BEST TEAM: VIRGINIA
The Cavaliers were selected to be the top overall seed for good reason. They are the unanimous No.1-ranked team in the country. In the ACC, the toughest and deepest conference, they won the regular season and tournament championships with the only mark a one-point overtime loss. Virginia allows the fewest points (53.4 per game) and makes the fewest mistakes (8.6 turnovers). And as acknowledged b y their foes at the ACC tourney this week in Brooklyn, those two factors have the psychological impact of making modest deficits seem nearly insurmountable. Playmakers Ty Jerome and Devon Hall have an aggregate 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and go-to scorer Kyle Guy makes 40 percent on three-pointers. It’s a team that knows itself and plays to its strengths.
BEST POTENTIAL MATCHUP: VIRGINIA vs. CINCINNATI
The South Regional final in Atlanta could bring top-seeded Virginia and second-seeded Cincinnati together for one of the all-time defensive battles. The Cavaliers allow a national-best 53.4 points per game. The Bearcats rank second, allowing 55.4 points per game. If they both arrive, Virginia will have 34 wins and Cincinnati 33. The Bearcats average more than 10 points better on offense this season, but haven’t been tested as often as the Cavs.
BEST BET TO SPRING AN UPSET: LOYOLA-CHICAGO
The 11th-seeded Ramblers (28-5) are an interesting study because they are strong on both ends of the court. When they have the ball, they make 50.7 percent of their shots, which ranks third in the country. On defense they allow a meager 62.2 points, which ranks fifth in the nation. Plus they are laden with upper classmen and balanced with five players averaging double figures in scoring. More to the point in its first-round matchup with No. 6 Miami, Loyola is exactly where a mid-major entering the tournament wants to be: playing its best basketball of the season. They roll in having won 17 of 18 and 10 straight where they’ve shot an aggregate 54 percent from the floor. Miami is playing the worst it has played this season, having split its last eight including losses to Boston College and Syracuse.
GO-TO GUY: DEANDRE AYTON, ARIZONA
With all due respect to Duke Marvin Bagley III, Ayton is very likely the biggest talent in college basketball. He has capped a season that likely has him ticketed for the No. 1 pick in the coming NBA draft with 32 points each in the Pac-12 semifinals against UCLA and final against USC, so he is a player who rises to the occasion. The 7-foot-1, 250-pounder is averaging 20.3 points on 62 percent shooting and 11.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocked shots. He has scored 20 or more 17 times and has 23 double-doubles this season.
BEST COACHING MATCHUP: KENTUCKY vs. DAVIDSON
Savvy Davidson coach Bob McKillop — who got his start in coaching at Long Island Lutheran and Holy Trinity — had a team that started 5-6. He installed a zone defense and it won 16 of its next 21, including wins over St. Bonaventure and URI to steal the Atlantic 10 crown. He has conference Co-Player of the Year Peyton Aldridge in the middle and Freshman of the Year Kellan Grady on the wing in an ensemble that ranks 24th in shooting and made the second-fewest turnovers this season. Kentucky’sJohn Calipari’s track record is a known quantity. As usual he is making the most of a team that has potential first-round NBA picks in Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hamidou Diallo.
BEST GUARD/PLAYMAKER: MARCUS FOSTER, CREIGHTON
Foster inflicts damage on opponents with his speed on the floor and accuracy shooting the 3-point shot. He averaged 20.3 points on 49 percent shooting this season for the Bluejays and also 3.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists. He scored 25 points or more in eight games and made three or more 3-pointers in 19. A first-team all-Big East selection, Foster teams with Khyri Thomas to make one of the conference’s best backcourts.
BEST BIG MAN: KEVIN KNOX, KENTUCKY
Considered a lottery pick for the coming NBA Draft, Knox has found consistency late in the season and the dynamic big man goes into the tournament averaging 15.6 points. The 6-9, 215-pounder is versatile as a scorer inside the arc, where he shoots 51 percent from the floor, but he is also able to stretch defenses with a range that has allowed him to make 53 3-pointers.
BEST PLAYER YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF: D’MARCUS SIMONDS, GEORGIA STATE
The last time Georgia State was in the NCAA Tournament it staged a first-round upset of third-seeded Baylor behind the play of guard R.J. Hunter. Well, the Panthers have another top-flight guard and are back in the Big Dance. Simonds, a 6-3 sophomore, averages 20.9 points and is more of a penetrating and passing sort of guard. He averages 4.5 assists and 5.8 rebounds to boot. He has four games this season when he scored 30 or more.
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