On Sunday the NCAA Tournament announced its field of 68, with defending national runner-up Gonzaga as the tourney’s No. 1 overall seed for the second consecutive season. It’s their fifth top seed overall under head coach Mark Few.
The Zags have never won a national title, but this may be Few’s best chance to do so. They are joined on the top line by Arizona (South), Kansas (Midwest) and Baylor (East). The Bears were the only questionable team on the one line, as they faltered a bit down the stretch. Playing in the country’s highest-rated conference (Big 12) helped them secure that final No. 1 seed, giving the conference two teams on the top line.
Each region is loaded with talent, but here are some players who have a chance to become the darling of this year’s March Madness extravaganza.
- West Region – JD Notae (Arkansas) Guard
The dynamic bucket-getter for head coach Eric Musselman’s uptempo attacking style, Natoe can score in bunches. Notae received All-SEC first-team recognition for leading the Razorbacks to a 24-7 record including (13-5) in the tough SEC. Notae was the sixth man on last year’s team that made a run to the Elite Eight behind 2021 No. 14 overall pick Moses Moody. No one expected them to be as solid this season. Notae has led the way, averaging 18.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.2 steals per game, while displaying his two-way abilities for the helter-skelter Hogs. With Notae leading the way Arkansas could make another run.
— Eric Musselman (@EricPMusselman) February 28, 2022
- East Region – Keve Aluma (Virginia Tech) Forward
The linchpin to head coach Mike Young’s upstart Hokies squad decided to return for his senior season. All he’s done is earn second-team All-ACC honors, while leading Va. Tech to its first-ever ACC Tourney title. The Hokies romped past blue-bloods UNC and Duke on consecutive nights at the Barclays Center.
Aluma had his entire repertoire on display against the heavily-favored Blue Devils, nearly going for a triple-double (19 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists). His defense on Duke’s five-star freshmen Paolo Banchero and AJ Griffin was textbook, as both scored at times but he made them work. With his ability to step away from the basket and shoot the three, plus run the offense, the Hokies, who rank third in the nation in three-point shooting, are a dangerous No. 11 seed.
Keve up to 9 points after that last 3FG
🔥 VT: 15-25 FG (60.0%)
🔥 VT: 7-10 3FG (70.0%)
38-31 🦃 | 3:09 1H pic.twitter.com/HkwEk60UZU
— Virginia Tech Men's Basketball (@HokiesMBB) March 13, 2022
Following the win over Duke, Aluma referenced Blue Devils star Paolo Banchero telling a reporter that he was looking forward to playing UNC in the ACC Championship Game. The Hokies took Banchero’s assumption that UNC would defeat them personally.
“I think Storm Murphy was the first one that saw that, and he sent it to the group chat. That was fuel for us,” Aluma admits.
- South Region – Peter Kiss (Bryant Bulldogs) Guard
Kiss leads the nation in scoring at 25.1 points per game. The smooth-shooting guard had 10 games of at least 30 points and hung 34 in the Northeast Conference Championship. Kiss also had a streak of 30-plus in six consecutive games. The high-energy scorer gives Bryant (22-9) hope that they can compete. If they can get by Wright State in the first four in Dayton, a matchup with No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga awaits. Kiss would love nothing more than a shot at knocking off the heavily favored Zags.
Bryant is Kiss’ third school after stints at Rutgers and Quinnipiac. His high school coach Ryan Hurd had this to say about his former star pupil in a tweet.
- Midwest Region – Keegan Murray (Iowa Hawkeyes) Forward
Keegan is a legacy player at Iowa. His dad Kenyon, who ranks third all-time in steals, played in Iowa City from 1993 to 96. The versatile 6-foot-8 forward averages 23.4 points per game. He scores in a variety of ways with efficiency, calmness and supreme confidence. Murray was named Most Outstanding Player of the Big Ten Tournament, as he led the Hawkeyes to their first tourney win since 2006 with a title game win over Purdue.
Following the win, Murray had this to say to reporters.
“We knew this team was destined for greatness. We changed the direction of the Iowa program today.”
Head coach Fran McCaffery hopes to ride his star pupil to a tournament run.
“He’s been unbelievable in every facet of the game,” McCaffery raved. “He runs in transition, he posts up. He posts up littles, he takes bigs off the dribble. The offensive rebounds — he gives himself points.”
Historic hoop 🙌
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) March 13, 2022
Watch out for these talented ballers who have what it takes to make some special March Madness moments.