Parity has been the norm this season as no team has been a dominant force. But even with that parity, there are probably less than 10 teams capable of winning the national championship. Villanova, Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky, UCLA, Louisville and Duke look like the best bets to cut down the nets.
Just don’t tell that to Butler, Purdue or Notre Dame, all of which have earned a ticket to the Big Dance. The Bulldogs (23-8) and Boilermakers (25-7) are No. 4 seeds, the Irish (25-9) a No. 5 seed. All three teams believe that they can make some noise in the tournament. And rightly so.
Butler knocked off No. 1 seed Villanova twice this season in Big East action. The Bulldogs are well-coached by Chris Holtmann and fundamentally sound on offense and defense. The Bulldogs made it to the championship game in 2010 and ’11 before losing to Duke and Connecticut, respectively.
Butler, which is in the South region, opens play against No. 13 seed Winthrop (26-6) at 1:30 p.m. (TNT) Thursday in Milwaukee. The Eagles earned a bid by winning the Big South Conference. The region also features No. 1 seed North Carolina, No. 2 Kentucky and No. 3 seed UCLA, which is coached by former Indiana University standout Steve Alford, who led the Hoosiers to the 1987 national championship when hitting 7-of-10 3-pointers against Syracuse. He steered the Bruins to the Sweet 16 in 2014 and 2015.
Purdue is in the Midwest region but also plays in Milwaukee, where it will meet No. 13 seed Vermont (29-5) at 7:27 p.m. (TruTV) Thursday. Vermont has won 21 in a row and holds its opponents to 63.2 points per game.
The Boilermakers won the regular season Big Ten title and are led by Caleb Swanigan, who averages a double-double and shoots 43 percent from behind the 3-pont line.
Some sports pundits have said Purdue has a legitimate chance to reach the Final Four.
Notre Dame opens play in the West and meets No. 12 Princeton at 12:15 (CBS) Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y. Notre Dame’s center, Bonzie Colson, is a 6-5 converted former wingman who’s having an All-American season. He is considered one of the 10 best players in college basketball this season. The Irish shoot 81 percent from the free throw line – best in the nation – and trail only UCLA in assist-to-turnover ratio.
The Irish defeated two ranked teams to reach the championship game of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament before falling to Duke.
Other teams with ties to the Hoosier state are Vanderbilt, Baylor and Texas Southwest.
Vanderbilt, a No. 9 seed, is coached by Bryce Drew, who played and coached at Valparaiso. The Commodores meet Northwestern, which made it into the tourney for the first time in school history, at 4:30 p.m. (TBS) Thursday in Salt Lake City Utah.
His brother, Scott Drew, also coached at Valpo before taking over Baylor’s program in 2003. Baylor is a No. 3 seed and faces New Mexico State at 12:40 p.m. (TruTV) Friday in Tulsa, Okla.
Former Indiana University coach Mike Davis has his Texas Southern team in the tournament. The Tigers, a No. 16 seed, won the Southwestern Athletic Conference for the third time in five years.
The oddsmakers have Duke as a 5-1 favorite to win it all, with North Carolina 6-1 and Kentucky, Villanova and Kansas all 8-1.
Purdue is 30-1, Butler 50-1 and Notre Dame 80-1.
The Cinderella of all Cinderellas is Mount St. Mary’s, given a 10 million-to-1 chance. Other longshots are the University of California Davis, North Carolina Central and Texas Southern, all of which face odds of at least 5 million-to-1.
Let the games begin.