The NCAA tournament starts Thursday, and like always, it will be packed with upsets and memorable moments. Some of the most interesting first round games in this year’s tournament include Texas Tech vs. Stephen F. Austin (East Region), Kentucky vs. Davidson (South Region), Rhode Island vs. Oklahoma (Midwest Region), and Arkansas vs. Butler (East Region).
Throughout the regular season and conference tournaments, many fascinating teams and players have emerged, setting up the 2018 NCAA Tournament to be action-packed. Here are three teams and three players to keep an eye out for during this tournament.
Deandre Ayton and Allonzo Trier are the big pair for the Wildcats, and they have have been dominant all season, even when the team was distracted by a controversy related to their coach. Ayton has had an outstanding freshman year, averaging 20.1 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists per game. He also has the potential of being the No.1 overall pick in June’s 2018 NBA Draft. Trier, a junior guard from Seattle, has also had a great year, averaging 18.4 points per game. Arizona finished with 27 wins and seven losses this year, and captured a four seed n the NCAA Tournament. They do have a chance to win the title this year, but teams such as Virginia, Kentucky, and Cincinnati may be a challenge.
Davidson is set to take on fifth-seed Kentucky in a battle of the Wildcats in the Round of 64, and it is likely going to be one of the most interesting games of the first round. Kentucky, led by coach John Calipari, is filled with freshmen and have won seven of its last eight games. Meanwhile, Davidson got an automatic bid to the tournament after defeating Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 Finals. Davidson’s Peyton Aldridge, a senior forward and this year’s A-10 Player of the Year, has come up big all season, with 21.5 points and nearly eight rebounds per game. Davidson is definitely considered an underdog, but its talent makes them able to defeat Kentucky in this game.
Michigan State Spartans
For Michigan State, the time is now. Coach Tom Izzo is leading a talented team that finished 29-4 and has a high potential of winning a national championship this year. His two stars, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges, are lottery pick players who have the ability to lead the Spartans over any team in the field. Jackson has averaged about 11 points a game this season and Bridges has averaged almost 17. In the Round of 64, they will take on Bucknell. Expect Michigan State to get through multiple rounds, but they may have Duke and Kansas in the way when trying to reach the Final Four.
Foster began his collegiate career playing for Kansas State, but was dismissed by the team in 2015 for a violation of team rules. Over the course of 62 games at Kansas State, Foster averaged 14.1 points. He then transferred to Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. He redshirted the 2016-17 season due to NCAA rules, and has been a top scorer ever since, averaging 19.2 points per game in two years with the Bluejays. In this year’s NCAA tournament, Creighton was seeded eighth, and will play Kansas State—Foster’s former team. This will be a game filled with emotions for Foster, as he looks to help his Bluejays move on to the next round. Creighton will have the spread the ball around and play great team basketball to have success in the tournament this year.
Luke Maye, Forward, North Carolina
Maye was solid for the Tar Heels last season, averaging 5.5 points, and also hit a clutch, game-winning jump-shot in the NCAA Tournament last year against Kentucky. He then rose to stardom this year. Maye’s junior campaign was impressive statistically. He averaged a double-double, with 17.2 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. Expect Maye and teammate Joel Berry II to take control during the tournament, as the team has the opportunity to attend its third-straight National Championship game and win back-to-back titles.
Regardless of whether Oklahoma deserved to make the tournament this year after losing six of its last eight games, Trae Young is still an impactful player and among the best in the tournament. Some college basketball fans would compare Young to Steph Curry because of his shooting range and ability. This season he averaged 27.4 points and 8.7 assists per game, and was involved in big wins against ranked teams like Kansas and Wichita State. Young and the 10th-seeded Sooners open up the tournament in the Round of 64 against Rhode Island, in which they hope to deliver an upset and move on to play either Duke or Iona. Expect Young to run the floor for Oklahoma, and he must play well if Oklahoma wants to win.
Photographs by (from top): Ethan Miller/Getty Images (Ayton); Mitchell Layton/Getty Images (Davidson); Mike Lawrie/Getty Images (Foster) Brett Deering/Getty Images (Young)