Averaging 20.3 points and 11.5 rebounds this season, Ayton is the most physically talented player in the 68-team field. And in basketball — more so than any other sport — star power can lead teams to national titles.
March Madness regional previews
Man, Coug fans had it good for a while. Former Washington State coach Tony Bennett continues to prove he is one of the better basketball minds in the nation. Now coaching Virginia, Bennett leads a team that leads the nation in scoring defense (53.4 ppg) and fewest turnovers (8.6 per game). The Cavaliers are real, folks. At 31-2, Virginia is well deserving of the No. 1 overall seed — especially after knocking off North Carolina in the ACC championship game. But that doesn’t mean Virginia has a clear path. If the Cavaliers meet second-seeded Cincinnati in the Elite Eight, the country will be treated to the nation’s best defenses going head to head. And that’s assuming Arizona and Deandre Ayton and the fourth-seeded Arizona Wildcats don’t upset Virginia in the Sweet 16.
By the numbers
37.1 Cincinnati’s opponents’ field-goal percentage, which ranks second in Division I behind Michigan State. Virginia, meanwhile, is third at 37.5 percent.
28 The number of NCAA tournament games Arizona coach Sean Miller has won despite never making the Final Four.
1965 The last year Buffalo made the NCAA tournament.
No. 1 Virginia: The Cavaliers are a legitimate threat to win this whole thing. They proved themselves to be the best of the ACC, and though not stacked with lottery-pick talent, have veterans who know how to win.
No. 2 Cincinnati: The Bearcats feature low-post power Gary Clark, who has racked up 12.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game while shooting better than 50 percent from the field. And while offense gets the headlines, defense tends to win. When you allow a mere 57.2 points per game, you’re going to have a chance to win. Cincinnati has a history of being upset as a high seed. This could be the year it sheds that reputation.
No. 4 Arizona: The Wildcats have freshman sensation Deandre Ayton, who tallied 32 points and 18 rebounds in the Pac-12 tournament title game. Averaging 20.3 points and 11.5 rebounds this season, Ayton is the most physically talented player in the 68-team field. And in basketball — more so than any other sport — star power can lead teams to national titles.
No. 14 Wright State: Watch out for Wright State. The Rowdy Raiders went 25-9, won the Horizon League and finished with the best record in program history.
No. 5 Kentucky: Not sure if you can call an eight-time national champion program a “sleeper,” but as a 5-seed, the Wildcats may be just that. Stacked with talent, Kentucky has won seven of its past eight games and committed just 24 turnovers in its past three games. Pay no mind to the seed when it comes to the Wildcats. They’re perpetually capable of a national title.
Headed for a fall
No 3. Tennessee: The Volunteers can beat almost anybody, as proved by their wins over Kentucky (twice) and Purdue. But they can also lose to anybody, such as to Auburn, Alabama and Georgia. In the Big Dance, Tennessee will face a Wright State team teeming with talent. You want to score points in your bracket? Predict a Volunteer loss.
Deandre Ayton, Arizona: Can’t write enough about him. The consensus is that the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick will be either him or Duke’s Marvin Bagley III. And though Bagley has a more refined game, you simply won’t find a more “freakish” athlete than Ayton.
Tony Bennett, Virginia: This is an easy one. Some coaches are gifted recruiters. And others can coach up juniors and seniors to the point that their teams are allowing just 53.4 points per game. That’s what Bennett has done with his Cavaliers, who might not make a lot of SportsCenter Top 10s, but nabbed the top overall seed with their defensive tenacity.
Best players you may not have heard of
Devon Hall has been a quiet force for Virginia, averaging 12.0 points while shooting .452 from three-point range. That’s a ridiculous percentage.
Clayton Custer (13.4 ppg) has been the top scorer for 11th-seeded Loyola Chicago.
Dusan Ristic: There’s another 7-footer who is giving foes hell in Tucson. Ristic is averaging 12.1 points and seven rebounds for the Wildcats … and also shooting .429 from deep.
And the winner is …
Arizona: It defies logic, but I have to go with the Wildcats. I realize how shut-down Virginia’s defense is, but UA’s Ayton has been unstoppable the past few weeks.