their shots through Daum, a 6’9” post who can be a load for anyone to deal with. Bates-Diop has been fully maximized by Ohio State in Chris Holtmann’s first season and is his team’s only go-to scorer, playing his way into the second round mix (and maybe the first) with a terrific season.

Second–Round Game We Want: North Carolina vs. Texas A&M

Texas A&M has been wildly inconsistent all season, and it’s unclear if they’ll even win a game here. But if the Aggies knock off Providence, their massive frontcourt could make the Tar Heels sweat, the chief threat being potential late-lottery selection Robert Williams. North Carolina is experienced, tough as nails and greater than the sum of its parts, but in this matchup would likely lean on two freshmen, Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley, to combat Williams and Tyler Davis.

For Williams, the big question is his motor, as he checks in and out of games mentally when he could be dominating the glass and ducking into space for easy dunks. Engineering an upset and putting together a monster performance or two could be somewhat redeeming given the circumstances. Teammate D.J. Hogg is a terrific shooter with size, and UNC’s trio of Joel Berry, Theo Pinson and Luke Maye all still have plenty to prove. The Heels should handle business in this scenario, but A&M’s best — though fleeting — can flip the script.

Optimal Sweet 16: Gonzaga-Missouri, North Carolina-Michigan

Apologies to Xavier, but if Michael Porter is healthy and firing from three, he’s the guy scouts want to see deep in the tournament. His younger brother Jontay, an impeccably skilled big, has become a fascinating prospect of his own. Pitting them against Gonzaga’s red-hot Killian Tillie and powerful slasher Rui Hachimura is prime territory. Carolina and Michigan don’t have elite prospects, but their guys all have plenty to play for, particularly draft hopeful Moritz Wagner.

Most to Gain: Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri

Conversely, Porter might have the most to lose: if he continues to look a step slow or re-injures himself in any way, he’ll enter draft workouts with more questions surrounding his stock than answers. That said, beyond getting hurt, nothing can damn his chances to the point where he can’t address the issues in private workouts. In the scenario where Porter looks like his old self and/or leads a surprise tournament run, he’ll add to his résumé as an elite prospect. We’ll all have to tune in to find out.

Sleeper to Follow: Malik Pope, F, San Diego State

The Aztecs are one of the hottest teams in the tournament, chalking up nine games in a row and an auto-bid thanks to quality defense. Pope, a versatile 6’11” big, is their top pro prospect. While he’s battled injuries and has never quite delivered on his promise, he can shoot jumpers, attack the glass and bother opponents with his length. There are no guarantees here, but Pope is a legitimate NBA prospect, and a second-round matchup with Michigan and Moritz Wagner would be worth the watch.

Read SI’s expert bracket analysis here, and click here to find our bracket picks.

<p>ORLANDO, Fla. — I made a mistake a few weeks ago that turned into an experiment. While answering a mailbag question about the University of Central Florida’s football team, I referred to the school at first as UCF and not Central Florida. The stylebook requires Central Florida for the first reference. The reason for this requirement is that outside of Florida, people might not recognize what UCF means without that initial reminder.</p><p>For years, athletic department officials at UCF have included a section in game notes packets explaining that the preferred nomenclature is UCF and not Central Florida, but few outside Florida have listened. Just as Merriam-Webster doesn’t add a word such as “Welp” to the dictionary until it reaches a certain critical mass in the lexicon, we don’t change a first reference term to an acronym until we’re sure most people reading it would understand what the letters mean. I realized my first reference error after sending that mailbag column to my editor, but instead of sending an email asking him to correct it, I let it go. I wanted to see if anyone would question the acronym. No one did. Not the editor. Not a single reader.</p><p>It’s difficult to pinpoint when the University of Southern California became USC for people outside the Southland or when Louisiana State University became LSU for people outside Louisiana, but it’s relatively easy to determine when the University of Central Florida became UCF to the people outside the borders of the Sunshine State. It happened Jan. 1 when the Knights beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl to cap an undefeated season and then declared themselves national champions.</p><p>Athletic director Danny White and UCF president John Hitt discussed the idea of declaring the team national champs in a suite at Mercedes-Benz Stadium before the game. But it was an abstract discussion, more whimsical than anything else. First, they didn’t know if their team would beat Auburn. Second, they wouldn’t know until later that night that Auburn had beaten both the teams that would play for the national title.</p><p>White still didn’t know the second part as he celebrated on the field with the players following UCF’s 34–27 win, but he kept hearing the Knights bat around the idea that they should call themselves national champs. “I just kind of felt it,” White says.</p><p>Then he just kind of said it. </p><p>“That was not planned,” White says. “Our social media guy put the camera in my face. I didn’t know what I was going to say.”</p><p>White wasn’t too worried about his proclamation. “That’s something you can always kind of back off on,” he said. Of course. The biggest win the program’s history inspired a groundswell of emotion. White could have chalked up his declaration to the euphoria of the moment.</p><p>But as the video of White’s words picked up steam on social media, he realized he didn’t need to back off anything. His (relatively) young football program had just gone 13–0. It had beaten a team that defeated two College Football Playoff participants. The Knights had done everything they could within the system presented to them in the 2017 season. So why not declare them national champs?</p><p>After all, UCF only opened in 1963. The Knights only began playing football in 1979. They didn’t move to the FBS—then called Division I-A—until 1996. They missed most of the years where just about any school could declare itself the national champ. Alabama claims a national title in 1941, and the Crimson Tide got shut out by Vanderbilt and Mississippi State that season. Surely there’s room in the pantheon of declared national titles for a 13–0 team. (The undefeated 2004 Auburn Tigers, denied a chance to play for the BCS title, say hello while holding <a href="https://www.golfdigest.com/story/former-auburn-football-coach-still-thrilled-that-tigers-were-golf-digests-mythical-national-champions" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:their Golf Digest national title" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">their <em>Golf Digest</em> national title</a> aloft.</p><p>Instead of backing off his statement, White doubled down. The Knights got a parade at Disney World. </p><p>They printed <a href="http://si.fanatics.com/COLLEGE_UCF_Knights" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:national championship gear" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">national championship gear</a> that they can’t keep on the shelves. Stroll around campus, and it’s on seemingly every third body.</p><p>White realizes that most people outside his fan base consider Alabama the national champion and consider UCF’s declared title something between adorable and annoying. But he doesn’t care. It served a valuable purpose for White—energizing a young and steadily growing alumni base—while also prompting a discussion that might ultimately help UCF in the future.</p><p>“The conversation became a healthy conversation for college football,” White says. “It’s the only sport in the country where it’s not settled on the field or the court. It should be. The playoff should be expanded, and everyone should have an opportunity. There shouldn’t be an undefeated team with no chance to play in the CFP.”</p><p>The argument here is that UCF could schedule tougher Power 5 out-of-conference opponents than Maryland. Instead of asking for home-and-home matchups, they could go on the road for a check to get the wins they need to have a chance to make the playoff. Theoretically, they could play four Power 5 schools at their stadiums. If UCF were to win and a couple of those schools challenge for their conference titles, then UCF would have a case. Up the road in Tallahassee, Bobby Bowden built Florida State into a monster with an anytime, anywhere scheduling philosophy, but that was a different era of college football.</p><p>The problem in practice is that even if UCF wanted to hit the road and play four Power 5 opponents—and White does not want to do this—few of the schools UCF would need to schedule to compete for the playoff would want to schedule UCF. The Knights still aren’t a big enough brand name for one of those ESPN-arranged neutral site payday games, and few good Power 5 programs want to pay to bring in a team that might beat them.</p><p>White must juggle those issues as he tries to capitalize on this moment. Josh Heupel has the more difficult job, though. Now that former coach Scott Frost—who returned to alma mater Nebraska after the Peach Bowl win—has shown the nation UCF football’s potential, Heupel will be expected to keep the Knights playing at that level. “Everything that’s going on is the first time here,” says Heupel, who won a national title as a quarterback at Oklahoma and who later served as the Sooners’ offensive coordinator. “When I got to Oklahoma [as a player], they had not been very good for a while. There’s an energy that was there. It was just different when you’re in that process.”</p><p>Heupel’s situation is the inverse of the one Frost inherited two years ago. Then, the Knights were coming off an 0–12 season in George O’Leary’s final year. But they were also only two years removed from going 12–1 and capping the season by winning the Fiesta Bowl. Now, UCF is coming off 13–0, but only a little more than two years removed from 0–12. In other words, the good times can end quickly if the Knights don’t take advantage of this momentum.</p><p>It’ll be up to Heupel, rising junior quarterback McKenzie Milton and the rest of UCF’s returning veterans to build on the progress started by Frost, linebacker Shaquem Griffin, cornerback Mike Hughes and the rest of the outgoing players who turned 0–12 to 13–0. Meanwhile, it will be up to White to tap into a growing city that has embraced a winner—even if deep-seated allegiances lie elsewhere. White knows Orlando has been largely a Florida/Florida State town for decades, but instead of simply waiting for the UCF grads—average alumni age: 35—to overwhelm the Gators and Seminoles with their numbers as the years go on, White wants the other alums to adopt the team in their town. He knows a young alum may only be able to afford a game or two a year in Gainesville or Tallahassee. He hopes those Gators and Seminoles will make the shorter drive to buy a cheaper ticket to watch fun football on the weekends they don’t head back to their schools. “There’s room to support your hometown team and support your alma mater,” White says. “You don’t have to pick.”</p><p>Among those three last season, the choice for superior football lived in Orlando. That may change with new coaches at Florida and Florida State, but White hopes Heupel and Milton and the Knights can build on a national title that could be the cornerstone of a program—even though that title may only exist in the minds of the people at a school that forevermore needs no further introduction than the letters U-C-F.</p><p><em>Need more Knights? Don’t miss Andy Staples’s SI TV feature on the inspiring story of UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/The-Unstoppable-Shaquem-Griffin/dp/B077GGRG3H/ref=sr_1_1?s=instant-video&ie=UTF8&qid=1520436392&sr=1-1&keywords=the+unstoppable+shaquem+griffin" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:available now on Amazon Channels" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">available now on Amazon Channels</a></em>.</p><h3>A Random Ranking</h3><p><em>American Idol</em> is back with new judges (Lionel Richie!) and a new network (ABC). They’ll probably forget the fact that the original was a hit because people loved watching Simon Cowell savage terrible singers in the tryouts. But perhaps the reboot will allow America will do better than <a href="http://americanidol.wikia.com/wiki/Season_3" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the time it allowed Jennifer Hudson to finish seventh" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the time it allowed Jennifer Hudson to finish seventh</a>. So let’s pause, pour out a little for Brian Dunkleman, and rank the top five <em>American Idol</em> champs from its original run.</p><p><strong>1. Kelly Clarkson</strong></p><p><strong>2. Carrie Underwood</strong></p><p><strong>3. Fantasia (Though Hudson still should have won Season 3.)</strong></p><p><strong>4. Scotty McCreery</strong></p><p><strong>5. David Cook*</strong></p><p><em>*Cook’s career didn’t take off after his title, but I loved him on the show. He definitely would have scored big with one of the new judges <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpR0uunWmGQ" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:with this cover" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">with this cover</a>.</em></p><h3>Three And Out</h3><p><strong>1. What appears to be a basketball story now probably will wind up a football story soon.</strong> I’m not referring to the FBI investigation, though. I’m talking about firings for cause. Connecticut is firing a coach for cause, and Pittsburgh may be trying to use a for-cause firing as leverage to get its fired coach to accept a lower buyout.</p><p>UConn announced Saturday that it would fire basketball coach Kevin Ollie for cause. This makes sense. The Huskies are being investigated by the NCAA, and if they planned to self-report violations anyway, they can throw Ollie under the bus and fire him for free. (Even though they’re really firing him for losing.) Pittsburgh announced Friday that it would fire Kevin Stallings, but did not release any buyout details. <a href="http://triblive.com/sports/college/pitt/13402846-74/lawyers-for-kevin-stallings-released-a-statement-friday-stating-that-the-former" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:A statement from Stallings’s attorney" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">A statement from Stallings’s attorney</a> confirmed that the Panthers are trying to wriggle out of the $9.4 million buyout called for in the contract.</p><p>The contracts for coaches have gotten so huge—and athletic directors as a group are so bad at negotiating—that the price of failure has skyrocketed. The Stallings hire was one of the worst in college sports history. Then Pittsburgh AD Scott Barnes—who was soon headed to Oregon State—took a suggestion from search firm head Todd Turner (the former boss of Barnes at Washington and Stallings at Vanderbilt) and hired a guy who was about to be fired at Vanderbilt. Negotiating against no one, Barnes agreed to a massive buyout. Stallings then promptly torpedoed the program. Barnes doesn’t care, of course. He bolted for Oregon State shortly after saddling Pittsburgh with that coach and that contract. Now AD Heather Lyke has to deal with the mess Barnes left behind. And unless there is a skeleton Stallings left behind that we don’t know about, the only way out of it may be to write a huge check.</p><p>We’ve already seen this in football, by the way. Florida owed Jim McElwain $12.5 million when McElwain was fired last October. But the Gators threatened to fire McElwain for cause and McElwain’s reps agreed to cut the buyout to $7.5 million. This probably wasn’t a huge victory for Florida, though. McElwain was owed the money through 2023, and his original contract included mitigation terms that would have subtracted any subsequent salary from the amount owed. The new buyout deal gave McElwain a huge chunk of money up front ($3.75 million paid on Dec. 1, 2017) and took away the mitigation. So if he makes more than $5 million between now and 2023 at Michigan or anywhere else, he would come out ahead of the old deal.</p><p><strong>2. Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts always pays his debts.</strong></p><p><strong>3. Feel free to caption this photo…</strong></p><h3>What’s Eating Andy?</h3><p>Last week, Houston defensive tackle <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/03/05/houston-ed-oliver-nfl-draft-2019" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Ed Oliver announced he intends to turn pro after his junior season" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Ed Oliver announced he intends to turn pro after his junior season</a>. This seems quite logical. Oliver is a likely first-round pick. It is the best economic decision for him. It’s also something everyone knew was coming since Oliver played his first game as a Cougar. So it’s refreshing to see him announce this so he doesn’t have to play coy for a season when everyone knows he plans to go pro. Obviously, if something changes—maybe he gets hurt—he can re-evaluate that decision before the deadline if necessary, but there is nothing wrong with saying you want to do the thing you’ve always wanted to do.</p><p>I wish more players who are obviously leaving after three seasons would do this. Then we’d be spared stupid questions about whether they’ll stay or go pro, and they’d be spared having to answer those stupid questions with an “I’m not sure” when we know they’re 100% sure.</p><h3>What’s Andy Eating?</h3><p>When choosing restaurants I review, I usually consider price. I’m a firm believer that a great meal shouldn’t cost as much as a car payment, and I’ve made it my goal in life to find as many reasonably priced great meals in as many cities as possible. Occasionally, I’ll write about something expensive like the <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/03/05/ncaa-kickoff-touchback-rule-change-nfl-combine" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:spinalis cut of steak" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">spinalis cut of steak</a>, but that’s only if the item is unusual, is unavailable at a cheap price and should be tasted at least once before one dies. Otherwise, I’m looking for a deal.</p><p>So why am I writing about Joe’s Stone Crab? Because that Miami Beach institution offers one of the best dining deals in Florida. This may sound crazy. The menu item included in the restaurant’s name is fairly rare and quite expensive. And if you have the means, you absolutely should get the stone crabs. They’re wonderful. They’re sweeter and more tender than any non-stone crab meat you’ve had. But if you go to Joe’s, you also should order half a fried chicken for $6.95.</p><p>This is not a special. This isn’t limited to a particular day of the week. Every day, Joe’s sells four pieces of crispy, juicy fried chicken for just under seven bucks. You shouldn’t order it because it’s the cheapest thing on the menu, either. You should order it because it is great fried chicken. The skin crackles when touched. The meat inside oozes juice. It’s better than Popeye’s—and if you’ve read this space frequently you know my esteem for Popeye’s—and it costs about the same. There also may be a Rolls-Royce or a Maybach parked out front, which rarely happens at my local Popeye’s.</p><p>Why does Joe’s offer this? “The philosophy at Joe’s, for the past 100-plus years, is that everyone should be able to afford a meal at Joe’s,” reads a message on the Joe’s website. The staff at Joe’s is under strict orders to treat every diner as if he’s the one who arrived in the Rolls, so don’t feel ashamed if all you can order is that chicken. Everyone should eat at Joe’s at least once for the scene alone. Imagine every person you watched on <em>Miami Vice</em> crammed into one dining room. If it’s lunch on a Friday, many of those people will be the age the characters from the original series would be now. It’s a swirl of white sportcoats, skinny pants and tight dresses. Deals are being made. Scams are being run. The conversation three tables over might result in a marriage, a windfall or a jail sentence.</p><p>A meal at Joe’s is everything a meal on Miami Beach should be, and bless the people there for wanting to make sure everyone who wants one gets to eat one. </p>
UCF's Follow-Up Act Will Be Just as Important as Its Flawless Season

ORLANDO, Fla. — I made a mistake a few weeks ago that turned into an experiment. While answering a mailbag question about the University of Central Florida’s football team, I referred to the school at first as UCF and not Central Florida. The stylebook requires Central Florida for the first reference. The reason for this requirement is that outside of Florida, people might not recognize what UCF means without that initial reminder.

For years, athletic department officials at UCF have included a section in game notes packets explaining that the preferred nomenclature is UCF and not Central Florida, but few outside Florida have listened. Just as Merriam-Webster doesn’t add a word such as “Welp” to the dictionary until it reaches a certain critical mass in the lexicon, we don’t change a first reference term to an acronym until we’re sure most people reading it would understand what the letters mean. I realized my first reference error after sending that mailbag column to my editor, but instead of sending an email asking him to correct it, I let it go. I wanted to see if anyone would question the acronym. No one did. Not the editor. Not a single reader.

It’s difficult to pinpoint when the University of Southern California became USC for people outside the Southland or when Louisiana State University became LSU for people outside Louisiana, but it’s relatively easy to determine when the University of Central Florida became UCF to the people outside the borders of the Sunshine State. It happened Jan. 1 when the Knights beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl to cap an undefeated season and then declared themselves national champions.

Athletic director Danny White and UCF president John Hitt discussed the idea of declaring the team national champs in a suite at Mercedes-Benz Stadium before the game. But it was an abstract discussion, more whimsical than anything else. First, they didn’t know if their team would beat Auburn. Second, they wouldn’t know until later that night that Auburn had beaten both the teams that would play for the national title.

White still didn’t know the second part as he celebrated on the field with the players following UCF’s 34–27 win, but he kept hearing the Knights bat around the idea that they should call themselves national champs. “I just kind of felt it,” White says.

Then he just kind of said it.

“That was not planned,” White says. “Our social media guy put the camera in my face. I didn’t know what I was going to say.”

White wasn’t too worried about his proclamation. “That’s something you can always kind of back off on,” he said. Of course. The biggest win the program’s history inspired a groundswell of emotion. White could have chalked up his declaration to the euphoria of the moment.

But as the video of White’s words picked up steam on social media, he realized he didn’t need to back off anything. His (relatively) young football program had just gone 13–0. It had beaten a team that defeated two College Football Playoff participants. The Knights had done everything they could within the system presented to them in the 2017 season. So why not declare them national champs?

After all, UCF only opened in 1963. The Knights only began playing football in 1979. They didn’t move to the FBS—then called Division I-A—until 1996. They missed most of the years where just about any school could declare itself the national champ. Alabama claims a national title in 1941, and the Crimson Tide got shut out by Vanderbilt and Mississippi State that season. Surely there’s room in the pantheon of declared national titles for a 13–0 team. (The undefeated 2004 Auburn Tigers, denied a chance to play for the BCS title, say hello while holding their Golf Digest national title aloft.

Instead of backing off his statement, White doubled down. The Knights got a parade at Disney World.

They printed national championship gear that they can’t keep on the shelves. Stroll around campus, and it’s on seemingly every third body.

White realizes that most people outside his fan base consider Alabama the national champion and consider UCF’s declared title something between adorable and annoying. But he doesn’t care. It served a valuable purpose for White—energizing a young and steadily growing alumni base—while also prompting a discussion that might ultimately help UCF in the future.

“The conversation became a healthy conversation for college football,” White says. “It’s the only sport in the country where it’s not settled on the field or the court. It should be. The playoff should be expanded, and everyone should have an opportunity. There shouldn’t be an undefeated team with no chance to play in the CFP.”

The argument here is that UCF could schedule tougher Power 5 out-of-conference opponents than Maryland. Instead of asking for home-and-home matchups, they could go on the road for a check to get the wins they need to have a chance to make the playoff. Theoretically, they could play four Power 5 schools at their stadiums. If UCF were to win and a couple of those schools challenge for their conference titles, then UCF would have a case. Up the road in Tallahassee, Bobby Bowden built Florida State into a monster with an anytime, anywhere scheduling philosophy, but that was a different era of college football.

The problem in practice is that even if UCF wanted to hit the road and play four Power 5 opponents—and White does not want to do this—few of the schools UCF would need to schedule to compete for the playoff would want to schedule UCF. The Knights still aren’t a big enough brand name for one of those ESPN-arranged neutral site payday games, and few good Power 5 programs want to pay to bring in a team that might beat them.

White must juggle those issues as he tries to capitalize on this moment. Josh Heupel has the more difficult job, though. Now that former coach Scott Frost—who returned to alma mater Nebraska after the Peach Bowl win—has shown the nation UCF football’s potential, Heupel will be expected to keep the Knights playing at that level. “Everything that’s going on is the first time here,” says Heupel, who won a national title as a quarterback at Oklahoma and who later served as the Sooners’ offensive coordinator. “When I got to Oklahoma [as a player], they had not been very good for a while. There’s an energy that was there. It was just different when you’re in that process.”

Heupel’s situation is the inverse of the one Frost inherited two years ago. Then, the Knights were coming off an 0–12 season in George O’Leary’s final year. But they were also only two years removed from going 12–1 and capping the season by winning the Fiesta Bowl. Now, UCF is coming off 13–0, but only a little more than two years removed from 0–12. In other words, the good times can end quickly if the Knights don’t take advantage of this momentum.

It’ll be up to Heupel, rising junior quarterback McKenzie Milton and the rest of UCF’s returning veterans to build on the progress started by Frost, linebacker Shaquem Griffin, cornerback Mike Hughes and the rest of the outgoing players who turned 0–12 to 13–0. Meanwhile, it will be up to White to tap into a growing city that has embraced a winner—even if deep-seated allegiances lie elsewhere. White knows Orlando has been largely a Florida/Florida State town for decades, but instead of simply waiting for the UCF grads—average alumni age: 35—to overwhelm the Gators and Seminoles with their numbers as the years go on, White wants the other alums to adopt the team in their town. He knows a young alum may only be able to afford a game or two a year in Gainesville or Tallahassee. He hopes those Gators and Seminoles will make the shorter drive to buy a cheaper ticket to watch fun football on the weekends they don’t head back to their schools. “There’s room to support your hometown team and support your alma mater,” White says. “You don’t have to pick.”

Among those three last season, the choice for superior football lived in Orlando. That may change with new coaches at Florida and Florida State, but White hopes Heupel and Milton and the Knights can build on a national title that could be the cornerstone of a program—even though that title may only exist in the minds of the people at a school that forevermore needs no further introduction than the letters U-C-F.

Need more Knights? Don’t miss Andy Staples’s SI TV feature on the inspiring story of UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin, available now on Amazon Channels.

A Random Ranking

American Idol is back with new judges (Lionel Richie!) and a new network (ABC). They’ll probably forget the fact that the original was a hit because people loved watching Simon Cowell savage terrible singers in the tryouts. But perhaps the reboot will allow America will do better than the time it allowed Jennifer Hudson to finish seventh. So let’s pause, pour out a little for Brian Dunkleman, and rank the top five American Idol champs from its original run.

1. Kelly Clarkson

2. Carrie Underwood

3. Fantasia (Though Hudson still should have won Season 3.)

4. Scotty McCreery

5. David Cook*

*Cook’s career didn’t take off after his title, but I loved him on the show. He definitely would have scored big with one of the new judges with this cover.

Three And Out

1. What appears to be a basketball story now probably will wind up a football story soon. I’m not referring to the FBI investigation, though. I’m talking about firings for cause. Connecticut is firing a coach for cause, and Pittsburgh may be trying to use a for-cause firing as leverage to get its fired coach to accept a lower buyout.

UConn announced Saturday that it would fire basketball coach Kevin Ollie for cause. This makes sense. The Huskies are being investigated by the NCAA, and if they planned to self-report violations anyway, they can throw Ollie under the bus and fire him for free. (Even though they’re really firing him for losing.) Pittsburgh announced Friday that it would fire Kevin Stallings, but did not release any buyout details. A statement from Stallings’s attorney confirmed that the Panthers are trying to wriggle out of the $9.4 million buyout called for in the contract.

The contracts for coaches have gotten so huge—and athletic directors as a group are so bad at negotiating—that the price of failure has skyrocketed. The Stallings hire was one of the worst in college sports history. Then Pittsburgh AD Scott Barnes—who was soon headed to Oregon State—took a suggestion from search firm head Todd Turner (the former boss of Barnes at Washington and Stallings at Vanderbilt) and hired a guy who was about to be fired at Vanderbilt. Negotiating against no one, Barnes agreed to a massive buyout. Stallings then promptly torpedoed the program. Barnes doesn’t care, of course. He bolted for Oregon State shortly after saddling Pittsburgh with that coach and that contract. Now AD Heather Lyke has to deal with the mess Barnes left behind. And unless there is a skeleton Stallings left behind that we don’t know about, the only way out of it may be to write a huge check.

We’ve already seen this in football, by the way. Florida owed Jim McElwain $12.5 million when McElwain was fired last October. But the Gators threatened to fire McElwain for cause and McElwain’s reps agreed to cut the buyout to $7.5 million. This probably wasn’t a huge victory for Florida, though. McElwain was owed the money through 2023, and his original contract included mitigation terms that would have subtracted any subsequent salary from the amount owed. The new buyout deal gave McElwain a huge chunk of money up front ($3.75 million paid on Dec. 1, 2017) and took away the mitigation. So if he makes more than $5 million between now and 2023 at Michigan or anywhere else, he would come out ahead of the old deal.

2. Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts always pays his debts.

3. Feel free to caption this photo…

What’s Eating Andy?

Last week, Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver announced he intends to turn pro after his junior season. This seems quite logical. Oliver is a likely first-round pick. It is the best economic decision for him. It’s also something everyone knew was coming since Oliver played his first game as a Cougar. So it’s refreshing to see him announce this so he doesn’t have to play coy for a season when everyone knows he plans to go pro. Obviously, if something changes—maybe he gets hurt—he can re-evaluate that decision before the deadline if necessary, but there is nothing wrong with saying you want to do the thing you’ve always wanted to do.

I wish more players who are obviously leaving after three seasons would do this. Then we’d be spared stupid questions about whether they’ll stay or go pro, and they’d be spared having to answer those stupid questions with an “I’m not sure” when we know they’re 100% sure.

What’s Andy Eating?

When choosing restaurants I review, I usually consider price. I’m a firm believer that a great meal shouldn’t cost as much as a car payment, and I’ve made it my goal in life to find as many reasonably priced great meals in as many cities as possible. Occasionally, I’ll write about something expensive like the spinalis cut of steak, but that’s only if the item is unusual, is unavailable at a cheap price and should be tasted at least once before one dies. Otherwise, I’m looking for a deal.

So why am I writing about Joe’s Stone Crab? Because that Miami Beach institution offers one of the best dining deals in Florida. This may sound crazy. The menu item included in the restaurant’s name is fairly rare and quite expensive. And if you have the means, you absolutely should get the stone crabs. They’re wonderful. They’re sweeter and more tender than any non-stone crab meat you’ve had. But if you go to Joe’s, you also should order half a fried chicken for $6.95.

This is not a special. This isn’t limited to a particular day of the week. Every day, Joe’s sells four pieces of crispy, juicy fried chicken for just under seven bucks. You shouldn’t order it because it’s the cheapest thing on the menu, either. You should order it because it is great fried chicken. The skin crackles when touched. The meat inside oozes juice. It’s better than Popeye’s—and if you’ve read this space frequently you know my esteem for Popeye’s—and it costs about the same. There also may be a Rolls-Royce or a Maybach parked out front, which rarely happens at my local Popeye’s.

Why does Joe’s offer this? “The philosophy at Joe’s, for the past 100-plus years, is that everyone should be able to afford a meal at Joe’s,” reads a message on the Joe’s website. The staff at Joe’s is under strict orders to treat every diner as if he’s the one who arrived in the Rolls, so don’t feel ashamed if all you can order is that chicken. Everyone should eat at Joe’s at least once for the scene alone. Imagine every person you watched on Miami Vice crammed into one dining room. If it’s lunch on a Friday, many of those people will be the age the characters from the original series would be now. It’s a swirl of white sportcoats, skinny pants and tight dresses. Deals are being made. Scams are being run. The conversation three tables over might result in a marriage, a windfall or a jail sentence.

A meal at Joe’s is everything a meal on Miami Beach should be, and bless the people there for wanting to make sure everyone who wants one gets to eat one.

<p>ORLANDO, Fla. — I made a mistake a few weeks ago that turned into an experiment. While answering a mailbag question about the University of Central Florida’s football team, I referred to the school at first as UCF and not Central Florida. The stylebook requires Central Florida for the first reference. The reason for this requirement is that outside of Florida, people might not recognize what UCF means without that initial reminder.</p><p>For years, athletic department officials at UCF have included a section in game notes packets explaining that the preferred nomenclature is UCF and not Central Florida, but few outside Florida have listened. Just as Merriam-Webster doesn’t add a word such as “Welp” to the dictionary until it reaches a certain critical mass in the lexicon, we don’t change a first reference term to an acronym until we’re sure most people reading it would understand what the letters mean. I realized my first reference error after sending that mailbag column to my editor, but instead of sending an email asking him to correct it, I let it go. I wanted to see if anyone would question the acronym. No one did. Not the editor. Not a single reader.</p><p>It’s difficult to pinpoint when the University of Southern California became USC for people outside the Southland or when Louisiana State University became LSU for people outside Louisiana, but it’s relatively easy to determine when the University of Central Florida became UCF to the people outside the borders of the Sunshine State. It happened Jan. 1 when the Knights beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl to cap an undefeated season and then declared themselves national champions.</p><p>Athletic director Danny White and UCF president John Hitt discussed the idea of declaring the team national champs in a suite at Mercedes-Benz Stadium before the game. But it was an abstract discussion, more whimsical than anything else. First, they didn’t know if their team would beat Auburn. Second, they wouldn’t know until later that night that Auburn had beaten both the teams that would play for the national title.</p><p>White still didn’t know the second part as he celebrated on the field with the players following UCF’s 34–27 win, but he kept hearing the Knights bat around the idea that they should call themselves national champs. “I just kind of felt it,” White says.</p><p>Then he just kind of said it. </p><p>“That was not planned,” White says. “Our social media guy put the camera in my face. I didn’t know what I was going to say.”</p><p>White wasn’t too worried about his proclamation. “That’s something you can always kind of back off on,” he said. Of course. The biggest win the program’s history inspired a groundswell of emotion. White could have chalked up his declaration to the euphoria of the moment.</p><p>But as the video of White’s words picked up steam on social media, he realized he didn’t need to back off anything. His (relatively) young football program had just gone 13–0. It had beaten a team that defeated two College Football Playoff participants. The Knights had done everything they could within the system presented to them in the 2017 season. So why not declare them national champs?</p><p>After all, UCF only opened in 1963. The Knights only began playing football in 1979. They didn’t move to the FBS—then called Division I-A—until 1996. They missed most of the years where just about any school could declare itself the national champ. Alabama claims a national title in 1941, and the Crimson Tide got shut out by Vanderbilt and Mississippi State that season. Surely there’s room in the pantheon of declared national titles for a 13–0 team. (The undefeated 2004 Auburn Tigers, denied a chance to play for the BCS title, say hello while holding <a href="https://www.golfdigest.com/story/former-auburn-football-coach-still-thrilled-that-tigers-were-golf-digests-mythical-national-champions" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:their Golf Digest national title" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">their <em>Golf Digest</em> national title</a> aloft.</p><p>Instead of backing off his statement, White doubled down. The Knights got a parade at Disney World. </p><p>They printed <a href="http://si.fanatics.com/COLLEGE_UCF_Knights" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:national championship gear" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">national championship gear</a> that they can’t keep on the shelves. Stroll around campus, and it’s on seemingly every third body.</p><p>White realizes that most people outside his fan base consider Alabama the national champion and consider UCF’s declared title something between adorable and annoying. But he doesn’t care. It served a valuable purpose for White—energizing a young and steadily growing alumni base—while also prompting a discussion that might ultimately help UCF in the future.</p><p>“The conversation became a healthy conversation for college football,” White says. “It’s the only sport in the country where it’s not settled on the field or the court. It should be. The playoff should be expanded, and everyone should have an opportunity. There shouldn’t be an undefeated team with no chance to play in the CFP.”</p><p>The argument here is that UCF could schedule tougher Power 5 out-of-conference opponents than Maryland. Instead of asking for home-and-home matchups, they could go on the road for a check to get the wins they need to have a chance to make the playoff. Theoretically, they could play four Power 5 schools at their stadiums. If UCF were to win and a couple of those schools challenge for their conference titles, then UCF would have a case. Up the road in Tallahassee, Bobby Bowden built Florida State into a monster with an anytime, anywhere scheduling philosophy, but that was a different era of college football.</p><p>The problem in practice is that even if UCF wanted to hit the road and play four Power 5 opponents—and White does not want to do this—few of the schools UCF would need to schedule to compete for the playoff would want to schedule UCF. The Knights still aren’t a big enough brand name for one of those ESPN-arranged neutral site payday games, and few good Power 5 programs want to pay to bring in a team that might beat them.</p><p>White must juggle those issues as he tries to capitalize on this moment. Josh Heupel has the more difficult job, though. Now that former coach Scott Frost—who returned to alma mater Nebraska after the Peach Bowl win—has shown the nation UCF football’s potential, Heupel will be expected to keep the Knights playing at that level. “Everything that’s going on is the first time here,” says Heupel, who won a national title as a quarterback at Oklahoma and who later served as the Sooners’ offensive coordinator. “When I got to Oklahoma [as a player], they had not been very good for a while. There’s an energy that was there. It was just different when you’re in that process.”</p><p>Heupel’s situation is the inverse of the one Frost inherited two years ago. Then, the Knights were coming off an 0–12 season in George O’Leary’s final year. But they were also only two years removed from going 12–1 and capping the season by winning the Fiesta Bowl. Now, UCF is coming off 13–0, but only a little more than two years removed from 0–12. In other words, the good times can end quickly if the Knights don’t take advantage of this momentum.</p><p>It’ll be up to Heupel, rising junior quarterback McKenzie Milton and the rest of UCF’s returning veterans to build on the progress started by Frost, linebacker Shaquem Griffin, cornerback Mike Hughes and the rest of the outgoing players who turned 0–12 to 13–0. Meanwhile, it will be up to White to tap into a growing city that has embraced a winner—even if deep-seated allegiances lie elsewhere. White knows Orlando has been largely a Florida/Florida State town for decades, but instead of simply waiting for the UCF grads—average alumni age: 35—to overwhelm the Gators and Seminoles with their numbers as the years go on, White wants the other alums to adopt the team in their town. He knows a young alum may only be able to afford a game or two a year in Gainesville or Tallahassee. He hopes those Gators and Seminoles will make the shorter drive to buy a cheaper ticket to watch fun football on the weekends they don’t head back to their schools. “There’s room to support your hometown team and support your alma mater,” White says. “You don’t have to pick.”</p><p>Among those three last season, the choice for superior football lived in Orlando. That may change with new coaches at Florida and Florida State, but White hopes Heupel and Milton and the Knights can build on a national title that could be the cornerstone of a program—even though that title may only exist in the minds of the people at a school that forevermore needs no further introduction than the letters U-C-F.</p><p><em>Need more Knights? Don’t miss Andy Staples’s SI TV feature on the inspiring story of UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/The-Unstoppable-Shaquem-Griffin/dp/B077GGRG3H/ref=sr_1_1?s=instant-video&ie=UTF8&qid=1520436392&sr=1-1&keywords=the+unstoppable+shaquem+griffin" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:available now on Amazon Channels" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">available now on Amazon Channels</a></em>.</p><h3>A Random Ranking</h3><p><em>American Idol</em> is back with new judges (Lionel Richie!) and a new network (ABC). They’ll probably forget the fact that the original was a hit because people loved watching Simon Cowell savage terrible singers in the tryouts. But perhaps the reboot will allow America will do better than <a href="http://americanidol.wikia.com/wiki/Season_3" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the time it allowed Jennifer Hudson to finish seventh" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the time it allowed Jennifer Hudson to finish seventh</a>. So let’s pause, pour out a little for Brian Dunkleman, and rank the top five <em>American Idol</em> champs from its original run.</p><p><strong>1. Kelly Clarkson</strong></p><p><strong>2. Carrie Underwood</strong></p><p><strong>3. Fantasia (Though Hudson still should have won Season 3.)</strong></p><p><strong>4. Scotty McCreery</strong></p><p><strong>5. David Cook*</strong></p><p><em>*Cook’s career didn’t take off after his title, but I loved him on the show. He definitely would have scored big with one of the new judges <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpR0uunWmGQ" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:with this cover" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">with this cover</a>.</em></p><h3>Three And Out</h3><p><strong>1. What appears to be a basketball story now probably will wind up a football story soon.</strong> I’m not referring to the FBI investigation, though. I’m talking about firings for cause. Connecticut is firing a coach for cause, and Pittsburgh may be trying to use a for-cause firing as leverage to get its fired coach to accept a lower buyout.</p><p>UConn announced Saturday that it would fire basketball coach Kevin Ollie for cause. This makes sense. The Huskies are being investigated by the NCAA, and if they planned to self-report violations anyway, they can throw Ollie under the bus and fire him for free. (Even though they’re really firing him for losing.) Pittsburgh announced Friday that it would fire Kevin Stallings, but did not release any buyout details. <a href="http://triblive.com/sports/college/pitt/13402846-74/lawyers-for-kevin-stallings-released-a-statement-friday-stating-that-the-former" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:A statement from Stallings’s attorney" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">A statement from Stallings’s attorney</a> confirmed that the Panthers are trying to wriggle out of the $9.4 million buyout called for in the contract.</p><p>The contracts for coaches have gotten so huge—and athletic directors as a group are so bad at negotiating—that the price of failure has skyrocketed. The Stallings hire was one of the worst in college sports history. Then Pittsburgh AD Scott Barnes—who was soon headed to Oregon State—took a suggestion from search firm head Todd Turner (the former boss of Barnes at Washington and Stallings at Vanderbilt) and hired a guy who was about to be fired at Vanderbilt. Negotiating against no one, Barnes agreed to a massive buyout. Stallings then promptly torpedoed the program. Barnes doesn’t care, of course. He bolted for Oregon State shortly after saddling Pittsburgh with that coach and that contract. Now AD Heather Lyke has to deal with the mess Barnes left behind. And unless there is a skeleton Stallings left behind that we don’t know about, the only way out of it may be to write a huge check.</p><p>We’ve already seen this in football, by the way. Florida owed Jim McElwain $12.5 million when McElwain was fired last October. But the Gators threatened to fire McElwain for cause and McElwain’s reps agreed to cut the buyout to $7.5 million. This probably wasn’t a huge victory for Florida, though. McElwain was owed the money through 2023, and his original contract included mitigation terms that would have subtracted any subsequent salary from the amount owed. The new buyout deal gave McElwain a huge chunk of money up front ($3.75 million paid on Dec. 1, 2017) and took away the mitigation. So if he makes more than $5 million between now and 2023 at Michigan or anywhere else, he would come out ahead of the old deal.</p><p><strong>2. Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts always pays his debts.</strong></p><p><strong>3. Feel free to caption this photo…</strong></p><h3>What’s Eating Andy?</h3><p>Last week, Houston defensive tackle <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/03/05/houston-ed-oliver-nfl-draft-2019" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Ed Oliver announced he intends to turn pro after his junior season" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Ed Oliver announced he intends to turn pro after his junior season</a>. This seems quite logical. Oliver is a likely first-round pick. It is the best economic decision for him. It’s also something everyone knew was coming since Oliver played his first game as a Cougar. So it’s refreshing to see him announce this so he doesn’t have to play coy for a season when everyone knows he plans to go pro. Obviously, if something changes—maybe he gets hurt—he can re-evaluate that decision before the deadline if necessary, but there is nothing wrong with saying you want to do the thing you’ve always wanted to do.</p><p>I wish more players who are obviously leaving after three seasons would do this. Then we’d be spared stupid questions about whether they’ll stay or go pro, and they’d be spared having to answer those stupid questions with an “I’m not sure” when we know they’re 100% sure.</p><h3>What’s Andy Eating?</h3><p>When choosing restaurants I review, I usually consider price. I’m a firm believer that a great meal shouldn’t cost as much as a car payment, and I’ve made it my goal in life to find as many reasonably priced great meals in as many cities as possible. Occasionally, I’ll write about something expensive like the <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/03/05/ncaa-kickoff-touchback-rule-change-nfl-combine" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:spinalis cut of steak" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">spinalis cut of steak</a>, but that’s only if the item is unusual, is unavailable at a cheap price and should be tasted at least once before one dies. Otherwise, I’m looking for a deal.</p><p>So why am I writing about Joe’s Stone Crab? Because that Miami Beach institution offers one of the best dining deals in Florida. This may sound crazy. The menu item included in the restaurant’s name is fairly rare and quite expensive. And if you have the means, you absolutely should get the stone crabs. They’re wonderful. They’re sweeter and more tender than any non-stone crab meat you’ve had. But if you go to Joe’s, you also should order half a fried chicken for $6.95.</p><p>This is not a special. This isn’t limited to a particular day of the week. Every day, Joe’s sells four pieces of crispy, juicy fried chicken for just under seven bucks. You shouldn’t order it because it’s the cheapest thing on the menu, either. You should order it because it is great fried chicken. The skin crackles when touched. The meat inside oozes juice. It’s better than Popeye’s—and if you’ve read this space frequently you know my esteem for Popeye’s—and it costs about the same. There also may be a Rolls-Royce or a Maybach parked out front, which rarely happens at my local Popeye’s.</p><p>Why does Joe’s offer this? “The philosophy at Joe’s, for the past 100-plus years, is that everyone should be able to afford a meal at Joe’s,” reads a message on the Joe’s website. The staff at Joe’s is under strict orders to treat every diner as if he’s the one who arrived in the Rolls, so don’t feel ashamed if all you can order is that chicken. Everyone should eat at Joe’s at least once for the scene alone. Imagine every person you watched on <em>Miami Vice</em> crammed into one dining room. If it’s lunch on a Friday, many of those people will be the age the characters from the original series would be now. It’s a swirl of white sportcoats, skinny pants and tight dresses. Deals are being made. Scams are being run. The conversation three tables over might result in a marriage, a windfall or a jail sentence.</p><p>A meal at Joe’s is everything a meal on Miami Beach should be, and bless the people there for wanting to make sure everyone who wants one gets to eat one. </p>
UCF's Follow-Up Act Will Be Just as Important as Its Flawless Season

ORLANDO, Fla. — I made a mistake a few weeks ago that turned into an experiment. While answering a mailbag question about the University of Central Florida’s football team, I referred to the school at first as UCF and not Central Florida. The stylebook requires Central Florida for the first reference. The reason for this requirement is that outside of Florida, people might not recognize what UCF means without that initial reminder.

For years, athletic department officials at UCF have included a section in game notes packets explaining that the preferred nomenclature is UCF and not Central Florida, but few outside Florida have listened. Just as Merriam-Webster doesn’t add a word such as “Welp” to the dictionary until it reaches a certain critical mass in the lexicon, we don’t change a first reference term to an acronym until we’re sure most people reading it would understand what the letters mean. I realized my first reference error after sending that mailbag column to my editor, but instead of sending an email asking him to correct it, I let it go. I wanted to see if anyone would question the acronym. No one did. Not the editor. Not a single reader.

It’s difficult to pinpoint when the University of Southern California became USC for people outside the Southland or when Louisiana State University became LSU for people outside Louisiana, but it’s relatively easy to determine when the University of Central Florida became UCF to the people outside the borders of the Sunshine State. It happened Jan. 1 when the Knights beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl to cap an undefeated season and then declared themselves national champions.

Athletic director Danny White and UCF president John Hitt discussed the idea of declaring the team national champs in a suite at Mercedes-Benz Stadium before the game. But it was an abstract discussion, more whimsical than anything else. First, they didn’t know if their team would beat Auburn. Second, they wouldn’t know until later that night that Auburn had beaten both the teams that would play for the national title.

White still didn’t know the second part as he celebrated on the field with the players following UCF’s 34–27 win, but he kept hearing the Knights bat around the idea that they should call themselves national champs. “I just kind of felt it,” White says.

Then he just kind of said it.

“That was not planned,” White says. “Our social media guy put the camera in my face. I didn’t know what I was going to say.”

White wasn’t too worried about his proclamation. “That’s something you can always kind of back off on,” he said. Of course. The biggest win the program’s history inspired a groundswell of emotion. White could have chalked up his declaration to the euphoria of the moment.

But as the video of White’s words picked up steam on social media, he realized he didn’t need to back off anything. His (relatively) young football program had just gone 13–0. It had beaten a team that defeated two College Football Playoff participants. The Knights had done everything they could within the system presented to them in the 2017 season. So why not declare them national champs?

After all, UCF only opened in 1963. The Knights only began playing football in 1979. They didn’t move to the FBS—then called Division I-A—until 1996. They missed most of the years where just about any school could declare itself the national champ. Alabama claims a national title in 1941, and the Crimson Tide got shut out by Vanderbilt and Mississippi State that season. Surely there’s room in the pantheon of declared national titles for a 13–0 team. (The undefeated 2004 Auburn Tigers, denied a chance to play for the BCS title, say hello while holding their Golf Digest national title aloft.

Instead of backing off his statement, White doubled down. The Knights got a parade at Disney World.

They printed national championship gear that they can’t keep on the shelves. Stroll around campus, and it’s on seemingly every third body.

White realizes that most people outside his fan base consider Alabama the national champion and consider UCF’s declared title something between adorable and annoying. But he doesn’t care. It served a valuable purpose for White—energizing a young and steadily growing alumni base—while also prompting a discussion that might ultimately help UCF in the future.

“The conversation became a healthy conversation for college football,” White says. “It’s the only sport in the country where it’s not settled on the field or the court. It should be. The playoff should be expanded, and everyone should have an opportunity. There shouldn’t be an undefeated team with no chance to play in the CFP.”

The argument here is that UCF could schedule tougher Power 5 out-of-conference opponents than Maryland. Instead of asking for home-and-home matchups, they could go on the road for a check to get the wins they need to have a chance to make the playoff. Theoretically, they could play four Power 5 schools at their stadiums. If UCF were to win and a couple of those schools challenge for their conference titles, then UCF would have a case. Up the road in Tallahassee, Bobby Bowden built Florida State into a monster with an anytime, anywhere scheduling philosophy, but that was a different era of college football.

The problem in practice is that even if UCF wanted to hit the road and play four Power 5 opponents—and White does not want to do this—few of the schools UCF would need to schedule to compete for the playoff would want to schedule UCF. The Knights still aren’t a big enough brand name for one of those ESPN-arranged neutral site payday games, and few good Power 5 programs want to pay to bring in a team that might beat them.

White must juggle those issues as he tries to capitalize on this moment. Josh Heupel has the more difficult job, though. Now that former coach Scott Frost—who returned to alma mater Nebraska after the Peach Bowl win—has shown the nation UCF football’s potential, Heupel will be expected to keep the Knights playing at that level. “Everything that’s going on is the first time here,” says Heupel, who won a national title as a quarterback at Oklahoma and who later served as the Sooners’ offensive coordinator. “When I got to Oklahoma [as a player], they had not been very good for a while. There’s an energy that was there. It was just different when you’re in that process.”

Heupel’s situation is the inverse of the one Frost inherited two years ago. Then, the Knights were coming off an 0–12 season in George O’Leary’s final year. But they were also only two years removed from going 12–1 and capping the season by winning the Fiesta Bowl. Now, UCF is coming off 13–0, but only a little more than two years removed from 0–12. In other words, the good times can end quickly if the Knights don’t take advantage of this momentum.

It’ll be up to Heupel, rising junior quarterback McKenzie Milton and the rest of UCF’s returning veterans to build on the progress started by Frost, linebacker Shaquem Griffin, cornerback Mike Hughes and the rest of the outgoing players who turned 0–12 to 13–0. Meanwhile, it will be up to White to tap into a growing city that has embraced a winner—even if deep-seated allegiances lie elsewhere. White knows Orlando has been largely a Florida/Florida State town for decades, but instead of simply waiting for the UCF grads—average alumni age: 35—to overwhelm the Gators and Seminoles with their numbers as the years go on, White wants the other alums to adopt the team in their town. He knows a young alum may only be able to afford a game or two a year in Gainesville or Tallahassee. He hopes those Gators and Seminoles will make the shorter drive to buy a cheaper ticket to watch fun football on the weekends they don’t head back to their schools. “There’s room to support your hometown team and support your alma mater,” White says. “You don’t have to pick.”

Among those three last season, the choice for superior football lived in Orlando. That may change with new coaches at Florida and Florida State, but White hopes Heupel and Milton and the Knights can build on a national title that could be the cornerstone of a program—even though that title may only exist in the minds of the people at a school that forevermore needs no further introduction than the letters U-C-F.

Need more Knights? Don’t miss Andy Staples’s SI TV feature on the inspiring story of UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin, available now on Amazon Channels.

A Random Ranking

American Idol is back with new judges (Lionel Richie!) and a new network (ABC). They’ll probably forget the fact that the original was a hit because people loved watching Simon Cowell savage terrible singers in the tryouts. But perhaps the reboot will allow America will do better than the time it allowed Jennifer Hudson to finish seventh. So let’s pause, pour out a little for Brian Dunkleman, and rank the top five American Idol champs from its original run.

1. Kelly Clarkson

2. Carrie Underwood

3. Fantasia (Though Hudson still should have won Season 3.)

4. Scotty McCreery

5. David Cook*

*Cook’s career didn’t take off after his title, but I loved him on the show. He definitely would have scored big with one of the new judges with this cover.

Three And Out

1. What appears to be a basketball story now probably will wind up a football story soon. I’m not referring to the FBI investigation, though. I’m talking about firings for cause. Connecticut is firing a coach for cause, and Pittsburgh may be trying to use a for-cause firing as leverage to get its fired coach to accept a lower buyout.

UConn announced Saturday that it would fire basketball coach Kevin Ollie for cause. This makes sense. The Huskies are being investigated by the NCAA, and if they planned to self-report violations anyway, they can throw Ollie under the bus and fire him for free. (Even though they’re really firing him for losing.) Pittsburgh announced Friday that it would fire Kevin Stallings, but did not release any buyout details. A statement from Stallings’s attorney confirmed that the Panthers are trying to wriggle out of the $9.4 million buyout called for in the contract.

The contracts for coaches have gotten so huge—and athletic directors as a group are so bad at negotiating—that the price of failure has skyrocketed. The Stallings hire was one of the worst in college sports history. Then Pittsburgh AD Scott Barnes—who was soon headed to Oregon State—took a suggestion from search firm head Todd Turner (the former boss of Barnes at Washington and Stallings at Vanderbilt) and hired a guy who was about to be fired at Vanderbilt. Negotiating against no one, Barnes agreed to a massive buyout. Stallings then promptly torpedoed the program. Barnes doesn’t care, of course. He bolted for Oregon State shortly after saddling Pittsburgh with that coach and that contract. Now AD Heather Lyke has to deal with the mess Barnes left behind. And unless there is a skeleton Stallings left behind that we don’t know about, the only way out of it may be to write a huge check.

We’ve already seen this in football, by the way. Florida owed Jim McElwain $12.5 million when McElwain was fired last October. But the Gators threatened to fire McElwain for cause and McElwain’s reps agreed to cut the buyout to $7.5 million. This probably wasn’t a huge victory for Florida, though. McElwain was owed the money through 2023, and his original contract included mitigation terms that would have subtracted any subsequent salary from the amount owed. The new buyout deal gave McElwain a huge chunk of money up front ($3.75 million paid on Dec. 1, 2017) and took away the mitigation. So if he makes more than $5 million between now and 2023 at Michigan or anywhere else, he would come out ahead of the old deal.

2. Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts always pays his debts.

3. Feel free to caption this photo…

What’s Eating Andy?

Last week, Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver announced he intends to turn pro after his junior season. This seems quite logical. Oliver is a likely first-round pick. It is the best economic decision for him. It’s also something everyone knew was coming since Oliver played his first game as a Cougar. So it’s refreshing to see him announce this so he doesn’t have to play coy for a season when everyone knows he plans to go pro. Obviously, if something changes—maybe he gets hurt—he can re-evaluate that decision before the deadline if necessary, but there is nothing wrong with saying you want to do the thing you’ve always wanted to do.

I wish more players who are obviously leaving after three seasons would do this. Then we’d be spared stupid questions about whether they’ll stay or go pro, and they’d be spared having to answer those stupid questions with an “I’m not sure” when we know they’re 100% sure.

What’s Andy Eating?

When choosing restaurants I review, I usually consider price. I’m a firm believer that a great meal shouldn’t cost as much as a car payment, and I’ve made it my goal in life to find as many reasonably priced great meals in as many cities as possible. Occasionally, I’ll write about something expensive like the spinalis cut of steak, but that’s only if the item is unusual, is unavailable at a cheap price and should be tasted at least once before one dies. Otherwise, I’m looking for a deal.

So why am I writing about Joe’s Stone Crab? Because that Miami Beach institution offers one of the best dining deals in Florida. This may sound crazy. The menu item included in the restaurant’s name is fairly rare and quite expensive. And if you have the means, you absolutely should get the stone crabs. They’re wonderful. They’re sweeter and more tender than any non-stone crab meat you’ve had. But if you go to Joe’s, you also should order half a fried chicken for $6.95.

This is not a special. This isn’t limited to a particular day of the week. Every day, Joe’s sells four pieces of crispy, juicy fried chicken for just under seven bucks. You shouldn’t order it because it’s the cheapest thing on the menu, either. You should order it because it is great fried chicken. The skin crackles when touched. The meat inside oozes juice. It’s better than Popeye’s—and if you’ve read this space frequently you know my esteem for Popeye’s—and it costs about the same. There also may be a Rolls-Royce or a Maybach parked out front, which rarely happens at my local Popeye’s.

Why does Joe’s offer this? “The philosophy at Joe’s, for the past 100-plus years, is that everyone should be able to afford a meal at Joe’s,” reads a message on the Joe’s website. The staff at Joe’s is under strict orders to treat every diner as if he’s the one who arrived in the Rolls, so don’t feel ashamed if all you can order is that chicken. Everyone should eat at Joe’s at least once for the scene alone. Imagine every person you watched on Miami Vice crammed into one dining room. If it’s lunch on a Friday, many of those people will be the age the characters from the original series would be now. It’s a swirl of white sportcoats, skinny pants and tight dresses. Deals are being made. Scams are being run. The conversation three tables over might result in a marriage, a windfall or a jail sentence.

A meal at Joe’s is everything a meal on Miami Beach should be, and bless the people there for wanting to make sure everyone who wants one gets to eat one.

<p>ORLANDO, Fla. — I made a mistake a few weeks ago that turned into an experiment. While answering a mailbag question about the University of Central Florida’s football team, I referred to the school at first as UCF and not Central Florida. The stylebook requires Central Florida for the first reference. The reason for this requirement is that outside of Florida, people might not recognize what UCF means without that initial reminder.</p><p>For years, athletic department officials at UCF have included a section in game notes packets explaining that the preferred nomenclature is UCF and not Central Florida, but few outside Florida have listened. Just as Merriam-Webster doesn’t add a word such as “Welp” to the dictionary until it reaches a certain critical mass in the lexicon, we don’t change a first reference term to an acronym until we’re sure most people reading it would understand what the letters mean. I realized my first reference error after sending that mailbag column to my editor, but instead of sending an email asking him to correct it, I let it go. I wanted to see if anyone would question the acronym. No one did. Not the editor. Not a single reader.</p><p>It’s difficult to pinpoint when the University of Southern California became USC for people outside the Southland or when Louisiana State University became LSU for people outside Louisiana, but it’s relatively easy to determine when the University of Central Florida became UCF to the people outside the borders of the Sunshine State. It happened Jan. 1 when the Knights beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl to cap an undefeated season and then declared themselves national champions.</p><p>Athletic director Danny White and UCF president John Hitt discussed the idea of declaring the team national champs in a suite at Mercedes-Benz Stadium before the game. But it was an abstract discussion, more whimsical than anything else. First, they didn’t know if their team would beat Auburn. Second, they wouldn’t know until later that night that Auburn had beaten both the teams that would play for the national title.</p><p>White still didn’t know the second part as he celebrated on the field with the players following UCF’s 34–27 win, but he kept hearing the Knights bat around the idea that they should call themselves national champs. “I just kind of felt it,” White says.</p><p>Then he just kind of said it. </p><p>“That was not planned,” White says. “Our social media guy put the camera in my face. I didn’t know what I was going to say.”</p><p>White wasn’t too worried about his proclamation. “That’s something you can always kind of back off on,” he said. Of course. The biggest win the program’s history inspired a groundswell of emotion. White could have chalked up his declaration to the euphoria of the moment.</p><p>But as the video of White’s words picked up steam on social media, he realized he didn’t need to back off anything. His (relatively) young football program had just gone 13–0. It had beaten a team that defeated two College Football Playoff participants. The Knights had done everything they could within the system presented to them in the 2017 season. So why not declare them national champs?</p><p>After all, UCF only opened in 1963. The Knights only began playing football in 1979. They didn’t move to the FBS—then called Division I-A—until 1996. They missed most of the years where just about any school could declare itself the national champ. Alabama claims a national title in 1941, and the Crimson Tide got shut out by Vanderbilt and Mississippi State that season. Surely there’s room in the pantheon of declared national titles for a 13–0 team. (The undefeated 2004 Auburn Tigers, denied a chance to play for the BCS title, say hello while holding <a href="https://www.golfdigest.com/story/former-auburn-football-coach-still-thrilled-that-tigers-were-golf-digests-mythical-national-champions" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:their Golf Digest national title" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">their <em>Golf Digest</em> national title</a> aloft.</p><p>Instead of backing off his statement, White doubled down. The Knights got a parade at Disney World. </p><p>They printed <a href="http://si.fanatics.com/COLLEGE_UCF_Knights" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:national championship gear" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">national championship gear</a> that they can’t keep on the shelves. Stroll around campus, and it’s on seemingly every third body.</p><p>White realizes that most people outside his fan base consider Alabama the national champion and consider UCF’s declared title something between adorable and annoying. But he doesn’t care. It served a valuable purpose for White—energizing a young and steadily growing alumni base—while also prompting a discussion that might ultimately help UCF in the future.</p><p>“The conversation became a healthy conversation for college football,” White says. “It’s the only sport in the country where it’s not settled on the field or the court. It should be. The playoff should be expanded, and everyone should have an opportunity. There shouldn’t be an undefeated team with no chance to play in the CFP.”</p><p>The argument here is that UCF could schedule tougher Power 5 out-of-conference opponents than Maryland. Instead of asking for home-and-home matchups, they could go on the road for a check to get the wins they need to have a chance to make the playoff. Theoretically, they could play four Power 5 schools at their stadiums. If UCF were to win and a couple of those schools challenge for their conference titles, then UCF would have a case. Up the road in Tallahassee, Bobby Bowden built Florida State into a monster with an anytime, anywhere scheduling philosophy, but that was a different era of college football.</p><p>The problem in practice is that even if UCF wanted to hit the road and play four Power 5 opponents—and White does not want to do this—few of the schools UCF would need to schedule to compete for the playoff would want to schedule UCF. The Knights still aren’t a big enough brand name for one of those ESPN-arranged neutral site payday games, and few good Power 5 programs want to pay to bring in a team that might beat them.</p><p>White must juggle those issues as he tries to capitalize on this moment. Josh Heupel has the more difficult job, though. Now that former coach Scott Frost—who returned to alma mater Nebraska after the Peach Bowl win—has shown the nation UCF football’s potential, Heupel will be expected to keep the Knights playing at that level. “Everything that’s going on is the first time here,” says Heupel, who won a national title as a quarterback at Oklahoma and who later served as the Sooners’ offensive coordinator. “When I got to Oklahoma [as a player], they had not been very good for a while. There’s an energy that was there. It was just different when you’re in that process.”</p><p>Heupel’s situation is the inverse of the one Frost inherited two years ago. Then, the Knights were coming off an 0–12 season in George O’Leary’s final year. But they were also only two years removed from going 12–1 and capping the season by winning the Fiesta Bowl. Now, UCF is coming off 13–0, but only a little more than two years removed from 0–12. In other words, the good times can end quickly if the Knights don’t take advantage of this momentum.</p><p>It’ll be up to Heupel, rising junior quarterback McKenzie Milton and the rest of UCF’s returning veterans to build on the progress started by Frost, linebacker Shaquem Griffin, cornerback Mike Hughes and the rest of the outgoing players who turned 0–12 to 13–0. Meanwhile, it will be up to White to tap into a growing city that has embraced a winner—even if deep-seated allegiances lie elsewhere. White knows Orlando has been largely a Florida/Florida State town for decades, but instead of simply waiting for the UCF grads—average alumni age: 35—to overwhelm the Gators and Seminoles with their numbers as the years go on, White wants the other alums to adopt the team in their town. He knows a young alum may only be able to afford a game or two a year in Gainesville or Tallahassee. He hopes those Gators and Seminoles will make the shorter drive to buy a cheaper ticket to watch fun football on the weekends they don’t head back to their schools. “There’s room to support your hometown team and support your alma mater,” White says. “You don’t have to pick.”</p><p>Among those three last season, the choice for superior football lived in Orlando. That may change with new coaches at Florida and Florida State, but White hopes Heupel and Milton and the Knights can build on a national title that could be the cornerstone of a program—even though that title may only exist in the minds of the people at a school that forevermore needs no further introduction than the letters U-C-F.</p><p><em>Need more Knights? Don’t miss Andy Staples’s SI TV feature on the inspiring story of UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/The-Unstoppable-Shaquem-Griffin/dp/B077GGRG3H/ref=sr_1_1?s=instant-video&ie=UTF8&qid=1520436392&sr=1-1&keywords=the+unstoppable+shaquem+griffin" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:available now on Amazon Channels" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">available now on Amazon Channels</a></em>.</p><h3>A Random Ranking</h3><p><em>American Idol</em> is back with new judges (Lionel Richie!) and a new network (ABC). They’ll probably forget the fact that the original was a hit because people loved watching Simon Cowell savage terrible singers in the tryouts. But perhaps the reboot will allow America will do better than <a href="http://americanidol.wikia.com/wiki/Season_3" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the time it allowed Jennifer Hudson to finish seventh" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the time it allowed Jennifer Hudson to finish seventh</a>. So let’s pause, pour out a little for Brian Dunkleman, and rank the top five <em>American Idol</em> champs from its original run.</p><p><strong>1. Kelly Clarkson</strong></p><p><strong>2. Carrie Underwood</strong></p><p><strong>3. Fantasia (Though Hudson still should have won Season 3.)</strong></p><p><strong>4. Scotty McCreery</strong></p><p><strong>5. David Cook*</strong></p><p><em>*Cook’s career didn’t take off after his title, but I loved him on the show. He definitely would have scored big with one of the new judges <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpR0uunWmGQ" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:with this cover" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">with this cover</a>.</em></p><h3>Three And Out</h3><p><strong>1. What appears to be a basketball story now probably will wind up a football story soon.</strong> I’m not referring to the FBI investigation, though. I’m talking about firings for cause. Connecticut is firing a coach for cause, and Pittsburgh may be trying to use a for-cause firing as leverage to get its fired coach to accept a lower buyout.</p><p>UConn announced Saturday that it would fire basketball coach Kevin Ollie for cause. This makes sense. The Huskies are being investigated by the NCAA, and if they planned to self-report violations anyway, they can throw Ollie under the bus and fire him for free. (Even though they’re really firing him for losing.) Pittsburgh announced Friday that it would fire Kevin Stallings, but did not release any buyout details. <a href="http://triblive.com/sports/college/pitt/13402846-74/lawyers-for-kevin-stallings-released-a-statement-friday-stating-that-the-former" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:A statement from Stallings’s attorney" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">A statement from Stallings’s attorney</a> confirmed that the Panthers are trying to wriggle out of the $9.4 million buyout called for in the contract.</p><p>The contracts for coaches have gotten so huge—and athletic directors as a group are so bad at negotiating—that the price of failure has skyrocketed. The Stallings hire was one of the worst in college sports history. Then Pittsburgh AD Scott Barnes—who was soon headed to Oregon State—took a suggestion from search firm head Todd Turner (the former boss of Barnes at Washington and Stallings at Vanderbilt) and hired a guy who was about to be fired at Vanderbilt. Negotiating against no one, Barnes agreed to a massive buyout. Stallings then promptly torpedoed the program. Barnes doesn’t care, of course. He bolted for Oregon State shortly after saddling Pittsburgh with that coach and that contract. Now AD Heather Lyke has to deal with the mess Barnes left behind. And unless there is a skeleton Stallings left behind that we don’t know about, the only way out of it may be to write a huge check.</p><p>We’ve already seen this in football, by the way. Florida owed Jim McElwain $12.5 million when McElwain was fired last October. But the Gators threatened to fire McElwain for cause and McElwain’s reps agreed to cut the buyout to $7.5 million. This probably wasn’t a huge victory for Florida, though. McElwain was owed the money through 2023, and his original contract included mitigation terms that would have subtracted any subsequent salary from the amount owed. The new buyout deal gave McElwain a huge chunk of money up front ($3.75 million paid on Dec. 1, 2017) and took away the mitigation. So if he makes more than $5 million between now and 2023 at Michigan or anywhere else, he would come out ahead of the old deal.</p><p><strong>2. Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts always pays his debts.</strong></p><p><strong>3. Feel free to caption this photo…</strong></p><h3>What’s Eating Andy?</h3><p>Last week, Houston defensive tackle <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/03/05/houston-ed-oliver-nfl-draft-2019" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Ed Oliver announced he intends to turn pro after his junior season" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Ed Oliver announced he intends to turn pro after his junior season</a>. This seems quite logical. Oliver is a likely first-round pick. It is the best economic decision for him. It’s also something everyone knew was coming since Oliver played his first game as a Cougar. So it’s refreshing to see him announce this so he doesn’t have to play coy for a season when everyone knows he plans to go pro. Obviously, if something changes—maybe he gets hurt—he can re-evaluate that decision before the deadline if necessary, but there is nothing wrong with saying you want to do the thing you’ve always wanted to do.</p><p>I wish more players who are obviously leaving after three seasons would do this. Then we’d be spared stupid questions about whether they’ll stay or go pro, and they’d be spared having to answer those stupid questions with an “I’m not sure” when we know they’re 100% sure.</p><h3>What’s Andy Eating?</h3><p>When choosing restaurants I review, I usually consider price. I’m a firm believer that a great meal shouldn’t cost as much as a car payment, and I’ve made it my goal in life to find as many reasonably priced great meals in as many cities as possible. Occasionally, I’ll write about something expensive like the <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/03/05/ncaa-kickoff-touchback-rule-change-nfl-combine" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:spinalis cut of steak" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">spinalis cut of steak</a>, but that’s only if the item is unusual, is unavailable at a cheap price and should be tasted at least once before one dies. Otherwise, I’m looking for a deal.</p><p>So why am I writing about Joe’s Stone Crab? Because that Miami Beach institution offers one of the best dining deals in Florida. This may sound crazy. The menu item included in the restaurant’s name is fairly rare and quite expensive. And if you have the means, you absolutely should get the stone crabs. They’re wonderful. They’re sweeter and more tender than any non-stone crab meat you’ve had. But if you go to Joe’s, you also should order half a fried chicken for $6.95.</p><p>This is not a special. This isn’t limited to a particular day of the week. Every day, Joe’s sells four pieces of crispy, juicy fried chicken for just under seven bucks. You shouldn’t order it because it’s the cheapest thing on the menu, either. You should order it because it is great fried chicken. The skin crackles when touched. The meat inside oozes juice. It’s better than Popeye’s—and if you’ve read this space frequently you know my esteem for Popeye’s—and it costs about the same. There also may be a Rolls-Royce or a Maybach parked out front, which rarely happens at my local Popeye’s.</p><p>Why does Joe’s offer this? “The philosophy at Joe’s, for the past 100-plus years, is that everyone should be able to afford a meal at Joe’s,” reads a message on the Joe’s website. The staff at Joe’s is under strict orders to treat every diner as if he’s the one who arrived in the Rolls, so don’t feel ashamed if all you can order is that chicken. Everyone should eat at Joe’s at least once for the scene alone. Imagine every person you watched on <em>Miami Vice</em> crammed into one dining room. If it’s lunch on a Friday, many of those people will be the age the characters from the original series would be now. It’s a swirl of white sportcoats, skinny pants and tight dresses. Deals are being made. Scams are being run. The conversation three tables over might result in a marriage, a windfall or a jail sentence.</p><p>A meal at Joe’s is everything a meal on Miami Beach should be, and bless the people there for wanting to make sure everyone who wants one gets to eat one. </p>
UCF's Follow-Up Act Will Be Just as Important as Its Flawless Season

ORLANDO, Fla. — I made a mistake a few weeks ago that turned into an experiment. While answering a mailbag question about the University of Central Florida’s football team, I referred to the school at first as UCF and not Central Florida. The stylebook requires Central Florida for the first reference. The reason for this requirement is that outside of Florida, people might not recognize what UCF means without that initial reminder.

For years, athletic department officials at UCF have included a section in game notes packets explaining that the preferred nomenclature is UCF and not Central Florida, but few outside Florida have listened. Just as Merriam-Webster doesn’t add a word such as “Welp” to the dictionary until it reaches a certain critical mass in the lexicon, we don’t change a first reference term to an acronym until we’re sure most people reading it would understand what the letters mean. I realized my first reference error after sending that mailbag column to my editor, but instead of sending an email asking him to correct it, I let it go. I wanted to see if anyone would question the acronym. No one did. Not the editor. Not a single reader.

It’s difficult to pinpoint when the University of Southern California became USC for people outside the Southland or when Louisiana State University became LSU for people outside Louisiana, but it’s relatively easy to determine when the University of Central Florida became UCF to the people outside the borders of the Sunshine State. It happened Jan. 1 when the Knights beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl to cap an undefeated season and then declared themselves national champions.

Athletic director Danny White and UCF president John Hitt discussed the idea of declaring the team national champs in a suite at Mercedes-Benz Stadium before the game. But it was an abstract discussion, more whimsical than anything else. First, they didn’t know if their team would beat Auburn. Second, they wouldn’t know until later that night that Auburn had beaten both the teams that would play for the national title.

White still didn’t know the second part as he celebrated on the field with the players following UCF’s 34–27 win, but he kept hearing the Knights bat around the idea that they should call themselves national champs. “I just kind of felt it,” White says.

Then he just kind of said it.

“That was not planned,” White says. “Our social media guy put the camera in my face. I didn’t know what I was going to say.”

White wasn’t too worried about his proclamation. “That’s something you can always kind of back off on,” he said. Of course. The biggest win the program’s history inspired a groundswell of emotion. White could have chalked up his declaration to the euphoria of the moment.

But as the video of White’s words picked up steam on social media, he realized he didn’t need to back off anything. His (relatively) young football program had just gone 13–0. It had beaten a team that defeated two College Football Playoff participants. The Knights had done everything they could within the system presented to them in the 2017 season. So why not declare them national champs?

After all, UCF only opened in 1963. The Knights only began playing football in 1979. They didn’t move to the FBS—then called Division I-A—until 1996. They missed most of the years where just about any school could declare itself the national champ. Alabama claims a national title in 1941, and the Crimson Tide got shut out by Vanderbilt and Mississippi State that season. Surely there’s room in the pantheon of declared national titles for a 13–0 team. (The undefeated 2004 Auburn Tigers, denied a chance to play for the BCS title, say hello while holding their Golf Digest national title aloft.

Instead of backing off his statement, White doubled down. The Knights got a parade at Disney World.

They printed national championship gear that they can’t keep on the shelves. Stroll around campus, and it’s on seemingly every third body.

White realizes that most people outside his fan base consider Alabama the national champion and consider UCF’s declared title something between adorable and annoying. But he doesn’t care. It served a valuable purpose for White—energizing a young and steadily growing alumni base—while also prompting a discussion that might ultimately help UCF in the future.

“The conversation became a healthy conversation for college football,” White says. “It’s the only sport in the country where it’s not settled on the field or the court. It should be. The playoff should be expanded, and everyone should have an opportunity. There shouldn’t be an undefeated team with no chance to play in the CFP.”

The argument here is that UCF could schedule tougher Power 5 out-of-conference opponents than Maryland. Instead of asking for home-and-home matchups, they could go on the road for a check to get the wins they need to have a chance to make the playoff. Theoretically, they could play four Power 5 schools at their stadiums. If UCF were to win and a couple of those schools challenge for their conference titles, then UCF would have a case. Up the road in Tallahassee, Bobby Bowden built Florida State into a monster with an anytime, anywhere scheduling philosophy, but that was a different era of college football.

The problem in practice is that even if UCF wanted to hit the road and play four Power 5 opponents—and White does not want to do this—few of the schools UCF would need to schedule to compete for the playoff would want to schedule UCF. The Knights still aren’t a big enough brand name for one of those ESPN-arranged neutral site payday games, and few good Power 5 programs want to pay to bring in a team that might beat them.

White must juggle those issues as he tries to capitalize on this moment. Josh Heupel has the more difficult job, though. Now that former coach Scott Frost—who returned to alma mater Nebraska after the Peach Bowl win—has shown the nation UCF football’s potential, Heupel will be expected to keep the Knights playing at that level. “Everything that’s going on is the first time here,” says Heupel, who won a national title as a quarterback at Oklahoma and who later served as the Sooners’ offensive coordinator. “When I got to Oklahoma [as a player], they had not been very good for a while. There’s an energy that was there. It was just different when you’re in that process.”

Heupel’s situation is the inverse of the one Frost inherited two years ago. Then, the Knights were coming off an 0–12 season in George O’Leary’s final year. But they were also only two years removed from going 12–1 and capping the season by winning the Fiesta Bowl. Now, UCF is coming off 13–0, but only a little more than two years removed from 0–12. In other words, the good times can end quickly if the Knights don’t take advantage of this momentum.

It’ll be up to Heupel, rising junior quarterback McKenzie Milton and the rest of UCF’s returning veterans to build on the progress started by Frost, linebacker Shaquem Griffin, cornerback Mike Hughes and the rest of the outgoing players who turned 0–12 to 13–0. Meanwhile, it will be up to White to tap into a growing city that has embraced a winner—even if deep-seated allegiances lie elsewhere. White knows Orlando has been largely a Florida/Florida State town for decades, but instead of simply waiting for the UCF grads—average alumni age: 35—to overwhelm the Gators and Seminoles with their numbers as the years go on, White wants the other alums to adopt the team in their town. He knows a young alum may only be able to afford a game or two a year in Gainesville or Tallahassee. He hopes those Gators and Seminoles will make the shorter drive to buy a cheaper ticket to watch fun football on the weekends they don’t head back to their schools. “There’s room to support your hometown team and support your alma mater,” White says. “You don’t have to pick.”

Among those three last season, the choice for superior football lived in Orlando. That may change with new coaches at Florida and Florida State, but White hopes Heupel and Milton and the Knights can build on a national title that could be the cornerstone of a program—even though that title may only exist in the minds of the people at a school that forevermore needs no further introduction than the letters U-C-F.

Need more Knights? Don’t miss Andy Staples’s SI TV feature on the inspiring story of UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin, available now on Amazon Channels.

A Random Ranking

American Idol is back with new judges (Lionel Richie!) and a new network (ABC). They’ll probably forget the fact that the original was a hit because people loved watching Simon Cowell savage terrible singers in the tryouts. But perhaps the reboot will allow America will do better than the time it allowed Jennifer Hudson to finish seventh. So let’s pause, pour out a little for Brian Dunkleman, and rank the top five American Idol champs from its original run.

1. Kelly Clarkson

2. Carrie Underwood

3. Fantasia (Though Hudson still should have won Season 3.)

4. Scotty McCreery

5. David Cook*

*Cook’s career didn’t take off after his title, but I loved him on the show. He definitely would have scored big with one of the new judges with this cover.

Three And Out

1. What appears to be a basketball story now probably will wind up a football story soon. I’m not referring to the FBI investigation, though. I’m talking about firings for cause. Connecticut is firing a coach for cause, and Pittsburgh may be trying to use a for-cause firing as leverage to get its fired coach to accept a lower buyout.

UConn announced Saturday that it would fire basketball coach Kevin Ollie for cause. This makes sense. The Huskies are being investigated by the NCAA, and if they planned to self-report violations anyway, they can throw Ollie under the bus and fire him for free. (Even though they’re really firing him for losing.) Pittsburgh announced Friday that it would fire Kevin Stallings, but did not release any buyout details. A statement from Stallings’s attorney confirmed that the Panthers are trying to wriggle out of the $9.4 million buyout called for in the contract.

The contracts for coaches have gotten so huge—and athletic directors as a group are so bad at negotiating—that the price of failure has skyrocketed. The Stallings hire was one of the worst in college sports history. Then Pittsburgh AD Scott Barnes—who was soon headed to Oregon State—took a suggestion from search firm head Todd Turner (the former boss of Barnes at Washington and Stallings at Vanderbilt) and hired a guy who was about to be fired at Vanderbilt. Negotiating against no one, Barnes agreed to a massive buyout. Stallings then promptly torpedoed the program. Barnes doesn’t care, of course. He bolted for Oregon State shortly after saddling Pittsburgh with that coach and that contract. Now AD Heather Lyke has to deal with the mess Barnes left behind. And unless there is a skeleton Stallings left behind that we don’t know about, the only way out of it may be to write a huge check.

We’ve already seen this in football, by the way. Florida owed Jim McElwain $12.5 million when McElwain was fired last October. But the Gators threatened to fire McElwain for cause and McElwain’s reps agreed to cut the buyout to $7.5 million. This probably wasn’t a huge victory for Florida, though. McElwain was owed the money through 2023, and his original contract included mitigation terms that would have subtracted any subsequent salary from the amount owed. The new buyout deal gave McElwain a huge chunk of money up front ($3.75 million paid on Dec. 1, 2017) and took away the mitigation. So if he makes more than $5 million between now and 2023 at Michigan or anywhere else, he would come out ahead of the old deal.

2. Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts always pays his debts.

3. Feel free to caption this photo…

What’s Eating Andy?

Last week, Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver announced he intends to turn pro after his junior season. This seems quite logical. Oliver is a likely first-round pick. It is the best economic decision for him. It’s also something everyone knew was coming since Oliver played his first game as a Cougar. So it’s refreshing to see him announce this so he doesn’t have to play coy for a season when everyone knows he plans to go pro. Obviously, if something changes—maybe he gets hurt—he can re-evaluate that decision before the deadline if necessary, but there is nothing wrong with saying you want to do the thing you’ve always wanted to do.

I wish more players who are obviously leaving after three seasons would do this. Then we’d be spared stupid questions about whether they’ll stay or go pro, and they’d be spared having to answer those stupid questions with an “I’m not sure” when we know they’re 100% sure.

What’s Andy Eating?

When choosing restaurants I review, I usually consider price. I’m a firm believer that a great meal shouldn’t cost as much as a car payment, and I’ve made it my goal in life to find as many reasonably priced great meals in as many cities as possible. Occasionally, I’ll write about something expensive like the spinalis cut of steak, but that’s only if the item is unusual, is unavailable at a cheap price and should be tasted at least once before one dies. Otherwise, I’m looking for a deal.

So why am I writing about Joe’s Stone Crab? Because that Miami Beach institution offers one of the best dining deals in Florida. This may sound crazy. The menu item included in the restaurant’s name is fairly rare and quite expensive. And if you have the means, you absolutely should get the stone crabs. They’re wonderful. They’re sweeter and more tender than any non-stone crab meat you’ve had. But if you go to Joe’s, you also should order half a fried chicken for $6.95.

This is not a special. This isn’t limited to a particular day of the week. Every day, Joe’s sells four pieces of crispy, juicy fried chicken for just under seven bucks. You shouldn’t order it because it’s the cheapest thing on the menu, either. You should order it because it is great fried chicken. The skin crackles when touched. The meat inside oozes juice. It’s better than Popeye’s—and if you’ve read this space frequently you know my esteem for Popeye’s—and it costs about the same. There also may be a Rolls-Royce or a Maybach parked out front, which rarely happens at my local Popeye’s.

Why does Joe’s offer this? “The philosophy at Joe’s, for the past 100-plus years, is that everyone should be able to afford a meal at Joe’s,” reads a message on the Joe’s website. The staff at Joe’s is under strict orders to treat every diner as if he’s the one who arrived in the Rolls, so don’t feel ashamed if all you can order is that chicken. Everyone should eat at Joe’s at least once for the scene alone. Imagine every person you watched on Miami Vice crammed into one dining room. If it’s lunch on a Friday, many of those people will be the age the characters from the original series would be now. It’s a swirl of white sportcoats, skinny pants and tight dresses. Deals are being made. Scams are being run. The conversation three tables over might result in a marriage, a windfall or a jail sentence.

A meal at Joe’s is everything a meal on Miami Beach should be, and bless the people there for wanting to make sure everyone who wants one gets to eat one.

<p>So the tournament didn’t get off to the best start. The selection show’s new format was widely panned; it began with a tedious alphabetical reading of all the automatic qualifying schools, which was <em>literally the only thing that anyone watching could know before tuning in</em>, and while the announcement of the full 68-team field before the actual bracket allowed every bubble question to be answered up front, it meant 20 minutes went by before we knew who anyone would be playing or where.</p><p>The good news: nothing this time of year lasts very long. By the time we’ve all caught our breath from shouting about one game’s dramatic finish, our collective attention is already turning toward the development of another. And so it is with Selection Sunday gripes. Once the bracket <em>is </em>revealed, the fun begins immediately. Well, except for those teams left out in the cold.</p><p>Anyway, with the big reveal now in the books, here are 18 thoughts on the 2018 NCAA tournament bracket.</p><p><strong>1. </strong><strong>It feels like there might be some separation after all.</strong> Maybe it’s just me, but after a season of talk about how there were no great teams and everything was wide open, the bracket as seeded seems to... make sense. The No. 1 and 2 seeds generally have some separation from the pack. Virginia and Villanova in particular look like they might be great after all; Kansas showed it’s still Kansas; Duke’s once-disjointed defense has started to catch up to its offense; North Carolina is making a strong push after an up-and-down year. On my first run through the bracket, it was hard to avoid a pretty chalky Elite Eight. Here’s hoping things are a bit more unpredictable than that.</p><p><strong>2. </strong><strong>Kansas looks to have the hardest draw for a No. 1.</strong> They would only have to face one of them, but both Duke and Michigan State—the top two teams in the preseason AP poll, a better predictor of tourney success than the end-of-season poll—are in the Jayhawks’ region and represent, based on efficiency metrics, the best teams on both the No. 2 and No. 3 seed lines. By that same measure, Kansas is actually the third best team in the Midwest (a distinction also true of No. 1 seed Xavier in the West), and Auburn is the bracket’s second best No. 4.</p><p><strong>3. </strong><strong>Villanova has the easiest.</strong> This is always a misleading label because no path is really ever all that easy, short of the bracket getting truly busted by an unruly run of upsets. But the three next top seeds in the East (Purdue, Texas Tech, and Wichita State) are all in the middle or back end of their seed lines and none appear to be particularly under-seeded. They’re good teams, but there isn’t necessarily a top title contender among them.</p><p><strong>4. </strong><strong>The Magic Eight had an anti-West bias.</strong> A month ago I made my first attempt at SI.com’s <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/14/2018-ncaa-tournament-predictions-odds-magic-eight-teams" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Magic Eight" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Magic Eight</a> tradition, selecting a group of eight teams (within a set of requirements) from which the national champion would emerge. If the Magic Eight is to be believed (and why wouldn’t it be?) the odds are against the West producing a champ, as only one of its teams made the list, and it’s fourth-seeded Gonzaga. The Midwest has three (Kansas, Duke, Michigan State) and East (Villanova and Purdue) and South (Virginia and Arizona) each have two.</p><p><strong>5. </strong><strong>Arizona might be left alone to carry the Pac-12 mantle.</strong> Only three teams from the league ended up making the field and two of them—Arizona State and UCLA—will be playing games in Dayton just to reach the Round of 64. A year ago the Pac-12 sent just one more team, but three of them were top-three seeds. This year only the Wildcats, a No. 4 seed in the South, are in a good position to reach the second weekend.</p><p><strong>6. </strong><strong>The Big Ten: low in quantity, but potential for quality.</strong> Only four Big Ten teams made the field, the lowest number in a decade. And while none are a No. 1 seed, the league does offer a No. 2 (Purdue), two No. 3s (Michigan and Michigan State), and a strong No. 5 (Ohio State). All four surviving the weekend, leaving the Big Ten with 25% of the Sweet 16, wouldn’t be far-fetched, and would make up for what has been a down year for the conference. But easier said than done.</p><p><strong>7. </strong><strong>Mid-majors will be missed.</strong> A record five major-conference teams with losing records in league play received at-large invites, two more than the previous high. Meanwhile, Saint Mary’s (28–5, 28th in overall efficiency) and Middle Tennessee (27–4, 52nd) were sent to the NIT, the latter snub resulting in <a href="https://twitter.com/ErikBacharach/status/972979464509542406" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the sad scene of Nick King sitting alone" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the sad scene of Nick King sitting alone</a> in the Blue Raiders’ film room an hour after the field was announced. Middle Tennessee wasn’t even among the first four out. That’s a shame.</p><p><strong>8. </strong><strong>Yes, the FBI-ensnared bubble teams were all left out too.</strong> Many observers were quick to point out that the three teams on the bubble who have been implicated in the FBI’s investigation in recruiting—USC, Louisville, and Oklahoma State—all failed to receive invites. (The latter two were not even among the first four out.) None of those exclusions are eyebrow-raising by the typical standards of such things, but hey, narratives are fun.</p><p><strong>9. </strong><strong>The South Regional could finish with a football score.</strong> If we may get ahead of ourselves for a moment, the potential for an Elite Eight meeting between top seeds Virginia (the country’s most efficient defense) and Cincinnati (the No. 2) is delightful. The Hoos rank 351st (out of 351 teams) in tempo. The Hoos allowed 53.4 points per game. The Bearcats allowed 57.1. Neither team has an elite offense. This could be fun, if not necessarily easy to watch. Get your pointing Spider-man memes ready.</p><p><strong>10. </strong><strong>Rhode Island vs. Oklahoma is a great way to kick off the first round.</strong> With all due respect to the First Four in Dayton, the 12:15 p.m. Thursday time slot is when March Madness truly gets underway. The choice of Trae Young’s Sooners against a talented and entertaining Rams team is a great way to kick things off.</p><p><strong>11. </strong><strong>Kentucky didn’t get screwed.</strong> John Calipari had his usual Sunday night phone call, complaining in an ESPN interview about the distance of the Wildcats’ first-round site in Boise and saying he had to ask his players if they even knew in which state they would be playing. But considering Kentucky was a No. 5 seed and thus would be playing at a location where the No. 4 was given geographical preference, the only other option was San Diego, which is hosting two other No. 4/5 seed pods, since Boise is <em>also</em> hosting the fourth 4/5 pod. Auburn and Wichita State are a seed line higher than Kentucky and being sent even farther. It happens.</p><p><strong>12. </strong><strong>If any of these No. 16 seeds are to pull off a miracle, put your faith in Penn.</strong> “Faith,” of course, being a very, very, <em>very</em> relative thing. The Quakers’ road to beating Kansas is at least somewhat rational: the Jayhawks have become a three-point shooting team and Penn defends the arc very well (both in limiting opportunities and opponents’ inaccuracy), and Kansas big man Udoka Azubuike is recovering from a knee strain that forced him to miss the Big 12 tournament. Kenpom.com also gives Penn a win probability of 11%. That’s one-in-nine. Just saying.</p><p><strong>13. </strong><strong>Stylistically, Wichita State may have the toughest first weekend.</strong> The fourth-seeded Shockers must first play uptempo, three-happy Marshall, coached by Dan D’Antoni (brother of Mike), then have a potential one-day turnaround before facing the extreme full-court pressure of West Virginia. That’ll be quite a prep and scouting challenge for Gregg Marshall’s staff.</p><p><strong>14. </strong><strong>Pittsburgh will look like a green room preview.</strong> Five players <a href="https://www.si.com/nba/nba-mock-draft-2018" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:projected by SI" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">projected by SI</a> to be lottery picks in this June’s NBA draft will be playing in Pittsburgh: Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, Villanova’s Mikal Bridges, Oklahoma’s Trae Young and Alabama’s Collin Sexton. Plus Duke’s other three starters (Grayson Allen, Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr.) and Villanova point guard Jalen Brunson are potential first-rounders as well.</p><p><strong>15. </strong><strong>The left side No. 4s are tempting.</strong> Assuming your bracket has the South and West on the left side, like the official one, that half of the bracket has two No. 4 seeds that hold some appeal as arbitrage/darkhorse Final Four contenders: Arizona, which has national title talent including the country’s best big man, and Gonzaga, which is eighth nationally in overall efficiency—12 spots higher than the next best No. 4 seed, Wichita State. If you’re looking to really mix it up, that may be where to look.</p><p><strong>16. </strong><strong>If you’re looking for a second weekend crasher, consider Missouri.</strong> The Tigers were an NCAA tournament team without Michael Porter Jr., and now they’ve potentially got one of the best players in the country—if he’s healthy. (More on that below.) Plus the No. 1 seed they would draw second round, Xavier, is a relatively vulnerable 59th in defensive efficiency. But first Mizzou will have to beat Florida State without senior forward Jordan Barnett, who was suspended for the Tigers’ first-round game after being arrested on suspicion of DWI over the weekend.</p><p><strong>17. </strong><strong>Or this could be the year of the 10 seeds.</strong> All are major-conference teams that offer some Sweet 16 appeal: Oklahoma (with perhaps the national player of the year), Texas (a top-10 defense and lottery-pick center), Butler (25th nationally in overall efficiency), and Providence (fresh off a Big East finals run where they took Villanova to OT).</p><p><strong>18. </strong><strong>Something you just read is going to look really dumb.</strong> And probably something else too. And another thing. But that’s the fun of March.</p><p>If you are wondering what exactly you are reading, this is the Monday Rebound, SI.com’s weekly Monday column on college hoops. It’s a sort of a grab-bag of news and tidbits and opinions largely aimed at catching you up on the weekend’s (and week’s) action and being generally informative. If there’s anything you like or dislike or would want to see more of here, or if you would just like to make fun of my attempts at prognostication, you can find me on Twitter @thedangreene. Thanks for reading.</p><h3>ICYMI</h3><p>The most-dissected 23 minutes anyone played off the bench this past week were those of Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr., the celebrated forward prospect and likely top-five NBA draft pick who had not seen game action since playing two minutes in the Tigers’ season opener in November. He left that game with what turned out to be herniated discs in his back, for which he underwent surgery. With a three-to-four-month recovery timetable and the potential of damaging his NBA career before it begins, most presumed Porter would never see the floor as a collegian again.</p><p>But after weeks of will-he-won’t-he speculation following his being cleared for practice, Porter returned for the surprisingly NCAA tourney-bound Tigers in the SEC quarterfinals against Georgia. The results were mixed: he was able to play substantially off the bench, and the Mizzou staff showed his was more than a token appearance, as he was featured to the extent of using a team-high 36% of the team’s possessions. Yet he didn’t quite look himself, shooting 5-for-17 from the field in a surprising loss; Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin even conceded to reporters that Porter, while having the same mindset as before his injury, was “maybe a step slow.”</p><p>This much is understandable. It was, after all, his first game back after a nearly four-month layoff following major surgery. As much as Mizzou fans would have loved to see Porter fulfill all those preseason dreams immediately upon returning, working one’s way back in such circumstances is a process. A deeper SEC tournament run would have had the added benefit of allowing Porter to shake off that much more rust, but at least now the speculation is over, and perhaps any jitters gone with them, before the stakes get higher this week. “I’m glad he actually got it out of the way,” Martin said after the game, “and we can move forward.”</p><h3>High Five</h3><p>1. <strong>Gonzaga</strong>: If the Bulldogs do indeed move to the Mountain West, this season was a finale in the WCC, as they won their sixth straight league tournament and regular season crowns, having totaled 16 tournament titles and 18 regular season ones since 1999. In the more immediate future, as the No. 4 in the West, they may be the bracket’s most under-seeded team.</p><p>2. <strong>Marshall</strong>: Thirty-one years had passed since the last time the Thundering Herd earned a tourney berth before Dan D’Antoni’s squad won the Conference USA tournament this weekend. As you might expect of a D’Antoni-coached team, Marshall plays <em>fast </em>(the country’s third-shortest average offensive possession time) and loves the three (45.6% of its field goal attempts).</p><p>3. <strong>Penn</strong>: The hosts of the first-ever “Ivy Madness” were also its victors, beating Harvard at the Palestra on Sunday to earn their first NCAA tournament bid since 2007—a strong turnaround by third-year coach Steve Donahue, who took over a nine-win team in 2015. The last time Donahue, who struggled at Boston College from 2011–14, coached in the tourney, he led Cornell to the 2010 Sweet 16.</p><p>4. <strong>UMBC</strong>: Speaking of turnarounds, two years ago the Retrievers were 7–25 and 334th out of 351 teams in overall efficiency. Two years after hiring Ryan Odom from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne, UMBC won the America East to claim its second-ever NCAA bid on a <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/10/umbc-uvm-america-east-championship-buzzer-beater" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:dramatic buzzer-beater from star guard Jairus Lyles" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">dramatic buzzer-beater from star guard Jairus Lyles</a>.</p><p>5. <strong>Davidson</strong>: The Wildcats ruined Notre Dame’s Selection Sunday by knocking off Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 finals, earning the ninth NCAA tournament bid of coach Bob McKillop’s 29-year tenure. Watch out for 6’8” senior forward Peyton Aldridge (21.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg) as a potential tourney breakout.</p><h3>Top of the Classes</h3><p><strong>Senior: Joel Hernandez, LIU Brooklyn guard</strong></p><p>The Blackbirds’ lone game this week was Tuesday’s NEC championship, in which Hernandez scored 32 points while adding seven rebounds, three steals, and two blocks to make sure his collegiate career ended with his first NCAA tournament appearance.</p><p><strong>Junior: Roland Griffin, Iona forward</strong></p><p>A career-high 29 points (including 11-of-11 free-throw shooting) and eight rebounds off the bench helped the Gaels beat Fairfield to win the MAAC, earning a date in the dance with the Blue Devils.</p><p><strong>Sophomore: Malik Newman, Kansas forward</strong></p><p>The Big 12 tournament’s Most Outstanding Player averaged 24.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 2.3 steals in the Jayhawks’ three wins to win the event.</p><p><strong>Freshman: Deandre Ayton, Arizona forward</strong></p><p>The 7’1” phenom closed his brief Pac-12 career in style, averaging 24.7 points, 12.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.0 blocks, and 1.3 steals during the Wildcats’ three-game run to the conference title.</p><h3>Bests of the Best</h3><p><em>Each week, we’ll get to know a standout player a little better by asking them about some of the best things in the world. This week we welcome Purdue guard Carsen Edwards, who is averaging 18.5 points and 3.0 assists and shooting 41.2% from three for the Boilermakers. So, Carsen, tell us about the best...</em></p><p><strong>...place to eat back home.</strong> “Whataburger. It has pretty good burgers. I get the barbecue chicken strip sandwich and a red Fanta. I get that pretty much every time.”</p><p><strong>...show to binge-watch.</strong> “I’m a big reality TV show guy. I watch a lot of <em>Love & Hip Hop</em> on VH1 and <em>Siesta Key</em> on MTV. And I watch <em>Atlanta</em>, on FX. Those are my favorite shows probably. I enjoy staying up to date with them.”</p><p><strong>...animal to be reincarnated as.</strong> “Probably a cheetah, or a lion. Something like that, one of those wild cats. They’re just fast and they’re normally the dominant animal. I think that’s pretty cool.”</p><p><strong>...decoration in your room.</strong> “I have an Ed Sheeran poster. It’s a <em>Rolling Stone</em> magazine cover. I’m a big Ed Sheeran guy. I like his music a lot. I want to see him live one day.”</p><h3>Social Media Post of the Week</h3><h3>As the scandal turns...</h3><p>Rick Pitino spoke with ESPN again and, you’ll never guess, but he wants to coach again and is upset with Louisville’s board of trustees. Or rather, its “board of traitors.” Yeah.</p><p>Among other things, Pitino told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman that he has “been assassinated by the Southern District of N.Y. without any wiretap or shred of evidence.” But that’s not really the case, as the federal indictment against Christian Dawkins and Merl Code explains that Dawkins was recorded detailing—in the presence of another Louisville basketball coach—how Pitino called Code to request Adidas make payments to the family of recruit Brian Bowen. Dawkins may have been embellishing, lying, or otherwise wrong, but that is at least a shred of evidence, especially since the government tracked the subsequent payments being made.</p><p>But the most intriguing Pitino-related news comes, improbably, from the Twitter account of Jay Williams. With Georgia having fired Mark Fox this weekend, Williams <a href="https://twitter.com/RealJayWilliams/status/972638957602263041" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:tweeted" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">tweeted</a> that he was hearing Pitino’s name in connection with the Bulldogs from “a lot of trusted sources.” Were it to actually come to fruition, that would be quite a shocker—even if Pitino <em>does</em> get another chance at a major coaching job, or a coaching job at all, one would imagine it would come after more dust has settled in the still-unfolding FBI investigation and the cases against Dawkins and Code, which could potentially make Pitino’s role clear one way or another. But it wouldn’t be the coaching carousel without wild rumors and speculation. We’re off to a fast start.</p><p>Elsewhere in the FBI investigation, North Carolina State was subpoenaed in the case, a school spokesman announced last week after it had been reported by <em>The Washington Post</em>. According to Raleigh’s <em>News & Observer</em>, the school spokesman said that the subpoena sought records rather than personal interviews and occurred in January.</p><h3>Assigned Viewing: Rhode Island vs. Oklahoma, Thursday at 12:15 p.m. ET on CBS</h3><p>The most important opening-weekend advice is actually to make sure you’ve relocated TruTV in your cable lineup before you're frantically scrambling to find it to catch an exciting finish before it’s too late. Other than that, you know by now how to watch the NCAA tournament. Any game you’re watching is also in one way or another updating you on the other games being played simultaneously, which are also being broadcast nationally. So there’s not much for me to tell you to do.</p><p>While correctly pinpointing which of the 32 games on the tournament’s first Thursday and Friday will be particularly rewarding is pretty much impossible, this opener is the matchup at which I’m tossing my dart, for reasons explained above.</p><h3>Before You’re Dismissed...</h3><p>• If your bracket cravings have yet to be satiated, check out SI’s <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/11/ncaa-tournament-bracket-regional-breakdown-march-madness-upset-picks" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:regional breakdowns" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">regional breakdowns</a>.</p><p>• Notre Dame was the last team out of the NCAA tournament, losing its spot when Davidson won the Atlantic 10 on Sunday afternoon. And while the Irish were rewarded with a No. 1 seed in the NIT, they were also stuck with a potential second round matchup with Penn State, the second-best team in the field (after Saint Mary’s) in terms of efficiency.</p><p>• The first Big East tournament game I ever went to was an MSG-shaking Saturday night championship game between UConn and Pittsburgh in 2004. Back then those teams seemed to meet in high-stakes clashes all the time. Now they’re both trying to fire their coaches for cause. Both programs have a long climb to get back to where they were.</p><p>• ”Who knows?” That was Tubby Smith’s answer when <a href="https://twitter.com/mgiannotto/status/972576694484832256" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:asked by Mark Giannotto" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">asked by Mark Giannotto</a> of the <em>Memphis News</em> whether he thought he had coached his last game at Memphis. On Friday Smith’s <a href="https://www.commercialappeal.com/story/sports/college/memphis-tigers/basketball/2018/03/09/memphis-basketball-tigers-tubby-smith-penny-hardaway-high-school-recruiting-aau-tulsa-cincinnati-aac/411485002/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:attorney suggested Memphis alum Penny Hardaway" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">attorney suggested Memphis alum Penny Hardaway</a>, who reportedly wants to be the Tigers’ next coach, is to blame for local players not signing with the program. The offseason is already shaping up to be a doozy.</p><p>• Whether this was your first time or you’ve been following along every week, in which case you are probably my dad, thanks for reading the Monday Rebound this season. See you around.</p>
Sleepers, Snubs and Stats: 18 Things to Know About the 2018 NCAA Tournament Bracket

So the tournament didn’t get off to the best start. The selection show’s new format was widely panned; it began with a tedious alphabetical reading of all the automatic qualifying schools, which was literally the only thing that anyone watching could know before tuning in, and while the announcement of the full 68-team field before the actual bracket allowed every bubble question to be answered up front, it meant 20 minutes went by before we knew who anyone would be playing or where.

The good news: nothing this time of year lasts very long. By the time we’ve all caught our breath from shouting about one game’s dramatic finish, our collective attention is already turning toward the development of another. And so it is with Selection Sunday gripes. Once the bracket is revealed, the fun begins immediately. Well, except for those teams left out in the cold.

Anyway, with the big reveal now in the books, here are 18 thoughts on the 2018 NCAA tournament bracket.

1. It feels like there might be some separation after all. Maybe it’s just me, but after a season of talk about how there were no great teams and everything was wide open, the bracket as seeded seems to... make sense. The No. 1 and 2 seeds generally have some separation from the pack. Virginia and Villanova in particular look like they might be great after all; Kansas showed it’s still Kansas; Duke’s once-disjointed defense has started to catch up to its offense; North Carolina is making a strong push after an up-and-down year. On my first run through the bracket, it was hard to avoid a pretty chalky Elite Eight. Here’s hoping things are a bit more unpredictable than that.

2. Kansas looks to have the hardest draw for a No. 1. They would only have to face one of them, but both Duke and Michigan State—the top two teams in the preseason AP poll, a better predictor of tourney success than the end-of-season poll—are in the Jayhawks’ region and represent, based on efficiency metrics, the best teams on both the No. 2 and No. 3 seed lines. By that same measure, Kansas is actually the third best team in the Midwest (a distinction also true of No. 1 seed Xavier in the West), and Auburn is the bracket’s second best No. 4.

3. Villanova has the easiest. This is always a misleading label because no path is really ever all that easy, short of the bracket getting truly busted by an unruly run of upsets. But the three next top seeds in the East (Purdue, Texas Tech, and Wichita State) are all in the middle or back end of their seed lines and none appear to be particularly under-seeded. They’re good teams, but there isn’t necessarily a top title contender among them.

4. The Magic Eight had an anti-West bias. A month ago I made my first attempt at SI.com’s Magic Eight tradition, selecting a group of eight teams (within a set of requirements) from which the national champion would emerge. If the Magic Eight is to be believed (and why wouldn’t it be?) the odds are against the West producing a champ, as only one of its teams made the list, and it’s fourth-seeded Gonzaga. The Midwest has three (Kansas, Duke, Michigan State) and East (Villanova and Purdue) and South (Virginia and Arizona) each have two.

5. Arizona might be left alone to carry the Pac-12 mantle. Only three teams from the league ended up making the field and two of them—Arizona State and UCLA—will be playing games in Dayton just to reach the Round of 64. A year ago the Pac-12 sent just one more team, but three of them were top-three seeds. This year only the Wildcats, a No. 4 seed in the South, are in a good position to reach the second weekend.

6. The Big Ten: low in quantity, but potential for quality. Only four Big Ten teams made the field, the lowest number in a decade. And while none are a No. 1 seed, the league does offer a No. 2 (Purdue), two No. 3s (Michigan and Michigan State), and a strong No. 5 (Ohio State). All four surviving the weekend, leaving the Big Ten with 25% of the Sweet 16, wouldn’t be far-fetched, and would make up for what has been a down year for the conference. But easier said than done.

7. Mid-majors will be missed. A record five major-conference teams with losing records in league play received at-large invites, two more than the previous high. Meanwhile, Saint Mary’s (28–5, 28th in overall efficiency) and Middle Tennessee (27–4, 52nd) were sent to the NIT, the latter snub resulting in the sad scene of Nick King sitting alone in the Blue Raiders’ film room an hour after the field was announced. Middle Tennessee wasn’t even among the first four out. That’s a shame.

8. Yes, the FBI-ensnared bubble teams were all left out too. Many observers were quick to point out that the three teams on the bubble who have been implicated in the FBI’s investigation in recruiting—USC, Louisville, and Oklahoma State—all failed to receive invites. (The latter two were not even among the first four out.) None of those exclusions are eyebrow-raising by the typical standards of such things, but hey, narratives are fun.

9. The South Regional could finish with a football score. If we may get ahead of ourselves for a moment, the potential for an Elite Eight meeting between top seeds Virginia (the country’s most efficient defense) and Cincinnati (the No. 2) is delightful. The Hoos rank 351st (out of 351 teams) in tempo. The Hoos allowed 53.4 points per game. The Bearcats allowed 57.1. Neither team has an elite offense. This could be fun, if not necessarily easy to watch. Get your pointing Spider-man memes ready.

10. Rhode Island vs. Oklahoma is a great way to kick off the first round. With all due respect to the First Four in Dayton, the 12:15 p.m. Thursday time slot is when March Madness truly gets underway. The choice of Trae Young’s Sooners against a talented and entertaining Rams team is a great way to kick things off.

11. Kentucky didn’t get screwed. John Calipari had his usual Sunday night phone call, complaining in an ESPN interview about the distance of the Wildcats’ first-round site in Boise and saying he had to ask his players if they even knew in which state they would be playing. But considering Kentucky was a No. 5 seed and thus would be playing at a location where the No. 4 was given geographical preference, the only other option was San Diego, which is hosting two other No. 4/5 seed pods, since Boise is also hosting the fourth 4/5 pod. Auburn and Wichita State are a seed line higher than Kentucky and being sent even farther. It happens.

12. If any of these No. 16 seeds are to pull off a miracle, put your faith in Penn. “Faith,” of course, being a very, very, very relative thing. The Quakers’ road to beating Kansas is at least somewhat rational: the Jayhawks have become a three-point shooting team and Penn defends the arc very well (both in limiting opportunities and opponents’ inaccuracy), and Kansas big man Udoka Azubuike is recovering from a knee strain that forced him to miss the Big 12 tournament. Kenpom.com also gives Penn a win probability of 11%. That’s one-in-nine. Just saying.

13. Stylistically, Wichita State may have the toughest first weekend. The fourth-seeded Shockers must first play uptempo, three-happy Marshall, coached by Dan D’Antoni (brother of Mike), then have a potential one-day turnaround before facing the extreme full-court pressure of West Virginia. That’ll be quite a prep and scouting challenge for Gregg Marshall’s staff.

14. Pittsburgh will look like a green room preview. Five players projected by SI to be lottery picks in this June’s NBA draft will be playing in Pittsburgh: Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, Villanova’s Mikal Bridges, Oklahoma’s Trae Young and Alabama’s Collin Sexton. Plus Duke’s other three starters (Grayson Allen, Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr.) and Villanova point guard Jalen Brunson are potential first-rounders as well.

15. The left side No. 4s are tempting. Assuming your bracket has the South and West on the left side, like the official one, that half of the bracket has two No. 4 seeds that hold some appeal as arbitrage/darkhorse Final Four contenders: Arizona, which has national title talent including the country’s best big man, and Gonzaga, which is eighth nationally in overall efficiency—12 spots higher than the next best No. 4 seed, Wichita State. If you’re looking to really mix it up, that may be where to look.

16. If you’re looking for a second weekend crasher, consider Missouri. The Tigers were an NCAA tournament team without Michael Porter Jr., and now they’ve potentially got one of the best players in the country—if he’s healthy. (More on that below.) Plus the No. 1 seed they would draw second round, Xavier, is a relatively vulnerable 59th in defensive efficiency. But first Mizzou will have to beat Florida State without senior forward Jordan Barnett, who was suspended for the Tigers’ first-round game after being arrested on suspicion of DWI over the weekend.

17. Or this could be the year of the 10 seeds. All are major-conference teams that offer some Sweet 16 appeal: Oklahoma (with perhaps the national player of the year), Texas (a top-10 defense and lottery-pick center), Butler (25th nationally in overall efficiency), and Providence (fresh off a Big East finals run where they took Villanova to OT).

18. Something you just read is going to look really dumb. And probably something else too. And another thing. But that’s the fun of March.

If you are wondering what exactly you are reading, this is the Monday Rebound, SI.com’s weekly Monday column on college hoops. It’s a sort of a grab-bag of news and tidbits and opinions largely aimed at catching you up on the weekend’s (and week’s) action and being generally informative. If there’s anything you like or dislike or would want to see more of here, or if you would just like to make fun of my attempts at prognostication, you can find me on Twitter @thedangreene. Thanks for reading.

ICYMI

The most-dissected 23 minutes anyone played off the bench this past week were those of Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr., the celebrated forward prospect and likely top-five NBA draft pick who had not seen game action since playing two minutes in the Tigers’ season opener in November. He left that game with what turned out to be herniated discs in his back, for which he underwent surgery. With a three-to-four-month recovery timetable and the potential of damaging his NBA career before it begins, most presumed Porter would never see the floor as a collegian again.

But after weeks of will-he-won’t-he speculation following his being cleared for practice, Porter returned for the surprisingly NCAA tourney-bound Tigers in the SEC quarterfinals against Georgia. The results were mixed: he was able to play substantially off the bench, and the Mizzou staff showed his was more than a token appearance, as he was featured to the extent of using a team-high 36% of the team’s possessions. Yet he didn’t quite look himself, shooting 5-for-17 from the field in a surprising loss; Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin even conceded to reporters that Porter, while having the same mindset as before his injury, was “maybe a step slow.”

This much is understandable. It was, after all, his first game back after a nearly four-month layoff following major surgery. As much as Mizzou fans would have loved to see Porter fulfill all those preseason dreams immediately upon returning, working one’s way back in such circumstances is a process. A deeper SEC tournament run would have had the added benefit of allowing Porter to shake off that much more rust, but at least now the speculation is over, and perhaps any jitters gone with them, before the stakes get higher this week. “I’m glad he actually got it out of the way,” Martin said after the game, “and we can move forward.”

High Five

1. Gonzaga: If the Bulldogs do indeed move to the Mountain West, this season was a finale in the WCC, as they won their sixth straight league tournament and regular season crowns, having totaled 16 tournament titles and 18 regular season ones since 1999. In the more immediate future, as the No. 4 in the West, they may be the bracket’s most under-seeded team.

2. Marshall: Thirty-one years had passed since the last time the Thundering Herd earned a tourney berth before Dan D’Antoni’s squad won the Conference USA tournament this weekend. As you might expect of a D’Antoni-coached team, Marshall plays fast (the country’s third-shortest average offensive possession time) and loves the three (45.6% of its field goal attempts).

3. Penn: The hosts of the first-ever “Ivy Madness” were also its victors, beating Harvard at the Palestra on Sunday to earn their first NCAA tournament bid since 2007—a strong turnaround by third-year coach Steve Donahue, who took over a nine-win team in 2015. The last time Donahue, who struggled at Boston College from 2011–14, coached in the tourney, he led Cornell to the 2010 Sweet 16.

4. UMBC: Speaking of turnarounds, two years ago the Retrievers were 7–25 and 334th out of 351 teams in overall efficiency. Two years after hiring Ryan Odom from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne, UMBC won the America East to claim its second-ever NCAA bid on a dramatic buzzer-beater from star guard Jairus Lyles.

5. Davidson: The Wildcats ruined Notre Dame’s Selection Sunday by knocking off Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 finals, earning the ninth NCAA tournament bid of coach Bob McKillop’s 29-year tenure. Watch out for 6’8” senior forward Peyton Aldridge (21.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg) as a potential tourney breakout.

Top of the Classes

Senior: Joel Hernandez, LIU Brooklyn guard

The Blackbirds’ lone game this week was Tuesday’s NEC championship, in which Hernandez scored 32 points while adding seven rebounds, three steals, and two blocks to make sure his collegiate career ended with his first NCAA tournament appearance.

Junior: Roland Griffin, Iona forward

A career-high 29 points (including 11-of-11 free-throw shooting) and eight rebounds off the bench helped the Gaels beat Fairfield to win the MAAC, earning a date in the dance with the Blue Devils.

Sophomore: Malik Newman, Kansas forward

The Big 12 tournament’s Most Outstanding Player averaged 24.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 2.3 steals in the Jayhawks’ three wins to win the event.

Freshman: Deandre Ayton, Arizona forward

The 7’1” phenom closed his brief Pac-12 career in style, averaging 24.7 points, 12.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.0 blocks, and 1.3 steals during the Wildcats’ three-game run to the conference title.

Bests of the Best

Each week, we’ll get to know a standout player a little better by asking them about some of the best things in the world. This week we welcome Purdue guard Carsen Edwards, who is averaging 18.5 points and 3.0 assists and shooting 41.2% from three for the Boilermakers. So, Carsen, tell us about the best...

...place to eat back home. “Whataburger. It has pretty good burgers. I get the barbecue chicken strip sandwich and a red Fanta. I get that pretty much every time.”

...show to binge-watch. “I’m a big reality TV show guy. I watch a lot of Love & Hip Hop on VH1 and Siesta Key on MTV. And I watch Atlanta, on FX. Those are my favorite shows probably. I enjoy staying up to date with them.”

...animal to be reincarnated as. “Probably a cheetah, or a lion. Something like that, one of those wild cats. They’re just fast and they’re normally the dominant animal. I think that’s pretty cool.”

...decoration in your room. “I have an Ed Sheeran poster. It’s a Rolling Stone magazine cover. I’m a big Ed Sheeran guy. I like his music a lot. I want to see him live one day.”

Social Media Post of the Week

As the scandal turns...

Rick Pitino spoke with ESPN again and, you’ll never guess, but he wants to coach again and is upset with Louisville’s board of trustees. Or rather, its “board of traitors.” Yeah.

Among other things, Pitino told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman that he has “been assassinated by the Southern District of N.Y. without any wiretap or shred of evidence.” But that’s not really the case, as the federal indictment against Christian Dawkins and Merl Code explains that Dawkins was recorded detailing—in the presence of another Louisville basketball coach—how Pitino called Code to request Adidas make payments to the family of recruit Brian Bowen. Dawkins may have been embellishing, lying, or otherwise wrong, but that is at least a shred of evidence, especially since the government tracked the subsequent payments being made.

But the most intriguing Pitino-related news comes, improbably, from the Twitter account of Jay Williams. With Georgia having fired Mark Fox this weekend, Williams tweeted that he was hearing Pitino’s name in connection with the Bulldogs from “a lot of trusted sources.” Were it to actually come to fruition, that would be quite a shocker—even if Pitino does get another chance at a major coaching job, or a coaching job at all, one would imagine it would come after more dust has settled in the still-unfolding FBI investigation and the cases against Dawkins and Code, which could potentially make Pitino’s role clear one way or another. But it wouldn’t be the coaching carousel without wild rumors and speculation. We’re off to a fast start.

Elsewhere in the FBI investigation, North Carolina State was subpoenaed in the case, a school spokesman announced last week after it had been reported by The Washington Post. According to Raleigh’s News & Observer, the school spokesman said that the subpoena sought records rather than personal interviews and occurred in January.

Assigned Viewing: Rhode Island vs. Oklahoma, Thursday at 12:15 p.m. ET on CBS

The most important opening-weekend advice is actually to make sure you’ve relocated TruTV in your cable lineup before you're frantically scrambling to find it to catch an exciting finish before it’s too late. Other than that, you know by now how to watch the NCAA tournament. Any game you’re watching is also in one way or another updating you on the other games being played simultaneously, which are also being broadcast nationally. So there’s not much for me to tell you to do.

While correctly pinpointing which of the 32 games on the tournament’s first Thursday and Friday will be particularly rewarding is pretty much impossible, this opener is the matchup at which I’m tossing my dart, for reasons explained above.

Before You’re Dismissed...

• If your bracket cravings have yet to be satiated, check out SI’s regional breakdowns.

• Notre Dame was the last team out of the NCAA tournament, losing its spot when Davidson won the Atlantic 10 on Sunday afternoon. And while the Irish were rewarded with a No. 1 seed in the NIT, they were also stuck with a potential second round matchup with Penn State, the second-best team in the field (after Saint Mary’s) in terms of efficiency.

• The first Big East tournament game I ever went to was an MSG-shaking Saturday night championship game between UConn and Pittsburgh in 2004. Back then those teams seemed to meet in high-stakes clashes all the time. Now they’re both trying to fire their coaches for cause. Both programs have a long climb to get back to where they were.

• ”Who knows?” That was Tubby Smith’s answer when asked by Mark Giannotto of the Memphis News whether he thought he had coached his last game at Memphis. On Friday Smith’s attorney suggested Memphis alum Penny Hardaway, who reportedly wants to be the Tigers’ next coach, is to blame for local players not signing with the program. The offseason is already shaping up to be a doozy.

• Whether this was your first time or you’ve been following along every week, in which case you are probably my dad, thanks for reading the Monday Rebound this season. See you around.

<p>So the tournament didn’t get off to the best start. The selection show’s new format was widely panned; it began with a tedious alphabetical reading of all the automatic qualifying schools, which was <em>literally the only thing that anyone watching could know before tuning in</em>, and while the announcement of the full 68-team field before the actual bracket allowed every bubble question to be answered up front, it meant 20 minutes went by before we knew who anyone would be playing or where.</p><p>The good news: nothing this time of year lasts very long. By the time we’ve all caught our breath from shouting about one game’s dramatic finish, our collective attention is already turning toward the development of another. And so it is with Selection Sunday gripes. Once the bracket <em>is </em>revealed, the fun begins immediately. Well, except for those teams left out in the cold.</p><p>Anyway, with the big reveal now in the books, here are 18 thoughts on the 2018 NCAA tournament bracket.</p><p><strong>1. </strong><strong>It feels like there might be some separation after all.</strong> Maybe it’s just me, but after a season of talk about how there were no great teams and everything was wide open, the bracket as seeded seems to... make sense. The No. 1 and 2 seeds generally have some separation from the pack. Virginia and Villanova in particular look like they might be great after all; Kansas showed it’s still Kansas; Duke’s once-disjointed defense has started to catch up to its offense; North Carolina is making a strong push after an up-and-down year. On my first run through the bracket, it was hard to avoid a pretty chalky Elite Eight. Here’s hoping things are a bit more unpredictable than that.</p><p><strong>2. </strong><strong>Kansas looks to have the hardest draw for a No. 1.</strong> They would only have to face one of them, but both Duke and Michigan State—the top two teams in the preseason AP poll, a better predictor of tourney success than the end-of-season poll—are in the Jayhawks’ region and represent, based on efficiency metrics, the best teams on both the No. 2 and No. 3 seed lines. By that same measure, Kansas is actually the third best team in the Midwest (a distinction also true of No. 1 seed Xavier in the West), and Auburn is the bracket’s second best No. 4.</p><p><strong>3. </strong><strong>Villanova has the easiest.</strong> This is always a misleading label because no path is really ever all that easy, short of the bracket getting truly busted by an unruly run of upsets. But the three next top seeds in the East (Purdue, Texas Tech, and Wichita State) are all in the middle or back end of their seed lines and none appear to be particularly under-seeded. They’re good teams, but there isn’t necessarily a top title contender among them.</p><p><strong>4. </strong><strong>The Magic Eight had an anti-West bias.</strong> A month ago I made my first attempt at SI.com’s <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/14/2018-ncaa-tournament-predictions-odds-magic-eight-teams" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Magic Eight" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Magic Eight</a> tradition, selecting a group of eight teams (within a set of requirements) from which the national champion would emerge. If the Magic Eight is to be believed (and why wouldn’t it be?) the odds are against the West producing a champ, as only one of its teams made the list, and it’s fourth-seeded Gonzaga. The Midwest has three (Kansas, Duke, Michigan State) and East (Villanova and Purdue) and South (Virginia and Arizona) each have two.</p><p><strong>5. </strong><strong>Arizona might be left alone to carry the Pac-12 mantle.</strong> Only three teams from the league ended up making the field and two of them—Arizona State and UCLA—will be playing games in Dayton just to reach the Round of 64. A year ago the Pac-12 sent just one more team, but three of them were top-three seeds. This year only the Wildcats, a No. 4 seed in the South, are in a good position to reach the second weekend.</p><p><strong>6. </strong><strong>The Big Ten: low in quantity, but potential for quality.</strong> Only four Big Ten teams made the field, the lowest number in a decade. And while none are a No. 1 seed, the league does offer a No. 2 (Purdue), two No. 3s (Michigan and Michigan State), and a strong No. 5 (Ohio State). All four surviving the weekend, leaving the Big Ten with 25% of the Sweet 16, wouldn’t be far-fetched, and would make up for what has been a down year for the conference. But easier said than done.</p><p><strong>7. </strong><strong>Mid-majors will be missed.</strong> A record five major-conference teams with losing records in league play received at-large invites, two more than the previous high. Meanwhile, Saint Mary’s (28–5, 28th in overall efficiency) and Middle Tennessee (27–4, 52nd) were sent to the NIT, the latter snub resulting in <a href="https://twitter.com/ErikBacharach/status/972979464509542406" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the sad scene of Nick King sitting alone" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the sad scene of Nick King sitting alone</a> in the Blue Raiders’ film room an hour after the field was announced. Middle Tennessee wasn’t even among the first four out. That’s a shame.</p><p><strong>8. </strong><strong>Yes, the FBI-ensnared bubble teams were all left out too.</strong> Many observers were quick to point out that the three teams on the bubble who have been implicated in the FBI’s investigation in recruiting—USC, Louisville, and Oklahoma State—all failed to receive invites. (The latter two were not even among the first four out.) None of those exclusions are eyebrow-raising by the typical standards of such things, but hey, narratives are fun.</p><p><strong>9. </strong><strong>The South Regional could finish with a football score.</strong> If we may get ahead of ourselves for a moment, the potential for an Elite Eight meeting between top seeds Virginia (the country’s most efficient defense) and Cincinnati (the No. 2) is delightful. The Hoos rank 351st (out of 351 teams) in tempo. The Hoos allowed 53.4 points per game. The Bearcats allowed 57.1. Neither team has an elite offense. This could be fun, if not necessarily easy to watch. Get your pointing Spider-man memes ready.</p><p><strong>10. </strong><strong>Rhode Island vs. Oklahoma is a great way to kick off the first round.</strong> With all due respect to the First Four in Dayton, the 12:15 p.m. Thursday time slot is when March Madness truly gets underway. The choice of Trae Young’s Sooners against a talented and entertaining Rams team is a great way to kick things off.</p><p><strong>11. </strong><strong>Kentucky didn’t get screwed.</strong> John Calipari had his usual Sunday night phone call, complaining in an ESPN interview about the distance of the Wildcats’ first-round site in Boise and saying he had to ask his players if they even knew in which state they would be playing. But considering Kentucky was a No. 5 seed and thus would be playing at a location where the No. 4 was given geographical preference, the only other option was San Diego, which is hosting two other No. 4/5 seed pods, since Boise is <em>also</em> hosting the fourth 4/5 pod. Auburn and Wichita State are a seed line higher than Kentucky and being sent even farther. It happens.</p><p><strong>12. </strong><strong>If any of these No. 16 seeds are to pull off a miracle, put your faith in Penn.</strong> “Faith,” of course, being a very, very, <em>very</em> relative thing. The Quakers’ road to beating Kansas is at least somewhat rational: the Jayhawks have become a three-point shooting team and Penn defends the arc very well (both in limiting opportunities and opponents’ inaccuracy), and Kansas big man Udoka Azubuike is recovering from a knee strain that forced him to miss the Big 12 tournament. Kenpom.com also gives Penn a win probability of 11%. That’s one-in-nine. Just saying.</p><p><strong>13. </strong><strong>Stylistically, Wichita State may have the toughest first weekend.</strong> The fourth-seeded Shockers must first play uptempo, three-happy Marshall, coached by Dan D’Antoni (brother of Mike), then have a potential one-day turnaround before facing the extreme full-court pressure of West Virginia. That’ll be quite a prep and scouting challenge for Gregg Marshall’s staff.</p><p><strong>14. </strong><strong>Pittsburgh will look like a green room preview.</strong> Five players <a href="https://www.si.com/nba/nba-mock-draft-2018" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:projected by SI" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">projected by SI</a> to be lottery picks in this June’s NBA draft will be playing in Pittsburgh: Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, Villanova’s Mikal Bridges, Oklahoma’s Trae Young and Alabama’s Collin Sexton. Plus Duke’s other three starters (Grayson Allen, Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr.) and Villanova point guard Jalen Brunson are potential first-rounders as well.</p><p><strong>15. </strong><strong>The left side No. 4s are tempting.</strong> Assuming your bracket has the South and West on the left side, like the official one, that half of the bracket has two No. 4 seeds that hold some appeal as arbitrage/darkhorse Final Four contenders: Arizona, which has national title talent including the country’s best big man, and Gonzaga, which is eighth nationally in overall efficiency—12 spots higher than the next best No. 4 seed, Wichita State. If you’re looking to really mix it up, that may be where to look.</p><p><strong>16. </strong><strong>If you’re looking for a second weekend crasher, consider Missouri.</strong> The Tigers were an NCAA tournament team without Michael Porter Jr., and now they’ve potentially got one of the best players in the country—if he’s healthy. (More on that below.) Plus the No. 1 seed they would draw second round, Xavier, is a relatively vulnerable 59th in defensive efficiency. But first Mizzou will have to beat Florida State without senior forward Jordan Barnett, who was suspended for the Tigers’ first-round game after being arrested on suspicion of DWI over the weekend.</p><p><strong>17. </strong><strong>Or this could be the year of the 10 seeds.</strong> All are major-conference teams that offer some Sweet 16 appeal: Oklahoma (with perhaps the national player of the year), Texas (a top-10 defense and lottery-pick center), Butler (25th nationally in overall efficiency), and Providence (fresh off a Big East finals run where they took Villanova to OT).</p><p><strong>18. </strong><strong>Something you just read is going to look really dumb.</strong> And probably something else too. And another thing. But that’s the fun of March.</p><p>If you are wondering what exactly you are reading, this is the Monday Rebound, SI.com’s weekly Monday column on college hoops. It’s a sort of a grab-bag of news and tidbits and opinions largely aimed at catching you up on the weekend’s (and week’s) action and being generally informative. If there’s anything you like or dislike or would want to see more of here, or if you would just like to make fun of my attempts at prognostication, you can find me on Twitter @thedangreene. Thanks for reading.</p><h3>ICYMI</h3><p>The most-dissected 23 minutes anyone played off the bench this past week were those of Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr., the celebrated forward prospect and likely top-five NBA draft pick who had not seen game action since playing two minutes in the Tigers’ season opener in November. He left that game with what turned out to be herniated discs in his back, for which he underwent surgery. With a three-to-four-month recovery timetable and the potential of damaging his NBA career before it begins, most presumed Porter would never see the floor as a collegian again.</p><p>But after weeks of will-he-won’t-he speculation following his being cleared for practice, Porter returned for the surprisingly NCAA tourney-bound Tigers in the SEC quarterfinals against Georgia. The results were mixed: he was able to play substantially off the bench, and the Mizzou staff showed his was more than a token appearance, as he was featured to the extent of using a team-high 36% of the team’s possessions. Yet he didn’t quite look himself, shooting 5-for-17 from the field in a surprising loss; Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin even conceded to reporters that Porter, while having the same mindset as before his injury, was “maybe a step slow.”</p><p>This much is understandable. It was, after all, his first game back after a nearly four-month layoff following major surgery. As much as Mizzou fans would have loved to see Porter fulfill all those preseason dreams immediately upon returning, working one’s way back in such circumstances is a process. A deeper SEC tournament run would have had the added benefit of allowing Porter to shake off that much more rust, but at least now the speculation is over, and perhaps any jitters gone with them, before the stakes get higher this week. “I’m glad he actually got it out of the way,” Martin said after the game, “and we can move forward.”</p><h3>High Five</h3><p>1. <strong>Gonzaga</strong>: If the Bulldogs do indeed move to the Mountain West, this season was a finale in the WCC, as they won their sixth straight league tournament and regular season crowns, having totaled 16 tournament titles and 18 regular season ones since 1999. In the more immediate future, as the No. 4 in the West, they may be the bracket’s most under-seeded team.</p><p>2. <strong>Marshall</strong>: Thirty-one years had passed since the last time the Thundering Herd earned a tourney berth before Dan D’Antoni’s squad won the Conference USA tournament this weekend. As you might expect of a D’Antoni-coached team, Marshall plays <em>fast </em>(the country’s third-shortest average offensive possession time) and loves the three (45.6% of its field goal attempts).</p><p>3. <strong>Penn</strong>: The hosts of the first-ever “Ivy Madness” were also its victors, beating Harvard at the Palestra on Sunday to earn their first NCAA tournament bid since 2007—a strong turnaround by third-year coach Steve Donahue, who took over a nine-win team in 2015. The last time Donahue, who struggled at Boston College from 2011–14, coached in the tourney, he led Cornell to the 2010 Sweet 16.</p><p>4. <strong>UMBC</strong>: Speaking of turnarounds, two years ago the Retrievers were 7–25 and 334th out of 351 teams in overall efficiency. Two years after hiring Ryan Odom from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne, UMBC won the America East to claim its second-ever NCAA bid on a <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/10/umbc-uvm-america-east-championship-buzzer-beater" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:dramatic buzzer-beater from star guard Jairus Lyles" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">dramatic buzzer-beater from star guard Jairus Lyles</a>.</p><p>5. <strong>Davidson</strong>: The Wildcats ruined Notre Dame’s Selection Sunday by knocking off Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 finals, earning the ninth NCAA tournament bid of coach Bob McKillop’s 29-year tenure. Watch out for 6’8” senior forward Peyton Aldridge (21.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg) as a potential tourney breakout.</p><h3>Top of the Classes</h3><p><strong>Senior: Joel Hernandez, LIU Brooklyn guard</strong></p><p>The Blackbirds’ lone game this week was Tuesday’s NEC championship, in which Hernandez scored 32 points while adding seven rebounds, three steals, and two blocks to make sure his collegiate career ended with his first NCAA tournament appearance.</p><p><strong>Junior: Roland Griffin, Iona forward</strong></p><p>A career-high 29 points (including 11-of-11 free-throw shooting) and eight rebounds off the bench helped the Gaels beat Fairfield to win the MAAC, earning a date in the dance with the Blue Devils.</p><p><strong>Sophomore: Malik Newman, Kansas forward</strong></p><p>The Big 12 tournament’s Most Outstanding Player averaged 24.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 2.3 steals in the Jayhawks’ three wins to win the event.</p><p><strong>Freshman: Deandre Ayton, Arizona forward</strong></p><p>The 7’1” phenom closed his brief Pac-12 career in style, averaging 24.7 points, 12.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.0 blocks, and 1.3 steals during the Wildcats’ three-game run to the conference title.</p><h3>Bests of the Best</h3><p><em>Each week, we’ll get to know a standout player a little better by asking them about some of the best things in the world. This week we welcome Purdue guard Carsen Edwards, who is averaging 18.5 points and 3.0 assists and shooting 41.2% from three for the Boilermakers. So, Carsen, tell us about the best...</em></p><p><strong>...place to eat back home.</strong> “Whataburger. It has pretty good burgers. I get the barbecue chicken strip sandwich and a red Fanta. I get that pretty much every time.”</p><p><strong>...show to binge-watch.</strong> “I’m a big reality TV show guy. I watch a lot of <em>Love & Hip Hop</em> on VH1 and <em>Siesta Key</em> on MTV. And I watch <em>Atlanta</em>, on FX. Those are my favorite shows probably. I enjoy staying up to date with them.”</p><p><strong>...animal to be reincarnated as.</strong> “Probably a cheetah, or a lion. Something like that, one of those wild cats. They’re just fast and they’re normally the dominant animal. I think that’s pretty cool.”</p><p><strong>...decoration in your room.</strong> “I have an Ed Sheeran poster. It’s a <em>Rolling Stone</em> magazine cover. I’m a big Ed Sheeran guy. I like his music a lot. I want to see him live one day.”</p><h3>Social Media Post of the Week</h3><h3>As the scandal turns...</h3><p>Rick Pitino spoke with ESPN again and, you’ll never guess, but he wants to coach again and is upset with Louisville’s board of trustees. Or rather, its “board of traitors.” Yeah.</p><p>Among other things, Pitino told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman that he has “been assassinated by the Southern District of N.Y. without any wiretap or shred of evidence.” But that’s not really the case, as the federal indictment against Christian Dawkins and Merl Code explains that Dawkins was recorded detailing—in the presence of another Louisville basketball coach—how Pitino called Code to request Adidas make payments to the family of recruit Brian Bowen. Dawkins may have been embellishing, lying, or otherwise wrong, but that is at least a shred of evidence, especially since the government tracked the subsequent payments being made.</p><p>But the most intriguing Pitino-related news comes, improbably, from the Twitter account of Jay Williams. With Georgia having fired Mark Fox this weekend, Williams <a href="https://twitter.com/RealJayWilliams/status/972638957602263041" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:tweeted" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">tweeted</a> that he was hearing Pitino’s name in connection with the Bulldogs from “a lot of trusted sources.” Were it to actually come to fruition, that would be quite a shocker—even if Pitino <em>does</em> get another chance at a major coaching job, or a coaching job at all, one would imagine it would come after more dust has settled in the still-unfolding FBI investigation and the cases against Dawkins and Code, which could potentially make Pitino’s role clear one way or another. But it wouldn’t be the coaching carousel without wild rumors and speculation. We’re off to a fast start.</p><p>Elsewhere in the FBI investigation, North Carolina State was subpoenaed in the case, a school spokesman announced last week after it had been reported by <em>The Washington Post</em>. According to Raleigh’s <em>News & Observer</em>, the school spokesman said that the subpoena sought records rather than personal interviews and occurred in January.</p><h3>Assigned Viewing: Rhode Island vs. Oklahoma, Thursday at 12:15 p.m. ET on CBS</h3><p>The most important opening-weekend advice is actually to make sure you’ve relocated TruTV in your cable lineup before you're frantically scrambling to find it to catch an exciting finish before it’s too late. Other than that, you know by now how to watch the NCAA tournament. Any game you’re watching is also in one way or another updating you on the other games being played simultaneously, which are also being broadcast nationally. So there’s not much for me to tell you to do.</p><p>While correctly pinpointing which of the 32 games on the tournament’s first Thursday and Friday will be particularly rewarding is pretty much impossible, this opener is the matchup at which I’m tossing my dart, for reasons explained above.</p><h3>Before You’re Dismissed...</h3><p>• If your bracket cravings have yet to be satiated, check out SI’s <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/11/ncaa-tournament-bracket-regional-breakdown-march-madness-upset-picks" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:regional breakdowns" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">regional breakdowns</a>.</p><p>• Notre Dame was the last team out of the NCAA tournament, losing its spot when Davidson won the Atlantic 10 on Sunday afternoon. And while the Irish were rewarded with a No. 1 seed in the NIT, they were also stuck with a potential second round matchup with Penn State, the second-best team in the field (after Saint Mary’s) in terms of efficiency.</p><p>• The first Big East tournament game I ever went to was an MSG-shaking Saturday night championship game between UConn and Pittsburgh in 2004. Back then those teams seemed to meet in high-stakes clashes all the time. Now they’re both trying to fire their coaches for cause. Both programs have a long climb to get back to where they were.</p><p>• ”Who knows?” That was Tubby Smith’s answer when <a href="https://twitter.com/mgiannotto/status/972576694484832256" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:asked by Mark Giannotto" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">asked by Mark Giannotto</a> of the <em>Memphis News</em> whether he thought he had coached his last game at Memphis. On Friday Smith’s <a href="https://www.commercialappeal.com/story/sports/college/memphis-tigers/basketball/2018/03/09/memphis-basketball-tigers-tubby-smith-penny-hardaway-high-school-recruiting-aau-tulsa-cincinnati-aac/411485002/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:attorney suggested Memphis alum Penny Hardaway" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">attorney suggested Memphis alum Penny Hardaway</a>, who reportedly wants to be the Tigers’ next coach, is to blame for local players not signing with the program. The offseason is already shaping up to be a doozy.</p><p>• Whether this was your first time or you’ve been following along every week, in which case you are probably my dad, thanks for reading the Monday Rebound this season. See you around.</p>
Sleepers, Snubs and Stats: 18 Things to Know About the 2018 NCAA Tournament Bracket

So the tournament didn’t get off to the best start. The selection show’s new format was widely panned; it began with a tedious alphabetical reading of all the automatic qualifying schools, which was literally the only thing that anyone watching could know before tuning in, and while the announcement of the full 68-team field before the actual bracket allowed every bubble question to be answered up front, it meant 20 minutes went by before we knew who anyone would be playing or where.

The good news: nothing this time of year lasts very long. By the time we’ve all caught our breath from shouting about one game’s dramatic finish, our collective attention is already turning toward the development of another. And so it is with Selection Sunday gripes. Once the bracket is revealed, the fun begins immediately. Well, except for those teams left out in the cold.

Anyway, with the big reveal now in the books, here are 18 thoughts on the 2018 NCAA tournament bracket.

1. It feels like there might be some separation after all. Maybe it’s just me, but after a season of talk about how there were no great teams and everything was wide open, the bracket as seeded seems to... make sense. The No. 1 and 2 seeds generally have some separation from the pack. Virginia and Villanova in particular look like they might be great after all; Kansas showed it’s still Kansas; Duke’s once-disjointed defense has started to catch up to its offense; North Carolina is making a strong push after an up-and-down year. On my first run through the bracket, it was hard to avoid a pretty chalky Elite Eight. Here’s hoping things are a bit more unpredictable than that.

2. Kansas looks to have the hardest draw for a No. 1. They would only have to face one of them, but both Duke and Michigan State—the top two teams in the preseason AP poll, a better predictor of tourney success than the end-of-season poll—are in the Jayhawks’ region and represent, based on efficiency metrics, the best teams on both the No. 2 and No. 3 seed lines. By that same measure, Kansas is actually the third best team in the Midwest (a distinction also true of No. 1 seed Xavier in the West), and Auburn is the bracket’s second best No. 4.

3. Villanova has the easiest. This is always a misleading label because no path is really ever all that easy, short of the bracket getting truly busted by an unruly run of upsets. But the three next top seeds in the East (Purdue, Texas Tech, and Wichita State) are all in the middle or back end of their seed lines and none appear to be particularly under-seeded. They’re good teams, but there isn’t necessarily a top title contender among them.

4. The Magic Eight had an anti-West bias. A month ago I made my first attempt at SI.com’s Magic Eight tradition, selecting a group of eight teams (within a set of requirements) from which the national champion would emerge. If the Magic Eight is to be believed (and why wouldn’t it be?) the odds are against the West producing a champ, as only one of its teams made the list, and it’s fourth-seeded Gonzaga. The Midwest has three (Kansas, Duke, Michigan State) and East (Villanova and Purdue) and South (Virginia and Arizona) each have two.

5. Arizona might be left alone to carry the Pac-12 mantle. Only three teams from the league ended up making the field and two of them—Arizona State and UCLA—will be playing games in Dayton just to reach the Round of 64. A year ago the Pac-12 sent just one more team, but three of them were top-three seeds. This year only the Wildcats, a No. 4 seed in the South, are in a good position to reach the second weekend.

6. The Big Ten: low in quantity, but potential for quality. Only four Big Ten teams made the field, the lowest number in a decade. And while none are a No. 1 seed, the league does offer a No. 2 (Purdue), two No. 3s (Michigan and Michigan State), and a strong No. 5 (Ohio State). All four surviving the weekend, leaving the Big Ten with 25% of the Sweet 16, wouldn’t be far-fetched, and would make up for what has been a down year for the conference. But easier said than done.

7. Mid-majors will be missed. A record five major-conference teams with losing records in league play received at-large invites, two more than the previous high. Meanwhile, Saint Mary’s (28–5, 28th in overall efficiency) and Middle Tennessee (27–4, 52nd) were sent to the NIT, the latter snub resulting in the sad scene of Nick King sitting alone in the Blue Raiders’ film room an hour after the field was announced. Middle Tennessee wasn’t even among the first four out. That’s a shame.

8. Yes, the FBI-ensnared bubble teams were all left out too. Many observers were quick to point out that the three teams on the bubble who have been implicated in the FBI’s investigation in recruiting—USC, Louisville, and Oklahoma State—all failed to receive invites. (The latter two were not even among the first four out.) None of those exclusions are eyebrow-raising by the typical standards of such things, but hey, narratives are fun.

9. The South Regional could finish with a football score. If we may get ahead of ourselves for a moment, the potential for an Elite Eight meeting between top seeds Virginia (the country’s most efficient defense) and Cincinnati (the No. 2) is delightful. The Hoos rank 351st (out of 351 teams) in tempo. The Hoos allowed 53.4 points per game. The Bearcats allowed 57.1. Neither team has an elite offense. This could be fun, if not necessarily easy to watch. Get your pointing Spider-man memes ready.

10. Rhode Island vs. Oklahoma is a great way to kick off the first round. With all due respect to the First Four in Dayton, the 12:15 p.m. Thursday time slot is when March Madness truly gets underway. The choice of Trae Young’s Sooners against a talented and entertaining Rams team is a great way to kick things off.

11. Kentucky didn’t get screwed. John Calipari had his usual Sunday night phone call, complaining in an ESPN interview about the distance of the Wildcats’ first-round site in Boise and saying he had to ask his players if they even knew in which state they would be playing. But considering Kentucky was a No. 5 seed and thus would be playing at a location where the No. 4 was given geographical preference, the only other option was San Diego, which is hosting two other No. 4/5 seed pods, since Boise is also hosting the fourth 4/5 pod. Auburn and Wichita State are a seed line higher than Kentucky and being sent even farther. It happens.

12. If any of these No. 16 seeds are to pull off a miracle, put your faith in Penn. “Faith,” of course, being a very, very, very relative thing. The Quakers’ road to beating Kansas is at least somewhat rational: the Jayhawks have become a three-point shooting team and Penn defends the arc very well (both in limiting opportunities and opponents’ inaccuracy), and Kansas big man Udoka Azubuike is recovering from a knee strain that forced him to miss the Big 12 tournament. Kenpom.com also gives Penn a win probability of 11%. That’s one-in-nine. Just saying.

13. Stylistically, Wichita State may have the toughest first weekend. The fourth-seeded Shockers must first play uptempo, three-happy Marshall, coached by Dan D’Antoni (brother of Mike), then have a potential one-day turnaround before facing the extreme full-court pressure of West Virginia. That’ll be quite a prep and scouting challenge for Gregg Marshall’s staff.

14. Pittsburgh will look like a green room preview. Five players projected by SI to be lottery picks in this June’s NBA draft will be playing in Pittsburgh: Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, Villanova’s Mikal Bridges, Oklahoma’s Trae Young and Alabama’s Collin Sexton. Plus Duke’s other three starters (Grayson Allen, Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr.) and Villanova point guard Jalen Brunson are potential first-rounders as well.

15. The left side No. 4s are tempting. Assuming your bracket has the South and West on the left side, like the official one, that half of the bracket has two No. 4 seeds that hold some appeal as arbitrage/darkhorse Final Four contenders: Arizona, which has national title talent including the country’s best big man, and Gonzaga, which is eighth nationally in overall efficiency—12 spots higher than the next best No. 4 seed, Wichita State. If you’re looking to really mix it up, that may be where to look.

16. If you’re looking for a second weekend crasher, consider Missouri. The Tigers were an NCAA tournament team without Michael Porter Jr., and now they’ve potentially got one of the best players in the country—if he’s healthy. (More on that below.) Plus the No. 1 seed they would draw second round, Xavier, is a relatively vulnerable 59th in defensive efficiency. But first Mizzou will have to beat Florida State without senior forward Jordan Barnett, who was suspended for the Tigers’ first-round game after being arrested on suspicion of DWI over the weekend.

17. Or this could be the year of the 10 seeds. All are major-conference teams that offer some Sweet 16 appeal: Oklahoma (with perhaps the national player of the year), Texas (a top-10 defense and lottery-pick center), Butler (25th nationally in overall efficiency), and Providence (fresh off a Big East finals run where they took Villanova to OT).

18. Something you just read is going to look really dumb. And probably something else too. And another thing. But that’s the fun of March.

If you are wondering what exactly you are reading, this is the Monday Rebound, SI.com’s weekly Monday column on college hoops. It’s a sort of a grab-bag of news and tidbits and opinions largely aimed at catching you up on the weekend’s (and week’s) action and being generally informative. If there’s anything you like or dislike or would want to see more of here, or if you would just like to make fun of my attempts at prognostication, you can find me on Twitter @thedangreene. Thanks for reading.

ICYMI

The most-dissected 23 minutes anyone played off the bench this past week were those of Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr., the celebrated forward prospect and likely top-five NBA draft pick who had not seen game action since playing two minutes in the Tigers’ season opener in November. He left that game with what turned out to be herniated discs in his back, for which he underwent surgery. With a three-to-four-month recovery timetable and the potential of damaging his NBA career before it begins, most presumed Porter would never see the floor as a collegian again.

But after weeks of will-he-won’t-he speculation following his being cleared for practice, Porter returned for the surprisingly NCAA tourney-bound Tigers in the SEC quarterfinals against Georgia. The results were mixed: he was able to play substantially off the bench, and the Mizzou staff showed his was more than a token appearance, as he was featured to the extent of using a team-high 36% of the team’s possessions. Yet he didn’t quite look himself, shooting 5-for-17 from the field in a surprising loss; Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin even conceded to reporters that Porter, while having the same mindset as before his injury, was “maybe a step slow.”

This much is understandable. It was, after all, his first game back after a nearly four-month layoff following major surgery. As much as Mizzou fans would have loved to see Porter fulfill all those preseason dreams immediately upon returning, working one’s way back in such circumstances is a process. A deeper SEC tournament run would have had the added benefit of allowing Porter to shake off that much more rust, but at least now the speculation is over, and perhaps any jitters gone with them, before the stakes get higher this week. “I’m glad he actually got it out of the way,” Martin said after the game, “and we can move forward.”

High Five

1. Gonzaga: If the Bulldogs do indeed move to the Mountain West, this season was a finale in the WCC, as they won their sixth straight league tournament and regular season crowns, having totaled 16 tournament titles and 18 regular season ones since 1999. In the more immediate future, as the No. 4 in the West, they may be the bracket’s most under-seeded team.

2. Marshall: Thirty-one years had passed since the last time the Thundering Herd earned a tourney berth before Dan D’Antoni’s squad won the Conference USA tournament this weekend. As you might expect of a D’Antoni-coached team, Marshall plays fast (the country’s third-shortest average offensive possession time) and loves the three (45.6% of its field goal attempts).

3. Penn: The hosts of the first-ever “Ivy Madness” were also its victors, beating Harvard at the Palestra on Sunday to earn their first NCAA tournament bid since 2007—a strong turnaround by third-year coach Steve Donahue, who took over a nine-win team in 2015. The last time Donahue, who struggled at Boston College from 2011–14, coached in the tourney, he led Cornell to the 2010 Sweet 16.

4. UMBC: Speaking of turnarounds, two years ago the Retrievers were 7–25 and 334th out of 351 teams in overall efficiency. Two years after hiring Ryan Odom from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne, UMBC won the America East to claim its second-ever NCAA bid on a dramatic buzzer-beater from star guard Jairus Lyles.

5. Davidson: The Wildcats ruined Notre Dame’s Selection Sunday by knocking off Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 finals, earning the ninth NCAA tournament bid of coach Bob McKillop’s 29-year tenure. Watch out for 6’8” senior forward Peyton Aldridge (21.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg) as a potential tourney breakout.

Top of the Classes

Senior: Joel Hernandez, LIU Brooklyn guard

The Blackbirds’ lone game this week was Tuesday’s NEC championship, in which Hernandez scored 32 points while adding seven rebounds, three steals, and two blocks to make sure his collegiate career ended with his first NCAA tournament appearance.

Junior: Roland Griffin, Iona forward

A career-high 29 points (including 11-of-11 free-throw shooting) and eight rebounds off the bench helped the Gaels beat Fairfield to win the MAAC, earning a date in the dance with the Blue Devils.

Sophomore: Malik Newman, Kansas forward

The Big 12 tournament’s Most Outstanding Player averaged 24.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 2.3 steals in the Jayhawks’ three wins to win the event.

Freshman: Deandre Ayton, Arizona forward

The 7’1” phenom closed his brief Pac-12 career in style, averaging 24.7 points, 12.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.0 blocks, and 1.3 steals during the Wildcats’ three-game run to the conference title.

Bests of the Best

Each week, we’ll get to know a standout player a little better by asking them about some of the best things in the world. This week we welcome Purdue guard Carsen Edwards, who is averaging 18.5 points and 3.0 assists and shooting 41.2% from three for the Boilermakers. So, Carsen, tell us about the best...

...place to eat back home. “Whataburger. It has pretty good burgers. I get the barbecue chicken strip sandwich and a red Fanta. I get that pretty much every time.”

...show to binge-watch. “I’m a big reality TV show guy. I watch a lot of Love & Hip Hop on VH1 and Siesta Key on MTV. And I watch Atlanta, on FX. Those are my favorite shows probably. I enjoy staying up to date with them.”

...animal to be reincarnated as. “Probably a cheetah, or a lion. Something like that, one of those wild cats. They’re just fast and they’re normally the dominant animal. I think that’s pretty cool.”

...decoration in your room. “I have an Ed Sheeran poster. It’s a Rolling Stone magazine cover. I’m a big Ed Sheeran guy. I like his music a lot. I want to see him live one day.”

Social Media Post of the Week

As the scandal turns...

Rick Pitino spoke with ESPN again and, you’ll never guess, but he wants to coach again and is upset with Louisville’s board of trustees. Or rather, its “board of traitors.” Yeah.

Among other things, Pitino told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman that he has “been assassinated by the Southern District of N.Y. without any wiretap or shred of evidence.” But that’s not really the case, as the federal indictment against Christian Dawkins and Merl Code explains that Dawkins was recorded detailing—in the presence of another Louisville basketball coach—how Pitino called Code to request Adidas make payments to the family of recruit Brian Bowen. Dawkins may have been embellishing, lying, or otherwise wrong, but that is at least a shred of evidence, especially since the government tracked the subsequent payments being made.

But the most intriguing Pitino-related news comes, improbably, from the Twitter account of Jay Williams. With Georgia having fired Mark Fox this weekend, Williams tweeted that he was hearing Pitino’s name in connection with the Bulldogs from “a lot of trusted sources.” Were it to actually come to fruition, that would be quite a shocker—even if Pitino does get another chance at a major coaching job, or a coaching job at all, one would imagine it would come after more dust has settled in the still-unfolding FBI investigation and the cases against Dawkins and Code, which could potentially make Pitino’s role clear one way or another. But it wouldn’t be the coaching carousel without wild rumors and speculation. We’re off to a fast start.

Elsewhere in the FBI investigation, North Carolina State was subpoenaed in the case, a school spokesman announced last week after it had been reported by The Washington Post. According to Raleigh’s News & Observer, the school spokesman said that the subpoena sought records rather than personal interviews and occurred in January.

Assigned Viewing: Rhode Island vs. Oklahoma, Thursday at 12:15 p.m. ET on CBS

The most important opening-weekend advice is actually to make sure you’ve relocated TruTV in your cable lineup before you're frantically scrambling to find it to catch an exciting finish before it’s too late. Other than that, you know by now how to watch the NCAA tournament. Any game you’re watching is also in one way or another updating you on the other games being played simultaneously, which are also being broadcast nationally. So there’s not much for me to tell you to do.

While correctly pinpointing which of the 32 games on the tournament’s first Thursday and Friday will be particularly rewarding is pretty much impossible, this opener is the matchup at which I’m tossing my dart, for reasons explained above.

Before You’re Dismissed...

• If your bracket cravings have yet to be satiated, check out SI’s regional breakdowns.

• Notre Dame was the last team out of the NCAA tournament, losing its spot when Davidson won the Atlantic 10 on Sunday afternoon. And while the Irish were rewarded with a No. 1 seed in the NIT, they were also stuck with a potential second round matchup with Penn State, the second-best team in the field (after Saint Mary’s) in terms of efficiency.

• The first Big East tournament game I ever went to was an MSG-shaking Saturday night championship game between UConn and Pittsburgh in 2004. Back then those teams seemed to meet in high-stakes clashes all the time. Now they’re both trying to fire their coaches for cause. Both programs have a long climb to get back to where they were.

• ”Who knows?” That was Tubby Smith’s answer when asked by Mark Giannotto of the Memphis News whether he thought he had coached his last game at Memphis. On Friday Smith’s attorney suggested Memphis alum Penny Hardaway, who reportedly wants to be the Tigers’ next coach, is to blame for local players not signing with the program. The offseason is already shaping up to be a doozy.

• Whether this was your first time or you’ve been following along every week, in which case you are probably my dad, thanks for reading the Monday Rebound this season. See you around.

<p>So the tournament didn’t get off to the best start. The selection show’s new format was widely panned; it began with a tedious alphabetical reading of all the automatic qualifying schools, which was <em>literally the only thing that anyone watching could know before tuning in</em>, and while the announcement of the full 68-team field before the actual bracket allowed every bubble question to be answered up front, it meant 20 minutes went by before we knew who anyone would be playing or where.</p><p>The good news: nothing this time of year lasts very long. By the time we’ve all caught our breath from shouting about one game’s dramatic finish, our collective attention is already turning toward the development of another. And so it is with Selection Sunday gripes. Once the bracket <em>is </em>revealed, the fun begins immediately. Well, except for those teams left out in the cold.</p><p>Anyway, with the big reveal now in the books, here are 18 thoughts on the 2018 NCAA tournament bracket.</p><p><strong>1. </strong><strong>It feels like there might be some separation after all.</strong> Maybe it’s just me, but after a season of talk about how there were no great teams and everything was wide open, the bracket as seeded seems to... make sense. The No. 1 and 2 seeds generally have some separation from the pack. Virginia and Villanova in particular look like they might be great after all; Kansas showed it’s still Kansas; Duke’s once-disjointed defense has started to catch up to its offense; North Carolina is making a strong push after an up-and-down year. On my first run through the bracket, it was hard to avoid a pretty chalky Elite Eight. Here’s hoping things are a bit more unpredictable than that.</p><p><strong>2. </strong><strong>Kansas looks to have the hardest draw for a No. 1.</strong> They would only have to face one of them, but both Duke and Michigan State—the top two teams in the preseason AP poll, a better predictor of tourney success than the end-of-season poll—are in the Jayhawks’ region and represent, based on efficiency metrics, the best teams on both the No. 2 and No. 3 seed lines. By that same measure, Kansas is actually the third best team in the Midwest (a distinction also true of No. 1 seed Xavier in the West), and Auburn is the bracket’s second best No. 4.</p><p><strong>3. </strong><strong>Villanova has the easiest.</strong> This is always a misleading label because no path is really ever all that easy, short of the bracket getting truly busted by an unruly run of upsets. But the three next top seeds in the East (Purdue, Texas Tech, and Wichita State) are all in the middle or back end of their seed lines and none appear to be particularly under-seeded. They’re good teams, but there isn’t necessarily a top title contender among them.</p><p><strong>4. </strong><strong>The Magic Eight had an anti-West bias.</strong> A month ago I made my first attempt at SI.com’s <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/14/2018-ncaa-tournament-predictions-odds-magic-eight-teams" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Magic Eight" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Magic Eight</a> tradition, selecting a group of eight teams (within a set of requirements) from which the national champion would emerge. If the Magic Eight is to be believed (and why wouldn’t it be?) the odds are against the West producing a champ, as only one of its teams made the list, and it’s fourth-seeded Gonzaga. The Midwest has three (Kansas, Duke, Michigan State) and East (Villanova and Purdue) and South (Virginia and Arizona) each have two.</p><p><strong>5. </strong><strong>Arizona might be left alone to carry the Pac-12 mantle.</strong> Only three teams from the league ended up making the field and two of them—Arizona State and UCLA—will be playing games in Dayton just to reach the Round of 64. A year ago the Pac-12 sent just one more team, but three of them were top-three seeds. This year only the Wildcats, a No. 4 seed in the South, are in a good position to reach the second weekend.</p><p><strong>6. </strong><strong>The Big Ten: low in quantity, but potential for quality.</strong> Only four Big Ten teams made the field, the lowest number in a decade. And while none are a No. 1 seed, the league does offer a No. 2 (Purdue), two No. 3s (Michigan and Michigan State), and a strong No. 5 (Ohio State). All four surviving the weekend, leaving the Big Ten with 25% of the Sweet 16, wouldn’t be far-fetched, and would make up for what has been a down year for the conference. But easier said than done.</p><p><strong>7. </strong><strong>Mid-majors will be missed.</strong> A record five major-conference teams with losing records in league play received at-large invites, two more than the previous high. Meanwhile, Saint Mary’s (28–5, 28th in overall efficiency) and Middle Tennessee (27–4, 52nd) were sent to the NIT, the latter snub resulting in <a href="https://twitter.com/ErikBacharach/status/972979464509542406" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the sad scene of Nick King sitting alone" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the sad scene of Nick King sitting alone</a> in the Blue Raiders’ film room an hour after the field was announced. Middle Tennessee wasn’t even among the first four out. That’s a shame.</p><p><strong>8. </strong><strong>Yes, the FBI-ensnared bubble teams were all left out too.</strong> Many observers were quick to point out that the three teams on the bubble who have been implicated in the FBI’s investigation in recruiting—USC, Louisville, and Oklahoma State—all failed to receive invites. (The latter two were not even among the first four out.) None of those exclusions are eyebrow-raising by the typical standards of such things, but hey, narratives are fun.</p><p><strong>9. </strong><strong>The South Regional could finish with a football score.</strong> If we may get ahead of ourselves for a moment, the potential for an Elite Eight meeting between top seeds Virginia (the country’s most efficient defense) and Cincinnati (the No. 2) is delightful. The Hoos rank 351st (out of 351 teams) in tempo. The Hoos allowed 53.4 points per game. The Bearcats allowed 57.1. Neither team has an elite offense. This could be fun, if not necessarily easy to watch. Get your pointing Spider-man memes ready.</p><p><strong>10. </strong><strong>Rhode Island vs. Oklahoma is a great way to kick off the first round.</strong> With all due respect to the First Four in Dayton, the 12:15 p.m. Thursday time slot is when March Madness truly gets underway. The choice of Trae Young’s Sooners against a talented and entertaining Rams team is a great way to kick things off.</p><p><strong>11. </strong><strong>Kentucky didn’t get screwed.</strong> John Calipari had his usual Sunday night phone call, complaining in an ESPN interview about the distance of the Wildcats’ first-round site in Boise and saying he had to ask his players if they even knew in which state they would be playing. But considering Kentucky was a No. 5 seed and thus would be playing at a location where the No. 4 was given geographical preference, the only other option was San Diego, which is hosting two other No. 4/5 seed pods, since Boise is <em>also</em> hosting the fourth 4/5 pod. Auburn and Wichita State are a seed line higher than Kentucky and being sent even farther. It happens.</p><p><strong>12. </strong><strong>If any of these No. 16 seeds are to pull off a miracle, put your faith in Penn.</strong> “Faith,” of course, being a very, very, <em>very</em> relative thing. The Quakers’ road to beating Kansas is at least somewhat rational: the Jayhawks have become a three-point shooting team and Penn defends the arc very well (both in limiting opportunities and opponents’ inaccuracy), and Kansas big man Udoka Azubuike is recovering from a knee strain that forced him to miss the Big 12 tournament. Kenpom.com also gives Penn a win probability of 11%. That’s one-in-nine. Just saying.</p><p><strong>13. </strong><strong>Stylistically, Wichita State may have the toughest first weekend.</strong> The fourth-seeded Shockers must first play uptempo, three-happy Marshall, coached by Dan D’Antoni (brother of Mike), then have a potential one-day turnaround before facing the extreme full-court pressure of West Virginia. That’ll be quite a prep and scouting challenge for Gregg Marshall’s staff.</p><p><strong>14. </strong><strong>Pittsburgh will look like a green room preview.</strong> Five players <a href="https://www.si.com/nba/nba-mock-draft-2018" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:projected by SI" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">projected by SI</a> to be lottery picks in this June’s NBA draft will be playing in Pittsburgh: Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, Villanova’s Mikal Bridges, Oklahoma’s Trae Young and Alabama’s Collin Sexton. Plus Duke’s other three starters (Grayson Allen, Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr.) and Villanova point guard Jalen Brunson are potential first-rounders as well.</p><p><strong>15. </strong><strong>The left side No. 4s are tempting.</strong> Assuming your bracket has the South and West on the left side, like the official one, that half of the bracket has two No. 4 seeds that hold some appeal as arbitrage/darkhorse Final Four contenders: Arizona, which has national title talent including the country’s best big man, and Gonzaga, which is eighth nationally in overall efficiency—12 spots higher than the next best No. 4 seed, Wichita State. If you’re looking to really mix it up, that may be where to look.</p><p><strong>16. </strong><strong>If you’re looking for a second weekend crasher, consider Missouri.</strong> The Tigers were an NCAA tournament team without Michael Porter Jr., and now they’ve potentially got one of the best players in the country—if he’s healthy. (More on that below.) Plus the No. 1 seed they would draw second round, Xavier, is a relatively vulnerable 59th in defensive efficiency. But first Mizzou will have to beat Florida State without senior forward Jordan Barnett, who was suspended for the Tigers’ first-round game after being arrested on suspicion of DWI over the weekend.</p><p><strong>17. </strong><strong>Or this could be the year of the 10 seeds.</strong> All are major-conference teams that offer some Sweet 16 appeal: Oklahoma (with perhaps the national player of the year), Texas (a top-10 defense and lottery-pick center), Butler (25th nationally in overall efficiency), and Providence (fresh off a Big East finals run where they took Villanova to OT).</p><p><strong>18. </strong><strong>Something you just read is going to look really dumb.</strong> And probably something else too. And another thing. But that’s the fun of March.</p><p>If you are wondering what exactly you are reading, this is the Monday Rebound, SI.com’s weekly Monday column on college hoops. It’s a sort of a grab-bag of news and tidbits and opinions largely aimed at catching you up on the weekend’s (and week’s) action and being generally informative. If there’s anything you like or dislike or would want to see more of here, or if you would just like to make fun of my attempts at prognostication, you can find me on Twitter @thedangreene. Thanks for reading.</p><h3>ICYMI</h3><p>The most-dissected 23 minutes anyone played off the bench this past week were those of Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr., the celebrated forward prospect and likely top-five NBA draft pick who had not seen game action since playing two minutes in the Tigers’ season opener in November. He left that game with what turned out to be herniated discs in his back, for which he underwent surgery. With a three-to-four-month recovery timetable and the potential of damaging his NBA career before it begins, most presumed Porter would never see the floor as a collegian again.</p><p>But after weeks of will-he-won’t-he speculation following his being cleared for practice, Porter returned for the surprisingly NCAA tourney-bound Tigers in the SEC quarterfinals against Georgia. The results were mixed: he was able to play substantially off the bench, and the Mizzou staff showed his was more than a token appearance, as he was featured to the extent of using a team-high 36% of the team’s possessions. Yet he didn’t quite look himself, shooting 5-for-17 from the field in a surprising loss; Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin even conceded to reporters that Porter, while having the same mindset as before his injury, was “maybe a step slow.”</p><p>This much is understandable. It was, after all, his first game back after a nearly four-month layoff following major surgery. As much as Mizzou fans would have loved to see Porter fulfill all those preseason dreams immediately upon returning, working one’s way back in such circumstances is a process. A deeper SEC tournament run would have had the added benefit of allowing Porter to shake off that much more rust, but at least now the speculation is over, and perhaps any jitters gone with them, before the stakes get higher this week. “I’m glad he actually got it out of the way,” Martin said after the game, “and we can move forward.”</p><h3>High Five</h3><p>1. <strong>Gonzaga</strong>: If the Bulldogs do indeed move to the Mountain West, this season was a finale in the WCC, as they won their sixth straight league tournament and regular season crowns, having totaled 16 tournament titles and 18 regular season ones since 1999. In the more immediate future, as the No. 4 in the West, they may be the bracket’s most under-seeded team.</p><p>2. <strong>Marshall</strong>: Thirty-one years had passed since the last time the Thundering Herd earned a tourney berth before Dan D’Antoni’s squad won the Conference USA tournament this weekend. As you might expect of a D’Antoni-coached team, Marshall plays <em>fast </em>(the country’s third-shortest average offensive possession time) and loves the three (45.6% of its field goal attempts).</p><p>3. <strong>Penn</strong>: The hosts of the first-ever “Ivy Madness” were also its victors, beating Harvard at the Palestra on Sunday to earn their first NCAA tournament bid since 2007—a strong turnaround by third-year coach Steve Donahue, who took over a nine-win team in 2015. The last time Donahue, who struggled at Boston College from 2011–14, coached in the tourney, he led Cornell to the 2010 Sweet 16.</p><p>4. <strong>UMBC</strong>: Speaking of turnarounds, two years ago the Retrievers were 7–25 and 334th out of 351 teams in overall efficiency. Two years after hiring Ryan Odom from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne, UMBC won the America East to claim its second-ever NCAA bid on a <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/10/umbc-uvm-america-east-championship-buzzer-beater" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:dramatic buzzer-beater from star guard Jairus Lyles" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">dramatic buzzer-beater from star guard Jairus Lyles</a>.</p><p>5. <strong>Davidson</strong>: The Wildcats ruined Notre Dame’s Selection Sunday by knocking off Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 finals, earning the ninth NCAA tournament bid of coach Bob McKillop’s 29-year tenure. Watch out for 6’8” senior forward Peyton Aldridge (21.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg) as a potential tourney breakout.</p><h3>Top of the Classes</h3><p><strong>Senior: Joel Hernandez, LIU Brooklyn guard</strong></p><p>The Blackbirds’ lone game this week was Tuesday’s NEC championship, in which Hernandez scored 32 points while adding seven rebounds, three steals, and two blocks to make sure his collegiate career ended with his first NCAA tournament appearance.</p><p><strong>Junior: Roland Griffin, Iona forward</strong></p><p>A career-high 29 points (including 11-of-11 free-throw shooting) and eight rebounds off the bench helped the Gaels beat Fairfield to win the MAAC, earning a date in the dance with the Blue Devils.</p><p><strong>Sophomore: Malik Newman, Kansas forward</strong></p><p>The Big 12 tournament’s Most Outstanding Player averaged 24.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 2.3 steals in the Jayhawks’ three wins to win the event.</p><p><strong>Freshman: Deandre Ayton, Arizona forward</strong></p><p>The 7’1” phenom closed his brief Pac-12 career in style, averaging 24.7 points, 12.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.0 blocks, and 1.3 steals during the Wildcats’ three-game run to the conference title.</p><h3>Bests of the Best</h3><p><em>Each week, we’ll get to know a standout player a little better by asking them about some of the best things in the world. This week we welcome Purdue guard Carsen Edwards, who is averaging 18.5 points and 3.0 assists and shooting 41.2% from three for the Boilermakers. So, Carsen, tell us about the best...</em></p><p><strong>...place to eat back home.</strong> “Whataburger. It has pretty good burgers. I get the barbecue chicken strip sandwich and a red Fanta. I get that pretty much every time.”</p><p><strong>...show to binge-watch.</strong> “I’m a big reality TV show guy. I watch a lot of <em>Love & Hip Hop</em> on VH1 and <em>Siesta Key</em> on MTV. And I watch <em>Atlanta</em>, on FX. Those are my favorite shows probably. I enjoy staying up to date with them.”</p><p><strong>...animal to be reincarnated as.</strong> “Probably a cheetah, or a lion. Something like that, one of those wild cats. They’re just fast and they’re normally the dominant animal. I think that’s pretty cool.”</p><p><strong>...decoration in your room.</strong> “I have an Ed Sheeran poster. It’s a <em>Rolling Stone</em> magazine cover. I’m a big Ed Sheeran guy. I like his music a lot. I want to see him live one day.”</p><h3>Social Media Post of the Week</h3><h3>As the scandal turns...</h3><p>Rick Pitino spoke with ESPN again and, you’ll never guess, but he wants to coach again and is upset with Louisville’s board of trustees. Or rather, its “board of traitors.” Yeah.</p><p>Among other things, Pitino told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman that he has “been assassinated by the Southern District of N.Y. without any wiretap or shred of evidence.” But that’s not really the case, as the federal indictment against Christian Dawkins and Merl Code explains that Dawkins was recorded detailing—in the presence of another Louisville basketball coach—how Pitino called Code to request Adidas make payments to the family of recruit Brian Bowen. Dawkins may have been embellishing, lying, or otherwise wrong, but that is at least a shred of evidence, especially since the government tracked the subsequent payments being made.</p><p>But the most intriguing Pitino-related news comes, improbably, from the Twitter account of Jay Williams. With Georgia having fired Mark Fox this weekend, Williams <a href="https://twitter.com/RealJayWilliams/status/972638957602263041" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:tweeted" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">tweeted</a> that he was hearing Pitino’s name in connection with the Bulldogs from “a lot of trusted sources.” Were it to actually come to fruition, that would be quite a shocker—even if Pitino <em>does</em> get another chance at a major coaching job, or a coaching job at all, one would imagine it would come after more dust has settled in the still-unfolding FBI investigation and the cases against Dawkins and Code, which could potentially make Pitino’s role clear one way or another. But it wouldn’t be the coaching carousel without wild rumors and speculation. We’re off to a fast start.</p><p>Elsewhere in the FBI investigation, North Carolina State was subpoenaed in the case, a school spokesman announced last week after it had been reported by <em>The Washington Post</em>. According to Raleigh’s <em>News & Observer</em>, the school spokesman said that the subpoena sought records rather than personal interviews and occurred in January.</p><h3>Assigned Viewing: Rhode Island vs. Oklahoma, Thursday at 12:15 p.m. ET on CBS</h3><p>The most important opening-weekend advice is actually to make sure you’ve relocated TruTV in your cable lineup before you're frantically scrambling to find it to catch an exciting finish before it’s too late. Other than that, you know by now how to watch the NCAA tournament. Any game you’re watching is also in one way or another updating you on the other games being played simultaneously, which are also being broadcast nationally. So there’s not much for me to tell you to do.</p><p>While correctly pinpointing which of the 32 games on the tournament’s first Thursday and Friday will be particularly rewarding is pretty much impossible, this opener is the matchup at which I’m tossing my dart, for reasons explained above.</p><h3>Before You’re Dismissed...</h3><p>• If your bracket cravings have yet to be satiated, check out SI’s <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/11/ncaa-tournament-bracket-regional-breakdown-march-madness-upset-picks" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:regional breakdowns" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">regional breakdowns</a>.</p><p>• Notre Dame was the last team out of the NCAA tournament, losing its spot when Davidson won the Atlantic 10 on Sunday afternoon. And while the Irish were rewarded with a No. 1 seed in the NIT, they were also stuck with a potential second round matchup with Penn State, the second-best team in the field (after Saint Mary’s) in terms of efficiency.</p><p>• The first Big East tournament game I ever went to was an MSG-shaking Saturday night championship game between UConn and Pittsburgh in 2004. Back then those teams seemed to meet in high-stakes clashes all the time. Now they’re both trying to fire their coaches for cause. Both programs have a long climb to get back to where they were.</p><p>• ”Who knows?” That was Tubby Smith’s answer when <a href="https://twitter.com/mgiannotto/status/972576694484832256" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:asked by Mark Giannotto" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">asked by Mark Giannotto</a> of the <em>Memphis News</em> whether he thought he had coached his last game at Memphis. On Friday Smith’s <a href="https://www.commercialappeal.com/story/sports/college/memphis-tigers/basketball/2018/03/09/memphis-basketball-tigers-tubby-smith-penny-hardaway-high-school-recruiting-aau-tulsa-cincinnati-aac/411485002/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:attorney suggested Memphis alum Penny Hardaway" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">attorney suggested Memphis alum Penny Hardaway</a>, who reportedly wants to be the Tigers’ next coach, is to blame for local players not signing with the program. The offseason is already shaping up to be a doozy.</p><p>• Whether this was your first time or you’ve been following along every week, in which case you are probably my dad, thanks for reading the Monday Rebound this season. See you around.</p>
Sleepers, Snubs and Stats: 18 Things to Know About the 2018 NCAA Tournament Bracket

So the tournament didn’t get off to the best start. The selection show’s new format was widely panned; it began with a tedious alphabetical reading of all the automatic qualifying schools, which was literally the only thing that anyone watching could know before tuning in, and while the announcement of the full 68-team field before the actual bracket allowed every bubble question to be answered up front, it meant 20 minutes went by before we knew who anyone would be playing or where.

The good news: nothing this time of year lasts very long. By the time we’ve all caught our breath from shouting about one game’s dramatic finish, our collective attention is already turning toward the development of another. And so it is with Selection Sunday gripes. Once the bracket is revealed, the fun begins immediately. Well, except for those teams left out in the cold.

Anyway, with the big reveal now in the books, here are 18 thoughts on the 2018 NCAA tournament bracket.

1. It feels like there might be some separation after all. Maybe it’s just me, but after a season of talk about how there were no great teams and everything was wide open, the bracket as seeded seems to... make sense. The No. 1 and 2 seeds generally have some separation from the pack. Virginia and Villanova in particular look like they might be great after all; Kansas showed it’s still Kansas; Duke’s once-disjointed defense has started to catch up to its offense; North Carolina is making a strong push after an up-and-down year. On my first run through the bracket, it was hard to avoid a pretty chalky Elite Eight. Here’s hoping things are a bit more unpredictable than that.

2. Kansas looks to have the hardest draw for a No. 1. They would only have to face one of them, but both Duke and Michigan State—the top two teams in the preseason AP poll, a better predictor of tourney success than the end-of-season poll—are in the Jayhawks’ region and represent, based on efficiency metrics, the best teams on both the No. 2 and No. 3 seed lines. By that same measure, Kansas is actually the third best team in the Midwest (a distinction also true of No. 1 seed Xavier in the West), and Auburn is the bracket’s second best No. 4.

3. Villanova has the easiest. This is always a misleading label because no path is really ever all that easy, short of the bracket getting truly busted by an unruly run of upsets. But the three next top seeds in the East (Purdue, Texas Tech, and Wichita State) are all in the middle or back end of their seed lines and none appear to be particularly under-seeded. They’re good teams, but there isn’t necessarily a top title contender among them.

4. The Magic Eight had an anti-West bias. A month ago I made my first attempt at SI.com’s Magic Eight tradition, selecting a group of eight teams (within a set of requirements) from which the national champion would emerge. If the Magic Eight is to be believed (and why wouldn’t it be?) the odds are against the West producing a champ, as only one of its teams made the list, and it’s fourth-seeded Gonzaga. The Midwest has three (Kansas, Duke, Michigan State) and East (Villanova and Purdue) and South (Virginia and Arizona) each have two.

5. Arizona might be left alone to carry the Pac-12 mantle. Only three teams from the league ended up making the field and two of them—Arizona State and UCLA—will be playing games in Dayton just to reach the Round of 64. A year ago the Pac-12 sent just one more team, but three of them were top-three seeds. This year only the Wildcats, a No. 4 seed in the South, are in a good position to reach the second weekend.

6. The Big Ten: low in quantity, but potential for quality. Only four Big Ten teams made the field, the lowest number in a decade. And while none are a No. 1 seed, the league does offer a No. 2 (Purdue), two No. 3s (Michigan and Michigan State), and a strong No. 5 (Ohio State). All four surviving the weekend, leaving the Big Ten with 25% of the Sweet 16, wouldn’t be far-fetched, and would make up for what has been a down year for the conference. But easier said than done.

7. Mid-majors will be missed. A record five major-conference teams with losing records in league play received at-large invites, two more than the previous high. Meanwhile, Saint Mary’s (28–5, 28th in overall efficiency) and Middle Tennessee (27–4, 52nd) were sent to the NIT, the latter snub resulting in the sad scene of Nick King sitting alone in the Blue Raiders’ film room an hour after the field was announced. Middle Tennessee wasn’t even among the first four out. That’s a shame.

8. Yes, the FBI-ensnared bubble teams were all left out too. Many observers were quick to point out that the three teams on the bubble who have been implicated in the FBI’s investigation in recruiting—USC, Louisville, and Oklahoma State—all failed to receive invites. (The latter two were not even among the first four out.) None of those exclusions are eyebrow-raising by the typical standards of such things, but hey, narratives are fun.

9. The South Regional could finish with a football score. If we may get ahead of ourselves for a moment, the potential for an Elite Eight meeting between top seeds Virginia (the country’s most efficient defense) and Cincinnati (the No. 2) is delightful. The Hoos rank 351st (out of 351 teams) in tempo. The Hoos allowed 53.4 points per game. The Bearcats allowed 57.1. Neither team has an elite offense. This could be fun, if not necessarily easy to watch. Get your pointing Spider-man memes ready.

10. Rhode Island vs. Oklahoma is a great way to kick off the first round. With all due respect to the First Four in Dayton, the 12:15 p.m. Thursday time slot is when March Madness truly gets underway. The choice of Trae Young’s Sooners against a talented and entertaining Rams team is a great way to kick things off.

11. Kentucky didn’t get screwed. John Calipari had his usual Sunday night phone call, complaining in an ESPN interview about the distance of the Wildcats’ first-round site in Boise and saying he had to ask his players if they even knew in which state they would be playing. But considering Kentucky was a No. 5 seed and thus would be playing at a location where the No. 4 was given geographical preference, the only other option was San Diego, which is hosting two other No. 4/5 seed pods, since Boise is also hosting the fourth 4/5 pod. Auburn and Wichita State are a seed line higher than Kentucky and being sent even farther. It happens.

12. If any of these No. 16 seeds are to pull off a miracle, put your faith in Penn. “Faith,” of course, being a very, very, very relative thing. The Quakers’ road to beating Kansas is at least somewhat rational: the Jayhawks have become a three-point shooting team and Penn defends the arc very well (both in limiting opportunities and opponents’ inaccuracy), and Kansas big man Udoka Azubuike is recovering from a knee strain that forced him to miss the Big 12 tournament. Kenpom.com also gives Penn a win probability of 11%. That’s one-in-nine. Just saying.

13. Stylistically, Wichita State may have the toughest first weekend. The fourth-seeded Shockers must first play uptempo, three-happy Marshall, coached by Dan D’Antoni (brother of Mike), then have a potential one-day turnaround before facing the extreme full-court pressure of West Virginia. That’ll be quite a prep and scouting challenge for Gregg Marshall’s staff.

14. Pittsburgh will look like a green room preview. Five players projected by SI to be lottery picks in this June’s NBA draft will be playing in Pittsburgh: Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, Villanova’s Mikal Bridges, Oklahoma’s Trae Young and Alabama’s Collin Sexton. Plus Duke’s other three starters (Grayson Allen, Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr.) and Villanova point guard Jalen Brunson are potential first-rounders as well.

15. The left side No. 4s are tempting. Assuming your bracket has the South and West on the left side, like the official one, that half of the bracket has two No. 4 seeds that hold some appeal as arbitrage/darkhorse Final Four contenders: Arizona, which has national title talent including the country’s best big man, and Gonzaga, which is eighth nationally in overall efficiency—12 spots higher than the next best No. 4 seed, Wichita State. If you’re looking to really mix it up, that may be where to look.

16. If you’re looking for a second weekend crasher, consider Missouri. The Tigers were an NCAA tournament team without Michael Porter Jr., and now they’ve potentially got one of the best players in the country—if he’s healthy. (More on that below.) Plus the No. 1 seed they would draw second round, Xavier, is a relatively vulnerable 59th in defensive efficiency. But first Mizzou will have to beat Florida State without senior forward Jordan Barnett, who was suspended for the Tigers’ first-round game after being arrested on suspicion of DWI over the weekend.

17. Or this could be the year of the 10 seeds. All are major-conference teams that offer some Sweet 16 appeal: Oklahoma (with perhaps the national player of the year), Texas (a top-10 defense and lottery-pick center), Butler (25th nationally in overall efficiency), and Providence (fresh off a Big East finals run where they took Villanova to OT).

18. Something you just read is going to look really dumb. And probably something else too. And another thing. But that’s the fun of March.

If you are wondering what exactly you are reading, this is the Monday Rebound, SI.com’s weekly Monday column on college hoops. It’s a sort of a grab-bag of news and tidbits and opinions largely aimed at catching you up on the weekend’s (and week’s) action and being generally informative. If there’s anything you like or dislike or would want to see more of here, or if you would just like to make fun of my attempts at prognostication, you can find me on Twitter @thedangreene. Thanks for reading.

ICYMI

The most-dissected 23 minutes anyone played off the bench this past week were those of Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr., the celebrated forward prospect and likely top-five NBA draft pick who had not seen game action since playing two minutes in the Tigers’ season opener in November. He left that game with what turned out to be herniated discs in his back, for which he underwent surgery. With a three-to-four-month recovery timetable and the potential of damaging his NBA career before it begins, most presumed Porter would never see the floor as a collegian again.

But after weeks of will-he-won’t-he speculation following his being cleared for practice, Porter returned for the surprisingly NCAA tourney-bound Tigers in the SEC quarterfinals against Georgia. The results were mixed: he was able to play substantially off the bench, and the Mizzou staff showed his was more than a token appearance, as he was featured to the extent of using a team-high 36% of the team’s possessions. Yet he didn’t quite look himself, shooting 5-for-17 from the field in a surprising loss; Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin even conceded to reporters that Porter, while having the same mindset as before his injury, was “maybe a step slow.”

This much is understandable. It was, after all, his first game back after a nearly four-month layoff following major surgery. As much as Mizzou fans would have loved to see Porter fulfill all those preseason dreams immediately upon returning, working one’s way back in such circumstances is a process. A deeper SEC tournament run would have had the added benefit of allowing Porter to shake off that much more rust, but at least now the speculation is over, and perhaps any jitters gone with them, before the stakes get higher this week. “I’m glad he actually got it out of the way,” Martin said after the game, “and we can move forward.”

High Five

1. Gonzaga: If the Bulldogs do indeed move to the Mountain West, this season was a finale in the WCC, as they won their sixth straight league tournament and regular season crowns, having totaled 16 tournament titles and 18 regular season ones since 1999. In the more immediate future, as the No. 4 in the West, they may be the bracket’s most under-seeded team.

2. Marshall: Thirty-one years had passed since the last time the Thundering Herd earned a tourney berth before Dan D’Antoni’s squad won the Conference USA tournament this weekend. As you might expect of a D’Antoni-coached team, Marshall plays fast (the country’s third-shortest average offensive possession time) and loves the three (45.6% of its field goal attempts).

3. Penn: The hosts of the first-ever “Ivy Madness” were also its victors, beating Harvard at the Palestra on Sunday to earn their first NCAA tournament bid since 2007—a strong turnaround by third-year coach Steve Donahue, who took over a nine-win team in 2015. The last time Donahue, who struggled at Boston College from 2011–14, coached in the tourney, he led Cornell to the 2010 Sweet 16.

4. UMBC: Speaking of turnarounds, two years ago the Retrievers were 7–25 and 334th out of 351 teams in overall efficiency. Two years after hiring Ryan Odom from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne, UMBC won the America East to claim its second-ever NCAA bid on a dramatic buzzer-beater from star guard Jairus Lyles.

5. Davidson: The Wildcats ruined Notre Dame’s Selection Sunday by knocking off Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 finals, earning the ninth NCAA tournament bid of coach Bob McKillop’s 29-year tenure. Watch out for 6’8” senior forward Peyton Aldridge (21.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg) as a potential tourney breakout.

Top of the Classes

Senior: Joel Hernandez, LIU Brooklyn guard

The Blackbirds’ lone game this week was Tuesday’s NEC championship, in which Hernandez scored 32 points while adding seven rebounds, three steals, and two blocks to make sure his collegiate career ended with his first NCAA tournament appearance.

Junior: Roland Griffin, Iona forward

A career-high 29 points (including 11-of-11 free-throw shooting) and eight rebounds off the bench helped the Gaels beat Fairfield to win the MAAC, earning a date in the dance with the Blue Devils.

Sophomore: Malik Newman, Kansas forward

The Big 12 tournament’s Most Outstanding Player averaged 24.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 2.3 steals in the Jayhawks’ three wins to win the event.

Freshman: Deandre Ayton, Arizona forward

The 7’1” phenom closed his brief Pac-12 career in style, averaging 24.7 points, 12.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.0 blocks, and 1.3 steals during the Wildcats’ three-game run to the conference title.

Bests of the Best

Each week, we’ll get to know a standout player a little better by asking them about some of the best things in the world. This week we welcome Purdue guard Carsen Edwards, who is averaging 18.5 points and 3.0 assists and shooting 41.2% from three for the Boilermakers. So, Carsen, tell us about the best...

...place to eat back home. “Whataburger. It has pretty good burgers. I get the barbecue chicken strip sandwich and a red Fanta. I get that pretty much every time.”

...show to binge-watch. “I’m a big reality TV show guy. I watch a lot of Love & Hip Hop on VH1 and Siesta Key on MTV. And I watch Atlanta, on FX. Those are my favorite shows probably. I enjoy staying up to date with them.”

...animal to be reincarnated as. “Probably a cheetah, or a lion. Something like that, one of those wild cats. They’re just fast and they’re normally the dominant animal. I think that’s pretty cool.”

...decoration in your room. “I have an Ed Sheeran poster. It’s a Rolling Stone magazine cover. I’m a big Ed Sheeran guy. I like his music a lot. I want to see him live one day.”

Social Media Post of the Week

As the scandal turns...

Rick Pitino spoke with ESPN again and, you’ll never guess, but he wants to coach again and is upset with Louisville’s board of trustees. Or rather, its “board of traitors.” Yeah.

Among other things, Pitino told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman that he has “been assassinated by the Southern District of N.Y. without any wiretap or shred of evidence.” But that’s not really the case, as the federal indictment against Christian Dawkins and Merl Code explains that Dawkins was recorded detailing—in the presence of another Louisville basketball coach—how Pitino called Code to request Adidas make payments to the family of recruit Brian Bowen. Dawkins may have been embellishing, lying, or otherwise wrong, but that is at least a shred of evidence, especially since the government tracked the subsequent payments being made.

But the most intriguing Pitino-related news comes, improbably, from the Twitter account of Jay Williams. With Georgia having fired Mark Fox this weekend, Williams tweeted that he was hearing Pitino’s name in connection with the Bulldogs from “a lot of trusted sources.” Were it to actually come to fruition, that would be quite a shocker—even if Pitino does get another chance at a major coaching job, or a coaching job at all, one would imagine it would come after more dust has settled in the still-unfolding FBI investigation and the cases against Dawkins and Code, which could potentially make Pitino’s role clear one way or another. But it wouldn’t be the coaching carousel without wild rumors and speculation. We’re off to a fast start.

Elsewhere in the FBI investigation, North Carolina State was subpoenaed in the case, a school spokesman announced last week after it had been reported by The Washington Post. According to Raleigh’s News & Observer, the school spokesman said that the subpoena sought records rather than personal interviews and occurred in January.

Assigned Viewing: Rhode Island vs. Oklahoma, Thursday at 12:15 p.m. ET on CBS

The most important opening-weekend advice is actually to make sure you’ve relocated TruTV in your cable lineup before you're frantically scrambling to find it to catch an exciting finish before it’s too late. Other than that, you know by now how to watch the NCAA tournament. Any game you’re watching is also in one way or another updating you on the other games being played simultaneously, which are also being broadcast nationally. So there’s not much for me to tell you to do.

While correctly pinpointing which of the 32 games on the tournament’s first Thursday and Friday will be particularly rewarding is pretty much impossible, this opener is the matchup at which I’m tossing my dart, for reasons explained above.

Before You’re Dismissed...

• If your bracket cravings have yet to be satiated, check out SI’s regional breakdowns.

• Notre Dame was the last team out of the NCAA tournament, losing its spot when Davidson won the Atlantic 10 on Sunday afternoon. And while the Irish were rewarded with a No. 1 seed in the NIT, they were also stuck with a potential second round matchup with Penn State, the second-best team in the field (after Saint Mary’s) in terms of efficiency.

• The first Big East tournament game I ever went to was an MSG-shaking Saturday night championship game between UConn and Pittsburgh in 2004. Back then those teams seemed to meet in high-stakes clashes all the time. Now they’re both trying to fire their coaches for cause. Both programs have a long climb to get back to where they were.

• ”Who knows?” That was Tubby Smith’s answer when asked by Mark Giannotto of the Memphis News whether he thought he had coached his last game at Memphis. On Friday Smith’s attorney suggested Memphis alum Penny Hardaway, who reportedly wants to be the Tigers’ next coach, is to blame for local players not signing with the program. The offseason is already shaping up to be a doozy.

• Whether this was your first time or you’ve been following along every week, in which case you are probably my dad, thanks for reading the Monday Rebound this season. See you around.

<p>The field is set for the 2018 NCAA tournament, after Sunday selection show revealed the 68 teams that comprise this year's bracket. Virginia was named the top overall seed in the tournament and the Cavaliers will play in the South region. The other No. 1 seeds are Villanova in the East region, Kansas in the Midwest and Xavier in the West.</p><p>Below, SI.com's experts have broken down the teams to watch in each region, from the outlook for the top seeds to the squads most likely to make a Cinderella run and more. </p><h3><strong>SOUTH</strong></h3><h3><strong>State of the No. 1 seed</strong></h3><p>No team imposed its will on college basketball this season as consistently and comprehensively as Virginia, which lost just twice all year, cruised to ACC regular season and tournament titles and posted the most efficient defense measured in the 17 seasons tracked by kenpom.com. The Cavaliers haven’t allowed an opponent to reach 70 points all season (and only let nine break 60). March has been a different beast for Tony Bennett’s teams, which have invariably run into some foe that keeps its cool in the face of the maddening Pack-Line defense and gets enough tough buckets to send the Hoos home before the Final Four, but this year’s lineup has no shortage of clutch shot-makers—starting with sophomores Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy and freshman De’Andre Hunter—who have been willing and able to carry UVA through the crunch-time minutes.</p><p><em>Editor's note: On Tuesday, Virginia announced that ACC Sixth Man of the Year <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/13/virginia-deandre-hunter-miss-ncaa-tournament-broken-wrist" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:De'Andre Hunter will miss the NCAA tournament" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">De'Andre Hunter will miss the NCAA tournament</a> due to a broken wrist.</em></p><h3><strong>Who has the toughest draw? No. 4 Arizona</strong></h3><p>The Wildcats have this summer’s presumptive No. 1 pick in versatile center Deandre Ayton, but given their spot in the top half of the South Region as the No. 4 seed, casual NBA draftniks should make sure they set aside time for scouting Ayton during the first weekend, just to be safe. Arizona opens with a high-flying Buffalo team that saw five tournament teams during nonconference play and averaged the seventh-most points per game in the nation (84.8) on its way to an MAC title and a No. 13 seed. Its reward for besting the Bulls in Boise could be the marquee matchup of the round of 32: a duel with SEC tournament champion Kentucky, which is characteristically peaking at the perfect time. Survive that blue-blood slugfest, and Arizona can look forward to the No. 1 overall seed in the Sweet Sixteen, with a cross-country flight to Atlanta to boot. Coach Sean Miller has famously bumped up against an Elite Eight ceiling three times in his nine years in Tucson, but even making it back to the regional final with three wins in the next two weeks would represent a superlative coaching job.</p><h3><strong>The team that could bust your bracket: No. 15 Georgia State</strong></h3><p>Cincinnati claimed the final automatic bid of Selection Sunday and a No. 2 seed with a gritty win over Houston, but the Bearcats’ hard-fought AAC tournament title run spotlighted how bleak the offense can look when the jumpers aren’t falling. The Panthers, back in the bracket for the first time since R.J. Hunter’s 2015 first-round game-winner against Baylor <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2015/03/19/georgia-state-rj-hunter-baylor-shot-ron-hunter-chair" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:caused his coach and father Ron Hunter to fall out of his chair" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">caused his coach and father Ron Hunter to fall out of his chair</a>, play a zone defense that will demand Cincy find its range early on. On the other end, Georgia State sophomore D’Marcus Simonds averages 20.9 points per game, more than Hunter ever did in his three years in Atlanta, and plays without a governor, making him an ideal candidate for a March star turn. The Bearcats won’t be able to just bully their way to the second round.</p><h3><strong>Player to watch: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, G, Kentucky</strong></h3><p>Gilgeous-Alexander is a big reason why the Wildcats have the look of a Final Four sleeper after an especially inconsistent regular-season. The 6’6” freshman guard from Ontario stepped to the controls of the offense in mid-February, pouring in 29 points against Tennessee on Sunday to earn SEC tournament MVP honors. It may be too much to expect the Wildcats to shoot it as well in Boise as they did in St. Louis, but if Gilgeous-Alexander maintains his current level, they’ll be one of the tournament’s toughest outs.</p><h3><strong>Most intriguing matchup: No. 6 Miami vs. No. 11 Loyola-Chicago</strong></h3><p>The Ramblers are everybody’s favorite Cinderella candidate, making their return to the Big Dance after a 33-year drought, but dismiss a Jim Larrañaga team at your own risk—<a href="https://www.si.com/vault/2006/04/03/8373975/11th-heaven" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:you may recall Larrañaga knows a thing or two about plucky 11-seeds" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">you may recall Larrañaga knows a thing or two about plucky 11-seeds</a>. The Hurricanes have a balanced lineup led by hyper-athletic freshman guard Lonnie Walker IV that has been hit-or-miss since sophomore Bruce Brown, the team’s most important player, suffered a stress fracture in his foot in late January. (Brown won’t play Thursday.) Their charge will be containing Missouri Valley Conference player of the year Clayton Custer, who needs to return to his regular-season form after a shaky MVC tournament.</p><h3><strong>Regional finalists: No. 1 Virginia and No. 3 Tennessee</strong></h3><p>In a conference littered with potential first-round picks, the Volunteers earned a share of first-place by outworking everyone else, with leading scorer and SEC player of the year Grant Williams setting the tone. They take a punch from everyone in their half of the bracket and come back stronger, setting up a region defined by defense to be decided by a knock-down, drag-out battle in Atlanta.</p><h3><strong>Pick: Virginia</strong></h3><p>Love it or hate it, the Cavaliers have refined their brand of basketball to its purest form. They will be tested, but not bested, on their way to San Antonio.</p><h3><strong>EAST</strong></h3><h3><strong>State of the No. 1 seed</strong></h3><p>Villanova enters the tournament with the momentum of a Big East tournament championship, which has to help the Wildcats feel a little better about having not won the league’s regular season title for the first time in five years. The latter distinction was the result of a relatively off stretch in February during which they lost three out of six games. But last week’s visit to Madison Square Garden provided a chance for Jay Wright’s squad to make it’s rather agreeable case as a national title contender.</p><p>First and foremost was the play of point guard Jalen Brunson and wing Mikal Bridges, who averaged a near-identical 23.0 and 22.7 points per game, respectively, during the Big East tournament, and offer as strong and well-rounded a one-two punch as you’ll find in the tournament field. With a 39.8% team three-point shooting mark and the country’s eighth-lowest turnover rate, there’s little doubts about what Villanova offers on offense. (Just ask Butler, which fell behind 19-0 to begin Friday’s game.) The Wildcats’ adjusted efficiency on that end is the best since Kenpom.com began tracking such metrics in the 2001-02 season.</p><p>What might be concerning is its defense, which ranks 22nd nationally but has proven susceptible, allowing 1.1 points per possession or more seven times this season, most notably surrendering 1.4 in a wild loss to Butler at the end of December. There’s also the concern over Villanova’s recent reputation for early tourney exits: Other than its 2016 national championship run, the Wildcats haven’t made it to the second weekend since 2009, including second-round losses as a top-two seed in 2014, ‘15, and last season. There’s a sense of trust-them-at-your-own-risk, but in a year like this one, Villanova’s as easy to believe in as anybody.</p><h3><strong>Who has the toughest draw? No. 4 Wichita State</strong></h3><p>The Shockers have their highest seed since entering the tournament undefeated in 2014, but the matchups are less than comforting thanks to the unusual styles they will encounter. First up is Marshall, a No. 13 seed that plays at one of the country’s fastest tempos (its average offensive possession is the country’s third shortest) and loves to bomb away from deep (45.6% of its field goal attempts are threes). Should it survive the Thundering Herd, Wichita State will likely encounter the aggressive all-out pressure of West Virginia, a team that by measure of overall efficiency (13th in the country) ranks as the field’s best No. 5 seed. And then, as with any No. 4 seed, an advancing Shockers team would face the prospect of their region’s No. 1 seed to begin the second weekend. To get there, Wichita State better prepare to slow down its first opponent, then avoid getting sped up by its (likely) second.</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>The team that could bust your bracket: Alabama</strong></h3><p>This might seem like a stretch. The Crimson Tide finished 19-15 and had to play their way off the bubble this past week with wins over Texas A&M and Auburn to snap the five-game losing streak that closed their regular season. More people are griping about them being seeded too highly at No. 9 than their potential for a Sweet 16 run. But in a region where there’s no markedly under-seeded team, an underdog that defends well (13th nationally in efficiency and the SEC’s best in league play) and has a consensus top-10 NBA draft pick at point guard is a reasonable guess for who might make a mess of things. That draft pick is Collin Sexton, who is averaging 25.5 points over his last four games and has the kind of talent that can take over a game—the kind that scored 42 points against Minnesota in that November game Alabama nearly won while <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2017/11/25/alabama-minnesota-three-on-five-collin-sexton" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:playing three-on-five" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">playing three-on-five</a>. The Tide’s offense isn’t always pretty, ranking 115th nationally and 12th during SEC play, and it’s prone to youthful turnovers and lacks three-point shooting. But... if Alabama is getting stops and Sexton is on, it’s a team capable of disruption.</p><h3><strong>Player to watch: Carsen Edwards, G, Purdue</strong></h3><p>Everyone knows about Brunson and Bridges, but it’s time to give some love to the top playmaker on the region’s No. 2 seed. Edwards is a strong guard with a 6’1” frame that wouldn’t look out of place on a football field, a quickness that can make him hard to keep in front of and a 41.2% stroke from beyond the arc. He’s a pure scorer who has upped his output over the last six weeks, averaging 22.7 points since the start of February, which could be a prelude to bigger things over the coming weeks. And since teams have to devote attention to the capable scorers around him—and especially inside to handle 7’2” Isaac Haas and 6’8” Vincent Edwards—he should have room to operate.</p><h3><strong>Most intriguing matchup: Florida vs. UCLA or St. Bonaventure</strong></h3><p>The Gators have risen and fallen with their outside shooting this season, which can be a recipe for getting upset when those shots aren’t falling. Either of their potential opponents, who will play Thursday in Dayton, present potentially difficult matchups. UCLA is an uptempo team that can shoot the three-ball well and is led by a guard, Aaron Holiday, who just put up 34-point games on consecutive nights in the Pac-12 tournament. Meanwhile St. Bonaventure has its own potential big-game scorer in senior Jaylen Adams (19.8 ppg, 45.7% from three) and starts two more senior guards alongside him in Matt Mobley and Idris Taqqee. Either UCLA’s precocious talent and St. Bonaventure’s veteran backcourt will be a problem for higher-seeded Florida.</p><h3><strong>Regional finalists: No. 1 Villanova and No. 3 Texas Tech</strong></h3><p>This doesn’t look like a region where things will get too wild in the deeper stages, though that sort of thing is by nature not easily foreseen. Still, the Wildcats are too good in general and playing too well now to see them failing to reach at least the Elite Eight. On the other side, Texas Tech is an elite defensive team whose offense can be spotty but will reportedly have the full services of guard Keenan Evans, an All-Big 12 first-teamer who has been battling a toe injury that contributed to the Red Raiders’ late-season swoon and slip from a presumed No. 2 seed. There’s a lot to like about Purdue, which is experienced and well-rounded inside and out, but the Boilermakers’ defense struggled down the stretch (it ended up ranking fifth in Big Ten play) and their strengths on offense could be tempered by Tech’s stout D. In a squeaker, that gives us a No. 1 vs. No. 3 game in Boston.</p><h3><strong>PICK: Villanova</strong></h3><p>There seems to be a general consensus that Villanova’s region is the softest of the four, which makes this an even more chalk-ily safe pick than it would otherwise be. But frankly, Villanova is the No. 2 team in the country for a reason. Its offense is the country’s best, it has two All-America-level talents and it’s playing particularly good basketball at the moment. A year after another first-weekend flameout, the Wildcats live up to their seeding and head to San Antonio.</p><h3><strong>MIDWEST</strong></h3><p>The Midwest is headlined by a program that knows a thing or two about being a No. 1 seed. This marks the eighth time in 12 seasons, as well as the third consecutive season, that the Jayhawks earned a spot on the top line. The No. 2 is another blueblood, Duke, and a popular preseason national championship pick, Michigan State, rounds out the top three. This region has something for everyone: Hall of Fame coaches in the Spartans’ Tom Izzo, the Jayhawks’ Bill Self and the Blue Devils’ Mike Krzyzewski; National Player of the Year candidates in Oklahoma’s Trae Young and Kansas’s Devonte’ Graham; and elite NBA prospects in Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr., the Sooners’ Young and the Spartans’ Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges. Throw in what’s bound to be a trendy No. 12-No. 5 upset pick, and the Midwest could be the most intriguing region in the field.</p><h3><strong>State of the No. 1 seed</strong></h3><p>Kansas will cruise into the NCAAs following its second Big 12 tournament title in three years—before that, the Jayhawks won a record-setting 14th consecutive regular season conference title. There were a couple of points during Big 12 play when it looked like Kansas’s streak might be in jeopardy, but the Jayhawks steadied the ship by bouncing back from a surprising loss to Baylor on Feb. 10 to win five of their final six games of the regular season. In the league tournament, they beat Oklahoma State by 14 points only five days after the Cowboys took down Kansas in Stillwater, then handled in-state rival Kansas State in the semis and West Virginia in the finals.</p><h3><strong>The team that could bust your bracket: No. 10 Oklahoma</strong></h3><p>The Sooners got off to a really promising start this season, winning 12 of their first 13 games and rising as high as No. 4 in the AP Top 25 Poll. But they had a rough time navigating the rigorous Big 12. Oklahoma posted an 8-10 record against league competition and at one point dropped six games in a row. Those losses dented the Sooners’ tourney résumé, but it would be foolish to discount the possibility of Young propelling the Sooners to a few wins against better-seeded teams, including a potential upset over Duke in the second round. Young is the most explosive scorer in the country, and if his shots are falling, he’s close to un-guardable.</p><h3><strong>Player to watch: </strong><strong>Devonte’ Graham, G, Kansas</strong></h3><p>Last season, Graham took a backseat to fellow Kansas guard and National Player of the Year winner Frank Mason. This season, <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/08/ncaa-basketball-player-of-the-year-young-ayton-brunson-graham" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:he’s built a credible NPOY case of his own" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">he’s built a credible NPOY case of his own</a> by guiding a thin Jayhawks squad (345th in Pomeroy’s bench minutes statistic) through the most challenging conference in the country. Young is in the closing stretch of an awesome freshman campaign, but Graham was better than him against Big 12 competition. Graham is a big-time shot- and play-maker who’s remained an efficient scorer despite taking on a much larger offensive workload without Mason around and Self basically never takes him off the floor. (Graham averaged 39.1 minutes per game during Big 12 play.) If Kansas is seriously tested before the second weekend, trust that Graham will lead it to safety.</p><h3><strong>Most intriguing matchup: No. 7 Rhode Island vs. No. 10 Oklahoma</strong></h3><p>For as tempting as it will be to pick Young to carry Oklahoma past the Rams (and possibly beyond), Rhode Island might have a backcourt that can combine to rival Young’s offensive firepower. In Jared Terrell, the Rams have a first-team all-Atlantic 10 guard who can strain defenses by knocking down three-point shots, getting to the free-throw line and converting his attempts once there at a favorable rate. And at full strength, fellow senior E.C. Matthews gives Rhode Island another dangerous perimeter scorer. The Rams are going to have their hands full trying to contain Young, but Oklahoma also has to reckon with a big defensive challenge. Plus, setting specific matchups aside, this could well go down as the final game of Young’s (brief) college career. Anyone who hasn’t watched him in a while should take advantage of this opportunity.</p><h3><strong>Who has the toughest draw? No. 5 Clemson</strong></h3><p>This might be the best team Tigers head coach Brad Brownell has had since he took over the program prior to the 2010-11 season. The Tigers already have notched as many wins in a single season as any other in Brownell’s tenure (23) and they rank 19th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency rankings. That said, Clemson could be in danger of being sent home in the first round. No. 12 seed New Mexico State is one of the top defensive teams in the country, and though it plays in a weak league (the Western Athletic Conference), it has already proven it can push high-major opponents: The Aggies upended Miami on Dec. 23 and fell by only five points to USC two days later.</p><h3><strong>Regional finalists</strong></h3><p>No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 3 Michigan State</p><h3><strong>Pick: </strong>No. 3 Michigan State</h3><h3><strong>WEST </strong></h3><p>?</p><h3><strong>State of the No. 1 seed</strong></h3><p>Rather shaky, I’d wager. The West contains the most vulnerable-looking No. 1-seed; four dangerous, extremely well-drilled squads in North Carolina, Michigan, Gonzaga and Ohio State; and a lack of convincing Cinderellas-in-waiting. Throw in Houston, which came one shot away from winning its conference tournament, and two highly talented wild cards in Texas A&M and Missouri, and we could be looking at first-round chalk…followed by who-knows-what. No. 1 Xavier stumbles into the tournament off a bad conference tourney loss to Providence (who are also here as the No. 10 seed) and could be facing tough matchups every step of the way to San Antonio. This feels wide open.</p><h3><strong>Toughest draw: No. 1 Xavier</strong></h3><p>Here’s what the Musketeers’ road to the Final Four could look like: To get to the Sweet 16, they could face a tall, athletic Missouri team that shoots the three well, holds tough defensively and returns Michael Porter Jr. to the lineup. Next, they could get Ohio State, an in-state rival with an Top-20 defense, or Gonzaga, a team with as much talent as anyone in the region and that hasn’t lost since Jan. 18. Lying in wait after that could be Michigan, who just won the Big Ten Tournament and is coached by legendary wizard John Beilein, or a North Carolina team who can match Xavier’s firepower and played arguably the toughest schedule in the country.</p><p>According to KenPom.com, Xavier rated 14th in adjusted efficiency differential this season despite earning a one-seed. The other three top seeds in the West finished seventh (UNC), eighth, (Gonzaga) and 10th (Michigan). Ohio State was just a hair behind at No. 15 and sixth-seeded Houston came in at 17. Your best bet as a prognosticator is to disregard the seeding and focus on the data. Nothing about this looks simple.</p><h3><strong>The team that could bust your bracket: No. 4 Gonzaga</strong></h3><p>OK, so the Bulldogs are not a real underdog. But there’s not a convincing low seed to be found here and if we interpret “busted” as “might oust a No. 1,” look no further than Gonzaga. This is a different team from the one that finished as last year’s national-runner up, but while the defense isn’t quite as stout, the Bulldogs are plenty tough. They feature an experienced floor leader and defensive anchor in Josh Perkins and Johnathan Williams, and a variety of gifted scorers led by red-hot stretch big Killian Tillie, who’s shooting 84% from three-point range over his last six games. In all likelihood, the Zags will be the only regional finalist in the West that actually plays on said coast. The Bulldogs are also headed to a favorable early site in Boise.</p><p>First-round opponent Greensboro’s only notable win came at North Carolina State and Gonzaga has yet to take a truly bad loss and can match the Spartans’ size up front. Ohio State is plenty tough, but remember that Gonzaga topped them by 27 points at the PK80 in November. And if they can get past a vulnerable Xavier team from there, a 2017 title game rematch against North Carolina should be primo viewing. A Final Four run isn’t out of the question—and wouldn’t be a total shock, either.</p><h3><strong>Player to watch: Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri</strong></h3><p>He’s no sure thing, but Porter is surely a person of interest for tournament-watchers and NBA front offices alike. After having back surgery, missing most of the season and making a surprise comeback, Porter didn’t look or play great in his return against Georgia last week. Florida State’s underwhelming defense could be a nice opportunity to get his legs back. If he comes remotely close to his usual self, the gifted freshman scorer could be the key to a surprise run for the Tigers, who could make life pretty tough for Xavier in a potential Sweet 16 tilt.</p><h3><strong>Most intriguing matchup: No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 12 South Dakota State</strong></h3><p>South Dakota State is the small school most likely to make some first-round noise in this region. The Jackrabbits are dancing for the third straight year and will be playing relatively close to home in Boise. Led by efficient, versatile junior big Mike Daum—23.8 points and 10.4 boards per game—South Dakota State controls the pace, prevents offensive rebounds, hardly ever turns the ball over and makes threes at a 39% clip. They have the experience and chops to keep up with the Buckeyes, who will counter with a talent of their own, Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop (19.4 points, 8.8 rebounds). Ohio State lacks a great secondary shot-creator and its offense can stall out when Bates-Diop doesn’t have it going. Circle this one.</p><h3><strong>Regional finalists: No. 2 North Carolina and No. 4 Gonzaga</strong></h3><h3><strong>PICK: North Carolina</strong></h3><p>The Tar Heels had everything clicking at the ACC tournament with a selfless, entertaining brand of ball, relying on a variety of scorers and an experienced starting five that moves the ball and makes hustle plays. They’ll have an edge in close games and won’t run into any buzz saws in the West (read: Virginia). Had UNC edged the Cavaliers on Saturday, it might have ended up with Xavier’s one-seed to begin with. Buy stock now.</p>
NCAA Tournament 2018 Bracket: Region-by-Region Breakdown

The field is set for the 2018 NCAA tournament, after Sunday selection show revealed the 68 teams that comprise this year's bracket. Virginia was named the top overall seed in the tournament and the Cavaliers will play in the South region. The other No. 1 seeds are Villanova in the East region, Kansas in the Midwest and Xavier in the West.

Below, SI.com's experts have broken down the teams to watch in each region, from the outlook for the top seeds to the squads most likely to make a Cinderella run and more.

SOUTH

State of the No. 1 seed

No team imposed its will on college basketball this season as consistently and comprehensively as Virginia, which lost just twice all year, cruised to ACC regular season and tournament titles and posted the most efficient defense measured in the 17 seasons tracked by kenpom.com. The Cavaliers haven’t allowed an opponent to reach 70 points all season (and only let nine break 60). March has been a different beast for Tony Bennett’s teams, which have invariably run into some foe that keeps its cool in the face of the maddening Pack-Line defense and gets enough tough buckets to send the Hoos home before the Final Four, but this year’s lineup has no shortage of clutch shot-makers—starting with sophomores Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy and freshman De’Andre Hunter—who have been willing and able to carry UVA through the crunch-time minutes.

Editor's note: On Tuesday, Virginia announced that ACC Sixth Man of the Year De'Andre Hunter will miss the NCAA tournament due to a broken wrist.

Who has the toughest draw? No. 4 Arizona

The Wildcats have this summer’s presumptive No. 1 pick in versatile center Deandre Ayton, but given their spot in the top half of the South Region as the No. 4 seed, casual NBA draftniks should make sure they set aside time for scouting Ayton during the first weekend, just to be safe. Arizona opens with a high-flying Buffalo team that saw five tournament teams during nonconference play and averaged the seventh-most points per game in the nation (84.8) on its way to an MAC title and a No. 13 seed. Its reward for besting the Bulls in Boise could be the marquee matchup of the round of 32: a duel with SEC tournament champion Kentucky, which is characteristically peaking at the perfect time. Survive that blue-blood slugfest, and Arizona can look forward to the No. 1 overall seed in the Sweet Sixteen, with a cross-country flight to Atlanta to boot. Coach Sean Miller has famously bumped up against an Elite Eight ceiling three times in his nine years in Tucson, but even making it back to the regional final with three wins in the next two weeks would represent a superlative coaching job.

The team that could bust your bracket: No. 15 Georgia State

Cincinnati claimed the final automatic bid of Selection Sunday and a No. 2 seed with a gritty win over Houston, but the Bearcats’ hard-fought AAC tournament title run spotlighted how bleak the offense can look when the jumpers aren’t falling. The Panthers, back in the bracket for the first time since R.J. Hunter’s 2015 first-round game-winner against Baylor caused his coach and father Ron Hunter to fall out of his chair, play a zone defense that will demand Cincy find its range early on. On the other end, Georgia State sophomore D’Marcus Simonds averages 20.9 points per game, more than Hunter ever did in his three years in Atlanta, and plays without a governor, making him an ideal candidate for a March star turn. The Bearcats won’t be able to just bully their way to the second round.

Player to watch: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, G, Kentucky

Gilgeous-Alexander is a big reason why the Wildcats have the look of a Final Four sleeper after an especially inconsistent regular-season. The 6’6” freshman guard from Ontario stepped to the controls of the offense in mid-February, pouring in 29 points against Tennessee on Sunday to earn SEC tournament MVP honors. It may be too much to expect the Wildcats to shoot it as well in Boise as they did in St. Louis, but if Gilgeous-Alexander maintains his current level, they’ll be one of the tournament’s toughest outs.

Most intriguing matchup: No. 6 Miami vs. No. 11 Loyola-Chicago

The Ramblers are everybody’s favorite Cinderella candidate, making their return to the Big Dance after a 33-year drought, but dismiss a Jim Larrañaga team at your own risk—you may recall Larrañaga knows a thing or two about plucky 11-seeds. The Hurricanes have a balanced lineup led by hyper-athletic freshman guard Lonnie Walker IV that has been hit-or-miss since sophomore Bruce Brown, the team’s most important player, suffered a stress fracture in his foot in late January. (Brown won’t play Thursday.) Their charge will be containing Missouri Valley Conference player of the year Clayton Custer, who needs to return to his regular-season form after a shaky MVC tournament.

Regional finalists: No. 1 Virginia and No. 3 Tennessee

In a conference littered with potential first-round picks, the Volunteers earned a share of first-place by outworking everyone else, with leading scorer and SEC player of the year Grant Williams setting the tone. They take a punch from everyone in their half of the bracket and come back stronger, setting up a region defined by defense to be decided by a knock-down, drag-out battle in Atlanta.

Pick: Virginia

Love it or hate it, the Cavaliers have refined their brand of basketball to its purest form. They will be tested, but not bested, on their way to San Antonio.

EAST

State of the No. 1 seed

Villanova enters the tournament with the momentum of a Big East tournament championship, which has to help the Wildcats feel a little better about having not won the league’s regular season title for the first time in five years. The latter distinction was the result of a relatively off stretch in February during which they lost three out of six games. But last week’s visit to Madison Square Garden provided a chance for Jay Wright’s squad to make it’s rather agreeable case as a national title contender.

First and foremost was the play of point guard Jalen Brunson and wing Mikal Bridges, who averaged a near-identical 23.0 and 22.7 points per game, respectively, during the Big East tournament, and offer as strong and well-rounded a one-two punch as you’ll find in the tournament field. With a 39.8% team three-point shooting mark and the country’s eighth-lowest turnover rate, there’s little doubts about what Villanova offers on offense. (Just ask Butler, which fell behind 19-0 to begin Friday’s game.) The Wildcats’ adjusted efficiency on that end is the best since Kenpom.com began tracking such metrics in the 2001-02 season.

What might be concerning is its defense, which ranks 22nd nationally but has proven susceptible, allowing 1.1 points per possession or more seven times this season, most notably surrendering 1.4 in a wild loss to Butler at the end of December. There’s also the concern over Villanova’s recent reputation for early tourney exits: Other than its 2016 national championship run, the Wildcats haven’t made it to the second weekend since 2009, including second-round losses as a top-two seed in 2014, ‘15, and last season. There’s a sense of trust-them-at-your-own-risk, but in a year like this one, Villanova’s as easy to believe in as anybody.

Who has the toughest draw? No. 4 Wichita State

The Shockers have their highest seed since entering the tournament undefeated in 2014, but the matchups are less than comforting thanks to the unusual styles they will encounter. First up is Marshall, a No. 13 seed that plays at one of the country’s fastest tempos (its average offensive possession is the country’s third shortest) and loves to bomb away from deep (45.6% of its field goal attempts are threes). Should it survive the Thundering Herd, Wichita State will likely encounter the aggressive all-out pressure of West Virginia, a team that by measure of overall efficiency (13th in the country) ranks as the field’s best No. 5 seed. And then, as with any No. 4 seed, an advancing Shockers team would face the prospect of their region’s No. 1 seed to begin the second weekend. To get there, Wichita State better prepare to slow down its first opponent, then avoid getting sped up by its (likely) second.

?

The team that could bust your bracket: Alabama

This might seem like a stretch. The Crimson Tide finished 19-15 and had to play their way off the bubble this past week with wins over Texas A&M and Auburn to snap the five-game losing streak that closed their regular season. More people are griping about them being seeded too highly at No. 9 than their potential for a Sweet 16 run. But in a region where there’s no markedly under-seeded team, an underdog that defends well (13th nationally in efficiency and the SEC’s best in league play) and has a consensus top-10 NBA draft pick at point guard is a reasonable guess for who might make a mess of things. That draft pick is Collin Sexton, who is averaging 25.5 points over his last four games and has the kind of talent that can take over a game—the kind that scored 42 points against Minnesota in that November game Alabama nearly won while playing three-on-five. The Tide’s offense isn’t always pretty, ranking 115th nationally and 12th during SEC play, and it’s prone to youthful turnovers and lacks three-point shooting. But... if Alabama is getting stops and Sexton is on, it’s a team capable of disruption.

Player to watch: Carsen Edwards, G, Purdue

Everyone knows about Brunson and Bridges, but it’s time to give some love to the top playmaker on the region’s No. 2 seed. Edwards is a strong guard with a 6’1” frame that wouldn’t look out of place on a football field, a quickness that can make him hard to keep in front of and a 41.2% stroke from beyond the arc. He’s a pure scorer who has upped his output over the last six weeks, averaging 22.7 points since the start of February, which could be a prelude to bigger things over the coming weeks. And since teams have to devote attention to the capable scorers around him—and especially inside to handle 7’2” Isaac Haas and 6’8” Vincent Edwards—he should have room to operate.

Most intriguing matchup: Florida vs. UCLA or St. Bonaventure

The Gators have risen and fallen with their outside shooting this season, which can be a recipe for getting upset when those shots aren’t falling. Either of their potential opponents, who will play Thursday in Dayton, present potentially difficult matchups. UCLA is an uptempo team that can shoot the three-ball well and is led by a guard, Aaron Holiday, who just put up 34-point games on consecutive nights in the Pac-12 tournament. Meanwhile St. Bonaventure has its own potential big-game scorer in senior Jaylen Adams (19.8 ppg, 45.7% from three) and starts two more senior guards alongside him in Matt Mobley and Idris Taqqee. Either UCLA’s precocious talent and St. Bonaventure’s veteran backcourt will be a problem for higher-seeded Florida.

Regional finalists: No. 1 Villanova and No. 3 Texas Tech

This doesn’t look like a region where things will get too wild in the deeper stages, though that sort of thing is by nature not easily foreseen. Still, the Wildcats are too good in general and playing too well now to see them failing to reach at least the Elite Eight. On the other side, Texas Tech is an elite defensive team whose offense can be spotty but will reportedly have the full services of guard Keenan Evans, an All-Big 12 first-teamer who has been battling a toe injury that contributed to the Red Raiders’ late-season swoon and slip from a presumed No. 2 seed. There’s a lot to like about Purdue, which is experienced and well-rounded inside and out, but the Boilermakers’ defense struggled down the stretch (it ended up ranking fifth in Big Ten play) and their strengths on offense could be tempered by Tech’s stout D. In a squeaker, that gives us a No. 1 vs. No. 3 game in Boston.

PICK: Villanova

There seems to be a general consensus that Villanova’s region is the softest of the four, which makes this an even more chalk-ily safe pick than it would otherwise be. But frankly, Villanova is the No. 2 team in the country for a reason. Its offense is the country’s best, it has two All-America-level talents and it’s playing particularly good basketball at the moment. A year after another first-weekend flameout, the Wildcats live up to their seeding and head to San Antonio.

MIDWEST

The Midwest is headlined by a program that knows a thing or two about being a No. 1 seed. This marks the eighth time in 12 seasons, as well as the third consecutive season, that the Jayhawks earned a spot on the top line. The No. 2 is another blueblood, Duke, and a popular preseason national championship pick, Michigan State, rounds out the top three. This region has something for everyone: Hall of Fame coaches in the Spartans’ Tom Izzo, the Jayhawks’ Bill Self and the Blue Devils’ Mike Krzyzewski; National Player of the Year candidates in Oklahoma’s Trae Young and Kansas’s Devonte’ Graham; and elite NBA prospects in Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr., the Sooners’ Young and the Spartans’ Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges. Throw in what’s bound to be a trendy No. 12-No. 5 upset pick, and the Midwest could be the most intriguing region in the field.

State of the No. 1 seed

Kansas will cruise into the NCAAs following its second Big 12 tournament title in three years—before that, the Jayhawks won a record-setting 14th consecutive regular season conference title. There were a couple of points during Big 12 play when it looked like Kansas’s streak might be in jeopardy, but the Jayhawks steadied the ship by bouncing back from a surprising loss to Baylor on Feb. 10 to win five of their final six games of the regular season. In the league tournament, they beat Oklahoma State by 14 points only five days after the Cowboys took down Kansas in Stillwater, then handled in-state rival Kansas State in the semis and West Virginia in the finals.

The team that could bust your bracket: No. 10 Oklahoma

The Sooners got off to a really promising start this season, winning 12 of their first 13 games and rising as high as No. 4 in the AP Top 25 Poll. But they had a rough time navigating the rigorous Big 12. Oklahoma posted an 8-10 record against league competition and at one point dropped six games in a row. Those losses dented the Sooners’ tourney résumé, but it would be foolish to discount the possibility of Young propelling the Sooners to a few wins against better-seeded teams, including a potential upset over Duke in the second round. Young is the most explosive scorer in the country, and if his shots are falling, he’s close to un-guardable.

Player to watch: Devonte’ Graham, G, Kansas

Last season, Graham took a backseat to fellow Kansas guard and National Player of the Year winner Frank Mason. This season, he’s built a credible NPOY case of his own by guiding a thin Jayhawks squad (345th in Pomeroy’s bench minutes statistic) through the most challenging conference in the country. Young is in the closing stretch of an awesome freshman campaign, but Graham was better than him against Big 12 competition. Graham is a big-time shot- and play-maker who’s remained an efficient scorer despite taking on a much larger offensive workload without Mason around and Self basically never takes him off the floor. (Graham averaged 39.1 minutes per game during Big 12 play.) If Kansas is seriously tested before the second weekend, trust that Graham will lead it to safety.

Most intriguing matchup: No. 7 Rhode Island vs. No. 10 Oklahoma

For as tempting as it will be to pick Young to carry Oklahoma past the Rams (and possibly beyond), Rhode Island might have a backcourt that can combine to rival Young’s offensive firepower. In Jared Terrell, the Rams have a first-team all-Atlantic 10 guard who can strain defenses by knocking down three-point shots, getting to the free-throw line and converting his attempts once there at a favorable rate. And at full strength, fellow senior E.C. Matthews gives Rhode Island another dangerous perimeter scorer. The Rams are going to have their hands full trying to contain Young, but Oklahoma also has to reckon with a big defensive challenge. Plus, setting specific matchups aside, this could well go down as the final game of Young’s (brief) college career. Anyone who hasn’t watched him in a while should take advantage of this opportunity.

Who has the toughest draw? No. 5 Clemson

This might be the best team Tigers head coach Brad Brownell has had since he took over the program prior to the 2010-11 season. The Tigers already have notched as many wins in a single season as any other in Brownell’s tenure (23) and they rank 19th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency rankings. That said, Clemson could be in danger of being sent home in the first round. No. 12 seed New Mexico State is one of the top defensive teams in the country, and though it plays in a weak league (the Western Athletic Conference), it has already proven it can push high-major opponents: The Aggies upended Miami on Dec. 23 and fell by only five points to USC two days later.

Regional finalists

No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 3 Michigan State

Pick: No. 3 Michigan State

WEST

?

State of the No. 1 seed

Rather shaky, I’d wager. The West contains the most vulnerable-looking No. 1-seed; four dangerous, extremely well-drilled squads in North Carolina, Michigan, Gonzaga and Ohio State; and a lack of convincing Cinderellas-in-waiting. Throw in Houston, which came one shot away from winning its conference tournament, and two highly talented wild cards in Texas A&M and Missouri, and we could be looking at first-round chalk…followed by who-knows-what. No. 1 Xavier stumbles into the tournament off a bad conference tourney loss to Providence (who are also here as the No. 10 seed) and could be facing tough matchups every step of the way to San Antonio. This feels wide open.

Toughest draw: No. 1 Xavier

Here’s what the Musketeers’ road to the Final Four could look like: To get to the Sweet 16, they could face a tall, athletic Missouri team that shoots the three well, holds tough defensively and returns Michael Porter Jr. to the lineup. Next, they could get Ohio State, an in-state rival with an Top-20 defense, or Gonzaga, a team with as much talent as anyone in the region and that hasn’t lost since Jan. 18. Lying in wait after that could be Michigan, who just won the Big Ten Tournament and is coached by legendary wizard John Beilein, or a North Carolina team who can match Xavier’s firepower and played arguably the toughest schedule in the country.

According to KenPom.com, Xavier rated 14th in adjusted efficiency differential this season despite earning a one-seed. The other three top seeds in the West finished seventh (UNC), eighth, (Gonzaga) and 10th (Michigan). Ohio State was just a hair behind at No. 15 and sixth-seeded Houston came in at 17. Your best bet as a prognosticator is to disregard the seeding and focus on the data. Nothing about this looks simple.

The team that could bust your bracket: No. 4 Gonzaga

OK, so the Bulldogs are not a real underdog. But there’s not a convincing low seed to be found here and if we interpret “busted” as “might oust a No. 1,” look no further than Gonzaga. This is a different team from the one that finished as last year’s national-runner up, but while the defense isn’t quite as stout, the Bulldogs are plenty tough. They feature an experienced floor leader and defensive anchor in Josh Perkins and Johnathan Williams, and a variety of gifted scorers led by red-hot stretch big Killian Tillie, who’s shooting 84% from three-point range over his last six games. In all likelihood, the Zags will be the only regional finalist in the West that actually plays on said coast. The Bulldogs are also headed to a favorable early site in Boise.

First-round opponent Greensboro’s only notable win came at North Carolina State and Gonzaga has yet to take a truly bad loss and can match the Spartans’ size up front. Ohio State is plenty tough, but remember that Gonzaga topped them by 27 points at the PK80 in November. And if they can get past a vulnerable Xavier team from there, a 2017 title game rematch against North Carolina should be primo viewing. A Final Four run isn’t out of the question—and wouldn’t be a total shock, either.

Player to watch: Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri

He’s no sure thing, but Porter is surely a person of interest for tournament-watchers and NBA front offices alike. After having back surgery, missing most of the season and making a surprise comeback, Porter didn’t look or play great in his return against Georgia last week. Florida State’s underwhelming defense could be a nice opportunity to get his legs back. If he comes remotely close to his usual self, the gifted freshman scorer could be the key to a surprise run for the Tigers, who could make life pretty tough for Xavier in a potential Sweet 16 tilt.

Most intriguing matchup: No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 12 South Dakota State

South Dakota State is the small school most likely to make some first-round noise in this region. The Jackrabbits are dancing for the third straight year and will be playing relatively close to home in Boise. Led by efficient, versatile junior big Mike Daum—23.8 points and 10.4 boards per game—South Dakota State controls the pace, prevents offensive rebounds, hardly ever turns the ball over and makes threes at a 39% clip. They have the experience and chops to keep up with the Buckeyes, who will counter with a talent of their own, Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop (19.4 points, 8.8 rebounds). Ohio State lacks a great secondary shot-creator and its offense can stall out when Bates-Diop doesn’t have it going. Circle this one.

Regional finalists: No. 2 North Carolina and No. 4 Gonzaga

PICK: North Carolina

The Tar Heels had everything clicking at the ACC tournament with a selfless, entertaining brand of ball, relying on a variety of scorers and an experienced starting five that moves the ball and makes hustle plays. They’ll have an edge in close games and won’t run into any buzz saws in the West (read: Virginia). Had UNC edged the Cavaliers on Saturday, it might have ended up with Xavier’s one-seed to begin with. Buy stock now.

<p>The field is set for the 2018 NCAA tournament, after Sunday selection show revealed the 68 teams that comprise this year's bracket. Virginia was named the top overall seed in the tournament and the Cavaliers will play in the South region. The other No. 1 seeds are Villanova in the East region, Kansas in the Midwest and Xavier in the West.</p><p>Below, SI.com's experts have broken down the teams to watch in each region, from the outlook for the top seeds to the squads most likely to make a Cinderella run and more. </p><h3><strong>SOUTH</strong></h3><h3><strong>State of the No. 1 seed</strong></h3><p>No team imposed its will on college basketball this season as consistently and comprehensively as Virginia, which lost just twice all year, cruised to ACC regular season and tournament titles and posted the most efficient defense measured in the 17 seasons tracked by kenpom.com. The Cavaliers haven’t allowed an opponent to reach 70 points all season (and only let nine break 60). March has been a different beast for Tony Bennett’s teams, which have invariably run into some foe that keeps its cool in the face of the maddening Pack-Line defense and gets enough tough buckets to send the Hoos home before the Final Four, but this year’s lineup has no shortage of clutch shot-makers—starting with sophomores Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy and freshman De’Andre Hunter—who have been willing and able to carry UVA through the crunch-time minutes.</p><p><em>Editor's note: On Tuesday, Virginia announced that ACC Sixth Man of the Year <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/13/virginia-deandre-hunter-miss-ncaa-tournament-broken-wrist" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:De'Andre Hunter will miss the NCAA tournament" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">De'Andre Hunter will miss the NCAA tournament</a> due to a broken wrist.</em></p><h3><strong>Who has the toughest draw? No. 4 Arizona</strong></h3><p>The Wildcats have this summer’s presumptive No. 1 pick in versatile center Deandre Ayton, but given their spot in the top half of the South Region as the No. 4 seed, casual NBA draftniks should make sure they set aside time for scouting Ayton during the first weekend, just to be safe. Arizona opens with a high-flying Buffalo team that saw five tournament teams during nonconference play and averaged the seventh-most points per game in the nation (84.8) on its way to an MAC title and a No. 13 seed. Its reward for besting the Bulls in Boise could be the marquee matchup of the round of 32: a duel with SEC tournament champion Kentucky, which is characteristically peaking at the perfect time. Survive that blue-blood slugfest, and Arizona can look forward to the No. 1 overall seed in the Sweet Sixteen, with a cross-country flight to Atlanta to boot. Coach Sean Miller has famously bumped up against an Elite Eight ceiling three times in his nine years in Tucson, but even making it back to the regional final with three wins in the next two weeks would represent a superlative coaching job.</p><h3><strong>The team that could bust your bracket: No. 15 Georgia State</strong></h3><p>Cincinnati claimed the final automatic bid of Selection Sunday and a No. 2 seed with a gritty win over Houston, but the Bearcats’ hard-fought AAC tournament title run spotlighted how bleak the offense can look when the jumpers aren’t falling. The Panthers, back in the bracket for the first time since R.J. Hunter’s 2015 first-round game-winner against Baylor <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2015/03/19/georgia-state-rj-hunter-baylor-shot-ron-hunter-chair" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:caused his coach and father Ron Hunter to fall out of his chair" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">caused his coach and father Ron Hunter to fall out of his chair</a>, play a zone defense that will demand Cincy find its range early on. On the other end, Georgia State sophomore D’Marcus Simonds averages 20.9 points per game, more than Hunter ever did in his three years in Atlanta, and plays without a governor, making him an ideal candidate for a March star turn. The Bearcats won’t be able to just bully their way to the second round.</p><h3><strong>Player to watch: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, G, Kentucky</strong></h3><p>Gilgeous-Alexander is a big reason why the Wildcats have the look of a Final Four sleeper after an especially inconsistent regular-season. The 6’6” freshman guard from Ontario stepped to the controls of the offense in mid-February, pouring in 29 points against Tennessee on Sunday to earn SEC tournament MVP honors. It may be too much to expect the Wildcats to shoot it as well in Boise as they did in St. Louis, but if Gilgeous-Alexander maintains his current level, they’ll be one of the tournament’s toughest outs.</p><h3><strong>Most intriguing matchup: No. 6 Miami vs. No. 11 Loyola-Chicago</strong></h3><p>The Ramblers are everybody’s favorite Cinderella candidate, making their return to the Big Dance after a 33-year drought, but dismiss a Jim Larrañaga team at your own risk—<a href="https://www.si.com/vault/2006/04/03/8373975/11th-heaven" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:you may recall Larrañaga knows a thing or two about plucky 11-seeds" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">you may recall Larrañaga knows a thing or two about plucky 11-seeds</a>. The Hurricanes have a balanced lineup led by hyper-athletic freshman guard Lonnie Walker IV that has been hit-or-miss since sophomore Bruce Brown, the team’s most important player, suffered a stress fracture in his foot in late January. (Brown won’t play Thursday.) Their charge will be containing Missouri Valley Conference player of the year Clayton Custer, who needs to return to his regular-season form after a shaky MVC tournament.</p><h3><strong>Regional finalists: No. 1 Virginia and No. 3 Tennessee</strong></h3><p>In a conference littered with potential first-round picks, the Volunteers earned a share of first-place by outworking everyone else, with leading scorer and SEC player of the year Grant Williams setting the tone. They take a punch from everyone in their half of the bracket and come back stronger, setting up a region defined by defense to be decided by a knock-down, drag-out battle in Atlanta.</p><h3><strong>Pick: Virginia</strong></h3><p>Love it or hate it, the Cavaliers have refined their brand of basketball to its purest form. They will be tested, but not bested, on their way to San Antonio.</p><h3><strong>EAST</strong></h3><h3><strong>State of the No. 1 seed</strong></h3><p>Villanova enters the tournament with the momentum of a Big East tournament championship, which has to help the Wildcats feel a little better about having not won the league’s regular season title for the first time in five years. The latter distinction was the result of a relatively off stretch in February during which they lost three out of six games. But last week’s visit to Madison Square Garden provided a chance for Jay Wright’s squad to make it’s rather agreeable case as a national title contender.</p><p>First and foremost was the play of point guard Jalen Brunson and wing Mikal Bridges, who averaged a near-identical 23.0 and 22.7 points per game, respectively, during the Big East tournament, and offer as strong and well-rounded a one-two punch as you’ll find in the tournament field. With a 39.8% team three-point shooting mark and the country’s eighth-lowest turnover rate, there’s little doubts about what Villanova offers on offense. (Just ask Butler, which fell behind 19-0 to begin Friday’s game.) The Wildcats’ adjusted efficiency on that end is the best since Kenpom.com began tracking such metrics in the 2001-02 season.</p><p>What might be concerning is its defense, which ranks 22nd nationally but has proven susceptible, allowing 1.1 points per possession or more seven times this season, most notably surrendering 1.4 in a wild loss to Butler at the end of December. There’s also the concern over Villanova’s recent reputation for early tourney exits: Other than its 2016 national championship run, the Wildcats haven’t made it to the second weekend since 2009, including second-round losses as a top-two seed in 2014, ‘15, and last season. There’s a sense of trust-them-at-your-own-risk, but in a year like this one, Villanova’s as easy to believe in as anybody.</p><h3><strong>Who has the toughest draw? No. 4 Wichita State</strong></h3><p>The Shockers have their highest seed since entering the tournament undefeated in 2014, but the matchups are less than comforting thanks to the unusual styles they will encounter. First up is Marshall, a No. 13 seed that plays at one of the country’s fastest tempos (its average offensive possession is the country’s third shortest) and loves to bomb away from deep (45.6% of its field goal attempts are threes). Should it survive the Thundering Herd, Wichita State will likely encounter the aggressive all-out pressure of West Virginia, a team that by measure of overall efficiency (13th in the country) ranks as the field’s best No. 5 seed. And then, as with any No. 4 seed, an advancing Shockers team would face the prospect of their region’s No. 1 seed to begin the second weekend. To get there, Wichita State better prepare to slow down its first opponent, then avoid getting sped up by its (likely) second.</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>The team that could bust your bracket: Alabama</strong></h3><p>This might seem like a stretch. The Crimson Tide finished 19-15 and had to play their way off the bubble this past week with wins over Texas A&M and Auburn to snap the five-game losing streak that closed their regular season. More people are griping about them being seeded too highly at No. 9 than their potential for a Sweet 16 run. But in a region where there’s no markedly under-seeded team, an underdog that defends well (13th nationally in efficiency and the SEC’s best in league play) and has a consensus top-10 NBA draft pick at point guard is a reasonable guess for who might make a mess of things. That draft pick is Collin Sexton, who is averaging 25.5 points over his last four games and has the kind of talent that can take over a game—the kind that scored 42 points against Minnesota in that November game Alabama nearly won while <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2017/11/25/alabama-minnesota-three-on-five-collin-sexton" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:playing three-on-five" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">playing three-on-five</a>. The Tide’s offense isn’t always pretty, ranking 115th nationally and 12th during SEC play, and it’s prone to youthful turnovers and lacks three-point shooting. But... if Alabama is getting stops and Sexton is on, it’s a team capable of disruption.</p><h3><strong>Player to watch: Carsen Edwards, G, Purdue</strong></h3><p>Everyone knows about Brunson and Bridges, but it’s time to give some love to the top playmaker on the region’s No. 2 seed. Edwards is a strong guard with a 6’1” frame that wouldn’t look out of place on a football field, a quickness that can make him hard to keep in front of and a 41.2% stroke from beyond the arc. He’s a pure scorer who has upped his output over the last six weeks, averaging 22.7 points since the start of February, which could be a prelude to bigger things over the coming weeks. And since teams have to devote attention to the capable scorers around him—and especially inside to handle 7’2” Isaac Haas and 6’8” Vincent Edwards—he should have room to operate.</p><h3><strong>Most intriguing matchup: Florida vs. UCLA or St. Bonaventure</strong></h3><p>The Gators have risen and fallen with their outside shooting this season, which can be a recipe for getting upset when those shots aren’t falling. Either of their potential opponents, who will play Thursday in Dayton, present potentially difficult matchups. UCLA is an uptempo team that can shoot the three-ball well and is led by a guard, Aaron Holiday, who just put up 34-point games on consecutive nights in the Pac-12 tournament. Meanwhile St. Bonaventure has its own potential big-game scorer in senior Jaylen Adams (19.8 ppg, 45.7% from three) and starts two more senior guards alongside him in Matt Mobley and Idris Taqqee. Either UCLA’s precocious talent and St. Bonaventure’s veteran backcourt will be a problem for higher-seeded Florida.</p><h3><strong>Regional finalists: No. 1 Villanova and No. 3 Texas Tech</strong></h3><p>This doesn’t look like a region where things will get too wild in the deeper stages, though that sort of thing is by nature not easily foreseen. Still, the Wildcats are too good in general and playing too well now to see them failing to reach at least the Elite Eight. On the other side, Texas Tech is an elite defensive team whose offense can be spotty but will reportedly have the full services of guard Keenan Evans, an All-Big 12 first-teamer who has been battling a toe injury that contributed to the Red Raiders’ late-season swoon and slip from a presumed No. 2 seed. There’s a lot to like about Purdue, which is experienced and well-rounded inside and out, but the Boilermakers’ defense struggled down the stretch (it ended up ranking fifth in Big Ten play) and their strengths on offense could be tempered by Tech’s stout D. In a squeaker, that gives us a No. 1 vs. No. 3 game in Boston.</p><h3><strong>PICK: Villanova</strong></h3><p>There seems to be a general consensus that Villanova’s region is the softest of the four, which makes this an even more chalk-ily safe pick than it would otherwise be. But frankly, Villanova is the No. 2 team in the country for a reason. Its offense is the country’s best, it has two All-America-level talents and it’s playing particularly good basketball at the moment. A year after another first-weekend flameout, the Wildcats live up to their seeding and head to San Antonio.</p><h3><strong>MIDWEST</strong></h3><p>The Midwest is headlined by a program that knows a thing or two about being a No. 1 seed. This marks the eighth time in 12 seasons, as well as the third consecutive season, that the Jayhawks earned a spot on the top line. The No. 2 is another blueblood, Duke, and a popular preseason national championship pick, Michigan State, rounds out the top three. This region has something for everyone: Hall of Fame coaches in the Spartans’ Tom Izzo, the Jayhawks’ Bill Self and the Blue Devils’ Mike Krzyzewski; National Player of the Year candidates in Oklahoma’s Trae Young and Kansas’s Devonte’ Graham; and elite NBA prospects in Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr., the Sooners’ Young and the Spartans’ Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges. Throw in what’s bound to be a trendy No. 12-No. 5 upset pick, and the Midwest could be the most intriguing region in the field.</p><h3><strong>State of the No. 1 seed</strong></h3><p>Kansas will cruise into the NCAAs following its second Big 12 tournament title in three years—before that, the Jayhawks won a record-setting 14th consecutive regular season conference title. There were a couple of points during Big 12 play when it looked like Kansas’s streak might be in jeopardy, but the Jayhawks steadied the ship by bouncing back from a surprising loss to Baylor on Feb. 10 to win five of their final six games of the regular season. In the league tournament, they beat Oklahoma State by 14 points only five days after the Cowboys took down Kansas in Stillwater, then handled in-state rival Kansas State in the semis and West Virginia in the finals.</p><h3><strong>The team that could bust your bracket: No. 10 Oklahoma</strong></h3><p>The Sooners got off to a really promising start this season, winning 12 of their first 13 games and rising as high as No. 4 in the AP Top 25 Poll. But they had a rough time navigating the rigorous Big 12. Oklahoma posted an 8-10 record against league competition and at one point dropped six games in a row. Those losses dented the Sooners’ tourney résumé, but it would be foolish to discount the possibility of Young propelling the Sooners to a few wins against better-seeded teams, including a potential upset over Duke in the second round. Young is the most explosive scorer in the country, and if his shots are falling, he’s close to un-guardable.</p><h3><strong>Player to watch: </strong><strong>Devonte’ Graham, G, Kansas</strong></h3><p>Last season, Graham took a backseat to fellow Kansas guard and National Player of the Year winner Frank Mason. This season, <a href="https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/03/08/ncaa-basketball-player-of-the-year-young-ayton-brunson-graham" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:he’s built a credible NPOY case of his own" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">he’s built a credible NPOY case of his own</a> by guiding a thin Jayhawks squad (345th in Pomeroy’s bench minutes statistic) through the most challenging conference in the country. Young is in the closing stretch of an awesome freshman campaign, but Graham was better than him against Big 12 competition. Graham is a big-time shot- and play-maker who’s remained an efficient scorer despite taking on a much larger offensive workload without Mason around and Self basically never takes him off the floor. (Graham averaged 39.1 minutes per game during Big 12 play.) If Kansas is seriously tested before the second weekend, trust that Graham will lead it to safety.</p><h3><strong>Most intriguing matchup: No. 7 Rhode Island vs. No. 10 Oklahoma</strong></h3><p>For as tempting as it will be to pick Young to carry Oklahoma past the Rams (and possibly beyond), Rhode Island might have a backcourt that can combine to rival Young’s offensive firepower. In Jared Terrell, the Rams have a first-team all-Atlantic 10 guard who can strain defenses by knocking down three-point shots, getting to the free-throw line and converting his attempts once there at a favorable rate. And at full strength, fellow senior E.C. Matthews gives Rhode Island another dangerous perimeter scorer. The Rams are going to have their hands full trying to contain Young, but Oklahoma also has to reckon with a big defensive challenge. Plus, setting specific matchups aside, this could well go down as the final game of Young’s (brief) college career. Anyone who hasn’t watched him in a while should take advantage of this opportunity.</p><h3><strong>Who has the toughest draw? No. 5 Clemson</strong></h3><p>This might be the best team Tigers head coach Brad Brownell has had since he took over the program prior to the 2010-11 season. The Tigers already have notched as many wins in a single season as any other in Brownell’s tenure (23) and they rank 19th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency rankings. That said, Clemson could be in danger of being sent home in the first round. No. 12 seed New Mexico State is one of the top defensive teams in the country, and though it plays in a weak league (the Western Athletic Conference), it has already proven it can push high-major opponents: The Aggies upended Miami on Dec. 23 and fell by only five points to USC two days later.</p><h3><strong>Regional finalists</strong></h3><p>No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 3 Michigan State</p><h3><strong>Pick: </strong>No. 3 Michigan State</h3><h3><strong>WEST </strong></h3><p>?</p><h3><strong>State of the No. 1 seed</strong></h3><p>Rather shaky, I’d wager. The West contains the most vulnerable-looking No. 1-seed; four dangerous, extremely well-drilled squads in North Carolina, Michigan, Gonzaga and Ohio State; and a lack of convincing Cinderellas-in-waiting. Throw in Houston, which came one shot away from winning its conference tournament, and two highly talented wild cards in Texas A&M and Missouri, and we could be looking at first-round chalk…followed by who-knows-what. No. 1 Xavier stumbles into the tournament off a bad conference tourney loss to Providence (who are also here as the No. 10 seed) and could be facing tough matchups every step of the way to San Antonio. This feels wide open.</p><h3><strong>Toughest draw: No. 1 Xavier</strong></h3><p>Here’s what the Musketeers’ road to the Final Four could look like: To get to the Sweet 16, they could face a tall, athletic Missouri team that shoots the three well, holds tough defensively and returns Michael Porter Jr. to the lineup. Next, they could get Ohio State, an in-state rival with an Top-20 defense, or Gonzaga, a team with as much talent as anyone in the region and that hasn’t lost since Jan. 18. Lying in wait after that could be Michigan, who just won the Big Ten Tournament and is coached by legendary wizard John Beilein, or a North Carolina team who can match Xavier’s firepower and played arguably the toughest schedule in the country.</p><p>According to KenPom.com, Xavier rated 14th in adjusted efficiency differential this season despite earning a one-seed. The other three top seeds in the West finished seventh (UNC), eighth, (Gonzaga) and 10th (Michigan). Ohio State was just a hair behind at No. 15 and sixth-seeded Houston came in at 17. Your best bet as a prognosticator is to disregard the seeding and focus on the data. Nothing about this looks simple.</p><h3><strong>The team that could bust your bracket: No. 4 Gonzaga</strong></h3><p>OK, so the Bulldogs are not a real underdog. But there’s not a convincing low seed to be found here and if we interpret “busted” as “might oust a No. 1,” look no further than Gonzaga. This is a different team from the one that finished as last year’s national-runner up, but while the defense isn’t quite as stout, the Bulldogs are plenty tough. They feature an experienced floor leader and defensive anchor in Josh Perkins and Johnathan Williams, and a variety of gifted scorers led by red-hot stretch big Killian Tillie, who’s shooting 84% from three-point range over his last six games. In all likelihood, the Zags will be the only regional finalist in the West that actually plays on said coast. The Bulldogs are also headed to a favorable early site in Boise.</p><p>First-round opponent Greensboro’s only notable win came at North Carolina State and Gonzaga has yet to take a truly bad loss and can match the Spartans’ size up front. Ohio State is plenty tough, but remember that Gonzaga topped them by 27 points at the PK80 in November. And if they can get past a vulnerable Xavier team from there, a 2017 title game rematch against North Carolina should be primo viewing. A Final Four run isn’t out of the question—and wouldn’t be a total shock, either.</p><h3><strong>Player to watch: Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri</strong></h3><p>He’s no sure thing, but Porter is surely a person of interest for tournament-watchers and NBA front offices alike. After having back surgery, missing most of the season and making a surprise comeback, Porter didn’t look or play great in his return against Georgia last week. Florida State’s underwhelming defense could be a nice opportunity to get his legs back. If he comes remotely close to his usual self, the gifted freshman scorer could be the key to a surprise run for the Tigers, who could make life pretty tough for Xavier in a potential Sweet 16 tilt.</p><h3><strong>Most intriguing matchup: No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 12 South Dakota State</strong></h3><p>South Dakota State is the small school most likely to make some first-round noise in this region. The Jackrabbits are dancing for the third straight year and will be playing relatively close to home in Boise. Led by efficient, versatile junior big Mike Daum—23.8 points and 10.4 boards per game—South Dakota State controls the pace, prevents offensive rebounds, hardly ever turns the ball over and makes threes at a 39% clip. They have the experience and chops to keep up with the Buckeyes, who will counter with a talent of their own, Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop (19.4 points, 8.8 rebounds). Ohio State lacks a great secondary shot-creator and its offense can stall out when Bates-Diop doesn’t have it going. Circle this one.</p><h3><strong>Regional finalists: No. 2 North Carolina and No. 4 Gonzaga</strong></h3><h3><strong>PICK: North Carolina</strong></h3><p>The Tar Heels had everything clicking at the ACC tournament with a selfless, entertaining brand of ball, relying on a variety of scorers and an experienced starting five that moves the ball and makes hustle plays. They’ll have an edge in close games and won’t run into any buzz saws in the West (read: Virginia). Had UNC edged the Cavaliers on Saturday, it might have ended up with Xavier’s one-seed to begin with. Buy stock now.</p>