In the Southwest Region, Kansas hopes chalk rules like it did in 2008.
Top Team — Kansas (1)
The Jayhawks (32–2, 14–2 Big 12) lost twice this season, but there wasn’t a team on the schedule that KU didn’t defeat this season — losing the rematch with in-state rival Kansas State (84–68) on Valentine’s Day after taking down the Cats (90–66) on Jan. 29, and falling to Texas (74–63) on Jan. 22 before more than making up for it in a Big 12 title game blowout victory (85–73) on Saturday. Coach Bill Self’s team is powered by the Morris twins — Marcus (17.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Markieff (13.6 ppg, 8.2 rpg) — in the paint and a slew of capable guards — namely Tyrel Reed, Tyshawn Taylor and Josh Selby — on the perimeter. Three years after Mario Chalmers’ miracle against Memphis in 2008, Kansas is in position to win its fourth NCAA title.
BMOC — Kenneth Faried, Morehead State (13)
The 6’8”, 225-pound terror owns the paint, regardless of who his competition is. A legit first-round NBA prospect, Faried (17.6 ppg, 14.5 rpg, 2.4 bpg) had 20 points and 18 rebounds at Florida and 15 points, 12 rebounds and five steals two nights later at Ohio State — two of the top eight teams (according to seeding) in this year’s Dance. Louisville will have its hands full with this one-man wrecking crew, who may be strong enough to take down an inconsistent Cards club.
Rolling Boil — Purdue (3)
The Boilermakers’ senior class of JaJuan Johnson, E’Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel came back to make a run at the Final Four. Unfortunately, Hummel (torn ACL) can only watch from the bench; but Johnson (20.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg) and Moore (18.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.2 apg) still have a chance to cement their legacy as arguably the greatest class in Purdue history. The Boilers notched wins over NCAA squads Ohio State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan State, Penn State, Michigan and Oakland, as well as bubble teams Alabama and Virginia Tech; coach Matt Painter’s club is dangerous.
Solid Gold or Fool’s Gold? — Vanderbilt (5) vs. Richmond (12)
One of the trendiest upset picks in the first round of this year’s NCAA Tournament is Richmond over Vanderbilt, which at first glance appears to be a classic 5-12 trap matchup. But just because everyone else is scared of Spiders doesn’t mean they are capable of poisoning the Commodores — a team with a three-headed monster of sharpshooter John Jenkins (19.5 ppg), lockdown defender Jeffery Taylor (15.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and improving big man Festus Eveli (12.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.6 bpg). However, coach Kevin Stallings has been boom or bust on the Dance floor, with two Sweet Sixteens and two one-and-dones in his four trips at VU.