Purdue earned the last No. 1 seed in the East region, while Indiana is a No. 4 seed in the Midwest region that also has Houston.
East Region Preview
Purdue and Marquette were far from the favorites in their own conferences going into the season. They are now the top two seeds in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament.
Big Ten regular-season and tournament champion Purdue (29-5) is a No. 1 seed for the first time since 1996, and fourth time overall.
Led by big man Zach Edey, the Boilermakers are going to the NCAA Tournament for the eighth time in a row, and 34th overall. They play Friday in Columbus, Ohio, against the winner of First Four matchup between Texas Southern and Fairleigh Dickinson.
Marquette (28-6) is in the tournament for the second year in a row for coach Shaka Smart, the coach who took VCU to the Final Four in 2011. The Golden Eagles, in consecutive tourneys for the first time since eight in a row from 2006-13, will play 15th-seeded Vermont (23-10).
If the Big East champion Golden Eagles win their opener, they would then play either No. 7 seed Michigan State (19-12) or No. 10 seed Southern California (22-10). Coach Tom Izzo and the Spartans are in their record 25th consecutive tournament.
Duke, with some standout freshmen and 35-year-old rookie head coach Jon Scheyer, takes a nine-game winning streak into the tourney after beating Virginia in the ACC Tournament title game.
The fifth-seeded Blue Devils (26-8) haven’t lost since falling in overtime on the road against Virginia on Feb. 11. They play scoring ace Max Abmas and 12th-seeded Oral Roberts (30-4).
After spending last year as the coach-in-waiting for Mike Krzyzewski’s last Final Four run, Scheyer assembled the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class that’s already got its first tournament trophy.
That first-round game Thursday in Orlando, Florida, is on the same side of the bracket as fourth-seeded Tennessee (23-10) and Louisiana-Lafayette (26-7) in its first NCAA tourney since 2014.
Considering Kentucky (21-11) was teetering on the tournament bubble in January amid speculation of Hall of Fame coach John Calipari leaving for Texas, the Wildcats weren’t going to complain about its No. 6 seeding in the East.
The task now for big man Oscar Tshiebwe and the Wildcats is winning Kentucky’s first NCAA Tournament game since 2019, a drought highlighted by last year’s epic first-round upset loss to No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s. They play No. 11 Providence (21-11) on Friday in Greensboro, North Carolina.
“What happened last year, the first time in my career. And you know what, hurt like hell,” Calipari said. “But, you move on and you move to the next. For me, this has got to be a ball because they’re going to feed off of me. They’ve got to see me (and) saying, ’he is loose and ready to go” because they’re going to feed off of me. And I’m excited about it.”
WILDCATS FROM KANSAS
First-year coach Jerome Tang has Kansas State as the No. 3 seed in its first NCAA Tournament since 2019.
After leaving Scott Drew’s side at Baylor, where he had been an assistant coach for 19 years and part of the Bears’ only national championship two years ago, Tang won 15 of his first 16 games and led the Wildcats to a 23-9 overall record while playing in the brutal Big 12.
Their first-round game Friday in Columbus is against Montana State (25-9), the Big Sky champion in consecutive NCAA tourneys for the first time.
PENNY AND THE TIGERS
Penny Hardaway played in the 1992 and 1993 NCAA tournaments in his only two seasons as a player for the school then known as Memphis State. He now has the Tigers in their second consecutive tourney as a coach.
The Tigers (26-8) won the American Athletic Conference Tournament with a 75-65 over No. 1 Houston on Sunday, and didn’t even cut down the nets in Fort Worth until after watching the selection show. The Cougars are still a No. 1 seed, in the Midwest Region.
Memphis is the eighth seed, with a difficult matchup against Conference USA champion Florida Atlantic (31-3) on Friday.
ROAD TO HOUSTON
It will be a lot harder to overlook Purdue and Marquette in March, than it was before the season began. The Boilermakers have steadied things since losing four of six games in February, and take a five-game winning streak into the NCAA Tournament.
“I think people just kind of freaked out. We were having a great season. We had the same guys the entire year,” Edey said. “Just the shots weren’t falling. None of us in our program freaked out. It was kind of just the media. We knew what we had and knew we had everything we need.”
While Smart never made it out of the first round of the NCAA in his three appearances over six seasons with Texas, Marquette could mimic his old VCU team and make a deep NCAA run on the 20th anniversary of the last of Marquette’s three Final Four appearances.
Looking for a lower see? Tennessee has wins this season over Big 12 regular-season champion Kansas, a No. 1 seed, and Big 12 tourney champ Texas, a No. 2 seed. The Volunteers also lost twice to Kentucky.
Midwest Region Preview
Houston received the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region for the NCAA Tournament on Sunday night, the selection committee rewarding the Cougars at the expense of Kansas, which had been hoping its national title defense would include a stop just down the road from its campus in Lawrence.
Instead, the top-ranked Cougars will try to reach their hometown Final Four starting off in Birmingham, Alabama, with the potential of playing a Sweet 16 game and a regional final in Kansas City, Missouri.
The Cougars (31-3) lost to Memphis in the American Athletic Conference title game Sunday. They were playing without Marcus Sasser, the league player of the year and likely All-American, who had strained his groin in the first half of their semifinals and will be a question mark leading up to Thursday’s opener against Northern Kentucky.
“The most important thing is Marcus, not winning,” Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson said about his decision to hold Sasser out Sunday. “His health going forward is the most important thing here.”
The selection committee usually takes into consideration injuries — and the possibility a team will be without a star — when it seeds the field. But chairman Chris Reynolds said Houston still earned the second overall seed over Kansas, which expects to have recovering coach Bill Self back after he missed the Big 12 Tournament, thanks to its body of work this season.
“They were competitive in all their games they lost except today,” Reynolds said, “and we understand today they weren’t with their best player. For that reason, we put Houston at No. 2 (overall).”
The No. 1 seed is the first for the Cougars since 1983, the height of their Phi Slama Jama era, when Hall of Fame coach Guy Lewis led Clyde Drexel and Co. to the first of their back-to-back national championship games.
Texas (26-8) earned the No. 2 seed in the Midwest after finishing second in the Big 12 in the regular season and romping past the Jayhawks in Saturday night’s conference title game despite missing injured forward Timmy Allen.
It was quite a reward for the Longhorns, who endured the firing of Chris Beard early in the season amid allegations of domestic violence and rallied around interim coach Rodney Terry, who led them to their most wins since 2010-11.
“We have tried to respect every opponent that we played this season with the thought in mind that every game is an NCAA Tournament game,” said Terry, whose team will play No. 15 seed Colgate on Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa.
“I thought our guys have had an incredible run this entire season,” Terry added. “Our body of work, our strength of schedule, playing in the best league in the country — you know, I think we made a good case for what came our way.”
THE REST OF THE REGION
Xavier earned the No. 3 seed and will play No. 14 seed Kennesaw State, making its first NCAA trip, on Friday in Greensboro, North Carolina. The Musketeers are in the field for the first time since 2008 in the first year of Sean Miller’s second term.
Indiana and All-America candidate Trayce Jackson Davis are the fourth seed and will play No. 13 seed Kent State in Albany, New York. Flashes coach Rob Senderoff was on then-coach Sampson’s staff at Indiana from 2006-08.
Miami earned the No. 5 seed and will play Missouri Valley champ Drake on Friday in Albany. Iowa State is seeded sixth and will play the winner of a First Four game between Mississippi State and Pittsburgh. Seventh-seeded Texas A&M will play Penn State on Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa, while eighth-seeded Iowa faces Auburn on Thursday in Birmingham.
ROAD TO HOUSTON
The Cougars have one of the nation’s best backcourts in Sasser — assuming he’s healthy — and Jamal Shead, and they have plenty of experience on the big stage, going to the Final Four two years ago and the Elite Eight last season. That makes them the heavy favorite to escape the Midwest Region and play in another Final Four at NRG Stadium.
There is plenty of star power in the Midwest, though, and that means plenty of teams that can make a run.
The Musketeers are led by star guard Souley Boom, Indiana twice beat Purdue this season, Miami has high-scoring Isaiah Wong and Iowa State and Texas A&M played in two of the nation’s toughest leagues in the Big 12 and SEC.
“We do not have the best players; we have never had the best players,” Aggies coach Buzz Williams said. “We do not have the best coaches, I’m for sure not the best coach. But I don’t think our program is built on I’m trying to be the best coach or this player is trying to be the best player. We’re trying to be the best team that we can be.”