SportsPulse: The madness is finally here. USA TODAY’s Trysta Krick breaks down everything you need to know about this year’s tournament.
USA TODAY Sports breaks down the NCAA South Regional.
Best first-round matchup: Wisconsin-Oregon. The 5-12 game usually pairs a power-conference team with a mid-major champ. OK, one might argue that the Pac-12 looked more like a mid-major this year, but this is still an attractive clash of name-brand programs. The Ducks needed to reinvent themselves when big man Bol Bol’s season was cut short early due to a nagging foot injury. They enter on an eight-game winning streak, including a four-game run through the Pac-12 tournament, and they’re getting excellent floor leadership from Payton Pritchard. The Badgers will provide a tough defensive challenge for Oregon, but Wisconsin sometimes finds points hard to come by as well. Ethan Happ is a veteran who averages a double double, but he’ll need help to corral the surging Ducks.
Potential upset: No, we’re not going to say Gardner-Webb. Virginia will not be victimized by a 16 seed for second time. Instead, we direct your attention to No. 13 seed UC-Irvine. The Anteaters haven’t lost since Jan. 16, and their non-conference slate includes wins against NCAA participants Saint Mary’s and Montana. They’ll be a tough draw for fourth-seeded Kansas State. The Wildcats can struggle to score even when at full strength, and Dean Wade might still be limited if he’s available at all.
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The sleeper: Can the defending national champion really be called a sleeper? We think Villanova can in this case. This version of the Wildcats looks a lot different from last year’s title squad that had some unexpected departures. As the No. 6 seed, they’re going to have a hard time just reaching the Sweet 16. First-round opponent Saint Mary’s won’t be a pushover, and a likely encounter with Purdue would be up next. But seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall know how to win on the big stage. If the Wildcats somehow make it to the tournament second weekend, watch out.
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The winner: Tennessee. Despite what we said above about top-seeded Virginia not making bad history a second time, it’s hard to trust the Cavaliers to reach the Final Four. At some point, they’re going to encounter a squad capable of making contested shots while taking them out of their deliberate offense. That team might just be the Volunteers. They weren’t quite themselves in the SEC title game after they emptied the tank to get by Kentucky in the semifinal. With their batteries recharged, however, they should be ready to make a run all the way to Minneapolis.
No. 1 Virginia
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Nickname: Cavaliers. Location: Charlottesville.
Record: 29-3, 16-2. Bid: ACC at-large.
Last appearance: 2018, lost to Maryland-Baltimore County in first round.
Coach: Tony Bennett (10-8 in eight appearances).
Overview: On the wrong end of an historic upset a year ago, the Cavaliers are determined to shed that pesky “Can’t win in March” label. Unfortunately, the vibe from their loss in the ACC tournament semifinal to Florida State will keep that storyline front and center. They still defend relentlessly but are ill-equipped to mount a comeback if quick points are needed.
Projected starters: G Kyle Guy, 6-2, Jr. (15.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.1 apg, 45.1 3FG%); G De’Andre Hunter, 6-7, So. (15.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 53.3 FG%); G Ty Jerome, 6-5, Jr. (13.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 5.3 apg, 42.6 3FG%); F Mamadi Diakite, 6-9, Jr. (7.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg); C Jack Salt, 6-10, Sr. (3.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg).
No. 2 Tennessee
Nickname: Volunteers. Location: Knoxville.
Record: 29-5, 15-3. Bid: SEC at-large.
Last appearance: 2018, lost to Loyola-Chicago in second round.
Coach: Rick Barnes (22-23 in 23 appearances).
Overview: The Vols were projected to have a good season but surpassed most expectations with a four-week stay at No. 1 and a run to the SEC tournament title game. The team is blessed with a starting lineup full of upperclassmen. Grant Williams does a little bit of everything, while the offense and defense both rank in the top 20 in field-goal percentage. A lack of consistent three-point shooting looms as a possible concern the deeper they get in the tournament.
Projected starters: F Grant Williams, 6-7, Jr. (19.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.5 bpg, 56.9 FG%); G Admiral Schofield, 6-6, Sr. (16.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 40.4 3FG%); G Lamont Turner, 6-2, Jr. (10.4 ppg, 3.7 apg); G Jordan Bone, 6-3, Jr. (13.5 ppg, 6.1 apg, 80.3 FT%); F Kyle Alexander, 6-11, Sr. (7.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.8 bpg, 63.1 FG%).
No. 3 Purdue
Nickname: Boilermakers. Location: West Lafayette, Ind.
Record: 23-9, 16-4. Bid: Big Ten at-large.
Last appearance: 2018, lost to Texas Tech in Sweet 16.
Coach: Matt Painter (12-11 in 11 appearances).
Overview: : After starting the season 6-5, the Boilermakers rebounded to earn a share of the Big Ten regular-season title. Coming off back-to-back Sweet 16 finishes, this version of Purdue isn’t as strong. Much of its success depends on Carsen Edwards, who can score in bunches (40 points vs. Texas and 38 vs. Wisconsin). But he shoots 34% from beyond the arc compared with 41% last season.
Projected starters: G Carsen Edwards, 6-1, Jr. (23.0 ppg, 3.0 apg, 84.3 FT%); G Ryan Cline, 6-6, Sr. (11.9 ppg, 3.3 apg, 41.8 3FG%); G Nojel Eastern, 6-6, So. (7.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg); C Matt Haarms, 7-3, So. (9.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 62.7 FG%); F Grady Eifert, 6-6, Sr. (5.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 43.7 3FG%).
No. 4 Kansas State
Nickname: Wildcats. Location: Manhattan.
Record: 25-8, 14-4. Bid: Big 12 at-large.
Last appearance: 2018, lost to Loyola-Chicago in Elite Eight.
Coach: Bruce Weber (15-12 in 12 appearances).
Overview: : The Wildcats grabbed a share of the Big 12’s regular-season championship with defense – they rank fourth nationally, holding opponents to 59.1 points per game – and play a patient offensive game led by junior guard Barry Brown Jr. They’ve been very consistent. After losing their first two Big 12 games, they haven’t lost consecutive games. Dean Wade’s health – he’s been hampered by a foot injury and missed the Big 12 tournament because of it – is a key. His all-around presence makes the Wildcats much better. The postseason return of guard Cartier Diarra from a hand injury could provide a boost.
Projected starters: G Barry Brown Jr., 6-3, Sr. (14.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.9 spg); G Kamau Stokes, 6-0, Sr. (10.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.4 apg); G Xavier Sneed, 6-5, Jr. (10.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg); F Dean Wade, 6-10, Sr. (12.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 41.8 3FG%); F Makol Mawien, 6-9, Jr. (6.8 ppg, 4.6 apg, 52.5 FG%).
No. 5 Wisconsin
Nickname: Badgers. Location: Madison.
Record: 23-10, 14-6. Bid: Big Ten at-large.
Last appearance: 2017, lost to Florida in Sweet 16.
Coach: Greg Gard (4-2 in two appearances).
Overview: : The Badgers quietly finished fourth in a crowded Big Ten and are back in the NCAA field as a contender after missing last year’s tournament. As usual, they play exceptional defense, ranking with the best in the nation in points allowed. D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison have combined with All-American Ethan Happ to form a nice inside-out attack. But offense can go cold, and an inability to make free throws is another potential Achilles heel.
Projected starters: F Ethan Happ, 6-10, Sr. (17.8 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 4.7 apg, 53.1 FG%); G D’Mitrik Trice, 6-0, So. (11.9 ppg, 40.0 3FG%); G Brad Davison, 6-3, So. (10.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 80.0 FT%); G Khalil Iverson, 6-5, Sr. (6.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 53.8 FG%); F Nate Reuvers, 6-11, So. (7.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg).
No. 6 Villanova
Nickname: Wildcats. Location: Villanova, Pa.
Record: 25-9, 13-5. Bid: Big East champ.
Last appearance: 2018, won national championship.
Coach: Jay Wright (27-13 in 15 appearances).
Overview: It hasn’t been the usual version of the Wildcats this season after winning two of the last three national championships. And even if it was an off year for a team that lost three players to the NBA, it still ended up with in Big East regular season and conference tournament titles. The Wildcats are excellent from beyond the arc, averaging nearly 11 three-pointers a game. The problem: When they go cold, they can lose to just about anyone as evidenced in losses to Furman and Penn earlier in the season.
Projected starters: : G Phil Booth, 6-3, Sr. (18.6 ppg, 3.9 apg); G Collin Gillespie, 6-3, So. (11.3 ppg, 2.8 apg, 83.5 FT%); F Saddiq Bey, 6-8, Fr. (8.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg); F Eric Paschall, 6-8, Sr. (16.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg); F Jermaine Samuels, 6-7, So. (5.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg).
No. 7 Cincinnati
Nickname: Bearcats. Location: Cincinnati.
Record: : 28-6, 14-4. Bid: American Athletic champ.
Last appearance: 2018, lost to Nevada in second round.
Coach: Mick Cronin (6-10 in 10 appearances).
Overview: : Cincinnati is a tournament regular – this marks the ninth appearance in a row under Cronin, the head coach since 2006 – but an annual tournament underachiever. Not since 2012 have the Bearcats escaped the first weekend; each of the program’s last two teams won at least 30 games but failed to advance past the second round. Why should this year’s tournament be any different?
Projected starters: G Jarron Cumberland, 6-5, Jr. (18.6 ppg, 3.5 apg, 4.3 rpg, 41.0 FG%, 40.3 3FG%); G Keith Williams, 6-5, So. (10.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 45.2 FG%); G Justin Jenifer, 5-10, Sr. (8.3 ppg, 2.8 apg, 42.8 3FG%); F Tre Scott, 6-8, Jr. (8.7 ppg, 6.6 apg, 46.0 FG%); C Nysier Brooks, 6-11, Jr. (8.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.5 bpg, 52.2 FG%).
No. 8 Mississippi
Nickname: Rebels. Location: Oxford.
Record: 20-12, 10-8. Bid: SEC at-large.
Last appearance: 2015, lost to Xavier in second round.
Coach: Kermit Davis (2-5 in five appearances).
Overview: After arriving from Middle Tennessee, Kermit Davis worked wonders in his first season, given Ole Miss was picked to finish last in the SEC. Using a four-guard lineup, the Rebels are willing play up-tempo. When they get to the free-throw line, they make 78.3% of their attempts, third in the nation. Cause for concern: losing four of their last five.
Projected starters: G Breein Tyree, 6-2, Jr. (18.5 ppg, 2. 53.3 FG%, 83.1 FT%); G Terence Davis, 6-4, Sr. (15.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.4 apg, 51.4 FG%); G Devontae Shuler, 6-2, So. (10.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.8 spg, 40.5 3FG%); G/F Blake Hinson, 6-7, Fr. (8.1 ppg); F Bruce Stevens, 6-7, Sr. (8.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 86.0 FT%).
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No. 9 Oklahoma
Nickname: Sooners. Location: Norman.
Record: 19-13, 7-11. Bid: Big 12 at-large.
Last appearance: 2018, lost to Rhode Island in first round.
Coach: Lon Kruger (20-18 in 18 appearances).
Overview: : After a first-round exit in the Big 12 tournament, the Sooners received an at-large bid despite a late-season swoon and a sub-.500 conference record and because of a stout nonconference resume. When Oklahoma is playing well, defense is the reason. The Sooners don’t have a consistent offensive threat.
Projected starters: G Christian James, 6-4, Sr. (14.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg); G Jamal Bienemy, 6-4, Fr. (4.9 ppg, 3.5 apg, 40.6 3FG%); G Rashard Odomes, 6-6, Sr. (6.7 ppg, 2.4 rpg); F Brady Manek, 6-9, So. (12.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg); F Kristian Doolittle, 6-7, Jr. (11.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 50.2 FG%).
No. 10 Iowa
Nickname: Hawkeyes. Location: Iowa City.
Record: 21-10, 10-10. Bid: Big Ten at-large.
Last appearance: 2016, lost to Gonzaga in second round.
Coach: Fran McCaffery (4-8 in eight appearances).
Overview: The Hawkeyes lost four in a row to close out the regular season to slip way down in the seeding line after entering February poised to land a top-6 seed. The culprit in those losses? Defense, a category where Iowa ranks 243rd nationally by allowing opponents 74 points a game; the Hawkeyes allowed Ohio State to score 90 in a Feb. 26 loss, Rutgers to score 86 in a March 2 loss, and Nebraska to score 93 in a March 10 loss. When this team can stop people, however, it has a very good chance of advancing — evidenced by a 74-59 win over Michigan on Feb. 1. When Iowa wins, Jordan Bohannon usually has a heavy hand in it — either shooting well from deep or facilitating for Iowa’s big men.
Projected starters: F Tyler Cook, 6-9, Jr. (15.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 52.9 FG%); F Luka Garza, 6-11, So. (13.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 52.6 FG%); G Jordan Bohannon, 6-1, Jr. (11.4 ppg, 3.4 apg, 87.7 FT%); G Joe Wieskamp, 6-6, Fr. (10.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 42.4 3FG%); G Isaiah Moss, 6-5, Jr. (9.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 41.9 3FG%).
No. 11 Saint Mary’s
Nickname: Gaels. Location: Moraga, Calif.
Record: 22-11, 11-5. Bid: West Coast champ.
Last appearance: 2017, lost to Arizona in second round.
Coach: Randy Bennett (4-6 in six appearances).
Overview: : A fringe bubble team at best entering the WCC tournament, the Gaels put together their best performance of the season to topple Gonzaga in the title game. They don’t have the overall talent of recent Saint Mary’s teams. They have enough three-point prowess to stage a comeback, but they’re far more effective when they’re able to establish a deliberate tempo and play half-court sets at both ends.
Projected starters: G Jordan Ford, 6-1, Jr. (21.3 ppg, 42.3 3FG%, 80.0 FT%); F Malik Fitts, 6-8, So. (15.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 40.3 3FG%); G Tanner Krebs, 6-6, Jr. (8.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 40.5 3FG%, 91.7 FT%); C Jordan Hunter, 6-10, Sr. (7.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 58.8 FG%); G Tommy Kuhse, 6-2, So. (6.2 ppg, 2.9 apg, 83.0 FT%).
No. 12 Oregon
Nickname: Ducks. Location: Eugene.
Record: 23-12, 10-8. Bid: Pac-12 champ.
Last appearance: 2017, lost to North Carolina in Final Four.
Coach: Dana Altman (13-13 in 13 appearances).
Overview: A switch to a large starting lineup – 6-2 point guard Payton Pritchard with four players standing at least 6-9 – helped fuel a hot closing stretch. Oregon won four in a row to finish the regular season, then added four more victories in four days to clinch the Pac-12 tournament championship and the league’s automatic bid. The Ducks’ defense, led by Pritchard’s steals and Kenny Wooten’s shot-blocking, was key during the surge to end the regular season, when opponents averaged only 51.5 points.
Projected starters: G Payton Pritchard, 6-2, Jr. (12.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 4.3 apg, 1.9 spg); F Louis King, 6-9, Fr. (12.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg); F Paul White, 6-9, Sr. (10.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 37.7 3FG%); F Kenny Wooten, 6-9, So. (6.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.9 bpg); C Francis Okoro, 6-9, Fr. (3.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg).
No. 13 UC-Irvine
Nickname: Anteaters. Location: Irvine.
Record: 30-5, 15-1. Bid: Big West champ.
Last appearance: 2015, lost to Louisville in first round.
Coach: Russell Turner (0-1 in one appearance).
Overview: UC-Irvine has been the class of the Big West all season and comes into the tournament riding a 16-game winning streak. A smothering defense has been the key for the Anteaters, who led the conference in points per game allowed (63.3). Most notably, their defense forced opponents to shoot just 38%, which ranks among the top five in the country and they rebound those misses effectively.
Projected starters: : G Max Hazzard, 6-0, Jr. (12.5 ppg, 39.4 3FG%); G Robert Cartwright, 6-2, Sr. (6.8 ppg, 2.3 apg, 81.0 FT); G Evan Leonard, 6-1, Jr. (11.1 ppg, 40.9 3FG%, 84.3 FT%); F Tommy Rutherford, 6-8, Jr. (6.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 52.2 FG%); F Jonathan Galloway, 6-10, Sr. (7.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 62.1 FG%).
No. 14 Old Dominion
Nickname: Monarchs. Location: Norfolk, Va.
Record: 26-8, 13-5. Bid: Conference USA champ.
Last appearance: 2011, lost to Butler in first round.
Coach: Jeff Jones (6-7 in seven appearances).
Overview: This is a veteran team with three senior starters and players who know their roles. B.J. Stith and Ahmad Caver provide the scoring. The others focus on defense and rebounding. The concern is what happens if Stith or Caver have off nights. There’s not enough other options to beat quality teams.
Projected starters: F Aaron Carver, 6-7, Jr. (2.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg); G B.J. Stith, 6-5, Sr. (16.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 84.5 FT%); G Ahmad Caver, 6-2, Sr. (16.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 5.6 apg); G Xavier Green, 6-6, So. (9.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg); C Elbert Robinson III, 7-1, Sr. (2.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg, ).
No. 15 Colgate
Nickname: Raiders. Location: Hamilton, N.Y.
Record: 24-10, 13-5. Bid: Patriot champ.
Last appearance: 1996, lost to Connecticut in first round.
Coach: Matt Langel (first appearance).
Overview: The Raiders enter their third NCAA tournament in program history riding an 11-game winning streak, ending Bucknell’s two-year reign as Patriot League champs in the process. The big stage will be a new experience for everyone, so they’ll certainly be huge underdogs. But they have a lot of shooters with three-point range, connecting from the arc at a 38.3% clip as a team.
Projected starters: F Rapolas Ivanauskas, 6-10, So. (16.4 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 52.3 FG%, 43.4 3FG%); G Jordan Burns, 6-0, So. (15.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 5.8 apg, 82.1 FT%); F Will Rayman, 6-8, Jr. (13.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 43.2 3FG%); G Tucker Richardson, 6-5, Fr. (8.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.8 apg); C Dana Batt, 6-9, Sr. (7.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 65.1 FG%).
No. 16 Gardner-Webb
Nickname: Runnin’ Bulldogs. Location: Boiling Springs, N.C.
Record: 23-11, 10-6. Bid: Big South champ.
Last appearance: First appearance.
Coach: Tim Craft (first appearance).
Overview: : The fourth seed in the Big South tournament, the Bulldogs knocked off the top two seeds to earn their first NCAA tournament berth. The leadership of G David Efianayi and F DJ Laster is key. They’re two of the to three scores along with freshman Jose Perez. A lack of size is concerning. No starter is taller than 6-6 and there is limited size off the bench.
Projected starters: : G David Efianayi, 6-2, Sr. (18.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 41.4 3FG%); G Jose Perez, 6-5, Fr. (15.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.0 apg); F DJ Laster, 6-6, Sr. (13.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 56.0 FG%, 45.1 3FG%); G Nate Johnson, 6-4, So. (9.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg); G Jaheam Cornwall, 6-0, So. (6.3 ppg, 2.8 apg, 40.0 3FG%).
Contributing: Jace Evans, Ben Soffer, Jay Cannon, Gabriella Novello, Erick Smith, Paul Myerberg, George Schroeder, Scott Gleeson, Eddie Timanus.