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March Madness regional breakdowns: Teams and players to watch

UCLA's David Singleton celebrates after the Bruins' win over Colorado.
UCLA’s David Singleton celebrates after the Bruins’ win over Colorado in the Pac-12 tournament. UCLA opens the NCAA tournament Thursday against North Carolina Asheville in the West Regional in Sacramento.
(Ethan Miller / Getty Images)
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UCLA secured a No. 2 seed in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament Sunday and will play 15th-seeded North Carolina Asheville in the first round of the West Regional on Thursday in Sacramento, as the Bruins continue their quest to win their first national championship since 1995.

USC made the tournament as a No. 10 seed and will play No. 7 Michigan State in the first round of the East Regional in Columbus, Ohio, on Friday.

Fourteenth-seeded UC Santa Barbara (27-7), the Big West conference co-champion, will play No. 3 Baylor in a South Region showdown Friday in Denver.

March Madness is upon us. Here’s everything you need to know about the 2023 NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.

March 25, 2023

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The second-ranked Bruins (29-5) lost to Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament championship game for the second straight year Saturday, stifling their chances of landing a No. 1 seed. USC (22-10) fell to Arizona State in the quarterfinals.

Alabama, Houston, Kansas and Purdue are the top seeds.

The UCLA-North Carolina Asheville game is scheduled at 7:05 p.m. PDT (truTV) on Thursday. USC-Michigan State is scheduled for 9:15 a.m. PDT on Friday (CBS) and UC Santa Barbara-Baylor is set for 10:30 a.m. PDT on Friday (TNT).

Thirty-one teams received automatic bids and 37 teams comprised the rest of the at-large pool. The tournament tips off Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. PDT in Dayton, Ohio, with the First Four games. The first round starts Thursday at 9 a.m. PDT. Here’s what you need to know about each regional.

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WEST REGION

Kansas forward Jalen Wilson shoots in front of Texas forward Timmy Allen.
Kansas forward Jalen Wilson shoots in front of Texas forward Timmy Allen during the Big 12 conference tournament championship Saturday.
(Eric Gay / Associated Press)

No. 1 Kansas: The defending national champion Jayhawks earned their fifth No. 1 seeding since 2016 and 16th overall despite suffering their largest Big 12 tournament loss in the final to Texas. Only North Carolina (17) has been seeded No. 1 more often.

No. 2 UCLA: Falling to Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament final and injuries to senior Jaylen Clark and freshman Adem Bona might have cost the Bruins a No. 1 seed.

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No. 3 Gonzaga: The Bulldogs have reached the NCAA tournament in each of coach Mark Few’s 24 seasons but have never won a championship.

No. 4 Connecticut: The Huskies won their first 14 games and nine of their last 10 before losing 70-68 to Marquette in the Big East tournament semifinals.

Cinderella search

No. 12 seed Virginia Commonwealth outscored Dayton by 18 points in the second half of the Atlantic 10 tournament final and has won nine games in a row. Saint Mary’s is a good draw and VCU could storm to the Sweet 16 to face Kansas.

Top players

Jalen Wilson, forward, Kansas: The Big 12 player of the year won’t be drafted nearly as high as freshman teammate Gradey Dick, but he’s capable of shooting Kansas into the Final Four.

Drew Timme, forward, Gonzaga: The Bulldogs’ all-time leading scorer is another exceptional college player who triggers yawns from NBA scouts, but he’s a senior leader and crafty low-post scorer.

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Jaime Jaquez Jr., guard, UCLA: The Pac-12 player of the year is a probable second-round NBA pick whose physicality and ability to create midrange shots are central to UCLA’s title hopes.

Rim shots

  • Kansas coach Bill Self missed the Big 12 tournament after going to the hospital Wednesday night complaining of chest tightness and balance concerns. He was discharged Sunday and said he planned to coach in the NCAA tournament.
  • No. 8 seed Arkansas could have as many as five players picked in this year’s NBA draft, led by freshman guard Nick Smith Jr., who could be the first college player taken. Anthony Black is another potential first-round pick.
  • Howard ended a 31-year NCAA drought with a 65-64 win over Norfolk State in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference final. The Bison were 4-29 in coach Kenny Blakeney’s first season in 2019-20.

— Steve Henson

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MIDWEST REGION

Indiana forward Trayce Jackson-Davis controls the ball against Iowa on Feb. 28.
(Doug McSchooler / Associated Press)

No. 1 Houston: The Cougars are awaiting the return of Marcus Sasser, who leads them in scoring and is having an All-American-type season. He’s hobbled by a groin strain.

No. 2 Texas: The Longhorns, who went more than two decades without a Big 12 tournament title, have won two of the last three and handled Kansas with surprising ease in this year’s final.

No. 3 Xavier: Sean Miller, in his second coaching stint at Xavier, has led the school back to the tournament. His team reached the Elite Eight in 2008.

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No. 4 Indiana: After missing the tournament five years in a row (it was not held in 2020), the Hoosiers are back in it for a second consecutive season under second-year coach Mike Woodson.

Cinderella search

Tucker DeVries, a 6-foot-7 guard and son of Drake coach Darian DeVries, averaged 19 points for the Bulldogs this season and has had some big games lately. He’s key to the success of that upset-minded team.

Top players

Trayce Jackson-Davis, forward, Indiana: Jackson-Davis was among college basketball’s best players this season, averaging 20.5 points and 11 rebounds per game.

Jalen Pickett, guard, Penn State: The All-Big Ten first-teamer is shooting 56.6% and averaging 20 points over the last 10 games for the Nittany Lions.

Marcus Sasser, guard, Houston: Sasser, still recovering from a groin injury that kept him out of the conference tournament final, is averaging 17.5 points, 3.3 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.8 steals this season.

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Rim shots

  • Kennesaw State went 1-28 in 2019-20, meaning it is the fastest program in history to go from a one-win season to the NCAA tournament.
  • Rodney Terry has made a splash as interim coach of the Texas Longhorns, taking over after Chris Beard was fired in January.
  • As a team, Houston is steeped in sadness. Coach Kelvin Sampson’s twin sister, Karen, died Friday morning, a few hours before the top-ranked Cougars opened the AAC tournament.

— Sam Farmer

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SOUTH REGION

Alabama forward Brandon Miller drives to the basket during a win.
Alabama forward Brandon Miller drives to the basket during a win over Missouri in the SEC conference tournament semifinals on Saturday.
(John Amis / Associated Press)

No. 1 Alabama: The Crimson Tide earned a top seed for the first time in school history. The nation’s foremost football power is in uncharted territory as the No. 1 overall seed.

No. 2 Arizona: The Wildcats were a popular pick to win the national championship last season as a No. 1 seed, but maybe this will be the year they return to the Final Four for the first time since 2001. Arizona’s win over UCLA on Saturday night should give them quite a confidence boost.

No. 3 Baylor: Does Scott Drew’s program have any magic left over from its run to the 2021 national championship claimed during the unprecedented COVID-plagued NCAA tournament?

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No. 4 Virginia: The Cavaliers missed out on last year’s NCAA tournament and will be hungry to make some noise again just four years removed from their 2019 national title.

Cinderella search

No. 15 seed Princeton being matched up in the first round with a Pac-12 power in No. 2 seed Arizona is bringing back memories of its historic 1996 upset of UCLA. The Tigers beat a quality Yale team in the Ivy League tournament.

Top players

Brandon Miller, forward, Alabama: All eyes will be focused on Miller, the projected top-five NBA draft pick who has been a cooperating witness in the murder case of 23-year-old Jamea Harris. Despite public pressure, Alabama has remained committed to playing Miller, who has not been charged with a crime.

Azuolas Tubelis, forward, Arizona: Tubelis missed out on Pac-12 player of the year, which went to UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr., but he’s still one of the best players in the country when he’s locked in.

Kihei Clark, point guard, Virginia: Clark, who played high school ball at Taft in Woodland Hills, is a steady fifth-year senior leader for Virginia and helps set the tone for Tony Bennett’s squad.

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Rim shots

  • No. 5 seed San Diego State can always lean on its defense. On Saturday in the Mountain West title game, the Aztecs trailed by 11 at halftime but came back by holding Utah State without a field goal for nine minutes in the second half.
  • UC Santa Barbara is led by Ajay Mitchell, the Big West player of the year. Mitchell is from Belgium and played professionally there before joining the Gauchos.
  • Arizona point guard Kerr Kriisa, who averages 5.2 assists per game, played with a balky shoulder in the Pac-12 tournament. The Wildcats need him to be healthy.

— J. Brady McCollough

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EAST REGION

Purdue's Zach Edey dunks against Ohio State in the Big Ten conference tournament on Saturday.
(Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press)

No. 1 Purdue: The Boilermakers have not made a Final Four since 1980. They also have not won a national championship. This will be their best chance yet to break through.

No. 2 Marquette: Shaka Smart has experienced a renaissance in Milwaukee, where the Golden Eagles are thinking big. Marquette, led by Tyler Kolek, plays brilliant team basketball.

No. 3 Kansas State: The Wildcats emerged from the bruising Big 12 with legitimate Final Four hopes. Scoring point guard Markquis Nowell can keep them in any game, but Florida transfer Keyontae Johnson’s energy will be the key to advancing.

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No. 4 Tennessee: The Volunteers lost four of their last seven games and appear likely to be the latest Rick Barnes-coached team to bow out early in March Madness.

Cinderella search

No. 12 seed Oral Roberts is back in the NCAA tournament after taking a year off. The last time the Golden Eagles made it, as a No. 15 seed in 2021, they went to the Sweet 16. This year’s team features the same electric star, guard Max Abmas.

Top players

Zach Edey, center, Purdue: No player in the country improved more from last year than Purdue’s 7-foot-4 center, who brings a Yao Ming feel to Big Ten arenas. Edey has carried the Boilermakers all season and should be the consensus national player of the year.

Kyle Filipowski, forward, Duke: The ACC rookie of the year, Filipowski is the top threat on the Blue Devils, who just put it together to win the ACC tournament. At 7 feet tall, he is the rare talent who can play inside and outside.

Oscar Tshiebwe, center, Kentucky: Tshiebwe is a force inside, averaging 16.5 points and 13.1 rebounds. If the Wildcats are going to make up for last year’s first-round upset to Saint Peter’s, he’s going to lead the way.

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Rim shots

  • No. 10 seed USC will get an early introduction to its Big Ten basketball future, facing No. 7 seed Michigan State and the dean of Big Ten coaches, Tom Izzo, in Big Ten city Columbus, Ohio.
  • Providence star forward Bryce Hopkins transferred from first-round opponent Kentucky, where he couldn’t crack the depth chart. He averages 16.1 points and 8.5 rebounds for the Friars.
  • Darius Brown II is a Pasadena High alum who plays for Montana State. He is fifth nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.16).

— J. Brady McCollough

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