The best players from the underdog-filled South


Kentucky freshman forward PJ Washington drives towards the basket during the game against Buffalo in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday, March 17, 2018, in Boise, Idaho. Kentucky defeated Buffalo 95-75. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

Braden Ramsey

By beating No. 12 seed Davidson 78-73 and No. 13 seed Buffalo 95-75 in Boise during the first few days of the NCAA Tournament, the No. 5 seed Kentucky Wildcats head to Atlanta looking to make another trip to the Final Four and win their ninth NCAA basketball championship in school history.

March Madness claimed the most victims in Kentucky’s region, as none of the top four seeds made the Sweet Sixteen. This marks the first time since seeding began that this occurred, leaving the Wildcats as the best seed traveling to Atlanta.

For Kentucky to reach San Antonio, the Cats will have to make the clock strike midnight for their Cinderella opponents, Kansas State, Nevada and Loyola-Chicago. These are the players who the Cats will be tasked with slowing down:

Barry Brown Jr., Kansas State

Brown, a junior guard from Saint Petersburg, Florida, was the Kansas State Wildcats’ (24-11, 10-8) leading scorer in both of their tournament victories, getting 18 points against No. 8 seed Creighton in a 69-59 win and 18 more against the history-making No. 16 seed UMBC in a 50-43 victory. A 45 percent shooter during the regular season, he is only shooting 37 percent to this point in the tournament and could go off if Kentucky’s defense isn’t up to the task.

Dean Wade, Kansas State

Wade has not played in the tournament yet for the Wildcats due to a foot injury, but is expected back for the game against Kentucky on Thursday night.

The junior forward averaged 16.5 points per game and 6.3 rebounds per game, both leading figures for the team during the regular season. His ability to space the floor as a “stretch four” – shooting 44 percent from behind the arc on the year – opens up many more options for Kansas State offensively, and he provides more leadership for the Big 12’s fourth-place squad.

Donte Ingram, Loyola-Chicago

The Ramblers (30-5, 15-3) are the regular season and tournament champions of the Missouri Valley Conference and one of the best stories of the NCAA Tournament. Ingram is a senior guard from Chicago and got the Ramblers their first tournament win of this century with a buzzer-beating three-pointer against the No. 6 seed Miami Hurricanes 64-62 in the Round of 64. One of five double-digit scorers for Loyola, he leads the team in rebounds and is a player the rest of the team looks to during crunch time.

Clayton Custer, Loyola-Chicago

Custer is the leading scorer (13.3 PPG) and assist man (4.2 APG) for the Ramblers and, like Ingram, has ice in his veins. He hit the shot at the end of the game to defeat the No. 3 seed Tennessee Volunteers 63-62 in the Round of 32 and send Loyola on to Atlanta. The junior guard from Kansas has shot 60 percent from the field and 75 percent from three-point range in the tournament, meaning he is somebody the Kentucky defense will have to key in on.

Cody Martin, Nevada

Martin is a transfer from North Carolina State – as is his twin, Caleb – who has become the main cog for the Wolfpack (29-7, 15-3) during this tournament run. After playing second fiddle to Caleb during the regular season, Cody has come out and put up 20 PPG, 5 RBG and 6.5 APG during the two tournament games, an 87-83 OT victory over No. 10 seed Texas and a 75-73 win over No. 2 seed Cincinnati, after a massive 22-point comeback. If he can keep up his level of play in Atlanta, it will make Nevada a tough out.

Jordan Caroline, Nevada

Caroline is the leading rebounder on the season for the Wolfpack (8.7 per game) and has added 10 assists as well, doubling his season average in that category. The second-highest scorer for Nevada in the regular season, he has not hit his average of 17.7 points per game in either contest. With the Wolfpack playing a six-man rotation, increasing his scoring output could help them continue their run all the way to San Antonio.

Kentucky takes on Kansas State Thursday evening, about half an hour after the conclusion of Loyola-Chicago and Nevada, which begins at 7:07 ET. Both games will be broadcast on CBS.