By Blair Kerkhoff


The Kansas City Star


(TNS) — It’s been suggested that seeding didn’t help this year’s conference tournament champions. Michigan State, which defeated Michigan on Sunday for the Big Ten title, is a second seed. SEC tourney champion Auburn is a No. 5 seed; Iowa State from the Big 12 is a No. 6.


It’s possible none of those teams improved its seeding with its tourney run as March Madness opens.


But Duke’s impressive ACC championship pushed the Blue Devils to the overall No. 1 seed.


Duke didn’t win the ACC regular season. But the Blue Devils were without star freshman Zion Williamson for six games with a knee injury when he came out of his shoe in a Feb. 20 game against North Carolina.


With Williamson back at full strength, Duke topped the Tar Heels in the ACC semifinals and roared past Florida State in the championship game. In the tourney opener against Syracuse, Williamson made all 13 of his field-goal attempts and drew this praise from Orange coach Jim Boeheim: “I’ve been in this game over 50 years, and he can do things nobody has done in this game.”


Duke, a No. 1 seed for the 14th time, bids for its sixth NCAA title and starts from a position of strength.


Second-seeded Michigan State was terrific in winning the Big Ten tournament after navigating through a season of injuries.


Also in the East is SEC regular-season champion LSU, which will be coached by Tony Benford after Will Wade was indefinitely suspended.


Down-bracket intrigue finds No. 10 Minnesota, coached by Richard Pitino, taking on Louisville. Former Cardinals coach Rick Pitino, Richard’s dad, is suing Louisville for $44 million in a contract dispute.


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PLAYERS TO WATCH


This region is loaded. Along with Williamson, who is destined to be the overall top selection in the NBA Draft, are fellow freshman stars RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish. They’re likely top five picks. Michigan State’s Cassius Winston will show up on several All-America teams. The most intriguing player is 7-6, 310-pound center Tacko Fall of ninth-seeded Central Florida. He averages 10.9 points and 7.3 rebounds.


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UPSET SPECIAL


No. 11 seed Belmont gets past Temple in the opening round and upsets sixth-seeded Maryland.


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WINNER


Duke over Michigan State.