13. Winthrop Eagles
Record: 26-6 (15-3 in Big South)
Best win: @ Illinois 84-80
Worst loss: vs. Radford 82-80
Key player: Keon Johnson
The Eagles were a tournament regular under Gregg Marshall (even making the second round in 2007) but are making just their second appearance since Marshall left for Wichita State. Fifth-year coach Pat Kelsey’s team is led by guard Keon Johnson, who averages 22.5 points per game, and shoots 40% from three. The Big South champions like to play at a fast pace, which should provide an interesting style clash with first round opponent Butler.
Record: 22-13 (10-8 in MAC)
Best win: @ Texas 63-58
Worst loss: vs. Wright State 68-63
Key player: Jimmy Hall
Kent State won the MAC Tournament as the #6 seed, upsetting top seeded Akron in the final. Senior forward Jimmy Hill is the player to watch for the Golden Flashes, as he leads the team in points, rebounds, and assists per game. Kent State made the Elite Eight in 2002 but are making their first appearance under coach Rob Senderoff. It’s difficult to see them doing anything well enough to really scare UCLA.
15. Northern Kentucky Norse
Record: 24-10 (12-6 in Horizon League)
Best win: vs. Valparaiso 82-78
Worst loss: vs. Austin Peay 77-69
Key player: Drew McDonald
Northern Kentucky made their first NCAA Tournament in their first season eligible since moving up to Division I. However, they did twice make the National Championship game in Division II. The Norse were the #4 seed in the Horizon League Tournament but soon found themselves the highest seed left after the top three all lost in the quarterfinals. Sophomore forward Drew McDonald leads the team in points and rebounds while also knocking down 39% from three. The Norse are a cool story, but it’s hard to see them doing much of anything against Kentucky.
Record: 23-11 (16-2 in SWAC)
Best win: @ La Salle 77-76
Worst loss: @ Mississippi Valley State 103-89
Key player: Zach Lofton
Former Indiana coach Mike Davis is taking Texas Southern to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in five years. The Tigers won both the SWAC regular season and tournament championships. Earlier in the season, the Tigers had 2015-16 SWAC Player of the Year and two-sport star Derrick Griffin averaging a double double, but he left the team in December to focus on football. However, guard Zach Lofton picked up the slack and won the SWAC POTY award himself this season. UNC should have far too much size for The Tigers to deal with.