In my opinion, this is the least interesting of the four regionals. It is Kansas' to lose with No. 2 Notre Dame or No. 4 Louisville being the only teams I could see denying the Jayhawks a trip to the Final Four. None of the middle-seeded teams are all that dangerous. No. 6 Georgetown and No. 7 Florida State are expected to get incredibly valuable starters back, but have struggled down the stretch. No. 9 Illinois has been a mess all season long, and while they have the talent, they lack the consistency or desire to be a factor.
Best First Round Game: #7 Texas A&M vs. #10 Florida State
What piques my interest most about this game is whether or not versatile forward Chris Singleton will return for the Noles after missing the past six games with a fractured foot. Florida State has gone 3-3 during that span, and two of those losses were by a combined three points versus North Carolina and Virginia Tech. It is uncertain at this point whether Singleton will be back in action, but if he is, how effective will he be? All season long, I have felt that the Aggies are an overrated team. But like Florida State, they are a well-balanced, athletic squad that is solid on the defensive end. Whichever team ends up getting the better production from their guards shooting the ball will advance.
Early Exit: #6 Georgetown
The Hoyas are getting starting point guard Chris Wright back after he has missed the past couple weeks with a broken hand, but how effective will Wright be? They face a tough opening-round matchup against either USC or VCU depending on who wins Wednesday's First Four game in Dayton. Both teams can get after it on the defensive end and more than capable of pulling off the upset. What concerns me more than their opponent is just how poorly they have played in their final four games. They only averaged 51.5 points during the span while losing by an average of 14.5 points. Julian Vaughn has lost his confidence in the post, only scoring one field goal during this skid. I know Wright is supposed to return which should give them a boost, but I just do not think it will be enough for Georgetown to right the ship.
Sleeper: #11 USC
This is strange because I did not think USC deserved to get into the tournament due to their resume. But I think they can make some noise in this regional. The Trojans face an uphill battle having to win three games in five days if they hope to advance to the second weekend. They live in the half-court on both ends of the floor and will potentially face teams in Georgetown and Purdue who have similar styles. They have size inside with Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stephenson, and a defensive stopper in Marcus Simmons who could cause problems for Austin Freeman and E'Twaun Moore.
Five Players to Watch: JaJuan Johnson, Purdue
The Boilermaker big man was Big Ten Player of the Year and a likely All-America selection. He makes a difference on both ends of the floor and has expanded his offensive game which now includes a deadly 17-foot jump shot. I am going to go ahead and say it; but sometimes he looks a little bit like Kevin Durant with his jump shot.
Kenneth Faried, Morehead State
Due to his relentlessness on the glass, Faried has drawn comparisons to Dennis Rodman. His 84 career double-doubles rank second all-time in Division I history behind Tim Duncan. He has a limited offensive game but will be a handful for Louisville.
John Jenkins, Vanderbilt
The sophomore shooting guard is a true gunner from deep who can single-handedly carry Vanderbilt when he is feeling it from deep. He is not shy about chucking it from beyond the arc and could easily go off on any given night.
Demetri McCamey, Illinois
It is too simple-minded to say that his play will directly result in either a win or loss for the Illini, but McCamey has had exponentially more valleys than peaks this season which is part of the reason Illinois has underachieved. When he is good, he is very good. However, if McCamey is off in la-la land somewhere against a tenacious UNLV defense, it will spell trouble for Bruce Weber and company.
Peyton Siva, Louisville
One of the quickest guards in college basketball, Siva is a flash with the basketball and an absolute nuisance on the defensive end. He spearheads the Cardinals full-court pressure but can also pull off a 360 fast-break dunk like he did earlier this season.
Regional Final: #1 Kansas over #2 Notre Dame
I do not love Purdue or Notre Dame to be an Elite Eight team, but give the Irish the edge due to their ability to shoot the rock and get all five starters involved on the offensive whereas the Boilermakes rely too heavily on the combination of JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore. Plus, I am not even sure Purdue would get past a second-round match-up against USC.
With that being said, it really does not matter. The Jayhawks have size inside with the Morris twins and Thomas Robinson as well as guys who can stretch the floor including both Marcus and Markieff Morris, Tyrell Reed, Brady Morningstar and Josh Selby. Unless Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis are scorching hot from deep and the length of their wing players is too much for Kansas to handle, I don't think Notre Dame has enough to earn a trip to the Final Four.
@Coleton Carson Palmer was extended in the offseason through the 2018 season. This signals that they will probably try to get by with him at QB and improve in other areas first (for example, the offensive line). If they're lucky, they might even start losing more and improve their draft position. By the time the 2019 draft rolls around, they can draft a QB into team that has good tools to work with.