This weekend, Louisville will play host to both the Midwest and South regions of the NCAA Tournament at the KFC Yum! Center, normally home to the Louisville Cardinals. Cardinals fans will have their instate rival playing in their gym in the second round, which may not go over well with the Cardinals faithful, but will make for easy travel for the Kentucky Wildcats.
Kentucky will face the winner of Hampton against Manhattan, a play-in game taking place in Dayton on Tuesday night. The Wildcats are striving for perfection and have completed two-thirds of their goal, going undefeated in the regular season and conference tournament. They should have no problem with either opponent, and will have their first test against either Cincinnati or Purdue.
According to SeatSmart.com, the session involving Kentucky, a play-in team, Purdue and Cincinnati have an average ticket price of $174.94 with a walk-in price of $69. The other foursome of NCAA Tournament tickets has a significantly lower average price, going for $54.30 with a get-in price of $4.
The Bearcats (22-10) received an at-large bid from the AAC. You can bet Cincinnati will be fine handling adversity, as their head coach Mick Cronin had to leave the team in December when an unruptured aneurysm was detected. The Bearcats come at you in waves, having 10 players averaging at least 10 minutes a game. Purdue is under the control of Matt Painter for the 10th year, and has one of the stingiest defensive teams he’s ever had. The Boilermakers have a dangerous small, big combination between Jon Octeus and A.J. Hammons, but this game will be a defensive battle.
In the South Region, the college basketball world was stunned to see UCLA’s name appear on selection Sunday. The Bruins (20-13) were an at-large bid for the Pac 12 and have five starters that average over 10 points per game. This is the third consecutive trip to the tournament for the Bruins. SMU, coached by Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Larry Brown, won the AAC, which was the team’s first conference title since 1993. This is Brown’s third team taken to the NCAA Tournament, and the first time he’s been back to the tournament since winning a title with Kansas in 1988.
A trendy Final Four pick exists in the second matchup between the Iowa State Cyclones and the UAB Blazers. The Cyclones ran through the Big 12 conference tournament and have their arrow trending up entering the Big Dance. Georges Niang was voted by coaches as a first-team all conference member this season. This is the team’s fifth year under head coach Fred Hoiberg and fourth consecutive trip to the tournament.
It’ll be interested to see who gets the first crack at Kentucky and how they respond to tournament game situations. In the South, the teams mentioned earlier will have to go through No. 2 seeded Gonzaga to reach the Sweet 16.