Purdue and Marquette were far from the favorites in their own conferences going into the season. They are now the top two seeds in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament.
Big Ten regular-season and tournament champion Purdue (29-5) is a No. 1 seed for the first time since 1996, and fourth time overall. Led by big man Zach Edey, the Boilermakers are going to the NCAA Tournament for the eighth time in a row, and 34th overall. They play Friday in Columbus, Ohio, against the winner of First Four matchup between Texas Southern and Fairleigh Dickinson.
Marquette (28-6) is in the tournament for the second year in a row for Shaka Smart, the coach who took VCU to the Final Four in 2011. The Golden Eagles, in consecutive tourneys for the first time since eight in a row from 2006-13, will play 15th-seeded Vermont (23-10).
If the Big East champion Golden Eagles win their opener, they would then play either No. 7 seed Michigan State (19-12) or No. 10 seed Southern California (22-10).
Coach Tom Izzo and the Spartans are in their record 25th consecutive tournament.
Duke, with some standout freshmen and 35-year-old rookie head coach Jon Scheyer, takes a nine-game winning streak into the tourney after beating Virginia in the ACC Tournament title game.
The fifth-seeded Blue Devils (26-8) haven’t lost since falling in overtime on the road against Virginia on Feb. 11. They play scoring ace Max Abmas and 12th-seeded Oral Roberts (30-4).
After spending last year as the coach-in-waiting for Mike Krzyzewski’s last Final Four run, Scheyer assembled the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class that’s already got its first tournament trophy.
That first-round game Thursday in Orlando, Florida, is on the same side of the bracket as fourth-seeded Tennessee (23-10) and Louisiana-Lafayette (26-7) in its first NCAA tourney since 2014.
Considering Kentucky (21-11) was teetering on the tournament bubble in January amid speculation of Hall of Fame coach John Calipari leaving for Texas, the Wildcats weren’t going to complain about its No. 6 seeding in the East.
The task now for big man Oscar Tshiebwe and the Wildcats is winning Kentucky’s first NCAA Tournament game since 2019, a drought highlighted by last year’s epic first-round upset loss to No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s. They play No. 11 Providence (21-11) on Friday in Greensboro, North Carolina.
“What happened last year, the first time in my career. And you know what, hurt like hell,” Calipari said. “But, you move on and you move to the next. For me, this has got to be a ball because they’re going to feed off of me. They’ve got to see me (and) saying, ‘he is loose and ready to go” because they’re going to feed off of me. And I’m excited about it.”
WILDCATS FROM KANSAS
First-year coach Jerome Tang has Kansas State as the No. 3 seed in its first NCAA Tournament since 2019.
After leaving Scott Drew’s side at Baylor, where he had been an assistant coach for 19 years and part of the Bears’ only national championship two years ago, Tang won 15 of his first 16 games and led the Wildcats to a 23-9 overall record while playing in the brutal Big 12.
Their first-round game Friday in Columbus is against Montana State (25-9), the Big Sky champion in consecutive NCAA tourneys for the first time.
PENNY AND THE TIGERS
Penny Hardaway played in the 1992 and 1993 NCAA tournaments in his only two seasons as a player for the school then known as Memphis State. He now has the Tigers in their second consecutive tourney as a coach.
The Tigers (26-8) won the American Athletic Conference Tournament with a 75-65 over No. 1 Houston on Sunday, and didn’t even cut down the nets in Fort Worth until after watching the selection show. The Cougars are still a No. 1 seed, in the Midwest Region.
Memphis is the eighth seed, with a difficult matchup against Conference USA champion Florida Atlantic (31-3) on Friday.
ROAD TO HOUSTON
It will be a lot harder to overlook Purdue and Marquette in March, than it was before the season began. The Boilermakers have steadied things since losing four of six games in February, and take a five-game winning streak into the NCAA Tournament.
“I think people just kind of freaked out. We were having a great season. We had the same guys the entire year,” Edey said. “Just the shots weren’t falling. None of us in our program freaked out. It was kind of just the media. We knew what we had and knew we had everything we need.”
While Smart never made it out of the first round of the NCAA in his three appearances over six seasons with Texas, Marquette could mimic his old VCU team and make a deep NCAA run on the 20th anniversary of the last of Marquette’s three Final Four appearances.
Looking for a lower seed? Tennessee has double-digit wins this season over Big 12 regular-season champion Kansas, a No. 1 seed, and Big 12 tourney champ Texas, a No. 2 seed. The Volunteers also lost twice to Kentucky.