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Top-seeded Kentucky faces strongest region in NCAA Tournament

By Jeremy Tepper / Staff Writer

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Usually, the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament is rewarded for its success in the regular season and given the easiest path to the final four. In this year’s case, however, the selection committee gave Kentucky the top seed after going undefeated, though it is tasked with the toughest region.

In the Southwest region, Kentucky faces the most difficult two through seven seeds in this year’s tournament. 

The committee gave Kansas the No. 2 seed in the region after finishing 24-7 and losing to Iowa State in the Big 12 championship. Spearheading Kansas are junior forward Perry Ellis and sophomore guards Frank Mason III and Wayne Selden Jr. The Jayhawks’ biggest strength is their defense, as they finished with the seventh-best defensive efficiency rating, according to kenpom.com.

Notre Dame is the No. 3 seed, after finishing 26-5 and beating North Carolina in the ACC championship game. The Fighting Irish have succeeded behind their offense, as they finished 12th in the country in points per game and second in field goal percentage. Senior guards Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton lead the Irish.

Grant is one of the best players in the ACC, after averaging 16.8 points and 6.6 assists per game. Connaughton is one of the more unique guards in the country, as he averaged 7.4 rebounds a game to go along with 2.6 threes.

Rounding out seeds four through seven are Maryland, West Virginia, Butler and Wichita State. At 27-6, Maryland is perhaps the hottest of these four teams after winning eight in a row — until they lost to Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament. Maryland sports one of the best backcourts in the country with senior Dez Wells and freshman Melo Trimble, who averaged 15.4 and 16.3 points, respectively, during the season.

The region becomes even tougher when you factor Wichita State and Butler, two teams with notorious NCAA Tournament success, into the equation. Despite receiving a No. 7 seed, Wichita State finished 28-4 this year, behind the efforts of junior guards Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker.

Right below Kentucky’s Midwest region is the West region, which looks to be the weakest of the four. Wisconsin earned a well-deserved No. 1 seed after finishing 31-3 and beating Michigan State to win the Big Ten tournament. Wisconsin finished with the top offensive efficiency rating in the country, largely because of senior forward Frank Kaminsky and junior forward Sam Dekker. Kaminsky is one of the top players in the country, averaging 18.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game during the season, and is a finalist for National Player of the Year.

Arizona is the No. 2 seed in the region after finishing on an 11-game winning streak and winning the Pac-12 tournament. They’re an apt No. 2 seed, though the region goes downhill after the Wildcats.

The three through seven seeds are Baylor, North Carolina, Arkansas, Xavier and VCU. Baylor is a quality team, finishing 24-9 this year, though it’s probably not No. 3 seed caliber, as the AP top 25 poll ranked it as the 16th best team in the country.

North Carolina is a talented team, sporting a quality mix of guards and forwards. Its play, however, doesn’t live up to the talent, as UNC finished 24-11 this year.

Though Arkansas’ 26-8 record is solid, being ranked No. 21 in the country, it was rarely challenged in the weak SEC outside of games against Kentucky. 

Xavier, on the other hand, finished only 21-13 this year and sixth in the Big East conference.

Still, upsets happen every year in the NCAA Tournament, and, as March Madness continues on, the tournament seeds will mean less and less. It all comes down to how they perform on game day.

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Top-seeded Kentucky faces strongest region in NCAA Tournament