NCAA tournament preview: Midwest Region

Previewing the NCAA tournament Midwest region where Kentucky and Kansas could match up again

A preview of the NCAA tournament's Midwest Regional:

THURSDAY :: LOUISVILLE, Ky.

1 Kentucky (34-0, Southeastern champion) vs.

16 Play-in winner (See matchup below)

Kentucky, the tournament’s top overall seed, has a deep roster. No men’s team has finished with a perfect season since Indiana in 1976.

8 Cincinnati (22-10, at-large) vs.

9 Purdue (21-12, at-large)

With Cincinnati Coach Mick Cronin sidelined for health reasons, interim Coach Larry Davis has helped the low-scoring Bearcats (62.5 points per game) grind out another tournament berth.

THURSDAY :: PITTSBURGH

5 West Virginia (23-9, at-large) vs.

12 Buffalo (23-9, Mid-American champion)

Mountaineers’ defense leads the nation with 10.9 steals per game. Buffalo makes its first-ever tournament appearance behind a high-scoring offense.

4 Maryland (27-6, at-large) vs.

13 Valparaiso (28-5, Horizon champion)

Maryland makes first appearance since 2010. Valparaiso, coached by March Madness hero Bryce Drew, is one of five Indiana teams in the Midwest.

FRIDAY :: COLUMBUS, OHIO

6 Butler (22-10, at-large) vs.

11 Texas (20-13, at-large)

Butler has defeated five ranked teams, including North Carolina in November. Texas, in the midst of an erratic season, has dropped nine of last 15 games.

14 Northeastern (23-11, Colonial Athletic champion)

vs. 7 Wichita State (28-4, at-large)

Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey transformed last season’s 17-loss team into a juggernaut that won the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Northeastern hasn’t appeared in the tournament since 1991.

FRIDAY :: OMAHA

10 Indiana (20-13, at-large) vs.

2 Kansas (26-8, at-large)

The Jayhawks’ difficult bracket starts with the Aggies. Kansas’ leading scorer, Perry Ellis, returned from a knee injury to play in the Big 12 tournament.

15 New Mexico State (23-10, Western Athletc champion)

vs. 3 Notre Dame (29-5, Atlantic Coast champion)

The Shockers bring one of the country’s toughest defenses, limiting opponents to 55.8 points. Indiana survived the tournament’s bubble.

PLAY-IN GAME FOR NO. 16 :: TUESDAY :: DAYTON, OHIO

Manhattan (19-13, Metro Atlantic champion)vs. Hampton (16-17, Mid-Eastern Ath. champion)

Coached by former Kentucky player Steve Masiello, Manhattan, after a slow start, makes its second consecutive tournament appearance.

Sorting the seeds

1) Kentucky: The Wildcats are the third undefeated team to enter the tournament since 1991. Wichita State last year and Nevada Las Vegas in 1991 are the others.

2) Kansas: After a 32-point loss to Kentucky in November, the Jayhawks rebounded to win their 11th straight Big 12 title and finish second at the conference tournament.

3) Notre Dame: The high-scoring Irish averaged 78.8 points per game — 12th in the nation — to go along with the second-best field goal percentage (51%).

4) Maryland: The Terrapins have been on a late-season roll, winning eight of their last nine games. That includes last month’s upset of Wisconsin.

Cinderella search

Buffalo, coached by former Duke standout Bobby Hurley, ranks among the country’s top 30 teams in scoring (75 points per game) and rebounding (38.5 per game).

Top players

Jerian Grant, guard, Notre Dame

The son of former NBA player Harvey Grant delivered a typical performance in the ACC tournament final: 24 points and 10 assists in the win against North Carolina.

Karl-Anthony Towns, forward, Kentucky

The 6-foot-11 freshman averages 9.8 points per game for a deep team and is generally considered one of the top two prospects for this year’s NBA draft.

Melo Trimble, guard, Maryland

One of the country’s top freshmen, Trimble scored in double figures in 30 of the Terrapins’ 33 games this season and led the team in assists and steals.

Rim shots

In Maryland’s first year in the Big Ten, the school improved by nine wins from last season. That earned Mark Turgeon the conference’s coach of the year honor.

Two freshmen in the region — Myles Turner of Texas and Kelly Oubre Jr. of Kansas — are expected to be top-15 picks in this year’s NBA draft, in addition to Kentucky’s Towns.

Kansas freshman forward Cliff Alexander, a key member of the Jayhawks’ rotation, has missed the last six games because of NCAA eligibility concerns.

Ten Kentucky players stand 6-foot-6 or taller — four of them are at least 6-10.

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