Shot Clock: Final Four contenders, Isaiah Thomas vs. Tyler Ulis and Taijuan Walker has a good outing for the Diamondbacks. Video: azcentral sports


Best round of 64 matchup

Maryland vs. Xavier

Though Maryland earned a No. 6 seed and Xavier snuck into the field as an 11, only wrapping up a bid with a win over Butler in the Big East tournament, the Musketeers are actually five spots higher in the Ken Pomeroy efficiency rankings at No. 40. Xavier had an awful February, losing six in a row at one point shortly after point guard Edmond Sumner tore his ACL. It undoubtedly took some time for the Musketeers to readjust, but this is still a good, experienced core with Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura, and Chris Mack is a proven NCAA tournament coach who has won at least one round in four of his six appearances. Maryland has been mediocre on the defensive end this season, and at times they ask too much of point guard Melo Trimble, who averaged 17 points this season. As a result, the Terrapins stumbled down the stretch, losing six of their last 10 after a 20-2 start. Justin Jackson, a 6-7 freshman, has been wildly inconsistent but is capable of putting up big numbers. If he emerges as a No. 2 scorer, Maryland could go on a run. More likely, they’ll have to survive a coin-flip game against Xavier and need Trimble to come up big again down the stretch.

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MORE: Countdown to Arizona’s Final Four

Potential upset

Dunk City is back in the field, and don’t be surprised if Florida Gulf Coast does it again, drawing a beatable No. 3 seed in Florida State. Though the Seminoles have a deep bench and a wealth of potential NBA talent, this is a young team with no NCAA experience that laid some absolute eggs this year away from home. While it’s tempting to pick Florida State for a deep run because of its combination of athleticism and high-end skill like swingman Dwayne Bacon (16.9 ppg), coach Leonard Hamilton has made the Sweet 16 just twice in seven appearances. Granted, the matchups here don’t necessarily favor Florida Gulf Coast, especially in the frontcourt, but that’s nothing new for the Eagles, who made their famous run in 2013 by spreading the floor, playing smallball and putting pressure on the opponents’ defense. Though the players and coaching staff are different, the Eagles dominated the Atlantic Sun Conference this season behind an array of dynamic playmakers and bouncy big men. Brandon Goodwin is a high-volume shooter at the point guard position who averages 18.2 points per game, and he’ll need to be excellent to negate the easy buckets Florida State will get from 6-10 freshman Jonathan Isaac. If Florida State’s immaturity pops up at the wrong time, it could be deja vu for FGCU.

The sleeper

Until the last week of the regular season, it didn’t seem like Vanderbilt could make up enough ground to even get in the field. But the Commodores closed strong, winning eight of their final 11 games including twice against Florida and on the road at Arkansas to secure their place in history as the first 15-loss team to get an at-large bid. The Commodores are a scary matchup because of their long distance shooting, which ranks 15th nationally in threes made per game (9.9) and 59th in accuracy (37.7%), which is impressive considering the volume they shoot. Vanderbilt’s 7-foot-1 center, Luke Kornet, will bring opposing big men out to the perimeter because he attempts 4.6 threes per game, opening the floor for a group of guards who are solid off the bounce in Matthew Fisher-Davis and Riley LaChance. Kornet is also a tremendous rim protector who rarely gets in major foul trouble (he didn’t foul out of a single game this year), which means easy baskets are hard to come by against the Commodores. Vanderbilt went 3-0 against Florida and had a pair of close losses to Kentucky, which suggests it won’t be an easy out for Gonzaga in a potential Round of 32 matchup. If the Commodores stay hot from the 3-point line, they could be the West’s bracket-buster.

NCAA: Arizona is West’s No. 2 seed; Villanova, Kansas, North Carolina, Gonzaga are top seeds

The winner

If the West goes according to form, the regional final will pit arguably the two best coaches in the sport who have yet to reach a Final Four in Gonzaga’s Mark Few and Arizona’s Sean Miller. Both programs have had their hopes dashed on the second weekend in recent years, and the West sets up for one of them to finally break through this time. While Gonzaga beat Arizona head-to-head back on Dec. 3, 69-62, look for the Wildcats to turn the tables this time and return to the Final Four for the first time since 2001. A lot has changed for Arizona since December, namely getting sophomore guard Allonzo Trier back on Jan. 21 after he tested positive for a banned performance-enhancing substance and missed Arizona’s first 19 games. The Wildcats went 13-2 with Trier, who averaged 20.6 points in the Pac-12 tournament. Arizona is one of the most complete teams in the field with depth, athleticism on the wings and a highly skilled big man in 7-foot Finnish freshman Lauri Markkanen, who shoots 43% from the 3-point line. After a pair of heartbreaking Elite Eight losses against Wisconsin in 2014 and 2015, it feels like everything is coming together for Arizona this time and deliver Miller a long-overdue chance at the title.

1. Gonzaga

Nickname: Bulldogs, Zags. Location: Spokane, Wash.

Record: 32-1, 17-1. Bid: West Coast champ

Last appearance: 2016, lost to Syracuse in round of 16

Coach: Mark Few (21-17 in 17 appearances)


Overview: The elements are all in place, from the do-everything facilitator (Nigel Williams-Goss) to the athletic big man (Przemek Karnowski) to the support players who know their roles. The Zags don’t always light it up from long range, but they usually make up for it with their athleticism and ability to get to the rim. And they are efficient: Fourth in the nation in points per possession. But an aggressive zone defense could pose a challenge.

Projected starters: G Nigel Williams-Goss, 6-3, Jr. (16.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.8 apg, .521 fg%, .910 ft%); G Josh Perkins, 6-3, So. (8.4 ppg, 3.4 apg, .406 3fg%); G Jordan Mathews, 6-4, Sr. (10.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg); F Johnathan Williams, 6-9, Jr. (10.2 ppg, 6.5 rpg, .599 fg%); C Przemek Karnowski, 7-1, Sr. (12.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg, .610 fg%).


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2. Arizona

Nickname: Wildcats. Location: Tucson.

Record: 30-4, 16-2. Bid: Pac-12 champ

Last appearance: 2016, lost to Wichita State in round of 64

Coach: Sean Miller (17-9 in nine appearances)


Overview: Make no mistake — the Wildcats weren’t bad even without Allonzo Trier. But his midseason reinstatement has Arizona fans thinking Final Four. It’s a complete team with perimeter and inside scoring threats, as well as a deep bench led by Kobi Simmons and Parker Jackson-Cartwright. The defense isn’t always sound, meaning Wildcats games can turn into track meets.

Projected starters: G Allonzo Trier, 6-5, So. (16.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.5 apg); G Kadeem Allen, 6-3, Sr. (9.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.1 apg); G Rawle Alkins, 6-5, Fr. (11.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.0 apg); F Lauri Markkanen, 7-0, Fr. (15.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg); C Dusan Ristic, 7-0, Jr. (10.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg)

FINAL FOUR IN ARIZONA: What you need to know

3. Florida State

Nickname: Seminoles. Location: Tallahassee, Fla.

Record: 25-8, 12-6. Bid: ACC at-large

Last appearance: 2012, lost to Cincinnati in Round of 32.

Coach: Leonard Hamilton (6-7 in seven appearances).


Overview: The Seminoles’ top-line talent could make them a tough out. Dwayne Bacon is a future pro. Freshman Jonathan Isaac is an all-around talent and potent shot blocker, and Xavier Rathan-Mayes’ assist-turnover ratio of 2.76 is among the 25 best in Division I. Florida State beat seven ranked opponents this season, tying a school record. With two more wins overall, they would tie their single-season wins record. The Seminoles had two losses entering a Jan. 25 game at Georgia Tech but are just 7-6 since.

Projected starters: G Dwayne Bacon, 6-7, So. (16.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg); G Terance Mann, 6-6, So. (8.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg); G Xavier Rathan-Mayes, 6-4, Jr. (10.4 ppg, 4.8 apg); F Jonathan Isaac, 6-10, Fr. (12.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg); C Michael Ojo, 7-1, Sr. (5.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg)

4. West Virginia

Nickname: Mountaineers. Location: Morgantown, W.Va.

Record: 26-8, 12-6. Bid: Big 12 at-large

Last appearance: 2016, lost to Stephen F. Austin in the Round of 64

Coach: Bob Huggins (29-22 in 22 appearances)


Overview: A balanced lineup — eight players average between 6.0 and 12.9 points — and Huggins’ frenetic fullcourt defensive pressure propelled the Mountaineers. All the Mountaineers’ regular-season losses were by fewer than 10 points.

Projected starters: G Jevon Carter, 6-2, Jr. (12.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg); G Tarik Phillip, 6-3, Sr. (9.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg); Daxter Miles, 6-3, Jr. (9.1 ppg, 2.2 rpg); Nathan Adrian, 6-9, Sr. (10.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg); Elijah Macon, 6-9, Jr. (6.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg)

5. Notre Dame

Nickname: Fighting Irish. Location: South Bend, Ind.

Record: 25-9, 12-6. Bid: ACC at-large.

Last appearance: 2016, lost to North Carolina in Elite Eight.

Coach: Mike Brey (12-13 in 13 appearances).


Overview: Notre Dame plays a clean game. The Irish shoot 81% from the free throw line as a team, best in the nation, and trail only UCLA in assist/turnover ratio. Bonzie Colson is one of the 10 best players in college basketball this season, but as a team the Irish do not have a lot of size in the paint. Notre Dame has win streaks of 11, seven and six games along with a losing streak of four games.

Projected starters: G Steve Vasturia, 6-6, Sr. (13.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.4 apg); G Matt Farrell, 6-1, Jr. (14.2 ppg, 5.5 apg, 42% 3PT); F Bonzie Colson, 6-5, Jr. (17.0 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 1.4 bpg); F V.J. Beachem, 6-8, Sr. (15.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg); G Rex Pflueger, 6-6, So. (4.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg)

6. Maryland

Nickname: Terrapins. Location: College Park, Md.

Record: 24-8, 12-6. Bid: Big Ten at-large

Last appearance: 2016, lost to Kansas in the Sweet 16

Coach: Mark Turgeon (8-7 in seven appearances)


Overview: Maryland is one of the more unpredictable teams; three of this season’s losses were to teams playing relatively poorly. It’s hard to know what version of Maryland will show up on any given night — par for the course when a team starts three freshman — but it’s worth pointing out that when Melo Trimble is playing well, he is one of the best players in the nation and can single-handedly take over any game.

Projected starters: G Melo Trimble, 6-3, Jr. (16.9 ppg, 3.7 apg); G Anthony Cowan, 6-0, Fr. (10.4 ppg, 3.7 apg); F Kevin Huerter, 6-7, Fr. (8.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg); F Justin Jackson, 6-7, Fr. (10.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg); C Damonte Dodd, 6-11 Sr. (6.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg)

7. St. Mary’s

Nickname: Gaels. Location: Moraga, Calif.

Record: 28-4, 16-2. Bid: West Coast at-large

Last appearance: 2013, lost to Memphis in Round of 64

Coach: Randy Bennett (4-5 in five appearances)


Overview: Denied an at-large opportunity a year ago, the Gaels hope to make the most of this one. They play a stingy man-to-man defense that keeps them in most games, are efficient on offense (No. 3 in points per possession) and if three-point shots fall will be a tough out. The Gaels don’t have the depth to compensate for foul trouble.

Projected starters: C Jock Landale, 6-11, Jr. (16.8 ppg, 9.3 rpg, .609 fg%); F Evan Fitzner, 6-10, So. (5.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg); F Calvin Hermanson, 6-6, Jr. (13.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg, .815 ft%, .437 3fg%); G Emmett Naar, 6-1, Jr. (9.5 ppg, 5.8 apg, .853 ft%, .439 3fg%); G Joe Rahon, 6-2, Sr. (8.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 5.7 apg).

8. Northwestern

Nickname: Wildcats. Location: Evanston, Ill.

Record: 23-11, 10-8. Bid: Big Ten at-large

Last appearance: First appearance.

Coach: Chris Collins (first appearance)


Overview: How cool is this? Northwestern makes its first NCAA tournament appearance. This is what Collins dreamed of when he took over the program nearly four years ago, and this is what he sold his first full recruiting class (now juniors). What’s different between this Northwestern team and teams in the past are, most notably, the style of play and the confidence.

Projected starters: G Bryant McIntosh, 6-3, Jr. (14.5 ppg, 5.3 apg); G Scottie Lindsey, 6-5, Jr. (14.0 ppg, 2.4 apg); F Vic Law, 6-7, So. (12.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg); F Sanjay Lumpkin, 6-6, Sr. (6.4 ppg,5.7 rpg); C Dererk Pardon, 6-8, So. (8.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg)


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9. Vanderbilt

Nickname: Commodores. Location: Nashville

Record: 19-15, 10-8. Bid: SEC at-large

Last appearance: 2016, lost to Wichita State in First Four

Coach: Bryce Drew (0-2 in two appearances)


Overview: At 9-11 overall in late January, it seemed impossible for the Commodores to play their way into the field. But getting hot at the right time matters, and Vanderbilt’s strong finish against the nation’s No. 1 RPI schedule helped build its case. The Commodores can be a scary opponent in tournament play because of their three-point shooting, which led the SEC at 38% and 9.9 made threes per game.

Projected starters: G Riley LaChance, 6-2, Jr. (10.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 4.0 apg); G Nolan Cressler, 6-4, Sr. (7.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.8 apg); G Joe Toye, 6-7, So. (6.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.1 apg); F Jeff Roberson, 6-6, Jr. (11.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg); C Luke Kornet, 7-1, Sr. (13.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg)

10. Virginia Commonwealth

Nickname: Rams. Location: Richmond, Va.

Record: 26-8, 14-4. Bid: Atlantic 10 at-large

Last appearance: 2016, lost to Oklahoma in Round of 32

Coach: Will Wade (1-1 in one appearance)


Overview: The Rams have been and still are known for their tenacious defensive intensity. VCU holds opponents to about 66 points a game, which is among the best in the nation. When opponents do get in the paint, senior forward Mo Alie-Cox protects the rim with 2.2 blocks per game, second in the Atlantic 10. They don’t have great size, but they do have versatility.

Projected starters: G JeQuan Lewis, 6-1, Sr. (14.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 4.6 apg); G Samir Doughty, 6-4, Fr. (8.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.3 apg); G Doug Brooks, 6-4, Sr. (5.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.1 apg); F Mo Alie-Cox, 6-7, Sr. (10.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.2 bpg); F Justin Tillman, 6-7, Jr. (12.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg)

11. Xavier

Nickname: Musketeers. Location: Cincinnati.

Record: 21-13, 9-9. Bid: Big East at-large

Last appearance: 2016, lost to Wisconsin in Round of 32

Coach: Chris Mack (7-6 in six appearances)


Overview: The Musketeers were hit hard by injuries, never really recovering from the absence of PG Edmond Sumner (knee). Trevonn Bluiett is an exceptional talent who can take over a game. He can’t do it alone against top competition, however, so a lengthy stay is unlikely.

Projected starters: G Trevon Bluiett, 6-6, Jr. (18.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.0 apg); G J.P. Macura, 6-5, Jr. (14.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.8 apg, .810 ft%); G Malcolm Bernard, 6-6, Sr. (6.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg); G Quentin Goodin, 6-4, Fr. (4.5 ppg, 3.3 apg); F Tyrique Jones, 6-9, Fr. (4.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg)

12. Princeton

Nickname: Tigers. Location: Princeton, N.J.

Record: 23-6, 14-0. Bid: Ivy champ

Last appearance: 2011, lost to Kentucky in Round of 64

Coach: Mitch Henderson (first appearance)


Overview: Princeton struggled to begin the season, losing its first two games. But after defeating Bucknell on Dec. 22 the Tigers caught fire and won 16 in a row entering the Ivy League tournament. The team has four players scoring in double figures. The Tigers have the best scoring defense in the conference and led the Ivy in scoring margin.

Projected starters: G Devin Cannady, 6-1, So. (13.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg); G Myles Stephens, 6-5, So. (11.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg); F Pete Miller, 6-11, Sr. (2.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg); F Spencer Weisz, 6-4, Sr. (16.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg); F Steven Cook, 6-5, Sr. (13.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg)

13. Bucknell

Nickname: Bison. Location: Lewisburg, Pa.

Record: 26-8, 15-3. Bid: Patriot champ

Last appearance: 2013, lost to Butler in Round of 64

Coach: Nathan Davis (first appearance)


Overview: Bucknell started conference season with four consecutive victories before resuming its streak and winning seven in a row en route winning the regular-season crown. The Bison led the league in scoring offense and scoring margin and on defense they led the conference in blocked shots.

Projected starters: G Kimbal Mackenzie, 6-1, So. (11.5 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 2.4 apg); G Stephen Brown, 5-11, Jr. (11.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 4.8 apg); G Avi Toomer., 6-3, Fr. (3.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg); F Zach Thomas, 6-7, Jr. (15.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 3.3 apg); C Nana Foulland, 6-9, Jr. (14.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg)

14. Florida Gulf Coast

Nickname: Eagles. Location: Fort Myers.

Record: 26-7, 12-2. Bid: Atlantic Sun champ

Last appearance: 2016, lost to North Carolina in the Round of 64.

Coach: Joe Dooley (1-1 in one appearance)


Overview: The program’s reputation has been built on offense, and this year’s team is no exception. FGCU shoots 50.2% from the field with most of those shots coming at close range. The Eagles aren’t as successful from the three-point line, however. While scoring gets noticed, FGCU also does a lot of the dirty work that leads to wins with a strong field-goal percentage defense and rebound margin.

Projected starters: G Brandon Goodwin, 6-2, Jr. (18.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.0 apg, 51.6 FG%); G Zach Johnson, 6-2, So. (11.8 ppg, 3.0 apg); G Christian Terrell, 6-5, Jr. (10.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg); F Demetris Morant, 6-9, Sr. (10.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg); F Marc-Eddy Norelia, 6-8, Sr. (8.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 55.3 FG%).

15. North Dakota

Nickname: Fighting Hawks. Location: Grand Forks, N.D.

Record: 22-9, 14-4. Bid: Big Sky champ

Last appearance: First appearance

Coach: Brian Jones (first appearance)


Outlook: There is a lot to like about the Fighting Hawks, who are in the Big Dance for the first time (UND transitioned to D-I in 2008). North Dakota can shoot (48.5% from the field, 18th in the nation, including 38.5% from three-point range) and score (80.1 points a game, 35th). Top marksman Quinton Hooker is accurate from everywhere. The competition will be a step up from the Big Sky, but the Hawks should have a fighting chance.

Projected starters: F Drick Bernstine, 6-8, Jr. (7.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg); F Conner Avants, 6-7, So. (9.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 57.5 FG%); G Geno Crandall, 6-3, So. (15.6 ppg, 503 FG%); G Corey Baldwin, 6-4, Sr. (10.1 ppg, 41.4 3FG%); G Quinton Hooker, 6-0, Sr. (19.0 ppg, 47 FG%, 44.6 3FG%, 89.4 FT%)

16. South Dakota State

Nickname: Jackrabbits. Location: Brookings, S.D.

Record: 18-16, 8-8. Bid: Summit champ

Last appearance: 2016, lost to Maryland in Round of 64.

Coach: T.J. Otzelberger (first appearance)

Twitter: @GoJacksMBB

Overview: This looked bleak for the Jackrabbits and their first-year coach after winning one of their first six conference games. They’re back in the field after a run in the conference tournament as a No. 4 seed. Mike Daum, the nation’s No. 2 scorer, carries much of the load in a high-powered offense that relies on the three and free-throw shooting.

Projected starters: F Mike Daum, 6-9, So. (25.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 87.1 FT%); G/F Reed Tellinghuisen, 6-7, Jr. (11.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 81.7 FT%); G Michael Orris, 6-3, Sr. (8.3 ppg, 4.0 apg, 49.0 FG%); G Chris Howell, 6-5, So. (7.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg); G/F Lane Severyn, 6-5, Jr. (2.9 ppg)