A preview of the NCAA tournament’s South Regional.
FRIDAY :: CHARLOTTE
1 Duke (29-4, at-large) vs.
16 Play-in winner (see matchup below)
The Blue Devils fell to Notre Dame in the ACC tournament but still remain close to home as a top seed. Jahlil Okafor, the best freshman in the nation, averages 17.7 points and nine rebounds.
8 San Diego State (26-8, at-large) vs.
9 St. John’s (21-11, Big East)
The Aztecs play some of the toughest defense around. They need to, averaging only 61.8 points. St. John’s big man Chris Obekpa has been suspended two weeks for violating team rules.
THURSDAY :: PORTLAND
5 Utah (24-8, at-large) vs.
12 Stephen F. Austin (29-4, Southland champion)
The Utes dropped a last-second stunner to Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament and now face a dangerous Stephen F. Austin team that has March Madness experience with a first-round win last year.
4 Georgetown (21-10, at-large) vs.
13 Eastern Washington (26-8, Big Sky champion)
Georgetown, a bit of a surprise at the No. 4 seed, is led by D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera’s 16.2 points a game. Eastern Washington makes its first NCAA tournament appearance in more than a decade.
THURSDAY :: LOUISVILLE
6 Southern Methodist (27-6, American Athletic champion)
vs. 11 UCLA (20-13, at-large)
Former UCLA coach Larry Brown returns to the Big Dance with his third different program. Sophomore guard Nic Moore leads the Mustangs with a 14.3-point average.
3 Iowa State (25-8, Big 12 champion) vs.
14 Alabama Birmingham (19-15, Conference USA champion)
Iowa State relies on Georges Niang, a power forward who can play inside and hit the three. Freshmen Nick Norton and William Lee have made big contributions for UAB.
FRIDAY :: SEATTLE
7 Iowa (21-11, at-large) vs.
10 Davidson (24-7, at-large)
Iowa finished strong to reach the tournament for the second consecutive season. Davidson is led by Atlantic 10 player of the year Tyler Kalinoski.
2 Gonzaga (32-2, West Coast champion) vs.
15 North Dakota State (23-9, Summitt champion)
The Bulldogs have Final Four talent with Kevin Pangos and Kyle Wiltjer, but face a tough draw. The Bison, who shoot 38% from three-point range, reached the second round last year.
PLAY-IN GAME FOR NO. 16 :: WEDNESDAY :: DAYTON, OHIO
North Florida (23-11, Atlantic Sun champion)
vs. Robert Morris (19-14, Northeast champion)
North Florida makes its March Madness debut after 10 seasons at the Division I level. Robert Morris is led by guards Rodney Pryor and Marcquise Reed, who average a combined 30 points.
Sorting the seeds
1) Duke: Jahlil Okafor isn’t the only weapon in the Blue Devils’ arsenal. With Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones, they feature the kind of backcourt that comes in handy this time of year.
2) Gonzaga: The Bulldogs have reached the NCAA tournament in 17 consecutive seasons but have yet to survive a regional final.
3) Iowa State: The Cylcones built some momentum with a comeback win over Kansas in the Big 12 Conference tournament final.
4) Georgetown: The Hoyas will need their three freshman starters — L.J. Peak, Jabril Trawick and Isaac Copeland — to play like veterans.
The Eastern Washington Eagles shocked Indiana in Bloomington earlier this season and get a Georgetown program with plenty of recent tournament woes.
Jahlil Okafor, center, Duke
The first freshman in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference to be named player of the year, the 6-11 Okafor also has a good chance of becoming the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft this summer.
Tyler Harvey, guard, Eastern Washington
The 6-4 junior from Torrance leads the nation in scoring with 22.9 points a game and now gets to show his stuff on a national stage.
Delon Wright, guard, Utah
The 6-5 senior from Leuzinger High — by way of City College of San Francisco — leads his team with averages of 14.9 points and 5.3 assists a game.
The South Region has four of the top eight teams in offensive efficiency — Duke, Gonzaga, Iowa State and Davidson — according to the KenPom rankings.
It was just a year ago that the Stephen F. Austin mascot — think Brawny paper towel guy in a sleeveless flannel shirt and jeans, with a mullet — went viral. Now, as the Lumberjacks return in the tournament, he gets another 15 minutes of fame.
Duke has been on a roll — not counting its ACC tournament loss — since kicking junior guard Rasheed Sulaimon off the team for conduct issues in late January. It was the first time in his 35-year tenure that Coach Mike Krzyzewski dismissed a player.