Last year, Villanova was known as a team who annually underachieved in the NCAA tournament. Now, not only are they the defending national champs, they have a great shot at getting back to the Final Four as this region’s top seed.

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March Madness regional previews

East | West | Midwest | South

First glance

Last year, Villanova was known as a team who annually underachieved in the NCAA tournament. But oh what a difference a year makes. Not only are they the defending national champs, they have a great shot at getting back to the Final Four as this region’s top seed.

At any rate, no one will be questioning any more if Villanova coach Jay Wright is capable of leading a team to a Final Four.

By the numbers

5 National titles won by coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke

21.0 Scoring average of South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell, tops in the region

55.6 Points Virginia allows per game, tops in NCAA Div. I

The contenders

No. 1 Villanova

The Wildcats lost two starters from last year’s team but have a better record (31-3) this season. Their top scorer, guard Josh Hart, is a senior, as is Kris Jenkins, who hit the game-winning shot in last year’s national championship win over North Carolina. A well-rounded team, and the Wildcats gained invaluable experience in last year’s title run.

No. 2 Duke

The Blue Devils have been up-and-down all season, finishing fifth in the ACC, then winning the conference tournament title. Team is 23-5 in games with Coach K. They were 4-3 when he was out after having back surgery.

Not thinking this is one of Coach K’s better teams, but you should never overlook a team he coaches.

No. 5 Virginia

With the nation’s No. 1 defense, the Cavaliers are in almost every game. Coached by Tony Bennett, the former Washington State coach, the Cavaliers have recovered from four straight losses during February, including two in overtime, but they have a tough opener against UNC Wilmington.

The sleepers

No. 6 Southern Methodist

The Mustangs have won 16 straight, and easily beat Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference tournament title game.

No. 12 North Carolina Wilmington

The Seahawks led No. 2 seed Duke at halftime in a first-round game last year. Most of their top players returned and they are very capable of winning at least a couple of games.

Headed for a fall

No. 3 Baylor

The Bears were a No. 3 seed in 2015 and lost in the first round to Georgia State. Last season, they were a No. 5 seed and lost to No. 12 seed Yale. And No. 14 seed New Mexico State has a good shot at beating them in the first round this year.

Star power

Luke Kennard, Duke

No team gets more exposure than the Blue Devils, who got a fantastic season from the 6-foot-6 sophomore guard. He leads the team in scoring at 20.3 points per game, and is second on the team in rebounding (5.3) and assists (2.5) He shoots 50 percent from the field and 44.3 percent from three-point range.

Cagiest coach

Steve Forbes, East Tennessee State

The Buccaneers were in a rut when Steve Forbes was hired in 2015. Last year he led the team to a 24-12 record, tied for the program’s most wins in 24 years, then followed that with this team’s 27-7 record. In his previous head coaching job at Northwest Florida State, a junior college, he was 61-6 in two seasons.

Best players you might not have heard of

Semi Ojeleye, SMU

The 6-foot-7 junior forward, who transferred from Duke, blossomed in his first year with the Mustangs, averaging a team-leading 19.0 points, along with 6.7 rebounds a game. He averaged 3.0 points per game on Duke’s 2015 NCAA title team.

Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina

The 6-5 senior guard leads the team in scoring at 21.0 points per game, and he is also an amazing rebounder for a guard, leading the team at 7.8 per game. He is second on the team in assists (2.8) and first in steals (2.2).

T.J. Cromer, East Tennessee State

The 6-3 senior guard leads the team in scoring at 19.1 points per game and assists (3.2).

Ian Baker, New Mexico State

The 6-foot senior guard leads the team in scoring (16.0 per game), assists (4.1) and steals (1.1).

Erik Thomas, New Orleans

The 6-5 forward will be in the spotlight in the First Four, averaging a team-high 19.5 points and 7.8 rebounds, and shoots 59.1 percent from the field.

And the winner is…

Villanova

You can make a case for about 10 teams having a chance to advance, but the Wildcats will prove they deserved the top overall seed.