Kim O'Reilly, CBS Sports

Purdue's path to redemption through the Midwest Regional of the 2024 NCAA Tournament bracket is paved with All-American opposition and a handful of potential bracket busters. Storylines abound throughout the regional, which will crown a champion in Detroit on March 31.

Two years after becoming the first No. 15 seed to ever reach the Elite Eight, Saint Peter's is back in the bracket as a No. 15 seed again with a different coach in Bashir Mason and a drastically remade roster. But the Peacocks' reputation should nonetheless catch the attention of No. 2 seed Tennessee, which is known for struggling in March.

If the Volunteers advance, a storyline could be coach Rick Barnes facing No. 7 seed Texas, his former school. The Longhorns are one of three Big 12 teams in the region, along with No. 9 seed TCU and No. 4 seed Kansas. The Jayhawks face an interesting test against up-tempo No. 13 seed Samford after navigating late-season injuries to star players Kevin McCullar Jr. and Hunter Dickinson.

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The winner of that game will get either No. 5 seed Gonzaga or No. 12 seed McNeese. The Zags have made eight straight Sweet 16 appearances but will have to get past a 30-win Cowboys team coached by former LSU coach Will Wade in the first round. After a year away from coaching, Wade is back and leading a potential Cinderella team.

If anyone is wearing the slippers entering the dance, it's No. 11 seed Oregon, which cruised through the Pac-12 Tournament to emerge as a "bid thief" in the field of 68. The Ducks are led by guard Jermaine Couisnard, who spent the first four years of his career playing at South Carolina, which is the team Oregon faces in the first round. The No. 6 seed Gamecocks are a sleeper team to watch under second-year coach Lamont Paris. So is No. 3 seed Creighton. The Bluejays were one controversial call away from reaching the 2023 Final Four and are the only team to beat No. 1 overall seed UConn in this calendar year.

Best first-round game 

(4) Kansas vs. (13) Samford: Samford gets 44.8% of its minutes from its bench, which ranks third in the country at KenPom. Kansas gets just 23.7% of its minutes from the bench, which ranks No. 318. With KU stars McCullar and Dickinson working their way back from injury, keeping up with the high-flying Bulldogs may be a problem. Throw in the altitude of Salt Lake City, Utah, to the equation, and this one could get weird.

Top potential matchup 

(1) Purdue vs. (4) Kansas: If both teams win their first two games, the Boilermakers and Jayhawks will square off in the Sweet 16. The two last met in the 2017 Sweet 16 when the seedings were reversed and the Jayhawks crushed Purdue by 32. Both programs have lived near the top of college basketball in the years since, and a high-stakes showdown between coaches Matt Painter and Bill Self would have legendary potential. Though the schools haven't played in recent years, Purdue center Zach Edey and Dickinson are plenty familiar with each other from Dickinson's three seasons in the Big Ten at Michigan.

Cinderella team that will surprise 

(12) McNeese: The Cowboys beat VCU, UAB and Michigan on the road by double digits before running through the Southland Conference without much resistance. McNeese is coached by Wade, who is on a redemption tour after his tenure with LSU ended in 2022 amid an NCAA investigation. This team is ruthlessly efficient offensively and forces significantly more turnovers than it commits. With a handful of former power-conference players in the rotation — led by ex-TCU guard Shahada Wells — McNeese won't be awestruck by Gonzaga.

Team that will make a far-too-early exit 

(2) Tennessee: There are both recent and historic forces working against the Volunteers, who are sharing this regional with three of the seven teams to beat them this season. They played their worst game of the season in a one-and-done showing at the SEC Tournament on the heels of a Senior Day loss to Kentucky. The program has only been to one Elite Eight, and coach Rick Barnes is known for struggling in March. If there's one bit of hope, it's this: when Barnes reached the only Final Four of his storied career in 2003 with Texas, it came after a double-digit loss in the conference tournament opener. The Vols will have to hope history repeats itself 21 years later for Barnes.

Six players to watch

  • Zach Edey, Purdue: Edey is in line to repeat as National Player of the Year after leading Purdue to another outright Big Ten title. He is averaging 24.4 points, 11.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game entering the NCAA Tournament. At 7-foot-4, he is virtually impossible for opponents to defend.
  • Dalton Knecht, Tennessee: Knecht emerged as Edey's top challenger for National Player of the Year while averaging 21.1 points on 39.7% 3-point shooting in his only season with Tennessee. The former Northern Colorado star can score in multiple ways and has been the impetus behind the Volunteers' improved offense.
  • Baylor Scheierman, Creighton: Scheierman reached double figures in all but one game this season and hit five or more 3-pointers on three occasions. The 6-foot-6 wing is a one-man offensive factory and posted his program's first triple-double since 1985 this season.
  • Max Abmas, Texas: Abmas put Oral Roberts on his back in 2021 and took it to a Sweet 16. Now playing his fifth and final season of college basketball, he remains a highly combustible undersized scoring guard. Abmas has hit four or more 3-pointers 10 times this season.
  • Kevin McCullar Jr., Kansas: When he's 100% healthy, McCullar is one of the best players in college basketball and an NBA Draft prospect. He's an elite defender and diverse scoring option with five years of elite-level experience. But he's also dealt with a bone bruise that has forced him in and out of the lineup over the last several weeks.
  • Shahada Wells, McNeese: Wells is a small but mighty difference-maker for McNeese, leading the Cowboys in points (17.8), assists (4.8) and steals (3.0) per game. The TCU transfer is the type of gritty underdog player made to have a moment in March.

Midwest Regional winner

(1) Purdue: Purdue has many of the same faces in key places as last season, but this isn't the same team. When the Boilermakers made just 5 of 26 attempts from 3-point range in a stunning loss to No. 16 seed FDU last year, it was emblematic of their season-long struggles from beyond the arc. Purdue shot just 32.2% from 3-point range last season, which ranked No. 291 nationally. This year, they are shooting 40.8% from 3-point range, which is second nationally. Point guard Braden Smith has taken massive strides as a sophomore, and Southern Illinois transfer Lance Jones has added punch. Edey is the same dominant force, and he now has the supporting cast he needs to carry Purdue to its first Final Four since 1980.

March Madness regional previews: East | SouthWest

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