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NCAA tournament preview: Midwest Regional

A look at the NCAA tournament's Midwest Regional:

TOP SEEDS

1 VIRGINIA: The Cavaliers are a surprise No. 1 seed after losing to North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final. They give up just 59.7 points per game.

2 MICHIGAN STATE: This is the team most people figured had earned a No. 1 slot with a victory over Purdue for the Big Ten tournament title.

3 UTAH: The Pac-12’s Conference second-best team relies on 7-foot sophomore Jakob Poeltl from that basketball hotbed of Vienna.

4 IOWA STATE: Averaging 81.8 points, the Cyclones rank among the top offensive teams in the nation.

CINDERELLA SEARCH

Iona might not go deep in this tournament, but should be entertaining: The Gaels rank 10th in three-pointers and 225th in scoring defense.

TOP PLAYERS

Denzel Valentine, guard, Michigan St.

Not only is Valentine a co-favorite with Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield for player of the year, but he also has people talking about seniors rather than freshmen this March.

Jakob Poeltl, center, Utah

It looks like Poeltl made the right decision to stay in school another year, boosting his NBA prospects by averaging 17.6 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks a game this season.

A.J. English, guard, Iona

The 6-4 senior might not be a household name, but has a chance to show people why he ranks among the Top 10 scorers in the nation at 22.4 points per game.

RIM SHOTS

In his third season at Texas Tech, Tubby Smith becomes the second coach to lead five programs to the tournament. The other is Lon Kruger.

Syracuse has been riding a roller coaster with big wins early, a nine-game suspension for Coach Jim Boeheim and losses in five of its last six games.

Hampton Coach Ed Joyner Jr. provided one of the best moments of the 2015 tournament when he pretended to call upon a higher power during a news conference. “I told you I had Jesus on speed dial,” he told reporters.

If the name Domantas Sabonis sounds familiar, that’s because the Gonzaga forward is the son of NBA Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis.

THE PAIRINGS

1 Virginia (26-7, At-large) vs. Hampton (21-10, Mid-Eastern Athletic champ)

Virginia might be a controversial top seed, but the Cavaliers can play at both ends of the court. Hampton is led by senior guard Reginald Johnson Jr.

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8 Texas Tech (19-12, At-large) vs. 9 Butler (21-10, At-large)

The Red Raiders started Big 12 Conference play at 3-7 before getting hot. Butler has put aside its tradition of defense for a high-scoring attack.

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5 Purdue (26-8, At-large) vs. 12 Arkansas-Little Rock (29-4, Sun Belt champion)

Purdue has added blue-chip freshman Caleb Swanigan to an already imposing front line. Look for Arkansas-Little Rock — the other Trojans — to make use of a deep bench.

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4 Iowa State (21-11, At-large) vs. 13 Iona (22-10, Metro Atlantic champion)

Iowa State’s veteran offense should be tough to defend for a small-conference opponent that gave up an average of almost 74 points a game this season.

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6 Seton Hall (25-8, Big East champion) vs. 11 Gonzaga (26-7, West Coast champion)

Seton Hall guard Isaiah Whitehead leads a dangerously efficient team against a Gonzaga squad that relies on big men Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer.

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3 Utah (26-8, At-large) vs. 14 Fresno State (25-9, Mountain West champion)

Utah must rebound from a lopsided loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament final. Fresno State makes its first tournament appearance since the late Jerry Tarkanian was coach in 2001.

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7 Dayton (25-7, At-large)vs. 10 Syracuse (19-13, At-large)

The Flyers rank among the better defensive squads in the field. Syracuse will have to prove to the critics that it deserves a 10th seed … or even a spot in the tournament.

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2 Michigan State (29-5, Big Ten champion) vs. 15 Middle Tennessee (24-9, Conference USA champion)

Both teams won their conference tournaments but that is where the similarities end. Big Ten Conference champion Michigan State was snubbed for the No. 1 seed.

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