BOISE, Idaho (AP) — No. 5 Ohio State (24-8) vs. No. 12 South Dakota State (28-6).
First Round, West Region, Thursday 4 p.m. EDT.
BOTTOM LINE: The Buckeyes were one of college basketball’s biggest surprises this season, finishing second in the Big Ten and reaching the NCAA Tournament in their first season under coach Chris Holtmann despite being picked 11th in the preseason poll. Ohio State’s opening game won’t be easy; The Jackrabbits have won 11 straight, have one of the nation’s best big men in Mike Daum and at least one 12 seed seems to knock off a 5 every year.
BATES-DIOP: In a league full of talented players, Ohio State ended up with the Big Ten player of the year. A year after being limited to nine games due to injury, Keita Bates-Diop had a dominating junior season, finishing second in the conference in scoring at 19.4 points and third with 8.8 rebounds per game. The Jackrabbits will have their hands full.
DOMINATING DAUM: The Jackrabbits have a dominating player of their own in Daum. The 6-9 junior is a three-time Summit League Tournament MVP and earned his second straight conference player of the year this season after averaging 23.8 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Daum joined Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and Saint Mary’s Jock Landale as the only Division I players to average a double-double.
KEEP AN EYE ON: South Dakota State freshman David Jenkins Jr. Jenkins is the Jackrabbits’ second-leading scorer at 16.1 points per game and twice scored 31, including a game against Colorado while hitting seven 3-pointers.
DID YOU KNOW?: Holtmann has been named the coach of the year in three different conferences: the Big South with Gardner-Webb in 2013, Big East with Butler in 2017 and this year in the Big Ten with the Buckeyes.
Top-seeded KU wary of No. 16 Penn in NCAA tourney opener
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) Penn forward A.J. Brodeur knew that the moment the Quakers beat Harvard for the Ivy League title and were headed to the NCAA Tournament, the only questions left were their seed, opponent and destination.
No. 16. Against Kansas. In Wichita.
“We were a little surprised by it,” Brodeur said ahead of Thursday’s first-round matchup in the Midwest Region, where some are brazenly picking the Quakers (24-8) to become the first No. 16 seed to topple a No. 1 seed since the field was expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
“At the same time,” he said, “we were excited by it. This is an opportunity for us. All season we were counted out, we were underappreciated, even in our league. This is just another example.”
Brodeur isn’t the only one who thought Penn was slighted, either.
Bill Self remembers the down-to-the-wire test that Cornell, coached by current Penn coach Steve Donohue, gave his Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse a few years ago. And after watching film of the Quakers, and getting a look at their size and veteran backcourt, the coach who has directed Kansas to a record 14 consecutive Big 12 championship came up with a rather simple deduction.
“They don’t resemble a 16-seed at all,” Self said.
The great irony of that statement is that there have been plenty of times that Kansas (27-7) has hardly resembled a No. 1 seed. Remember, this is the same team that lost to Washington in December, and was swept in the regular-season by Oklahoma State, which failed to make the NCAA Tournament.
The second of those losses to the Cowboys was a blowout less than two weeks ago.
“You don’t really want to be that team that does it,” Jayhawks’ guard Devonte Graham said, when asked about the prospect of becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose its opener. “It’s one of those things you think about in the back of your head. Hopefully that doesn’t happen.”
Most years, the 1-16 game is a mere speed-bump on the way to the second round, a chance to shake out any lingering fatigue from the regular season or conference tournament. And that kind of soft toss would have come in handy this season for Kansas, which is hopeful 7-foot sophomore Udoka Azubuike can get back on the floor after hurting a ligament in his left knee last week.
The Jayhawks enjoyed a breakout performance from Silvio De Sousa in winning the Big 12 Tournament, but Self acknowledged that a large chunk of their offensive system is designed for their big man.
“The docs feel he’s making unbelievable progress,” he said. “I’m optimistic he can get in the game. I’m not overly optimistic he can play a lot of minutes and be a real positive force inside for us, but if he can play 80 percent or 70 percent, we’ll play him a few minutes.”
That would be just one more hurdle for the Quakers, right alongside playing a Final Four contender a two-hour drive south of its campus in what will no doubt be a road environment.
“We had nine true road wins, which I think was one of 10 teams in the country. We challenged ourselves on the road,” Donohue said. “Maybe we’ll be able to get a few fans on our back a little bit if we can get on a roll. But as a competitor, you love that environment.”
SENIOR SUCCESS: The Penn-Kansas winner gets a second-round date with eighth-seeded Seton Hall or ninth-seeded North Carolina State, both of which have something to prove on Thursday.
The Pirates (21-11) led Butler by four points in the final minutes a year ago before losing their first-round matchup, and coach Kevin Willard said the defeat “haunts” a senior-laden team.
The Wolfpack (21-11) are back in the NCAA Tournament after a two-year absence.
“One of the things i talked about was how to get this program back to the success it had in the past,” said Keatts, who took over after a successful run at UNC-Wilmington. “I have to give our guys credit. I thought they bought into our system. Anytime you take over a program there can be challenges, we had sort of a makeshift roster, and for them to buy in says a lot about our kids.”
PUTTING THE ‘D’ IN DUKE: Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has been pleased with the way his second-seeded Blue Devils, who open against No. 15 seed Iona on Thursday in Pittsburgh, has played on the defensive end of the floor lately.
Duke (26-7) and Michigan State are the only teams ranked in top 10 nationally in offensive and defensive efficiency, while the Blue Devils led the ACC in steals and were third in field-goal defense.
The Gaels (20-13) have been held under 70 points just twice since mid-December.
“We’ve gotten better,” Krzyzewski said. “Throughout the whole year, we’ve gotten better to right now we’re the best that we have been all year.”
SHHH, SIR CHARLES: Oklahoma heard the outcry over its at-large bid, which was earned despite going 2-8 over the past 10 games — especially when it was Charles Barkley on national TV.
But the best way to silence Barkley and the critics would be for the No. 10 Sooners (18-13) to beat seventh-seeded Rhode Island in their opener Thursday in Pittsburgh.
“You hear it,” said Sooners star freshman Trae Young, who leads the nation in scoring and assists. “We’ve been good just blocking out everything and focusing on ourselves and how we can get better as a team, being prepared for them, but you definitely hear it. You see it all.”
Frosh star Sexton leads No. 9 seed Alabama against Va. Tech
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The No. 8 seed Virginia Tech (21-11) plays ninth-seeded Alabama (19-15)
First round, East Region, Pittsburgh, 9:20 p.m. EDT on Thursday
BOTTOM LINE: Two programs with very little recent NCAA Tournament experience both get it this season with at-large bids. The Hokies are one of nine Atlantic Coast Conference teams in the field of 68.
BUZZ WORTHY: The Hokies had their best season under Buzz Williams and made the tournament for the second straight season. Guard Justin Robinson (13.8 points, 5.6 assists) is the top scorer on a team that has five players averaging double digits in points. The Hokies have lost four of five but have wins this season over tournament No. 2 seed Duke and No. 1 Virginia.
FANTASTIC FRESHMAN: Collin Sexton is the player to watch for the Crimson Tide. He averages 19 points and was named SEC co-freshman of the year and second team all-SEC. He dropped 40 points against Minnesota and his buzzer beater against Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament helped lead the Crimson Tide into the NCAA Tournament.
DID YOU KNOW: Alabama coach Avery Johnson also coached the Dallas Mavericks to the NBA Finals in 2006.
No. 1 Villanova faces No. 16 Radford in the East Region
PITTSBURGH (AP) — No. 1 seed Villanova (30-4) vs. No. 16 seed Radford (23-12)
First round, East Region, Pittsburgh, 6:50 p.m. EDT on Thursday
BOTTOM LINE: Villanova is looking to keep No. 1 seeds unbeaten in the NCAA Tournament when it opens against Radford in the East region. The Wildcats dominated in the Big East again this season and won the conference tournament for the second straight season. They are a top-two seed for the fifth straight season and should roll against Radford.
TOTALLY RAD: Radford is rolling following a win over LIU Brooklyn in the First Four for its first-ever NCAA Tournament win. The team from rural southwest Virginia won the Big South and is making its third tournament appearance and first since 2009.
OPENER WOES: The Wildcats have a 2016 national championship but not much else to show for all their top seeds. Villanova lost opening weekend as a No. 1 seed in 2015, and as a No. 2 seed in 2014 and 2010. The Wildcats failed to get out of the first weekend in 2011 and 2013.
DID YOU KNOW: Jay Wright is the winningest coach in Villanova history? He set the record in the Big East Tournament and is 416-165 with the 2009 Final Four and 2016 national championship on his resume.
No. 4 Arizona opens against No. 13 Buffalo in South Region
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — No. 13 Buffalo (26-8) vs. No. 4 Arizona (27-7)
First Round, South Region, Thursday, 8:40 p.m. EDT.
BOTTOM LINE: This year’s team was supposed to be coach Sean Miller’s best chance at finally reaching the Final Four. The Wildcats overcame twice being ensnared in a federal investigation into shady recruiting practices to win the Pac-12 regular-season and tournament titles. Their first step to that elusive Final Four goes through the Buffalo Bulls, who are 0-3 all-time in the NCAA Tournament but are coming off the best regular season as a program.
STOPPING AYTON: Buffalo has no one on its roster who can match up physically with Deandre Ayton, Arizona’s 7-foot-1, 260-pound freshman force. Then again, few teams do. Ayton was named the Pac-12 player of the year after averaging 20.3 points and 11.5 points in what will be his only season in Tucson, Arizona. He dominated the final two games of the Pac-12 Tournament after a nervous start, eclipsing 30 points and grabbing at least 14 rebounds in both games.
BUFFALO’S SEASON: Buffalo has been on a good run in recent years, starting with Bobby Hurley and carrying over the past three seasons under Nate Oats. The Bulls won the Mid-American Conference Tournament for the third time in four years and set a school record with 26 wins. Buffalo’s five nonconference losses were all to NCAA Tournament teams.
THE ALKINS DIFFERENCE: Arizona struggled early in the season, going 0-3 on a trip to the Bahamas. Not coincidentally, the early-season woes came with sophomore guard Rawle Alkins on the sideline with a foot injury. A physical 6-5 guard, Alkins is the ultimate glue guy, providing the Wildcats with energy, athleticism and defense. He averaged 13.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists during the regular season, but his contributions go deeper than the box score.
DID YOU KNOW?: This Arizona squad is the second team in Pac-12 history to win the regular-season and conference tournament titles in consecutive years. The only other: Arizona from 1987-89.
Rick Barnes back in Texas as Tennessee faces Wright State
DALLAS (AP) — No. 3 seed Tennessee (25-8) vs. No. 14 seed Wright State (25-9)
First round, South Region; Dallas; Thursday, 12:40 p.m. ET.
BOTTOM LINE: Tennessee coach Rick Barnes is back in Texas, where he led the Longhorns to 16 NCAA appearances in 17 years. That included a trip to the Final Four in 2003. Barnes makes his first NCAA trip with the Vols in his third season. Wright State is in the tournament for the first time since 2007 as Horizon League tournament champion. The Raiders are 0-2 all-time in the tournament and facing the Vols for the first time.
LOOKING FORWARD: The Vols are led by a pair of forwards in unanimous All-SEC first-team choice Grant Williams (15.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and Admiral Schofield, who averaged 17 points and 8.3 rebounds in the SEC Tournament.
WRIGHT’S INSPIRATION: Ryan Custer is with Wright State after sustaining a spinal cord injury last April that left him in a wheelchair. He was at the end of the bench when the Raiders won the Horizon tournament. Custer had just finished his freshman season when he was injured jumping into a makeshift pool. “He’s got the hardest job of us all — waking up every day, pushing through some obstacles that some of us have never faced,” freshman center Loudon Love said.
DID YOU KNOW: Barnes is the 13th coach to lead four programs to the NCAA Tournament (one of seven active coaches). He went three times each at Providence and Clemson before taking the Texas job. Barnes has made six trips to the Sweet 16 (one Clemson, five Texas) and three to the Elite Eight (all with Texas).
Balanced Rams prepping for heady dose of Oklahoma star Young
PITTSBURGH (AP) — No. 7 seed Rhode Island (25-7) vs. No. 10 seed Oklahoma (18-13)
Second round, Midwest Region; Pittsburgh; 12:15 p.m. EDT.
BOTTOM LINE: The Rams have reached the NCAAs in consecutive years for only the second time in program history. The Sooners and star freshman Trae Young stumbled down the stretch in the Big 12 and their surprising at-large bid provided the critics with plenty of fodder. There’s only one way to quiet them.
YOUNG IS RESTLESS: Young is on his way to becoming the first Division I player since the NCAA began tracking assists in 1983 to lead the nation in scoring (27.4 points) and assists (8.8). He’s not shy about putting it up. Young’s 600 field goal attempts are 63 more than the combined attempts of Oklahoma’s next two leading scorers (Christian James and Brady Manek).
RHODY RULES: While Oklahoma relies heavily (at times too heavily) on Young, the Rams have put together consecutive 25-win seasons by taking a more balanced approach. Five different players average at least 9.0 points and all five have had at least one 20-point game this season.
HE SAID IT: Rhode Island head coach Danny Hurley on hearing his name in connection with jobs at higher-profile schools, including Pittsburgh: “It’s something, social media age, for me to sit up here and say I have no awareness would be, you know, it wouldn’t be truthful,” Hurley said. “But I haven’t thought one second about, you know, any other team or program or, you know, what city I’m playing in, relative to who has a coaching vacancy.”
Duke’s star-laden roster wary against up-tempo Iona
PITTSBURGH (AP) — No. 2 seed Duke (26-7) vs. No. 15 seed Iona (20-13)
Second round, Midwest Region; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; 2:45 p.m. EDT.
BOTTOM LINE: The Blue Devils appear to have put their midseason issues behind them, at least when they’re not playing North Carolina. The Gaels, however, love to push the pace and won’t be intimidated by the stage in their third straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
MARVIN’S ROOM: Duke forward Marvin Bagley is the second player in ACC history to be named league Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year. He leads the ACC in scoring (21.1) and rebounding (11.5), if that holds up he’ll be the first freshman in league history to pace the conference in both categories.
GO GO GAELS: Duke loves to push the pace, finishing eighth in the nation in scoring (84.7). The Gaels won’t be afraid to go up and down. Iona led the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in 3-pointers made and have been held under 70 points just twice since Dec. 17.
DEJA VU?: Once a rarity, a No. 15-seed over a No. 2 seed is now far more commonplace. It’s happened four times since 2012. One of the losses? Lehigh stunning the Blue Devils 75-70 six years ago.
No. 6 seed Houston faces 11-seed San Diego State in West
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — No. 6 seed Houston (26-7) vs. No. 11 seed San Diego State (22-10)
First round, West Region; Wichita, Kansas; Thursday, 7:20 p.m. EDT
BOTTOM LINE: Led by star guard Rob Gray, Houston’s run to the American Athletic Conference title game locked up an at-large bid to the Cougars’ first NCAA Tournament since 2010. San Diego State won the Mountain West with first-year coach Brian Dutcher on the sideline.
SAMPSON’S HARDWARE: Houston coach Kelvin Sampson earned the AAC’s coach of the year award earlier this week, his fifth such award from four different leagues. Sampson became the 14th coach to take four or more schools to the NCAA Tournament this year.
KELL ME MORE: Aztecs guard Trey Kell missed three games to an ankle injury, but his return has coincided with a nine-game win streak. Kell averaged 18.3 points during the Mountain West Tournament, including a 28-point effort against New Mexico in the title game.
POSTSEASON DROUGHT: The once-proud Cougars have been to five Final Fours, including three straight from 1982-84. But the latter of those was also the last time they won an NCAA Tournament game.
DID YOU KNOW: The Aztecs are making their ninth NCAA Tournament appearance in the past 19 years, all of which have occurred with Dutcher on the bench. He was an assistant to former coach Steve Fisher for the first eight, including two Sweet 16 trips.