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East Region – Pittsburgh – PPG Paints Arena
#16 Radford vs. #1 Villanova (-23.5, 141) – 6:50 PM EST – TNT
Only No. 1 overall seed Virginia, Gonzaga and Cincinnati join the Wildcats as 30-win teams entering the NCAA Tournament. Villanova won the Big East Tournament after beating Providence in OT at Madison Square Garden. Half the roster has the experience of winning a national championship in 2016 to draw upon, including starters Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Phil Booth and Eric Paschall in addition to super sub Dom DiVincenzo.
Avoiding an upset against the Highlanders would mean that the top seed in the East Region squares off against the Alabama/Virginia Tech winner on Saturday afternoon.
Villanova has won 30 games for the fourth straight season, a run that began in '15 and includes the national championship-winning team that next season. The '15 team saw their season end in Pittsburgh's PPG Arena, site of the first two games of this year's NCAAs.
By most metrics, the Wildcats ranked in the Top 30 nationally in strength of schedule, while Radford, playing most of their games against Big South Conference competition, ranks at No. 249.
Wildcats point guard Jalen Brunson is an All-America candidate likely to land on the First Team. He averaged team-highs with 19.4 points and 4.7 assists while making 34 starts.
Villanova forward Mikal Bridges was named Big East Tournament MVP and averaged 18.0 points per game, second-best on the team. He shot 85 percent from the free-throw line, made a team-best 88 3-pointers and ranked first in minutes played and second in rebounds collected.
Phil Booth is often the forgotten member of Villanova's veteran group, but he actually scored a team-high 20 points in the 2016 National Championship game, hitting six of seven shots, including both 3-pointers. The Wildcats missed him when he was injured earlier this season, losing three of their four games while he was absent. Since his return to the 'Nova lineup on Feb. 28, the team is 5-0.
Donte DiVincenzo took Booth's spot in the lineup while he was out and ranks second behind Brunson in assists and steals, third in scoring (13.1) and fourth in rebounding. He provides a spark off the bench and plays with great intensity. He a
Radford won Tuesday's Opening Round game 71-61 over Long Island. The Higlanders got 13 points and 12 boards from 6-foot-5 power forward Ed Polite, Jr., who added 12 rebounds, while Travis Fields, Jr. came off the bench to add 13 points himself, draining all three of his 3-pointers.
Radford's go-to guy is Polite, a junior, but its most dynamic player is freshman point guard Carlik Jones, who sent the school to the NCAAs with a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired in the Big South championship game against Liberty. He finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists against LIU-Brooklyn and has scored in double-figures in 10 straight games.
The Highlanders suffered non-conference losses to Virginia Tech, Nevada, Ohio State, Vanderbilt and San Francisco. Their best win came against UC-Davis at Orleans Arena in the Las Vegas Classic
Radford had only a handful of games appear on the board this season and went 6-4 against the spread, which features three straight covers. The under is 7-3 in its contests. Villanova is 21-12-1 against the number. The over is 23-11 in games involving the Wildcats
South Region – Boise – Taco Bell Arena
#12 Davidson vs. #5 Kentucky (-5.5, 144) – 7:10 PM EST – CBS
The NCAA Tournament game Stephen Curry cares about more than any other sees his alma mater looking for their first win in the Big Dance since he took them to the Elite Eight a decade ago. They've lost their first game on three occasions since.
For a little while last month, it appeared that Kentucky's run of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances under John Calipari would end at four due to a four-game losing streak in SEC play. Missouri, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Auburn, all of whom went on to reach the Big Dance, took turns taking down Big Blue Nation in a stretch that Calipari has called vital to getting his team's attention and opening their eyes and ears. He's stated that they realized they needed him and his coaching, which led to a 7-1 finish and an SEC Tournament title.
Kentucky's Wildcats haven't done much damage from beyond the arc this season, but saw freshman Wenyen Gabriel catch fire in the SEC Tournament. He went 7-for-7 from 3-point range in a semifinal win over Alabama and should be the x-factor in the NCAAs since the team rarely runs offense for him. Any contributions will be a bonus and he plays hard at both ends. He's made 9-of-11 from beyond the arc.
Although Kentucky is one of the youngest teams in the country, playing seven freshmen, two sophomores and zero seniors, Davidson has its own first-year player who is vital to its cause. Kellan Grady, the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year, averages 18 points per game while shooting 51 percent from the field.
Davidson would likely have been playing in the NIT if it hadn't been for its run to the A-10 Tournament title since it would've been on the wrong side of the bubble had it lost to Rhode Island. The Rams had two looks at a game-winner but came up short, allowing the Wildcats to escape with a 58-57 win.
SEC Tournament MVP Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 29 points and 7 rebounds against Tennessee and looks like the most special of the Wildcats' many talented freshmen. Forward Kevin Knox's talent level also jumps off the page, especially when he's aggressive. If he's hitting from the perimeter, he's unguardable. br />
Davidson features the only senior leader in this matchup, so we'll see if Peyton Aldridge can impact this game. The power forward is a matchup problem due to his ability to shoot and put the ball on the floor, and he's saved his best for last, topping the 30-point mark four times since Feb. 6. He scored 45 points against St. Bonaventure to end February and is averaging 27 points and nine boards over his last five.
Kentucky excels at preventing teams from getting comfortable from 3-point range, ranking 10th in the country in percentage allowed. Davidson ranks 10th nationally with 10.7 3-pointers made per game, so expect this to be a major point of contention in this matchup.
Davidson ranks first in the nation in assist-to-turnover margin (1.76) due to the fact they're one of only a handful of teams averaging less than 10 miscues per contest.
Kentucky has won and covered in seven of its last eight games. The over is also 7-1 in those contests.
Davidson suffered double-digit losses to Virginia, North Carolina and Nevada in its most challenging non-conference tests. The Wildcats have gone 15-4 against the spread since Jan. 7.
West Region – Wichita – Intrust Bank Arena
#11 San Diego State vs. #5 Houston (-11, 135) – 7:20 PM EST – TBS
Houston is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010 and hasn't won in this event in 34 years. Kelvin Sampson's Cougars survived being displaced from their home arena this season and thrived instead, putting together one of the more successful seasons in program history since the days of Phi Slama Jama.
San Diego State is another team that would've likely been working in the NIT if not for its successful run in the Mountain West Tournament, which featured a decisive 90-73 upset over regular-season champ Nevada in the semifinals. The Aztecs then outlasted New Mexico 82-75 in the final.
The Cougars feature talented senior guard Rob Gray, one of the nation's top shooters. He averages 18.5 points per game and gets plenty of help from Corey Davis and Armoni Brooks, who each shoot over 42 percent from 3-point range and average more than a couple of makes per game. If they get hot, the Aztecs will be in trouble.
Senior guard Trey Kell is the emotional leader for the Aztecs and took over in the defining stretch of the Mountain West championship game, assertively putting his team on his back. Kell ranks fourth on SDSU in scoring (10.4) since five players are averaging double-digits, but he leads the team in assists (4.1) and steals (1.1). San Diego State is 9-0 since his return from injury last month.
Kell won Mountain West Tournament MVP after averaging 18.3 points, 4.7 boards and 2.7 assists in the event
Malik Pope is SDSU's most dynamic player, averaging a team-best 12.9 points. The 6-foot-10 forward also leads the league in blocks and gets plenty of help up front from freshmen Jalen McDaniels and Matt Mitchell in addition to Indiana transfer Max Montana.
The Aztecs have the fifht-longest winning streak in the country, hoping to get a 10 consecutive win in this matchup. They've beaten opponents by a margin of 13.3 points during this run and have averaged just 10.7 turnovers, which is impressive since a lot of those games have been played at an escalated tempo.
Houston opened 2018 with an 81-63 loss in Wichita, but have since beat the Shockers twice, including a terrific semifinal win in the American Tournament in Orlando last weekend, claiming a game that was up for grabs.
The Cougs lost the American final 56-55 after Cincinnati star forward Gary Clark was fouled grabbing a rebound off a Gray miss with 4.3 seconds left in the final. He made the second of two free-throws to turn away Houston
Houston defeated both Cincy and Wichita State in league play and also pulled out wins over Arkansas, Providence and Wake Forest. It didn't lose consecutive games all season, a streak it looks to continue against the Aztecs.
The Cougars went 18-10-1 against the spread this season, which includes a run of covering the number in eight of 10 that it brings into this event. The Aztecs have covered in eight of nine to improve to 20-10 on the season.
These schools have only played twice, in a home-and-home that was played in January and December of 2002. San Diego State won both meetings.
East Region – Dallas – American Airlines Center
#14 Stephen F. Austin vs. #6 Texas Tech (-5 ½, 143) – 7:25 PM EST – truTV
A pair of Texas-based teams square off in Dallas, so the home of the NBA's Mavs should have a fun atmosphere in place for this one.
The Red Raiders have matched the program's highest seed since 1996 and have matched the 24 victories that 1995-96 team recorded en route to the Sweet 16.
Head coach Chris Beard also delivered unprecedented success for Texas Tech in Big 12 play, setting a new record with 11 wins and a second-place finish behind Kansas.
Senior guard Keenan Evans is the straw that stirs the drink for Tech, averaging 17.5 points and 3.1 assists. The Richardson, Texas native isn't a great 3-point shooter but has a knack for getting into the paint and shot over 80 percent from the free-throw line. He also made life easier for freshmen running mates Jarrett Culver and Zhaire Smith, who each average over 11 points per game
Stephen F. Austin made its rise to prominence under Brad Underwood, who left the program for Oklahoma State and is currently at Illinois. Kyle Keller, a native of Dallas who was an assistant on Underwood's staff, took over and had a rough time last season before leading the Lumberjacks to 28 wins in 2017-18. He's worked on coaching staffs for the legendary Eddie Sutton, Bill Self and Billy Kennedy in addition to Underwood, so don't expect him to be ill-prepared.
The Jacks rolled to a 14-4 finish in Southland play, one game behind regular-season co-champs Nicholls State and Southeastern Louisiana. SFA defeated both in the conference tourney.
Junior guard Shannon Bogues scored 27 points off the bench in the semifinal win over Nicholls and leads the team with a 15.4 scoring average, one of the highest clips off the bench of anyone in the country. He started just three games.
Senior Ty Charles and junior TJ Holyfield started SFA's two NCAA Tournament games two years ago, though both were quiet in the upset of West Virginia. They combined for 24 points in a loss to Notre Dame. Holyfield leads the Jacks in rebounding and blocked shots
Sophomore Kevon Harris has stepped up as a 6-foot-6 wing and must play a large role for the Lumberjacks to have any shot at an upset.
Stephen F. Austin was only involved in five games that were on the board this season, covering in four of them. They won outright 83-82 at LSU on Dec. 16 and fell 82-81 to Missouri three days later. They lost 80-75 to Mississippi State in November and likely won't be intimidated by the prospect of facing the Red Raiders. All three of their Southland Tourney wins came in under the posted total.
Texas Tech stumbled down the stretch, losing five of its last seven outright and going 1-6 ATS in that span. The Red Raiders didn't lose a game to a team outside a power conference all season.
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA
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