1. A No. 7 or worse seed has reached the Elite Eight each of the past years, including two teams in 2017. This season’s surprise could be No. 10 seed Providence, the only team in the country with three victories over top-five opponents (Xavier twice and Villanova). Plus, how can you not root for Coach Ed Cooley after he wore a towel on his backside to cover his ripped pants in the Big East tourney final?

2. It’s easy to see 7-foot-1 Arizona man-child Deandre Ayton — arguably the best NBA big man prospect since Shaquille O’Neal — as a star capable of leading his team to a national title. But Kentucky’s Anthony Davis in 2012 and Kansas’ Danny Manning in 1988 are the only players to win the championship and get drafted No. 1 overall in the past 30 years. In fact, the Final Four had just one lottery pick in four of the past five seasons, including in 2017 (Gonzaga’s Zach Collins) and 2016 (Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield).

3. For the first time since 1988, every Big Ten team in the NCAA tournament is seeded No. 5 or better, and all four teams appear to have a shot of at least making the Sweet 16. For what it’s worth, none of the five Big Ten NCAA tourney teams in 1988 made it past the Sweet 16.

4. The selection committee is taking heat for five teams getting at-large bids that finished with losing records in conference play (Alabama, Oklahoma, Arizona State, Syracuse and Texas). Syracuse is particularly interesting considering its best nonconference victories were Buffalo and Iona. Two years ago, though, the Orange became the first No. 10 seed to reach the Final Four.

5. Don’t sleep on the “First Four” teams. At least one play-in winner has won another game since the field was expanded to 68 in 2011. Arizona State was ranked as high as No. 3 in the nation this year with victories over Kansas and Xavier, but the Sun Devils barely made the field after losing five of their past six games.

6. How safe is the NCAA’s No. 1 overall seed? Virginia might have a reason to be upset because of a potential Sweet 16 matchup against Kentucky or Arizona. Both of those Wildcats teams are much more talented than the Cavaliers and won their respective conference tournaments.

7. North Carolina probably would have been a No. 1 seed if it defeated Virginia in the ACC tournament title game. Coach Roy Williams is attempting to reach the national championship game for the third consecutive season, which hasn’t been done since Kentucky won two titles in three appearances from 1996 to ’98.

8. The No. 1 seed in the most trouble could be Xavier, which earned a No. 1 for the first time in school history. Xavier could meet talented Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr. in the second round in the West. Porter, a potential top-five pick, has only played in one game since returning from a near season-long back injury.

9. The East Region is all about top point guards. Villanova’s Jalen Brunson is arguably the best floor leader in college, but he will be put to the test. The son of Timberwolves assistant coach Rick Brunson could face Alabama’s Collin Sexton in the second round, Wichita State’s Landry Shamet or West Virginia’s Jevon Carter in the Sweet 16 and possibly Texas Tech’s Keenan Evans or Purdue’s Carsen Edwards in the Elite Eight.

10. Remember how entertaining the Champions Classic was to open the season? We could get a rematch between Duke and Michigan State in the Sweet 16 in Omaha. That’s a Final Four matchup in the second week of the tournament.

11. The Blue Devils, who were ranked No. 1 in the preseason poll, would have to knock off top-seeded Kansas to reach their first Final Four since cutting down the nets in 2015. They haven’t played the Jayhawks in the NCAA tourney since losing to them in the Elite Eight in 2003.

12. This might be the season when Tennessee reaches the program’s first Final Four. The Volunteers have a stout defense and enough firepower on offense to beat Purdue and Kentucky. Rick Barnes’ team would potentially meet top-seeded Virginia in the Elite Eight, a team the Vols match up with very well.

13. It wasn’t a fluke that Gonzaga reached the NCAA title game last season. The Zags have been the West Coast’s perennial powerhouse for two decades. Mark Few is a future Hall of Famer and he sends players to the NBA regularly. So then it should be no surprise that Gonzaga returns to the championship this year in San Antonio.

14. Two years ago, Villanova coach Jay Wright put behind a career of NCAA tournament disappointments with his first national title. This time, the Wildcats are a favorite to take home the crown. Brunson and Mikal Bridges are both All-Americas. Villanova is the nation’s best offensive team, but it also is one of five teams ranked in the top 25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.


Marcus Fuller covers college basketball for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @Marcus_R_Fuller • marcus.fuller@startribune.com