TOP SEEDS: 1) Kentucky, 2) Kansas, 3) Notre Dame, 4) Maryland
How the Midwest is won: The one certainty on Selection Sunday was Kentucky being tabbed the tournament’s overall top seed.
That never was in jeopardy, like most of the Wildcats’ games this season.
Kentucky capped its captivating campaign by romping through the SEC tournament en route to a 34-0 overall record, becoming just the fourth team to enter the Division I men’s tournament undefeated since Indiana’s run to perfection in 1975-76. The last three, Indiana State (1979), UNLV (1991) and Wichita State (2014).
Those Hoosiers won it all. Can Kentucky?
More than a couple teams could stand in their way.
Second-seeded Kansas, ACC tournament champion and No. 3 seed Notre Dame and fourth-seeded Maryland are obviously the top threats to topple Kentucky.
The Fighting Irish have perhaps the most confidence of anybody, though, having knocked off Duke and North Carolina on consecutive days to claim the ACC tourney title.
Upset Watch: Bobby Hurley hasn’t been to the Big Dance in more than two decades, but he knows what it takes to win when he is there.
Hurley, named the tournament’s MVP in 1992 when he helped Duke win the national title, is heading back as coach of Buffalo after winning 23 games and the MAC tournament title. It’s Buffalo’s first-ever berth in the NCAA tournament, where the 12th-seeded Bulls will try and shock No. 5 West Virginia.
Twelve seeds are 8-4 against No. 5s the past three years.
The 11th-seeded Texas Longhorns were in the perilous position of missing the tournament altogether after compiling a 20-13 record and finishing sixth in the Big 12, but snuck in thanks to playing the 16th toughest schedule in the country. They could get past No. 6 Butler with a strong showing from point guard Isaiah Taylor, who averaged 13 points and 4.6 assists per game.
Get to Know: Kentucky forward Willie Cauley-Stein averaged only 9.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, but the 7-foot junior affected more than his fair share of games with his defensive prowess.
That’s hardly the only Wildcat to watch.
Kentucky guards Aaron Harrison and Devin Booker led the team in scoring at 11.3 and 10.7 points per game, respectively, while forward Karl-Anthony Towns averaged 9.8 points and 6.8 rebounds, teaming with Cauley-Stein to form not only one of the greatest hyphenated tandems in recent memory, but one of the most feared low-post duos in the country.
Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant averaged 16.8 points and 6.6 assists per game, but saved his best for last. Grant scored 24 points and had 10 assists against North Carolina, igniting a 26-3 second-half surge that led the Fighting Irish to the ACC tournament title.
One to see: If seventh-seeded Wichita State can get past Indiana, an intriguing matchup against Kansas looms. Despite an early exit from the MVC tournament, the Shockers boast a core of players who nearly finished off an undefeated season last year. Fred Van Vleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton return to the tournament one season after watching their title hopes end in the third round in a gut-wrenching loss to Kentucky.
Luck of the Irish: Notre Dame put together one of the program’s best seasons, finishing with the most regular-season wins (26) in school history. The encore was even better, knocking off both Duke and North Carolina in consecutive days to claim the ACC tourney title. The Fighting Irish have won eight of their last nine games, thanks to sharpshooting from beyond the arc — ranking 18th in the country in 3-point percentage (39.2) — and have perhaps the best shot at beating top-seeded Kentucky.
1 — Kansas’ strength of schedule
2 — Coaches Butler has had this season after Brandon Miller took a leave of absence and never returned
78.8 — Notre Dame’s points per game, the most of any team in the region
11 — National titles won by the region’s top two seeds, Kentucky and Kansas
8 — Championships won by Kentucky
6 — Games Kentucky needs to win it all
38 — Years since a team finished a perfect season with a national title
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