Breaking down the Midwest Regional
Best team: Can a fourth seed be considered the best team in a regional? Louisville made the case after winning 12 of its final 13 games and roughing up Connecticut in the AAC final on Saturday. Senior guard Russ Smith and sophomore forward Montrezl Harrell formed one of the top 1-2 punches in the country. Smith shoots 40 percent from three-point range, while Harrell hit 61 percent of his shots. It doesn't stop with Smith and Harrell. The Cardinals are strong in most areas, particularly in the backcourt and on the wings with Luke Hancock, Chris Jones and Wayne Blackshear providing ample depth. Collectively, Louisville rebounds as well as any team in the country, which compensates for its lack of experienced power players.
Best big man: Kentucky freshman Julius Randle struggled in the Wildcats' 61-60 loss to Florida in the SEC title game Sunday, but don't hold that against him. Randle helped key Kentucky's run to the championship game, averaging 14.5 points and 13.5 rebounds in SEC preliminary round games. Randle didn't finish the season as strong as he began it, but that doesn't mean he won't be a load for Kansas State to deal with.
Best guard/playmaker: Massachusetts senior point guard Chaz Williams means everything to the Minutemen. His scoring (15.8) and playmaking (7.0 ast) has lifted the program to new heights, which includes its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998. Williams was at his best against the UMass' top competition, averaging 20.6 points and 7.5 assists in games against tournament teams Saint Joseph's, George Washington, St. Louis, Dayton, VCU, BYU and New Mexico.
Best go-to-guy: Duke freshman forward Jabari Parker has been as consistent as any player in the country. He can score from just about anywhere inside the midcourt line and rebounds as well as any power forward in America. He had 30 points in Duke's win over North Carolina in its season finale and 27 points in a loss to Kansas in November.
Best player you've never heard of: Arizona State's Jahii Carson just might be a victim of East Coast bias. The sophomore point guard is torching opponents to the tune of 18.6 points, 4.5 assists and four rebounds per game. He scored 40 against UNLV and 29 against Cal. Texas will need to slow him down at all cost.
Best bet for an upset: Carson, along with shot-blocking 7-2 senior Jordan Bachynski (11.1 ppg, 8.3 reb, 4.1 blocks) could make Arizona State a nightmare for No. 7 Texas.
Best matchup: N.C. State-Xavier, playing to earn the No. 12 seed in the Midwest Regional, has fight-to-the-finish written all over it.
Best coaching matchup: Xavier's Chris Mack keeps the Musketeers in the NCAA race no matter how lacking in talent they are. Mark Gottfried has led N.C. State to three straight NCA Tournaments, including the Sweet 16 in 2012.