The return of Zion Williamson has worked wonders for the Duke Blue Devils.
The phenomenal freshman led Duke to the ACC Tournament title on Saturday night. On Sunday, the NCAA selection committee rewarded the Blue Devils with the No. 1 overall seed in this year's NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.
Williamson missed five games after wrenching his knee when his Nike sneaker blew out in a regular-season game against archrival North Carolina last month. He appeared to be plenty healthy in the ACC tournament, averaging 27 points and 10 rebounds while making 33 of 43 shots in Duke's three games while becoming the only the sixth freshman in the event's 66-year history to win MVP honors and the first in a dozen years.
The Blue Devils were joined on the top line by ACC rivals Virginia, who earned the top seed in the South region; and North Carolina, which received the top seed in the Midwest region -- the first year since 2009 that three teams from the same conference received No. 1 seeds.
"They earned their right to be there," Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir, the chair of the selection committee, told tournament broadcaster CBS.
Gonzaga, the winners of the West Coast Conference regular season title, received the fourth No. 1 seed, in the West region.
While the ACC claimed the top three seeds in the bracket, the Big Ten led the so-called "power conferences" in tournament bids with eight teams making the field. The ACC and SEC each had seven teams get in while the Big 12 had six. The American Athletic Conference and Big East each had four teams, while the Pac-12 ended up with three after looking at times like it might be a one-bid league this season.
The tournament starts Tuesday with the first of four play-in games in Dayton then gets into full force Thursday and Friday with 32 teams playing each day at eight sites around the country. The Final Four is set for Minneapolis on April 6, with a champion being crowned two days later.
Mike Krzyzewski will begin his quest for a sixth title as Duke coach on Friday in Columbia, S.C., against the winner of a play-in game between North Carolina Central and North Dakota State.
Defending national champion Villanova earned the sixth seed in the South region after winning the Big East regular season and tournament titles. The Wildcats will begin their title defense on Thursday in Hartford, Conn., against West Coast Conference tournament champions Saint Mary's.
"This is going to be a special year, I promise," head coach Jay Wright told fans at Villanova's on-campus arena Sunday night. The Wildcats are trying to become the first team to repeat as national champions since Florida in 2006 and 2007 but missed out on a top-two seed for the first time since 2013.
Virginia will try to avoid a reprise of last year when they lost to UMBC and became the first No. 1 seed ever to lose to a 16-seed. The Cavaliers, who won a share of the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title but lost in the ACC Tournament semifinals to Florida State, will start their redemption tour against No. 16 seed Gardner-Webb on Friday night in Columbia.
Michigan State, which shared the Big Ten regular-season title with Purdue and knocked off in-state rival Michigan in the conference tournament final moments before the matchups were announced, was given the No. 2 seed in the East and a first-round game against Bradley on Thursday in Des Moines. That sets up the possibility of an Elite Eight matchup between the Spartans and No. 1 overall seed Duke.
The last time Michigan State and Duke met in the NCAA Tournament was in 2015 when the Blue Devils blew out Michigan State in the Final Four en route to Krzyzewski's fifth NCAA title.
Muir said Michigan State leapfrogged Kentucky, who received the No. 2 seed in the Midwest, with its win over the Wolverines, but added, " at the same token, we thought Michigan and Michigan State would both be on the '2' line." Michigan was sent to the West Region and will play their first game against Montana on Thursday.
The bracket, as always, included a few surprises and a few more debatable decisions from the selection committee that's been holed up at a Manhattan hotel this week, crunching the numbers. Seven teams from non-power conferences earned at-large bids, the most since 2015. The bubble was kind to Oklahoma, Temple, Arizona State and St. John's -- with the latter two playing each other in Dayton on Wednesday night. Muir told CBS that St. John's, making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2015, was the last team in.
Alabama, TCU, Texas, North Carolina State, Indiana, Lipscomb and UNC-Greensboro were among those left on the outside looking in.
There's also no shortage of juicy matchups, such as the one in the East Region between the seventh-seeded Louisville Cardinals and the 10th-seeded Minnesota Golden Gophers. Minnesota is coached by Richard Pitino, who had two stints as an assistant coach at Louisville under his father, Rick Pitino. The elder Pitino was fired by Louisville prior to last season after his name surfaced in connection to a federal investigation of corruption in college basketball.
LSU received a No. 3 seed in the same region, just two weeks after head coach Will Wade was suspended after news reports revealed that he was allegedly recorded talking to a recruiting middleman about a "strong a-- offer" he made to a high schooler. The Tigers' first dance partner will be Yale, an institution whose former women's soccer coach was indicted as part of a giant pay-for-admissions scandal involving so-called non-revenue sports at a handful of universities.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.