1. The Midwest region is the toughest of the four. Kansas is the overall No. 1 seed, and it may have the toughest road of any of the top seeds. Ohio State, Georgetown, Maryland and Michigan State are all formidable threats to make a run. Even Tennessee as No. 6 seed could do some damage.
2. Ohio State shouldn’t have much trouble reaching the Sweet 16, but the road gets bumpy from that point on. Assuming they beat UC Santa Barbara, the Buckeyes should be heavy favorites against the winner of Oklahoma State-Georgia Tech.
3. If you take pleasure in picking monumental upsets, this isn’t your region. Kansas, Ohio State and Georgetown are all strong seeds. Lehigh, UC Santa Barbara and Ohio shouldn’t provide much opposition to those three schools. Houston, the No. 13 seed in the region, snuck into the tournament thanks to an unexpected run to the Conference USA title. Maryland should have no problem taking care of the Cougars.
4. The region is littered with teams from out west. The Mountain West conference is responsible for No. 8 UNLV and No. 11 San Diego State. The Aztecs could give No. 6 Tennessee trouble in the first round. No. 12 New Mexico State could present challenges for No. 5 Michigan State, which lost its first game in the Big Ten Tournament.
5. A Sweet 16 matchup featuring Ohio State and Georgetown could be something special. Both the Hoyas and Buckeyes are loaded with a number of capable scorers. Center Greg Monroe could give OSU trouble with his size, but the Bucks’ size on the wings could give Georgetown trouble.
6. The teams in the Midwest region are seeded appropriately, something that can’t be said for all regions. Oklahoma State might not be deserving of a No. 7 seed, but every other team in the region is rated as it should be. Maryland made a late-season charge to seize a No. 4 seed, and Michigan State fell apart as the year went on. The Spartans, once thought to be a threat for a No. 2 or No. 3 seed, check in with a No. 5.
7. Kansas will sweep through the Midwest region and play in Indianapolis in the Final Four. The Jayhawks have a breeze to the Elite Eight, where either Ohio State or Georgetown will be waiting. Kansas has too much talent and depth for both the Buckeyes and Hoyas. Bill Self will lead his squad to the Final Four for the second time in three years.
1. The East region has plenty of sleeping giants. Everyone knows how talented the University of Kentucky is, but by no means will it cruise through the East. West Virginia is on fire coming off a Big East Tournament Championship. New Mexico has won 15 of its last 16. Temple is under-seeded as a No. 5 and Texas, a No. 8, has as much talent as any of the No. 1 seeds.
2. John Wall could go from freshman phenom to legend. The SEC Player of the Year has been nothing short of spectacular this season. He can carry a very talented Kentucky team to the Final Four. The key for John Wall and the Wildcats is to keep SEC Freshman of the Year DeMarcus Cousins out of foul trouble.
3. The No. 5 — No. 12 game will be a classic. No. 5 Temple won the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament and features two dominant guards: Ryan Brooks and Juan Fernandez. No. 12 Cornell counters with twin towers Ryan Wittman and Jeff Foote. One thing both teams have in common: they are both under-seeded. Mark this down as your perennial No. 12 over No. 5 upset.
4. Marquette and Washington are mirror images of one another. These two teams, who will meet in the first round, boast a bevy of guards and like to raise the tempo. Furthermore, both teams’ go-to guys on offense are undersized forwards who don’t mind to step outside. Marquette has the edge thanks to previous tournament experience.
5. The best potential matchup is Kentucky-West Virginia in the regional final. Kentucky’s John Calipari and West Virginia’s Bob Huggins often deliver Oscar-worthy performances patrolling their respective sidelines. UK has the most talented player in the country in John Wall. However, the Mountaineers’ Da’Sean Butler has six game-winning shots to his credit this season.
6. Don’t overlook the Lobos. Steve Alford’s New Mexico squad is just as athletic as Kentucky and as deep as West Virginia. The only question is experience, as none of the players on New Mexico’s roster have played in the NCAA Tournament. If they play with confidence, look for Darington Hobson to carry New Mexico into matchup against West Virginia in the regional semifinal.
7. Coach Cal will take his third different team to the Final Four. It’s hard to go against West Virginia considering how well the Mountaineers are playing going into the NCAA Tournament, but the Wildcats have too much talent. The Mountaineers will struggle to keep Cousins and West Virginia native Patrick Patterson in check. Look for Kentucky to be doing the John Wall dance all the way to Indianapolis.
1. Syracuse senior Arinze Onuaku injured his knee during the Orange’s Big East quarterfinal game against Georgetown in the first half. The team’s defense suffered in part as they lost 91-84 to the Hoyas. If he is unable to play for the Orange in the first weekend of the tournament, can junior Wesley Johnson and the rest of the Orange step up and fill in for the productive Onuaku? Syracuse may have been given the fourth No. 1 overall seed because of the uncertainty of Onuaku.
2. The Vermont Catamounts are no strangers to Jim Boeheim and the Orange. Five years ago, these two schools matched up in the first round, where Syracuse was the No. 4 facing No. 13 Vermont. They played each other in one of the more memorable tournament games in recent memory. They went into overtime after a tumultuous, back-and-forth game, which saw Tom Brennan get an early retirement gift from his squad as Vermont upset Syracuse 60-57.
3. Gonzaga was the favorite in the West Coast Conference tournament but fell to St. Mary’s in the championship game. Instead of being a potential No. 5 seed and playing in its home city of Spokane, Wash., Gonzaga dropped all the way to the No. 8 seed and will have to travel to Buffalo with a second-round game against Syracuse looming. Gonzaga will have to overcome that feeling of wondering what they could have had to advance even past Florida State.
4. Xavier has always been a dangerous tournament team, and even without Sean Miller at the helm, Chris Mack has done a good job taking over as head coach for the Musketeers. Pittsburgh returns to the tournament hungry after falling in the Elite Eight last season to Scottie Reynolds’ Villanova Wildcats on a last-second shot. Look for this Atlantic 10 vs. Big East clash to be one of the underrated matchups of this tournament.
5. Butler has quietly been one of the most successful teams in college basketball this season. They went 20-0 in conference play en route to winning a Horizon League regular season and tournament championships. Butler defeated Ohio State and Xavier in non-league play and played Georgetown to a close loss. Gordon Hayward leads the Bulldogs in scoring and the Bulldogs have three other players who average double digits in scoring. Teams cannot sleep on the Bulldogs or their tournaments may end sooner then they expected.
6. The Orange should be able to make it out of the first weekend with or without Onuaku. He should be available to play in the regional round in Salt Lake City at worst. With a full lineup, balanced offensive attack and arguably one of the best defenses in the country, the Orange should hold off Kansas State in the regional final and give coach Jim Boeheim a return trip to the Final Four in Indy.
Joshua A. Davidson
1. The Duke Blue Devils stunningly claimed the third No. 1 seed over Syracuse. Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s squad won the ACC regular season and conference tournament championship and was rewarded by the selection committee. Duke has arguably the easiest road to the Final Four of any of the No. 1 seeds.
2. The California Bears, who were considered a bubble team, got in as a No. 8 seed. Cal lost the Pac-10 tournament championship to Washington, who was granted a No. 11 seed, and looked to be squarely on the bubble. But winning the Pac-10 regular season and finishing 23-10 overall was enough to place them comfortably in the tournament. However, they have a less-than-favorable first-round draw against Louisville.
3. Many questions surrounded Purdue’s potential seeding when Robbie Hummel was lost for the season. The Boilermakers were dominated by Minnesota in the Big Ten conference tournament and wound up as the No. 4 seed in the South region. The tournament committee docked Purdue’s seed, much like they did to Cincinnati when the Bearcats lost Kenyon Martin to injury in 2000.
4. The Siena Saints have won their first-round game in the NCAA tournament each of the last two seasons. This year as a No. 13 seed, they will match up with Purdue in the first round. The matchup provides them with a chance to eliminate a Big Ten team in the first round for a second year in a row. Siena defeated Ohio State in the first round of last year’s tournament.
5. A potential regional semifinal game in the bottom half of the bracket pits No. 2 Villanova against No. 3 seed Baylor. The most intriguing part of the game is that it will be played in Houston, which is essentially a home game for Baylor. The Bears, led by senior guard Demond “Tweety” Carter, are a sleeper in this year’s tournament and could make some real noise by knocking off the Wildcats.
6. Louisville, last year’s No. 1 overall seed, comes in as a No. 9 seed this year. The Cardinals are a testament to the parity in college basketball this season. Defending champion North Carolina and Connecticut, who was in the Final Four a season ago, both missed out on bids to this year’s tournament. However, don’t sleep on Louisville as coach Rick Pitino will have his team ready.
7. No. 3 seed Baylor will defeat Duke in the regional final to advance to the Final Four. The Bears have flown under the radar all season but finished second in the Big 12, which is considered to be the best conference in the country this year. They have experience at the guard position and great size up front, both characteristics of typical Final Four teams. The Bears also have the advantage of playing in Houston in the regional semi-final and final.