The NCAA Tournament announced its long-awaited return to Boise with a bang Sunday.
Four of the top brands in college basketball will be here this week — Kentucky, Arizona, Gonzaga and Ohio State, all of which have been ranked in the top 10 at some point this season.
And since none of them is seeded higher than No. 4, all will face intriguing matchups Thursday at Taco Bell Arena.
No. 5 seeds frequently lose to No. 12 seeds in the first round. The matchups here: No. 5 Kentucky vs. Davidson and No. 5 Ohio State vs. South Dakota State. At least one No. 12 seed has beaten a No. 5 seed in 29 of the past 33 tournaments, and 12 seeds are 18-22 in the past 10 years.
The No. 4 seeds — Gonzaga and Arizona — have the talent to compete for the national title. Arizona was ranked as high as No. 2 in November and comes to town after winning the Pac-12 tournament, while Gonzaga finished the regular season ranked No. 6 but was seeded much lower than that because of its strength of schedule.
The second round Saturday in Boise (times TBA) could feature Kentucky-Arizona and Gonzaga-Ohio State if the first round goes according to form.
Kentucky has eight national championships (most recently in 2012) and 17 Final Four appearances, Arizona has one title (1997) and four Final Fours, Ohio State has one title (1960) and 11 Final Fours and Gonzaga has played in 20 straight NCAA Tournaments and finished second last year.
Kentucky coach John Calipari wasn’t thrilled with the Wildcats’ No. 5 seed, potential second-round matchup with Arizona, long trip to Boise or Thursday game day since they won the Southeastern Conference tournament Sunday. He joked on ESPN that he asked his players how many knew which state Boise was in.
“I was in the car and my phone blew up. I didn’t know there were so many different ways to say, ‘You got screwed again,’ ” Calipari said on ESPN.
Gonzaga should feel welcome in the Treasure Valley. Coach Mark Few is good friends with Boise State coach Leon Rice and has family ties here.
“I think it’s great. … All my in-laws are from Boise,” Few said, according to the Inlander in Spokane, Washington.
Boise hasn’t staged NCAA Tournament games in nine years but was a consistent part of the hosting rotation from 1983 to 2009 (eight times). The event is scheduled to return in 2021.
The TV broadcast team for Boise is Brian Anderson and former Michigan and NBA star Chris Webber, with Lisa Byington as the sideline reporter. A practice session for each team will be open to the public and free Wednesday.
The full 68-team bracket for the 2018 tournament was announced Sunday afternoon. Here are Thursday’s matchups in Boise and a quick look at the teams:
▪ No. 4 Gonzaga vs. No. 13 UNC Greensboro in the West Region, 11:30 a.m. MT Thursday (TNT).
▪ No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 12 South Dakota State in the West Region, approximately 2 p.m. MT Thursday (TNT).
▪ No. 5 seed Kentucky vs. No. 12 Davidson in the South Region, 5:10 p.m. MT Thursday (CBS).
▪ No. 4 Arizona vs. No. 13 Buffalo in the South Region, approximately 7:40 p.m. MT Thursday (CBS).
Wednesday’s practice schedule: 11 a.m. UNC Greensboro, 11:45 a.m. South Dakota State, 12:30 p.m. Gonzaga, 1:15 p.m. Ohio State, 3:25 p.m. Kentucky, 4:10 p.m. Arizona, 4:55 p.m. Davidson, 5:40 p.m. Buffalo.
No. 5 seed, South Region
24-10, Southeastern Conference Tournament champ
The Wildcats have won seven of their last eight games, getting hot at the right time, which has come after a four-game losing streak. The school with the most wins in college basketball history, Kentucky reached the Elite Eight in 2017. Calipari is 271–63 in nine seasons at the helm. Four players are scoring in double digits, and all four are freshmen, part of Calipari’s youngest team.
No. 12 seed, South Region
21-11, Atlantic 10 Tournament champ
It is the Wildcats vs. Wildcats, with the alma mater of Steph Curry coming into Boise with an 11-2 mark in the last 13. Davidson boasts a pair of potent scorers in senior Peyton Aldridge (21.8 ppg) and freshman Kellan Grady (18.1 ppg). Coach Bob McKillop is in his 29th season with the team, which is No. 1 in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.8) and No. 8 in 3-pointers per game (10.8).
No. 4 seed, South Region
27-7, Pac-12 Tournament champ
The Wildcats enter the tournament under a cloud of suspicion surrounding Arizona coach Sean Miller. ESPN reported that Miller was caught on an FBI wiretap arranging a $100,000 payment for star 7-foot-1 freshman Deandre Ayton, a potential NBA lottery pick.
Miller has denied the report and claimed he would be “vindicated.” He stepped aside for one game after the report but returned to the sideline for the final two games of the regular season and the Pac-12 Tournament.
No. 13 seed, South Region
26-8, Mid-American Tournament champ
The Bulls are one of the up-and-coming programs in the Mid-American Conference. Buffalo made its first NCAA Tournament in 2015 and will make its third tournament appearance in four years in Boise.
Buffalo, which has won six straight games by double digits, never has been seeded higher than No. 12 and is searching for its first tournament win.
No. 4 seed, West Region
30-4, West Coast Tournament champ
Perennially a tournament disappointment, the Bulldogs broke through last season to reach the Final Four and the national championship game for the first time, falling to North Carolina.
Gonzaga, which is riding a 14-game winning streak, is making its 20th straight NCAA Tournament appearance. The perennial power created plenty of headlines two weeks ago with its rumored interest in joining the Mountain West Conference.
No. 13 seed, West Region
27-7, Southern Conference Tournament champ
The Spartans are making their third NCAA Tournament appearance in program history and first since 2001.
UNC Greensboro fields the nation’s sixth-ranked scoring defense, holding opponents to 62.4 points per game. The program has yet to win a game in the NCAA Tournament.
No. 5 seed, West Region
24-8, lost in quarterfinals of Big Ten Tournament
The Buckeyes were upset by Penn State in the conference tournament and are 2-3 in their last five games. They boast the conference player of the year in junior forward Keata Bates-Diop (19.4 ppg, 8.8 rpg) and coach of the year Chris Holtmann, in his first season leading the team. The Buckeyes rank in the top 50 nationally in scoring defense and field-goal percentage defense.
SOUTH DAKOTA STATE
No. 12 seed, West Region
28-6, won Summit League tournament
Led by the “Dauminator,” junior forward Mike Daum, the Jackrabbits have won 19 of their last 20 games. Daum is averaging 23.8 ppg and 10.4 rpg and has 2,205 career points. Freshman forward David Jenkins, a Tacoma, Wash., native, is averaging 16.1 ppg. The Jacks hit 10.6 3-pointers per game, No. 11 in the nation.
NCAA ticket, practice info
There are still some all-session and single-session tickets available through broncosports.com/tickets.
A free practice day at Taco Bell Arena is scheduled for Wednesday. Doors will open at 10 a.m. and practices start at 11 a.m. Parking is also free that day.