Two bluebloods highlight the NCAA Tournament’s East Region, but two up-and-comers could steal their spot in Houston.
This side of the bracket could pit Duke and Kentucky against each other in the Elite Eight, a prospect the major networks are surely salivating over. However, both schools have work to do to get there.
The Blue Devils and Wildcats find themselves in mostly unfamiliar territory. Duke earned a 5-seed, its lowest since 2007 (it missed the Big Dance in 2021.) Kentucky, meanwhile, slots in as a No. 6 after earning 2-seeds in the past two tournaments it made (2022 and 2019.) But most interesting will be how their coaches manage the expectations. John Calipari seeks his first tournament win since 2019, while Jon Scheyer is just looking for victory No. 1. Both teams battled doubt and adversity early in the season but have played their best ball as of late.
Though, don’t expect the other programs in the region to just kiss the ring. No. 3 Kansas State is fresh off a resurgent season behind first-year head coach Jerome Tang. No. 4 Tennessee enters the fray already banged up, but Rick Barnes has some tournament demons of his own to exorcise. And that’s not even mentioning the top two seeds — No. 1 Purdue, which has the country’s best player, and No. 2 Marquette, which has one of the country’s best offenses.
There are a handful of intriguing teams in the 7 through 11 range who, for the most part, weathered up-and-down conference slates: No. 7 Michigan State, No. 8 Memphis, No. 9 Florida Atlantic, No. 10 USC and No. 11 Providence. But FAU might be the most fascinating of all. As winners of 31 games, how will the Owls fare outside of the confines of Conference USA?
That leaves the Cinderellas (No. 12 Oral Roberts, No. 13 Louisiana, No. 14 Montana State, No. 15 Vermont and one of Texas Southern or Fairleigh Dickinson at No. 16). One man and one man alone punctuates this group: Max Abmas, who’s back and ready to end your team’s hopes and dreams.
Let’s see how it all shakes out.
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