Best potential matchup: Kentucky vs. Wichita State
The Selection Committee just had to do this, right? Three years ago, Wichita State entered the NCAA Tournament undefeated, earned a No. 1 seed and fell to No. 8 Kentucky in one of the most thrilling tournament games of the last decade. This potential rematch would create quite the story line.
Like Kentucky was in 2014, Wichita State is under-seeded this year. The Shockers are 30-4 with no bad losses but only two quality wins over Illinois State, which is why the committee seeded them at No. 10. But the advanced metrics love the Shockers (No. 8 in Kenpom, No. 11 in Sagarin) almost as much as Kentucky (No. 4, No. 5), so don’t be surprised to see a line close to even if these teams meet in the second round.
Best bet to spring an upset: Middle Tennessee (No. 12)
You remember Middle Tennessee from last year. The No. 15 Blue Raiders blew out No. 2 Michigan State, and they returned nearly everyone from that team. This group is experienced, has strong guard play and matches Minnesota’s athleticism.
It’s worth noting here that No. 10 Wichita State will be favored — likely by a few points — over No. 7 Dayton, so let’s not consider that an upset pick.
Best go-to guy: Joel Berry, North Carolina
This point guard does not get enough love. Because he shares a court with ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson and a position with potential lottery picks Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz, Dennis Smith and De’Aaron Fox, Berry often gets overlooked. But he is an absolute stud. If you need your team to settle down or someone to make a play, there are few players in the country who do that as well as Berry.
Best coaching matchup: Dayton vs. Wichita State
Dayton’s Archie Miller and Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall are annually two of the hottest names on the coaching carousel because they can flat-out coach. Marshall, who earned his sixth straight NCAA Tournament appearance, took Wichita State to the Final Four in 2013. Miller has guided Dayton to four straight NCAA Tournaments, including the 2014 Elite Eight.
Wichita State is the favorite despite the higher seeding, but count on Miller to have a plan that could keep the game interesting. At the very least, he should probably do better than his brother Sean, who coaches Arizona. The Wildcats were a No. 6 seed last year and faced an under-seeded Wichita State team in the first round. The Shockers won by 10 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated.
Best big man: Andrew Chrabascz, Butler
Chrabascz does not have many physical attributes that will catch your attention, but he is one of those versatile power forwards who does a little bit of everything well. He is averaging 11 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. He is Butler’s best passer. He might not have the leaping ability or explosivity to make up for being somewhat undersized at 6-7, but keep an eye on him. His game will impress you.
Best guard/playmaker: Lonzo Ball, UCLA
Ball injured his hand in UCLA’s Pac-12 semifinal loss, but if he is healthy, there is no one better at making plays for his teammates. Ball is a projected top-5 pick in this June’s NBA Draft because he is a long 6-6, has incredible court vision and can drop buckets from anywhere, even if he has a funky release. The freshman led the country with 7.7 assists per game.
Best player you’ve never heard of: Keon Johnson, Winthrop
There is a good chance Johnson will become your favorite player in the NCAA Tournament — at least for a day, maybe more if you pick Winthrop to upset Butler. He is just 5-7, which adds to his appeal, but he also converted 94 of 235 three-pointers (40 percent) this year. If he gets hot, Butler could be in trouble.
Best team: North Carolina
Kentucky has a strong case here, with more NBA talent than North Carolina and an 11-game winning streak. Plus Kentucky beat UNC, 103-100, in December. But UNC holds a slight edge because of the eye test. Kentucky has struggled with teams such as Alabama, Georgia and Texas A&M recently. The Tar Heels, whose only losses since the beginning of February came to Duke twice and Virginia once, throttled their far superior competition down the stretch.