Best of the Best: OHIO STATE (Overall No. 1) is easily the best team, not only in the East Region but also in the entire field. The Big 10 champs have just two losses heading into the tourney; those losses came at Wisconsin and at Purdue, two teams that finished the season a perfect 16-0 at home. The Buckeyes, led by Big 10 Freshman of the Year Jared Sullinger, are an all-around powerhouse. They have the ability to score at will from anywhere on the floor, while their man-to-man defense suffocates opponents without committing an excessive amount of fouls.
Best of the Rest: Just because Ohio State is the odds-on favorite to win it all does not mean its region will be a complete cakewalk. NORTH CAROLINA (2) and KENTUCKY (4) are two teams that could upset top-seeded Ohio State. Neither squad has trouble putting the ball through the hoop and would provide an interesting match-up versus the Buckeyes. Also, do not forget about GEORGE MASON (8). With a variety of weapons on offense and an underrated defense, the Patriots have the ability to upset Ohio State in the second round.
Cinderella: None. George Mason is by far the best mid-major team in this bracket and they are an 8-seed. Don’t expect much from UAB (12), a team that many argue does not even deserve to be in the tournament, or INDIANA STATE (14), who somehow upset the Missouri State Bears in the Missouri Valley Championship Game.
Early Exit? SYRACUSE (3) has a shoot-first offense that makes them an all-or-nothing team. The Orangemen could get hot and make a run deep into the tournament or their shooting could go cold, leaving them susceptible to an upset in the early rounds. I'd bet on the latter.
Skip Class to See: XAVIER (6) vs. MARQUETTE (11)-This matchup should provide plenty of offense as neither squad excels on defense but can put up points with relative ease.
Game We’d Pay to See:
OHIO STATE (1) vs. NORTH CAROLINA (2)-Two powerhouse schools battle for the right to go to the Final Four. What could be better out of a relatively weak East Region? Yes, the one-two matchup is a little blasé, but it would still be an intriguing matchup.
Picking a Winner: OHIO STATE (1) is the No. 1 overall seed for a reason. The Buckeyes are on a roll and I don’t see them losing a game between now and April 4.
Best of the Best:
SAN DIEGO STATE (2) isn’t getting a lot of respect but is a legitimately good team that should have no problem cruising into the Elite Eight. The Aztecs pride themselves on their defense, which is among the best in the country. SDSU should have no problem picking up its first two or three NCAA tournament wins this year.
Best of the Rest: DUKE (1) is easily the weakest of the four No. 1 seeds and its loaded half of the region will make it difficult, but not impossible, to repeat as national champions. The Blue Devils have plenty of players returning from last year’s title team, so they are used to adversity and know what it takes to win it all. However, Duke will have its hands full early with a round two matchup with either MICHIGAN (8) or TENNESSEE (9). Should Mike Krzyzewski’s team make it out of round two, it will most likely have to deal with Jordan Hamilton and a young TEXAS (4) team in the Sweet 16.
Early Exit? CONNECTICUT (3)-I am one of the few who would actually like Missouri’s chances against Connecticut should the two teams meet in round three. Mike Anderson’s high-octane offense is especially effective at wearing down teams in a tournament setting. The Huskies had to play five nights in a row en route to winning the Big East Tournament, so fatigue could definitely play a role in the early rounds.
Cinderella: OAKLAND (13) is set up for a deep run in the tournament. Texas’ defense started to show holes in its final regular season games, which plays right into the hands of an Oakland offense that averages 85 points per game.
Skip Class to See: CINCINNATI (6) vs. MISSOURI (11)-Outside of Texas vs. Oakland, this is probably the most intriguing matchup from the West Region. While Cincinnati’s strong defense but lackluster offense means that this will most likely be a low-scoring game, it will be exciting to watch Missouri’s Ricardo Ratliffe battle with Yancy Gates down low. The Tigers’ offense has been quite successful in first round match-ups under Mike Anderson. The same cannot be said when the Tigers face Big East teams, however, so something will have to give.
Game We’d Pay to See: DUKE (1) vs. SAN DIEGO STATE (2)-Two of the top teams from this season, Duke and San Diego State have a lot of experienced players on their rosters and neither team relies too heavily on one player in particular. On paper, these two programs appear to be evenly matched. That being said, I give the edge to…
Picking a Winner: SAN DIEGO STATE (2), who is set up to cruise into the Elite Eight, whereas Duke will have to battle its way through the bracket. I expect the Aztecs defense to capitalize on a weary Blue Devils’ offense. Bottom line: Fear the Aztecs because they are 100 percent legitimate.
Best of the Best: PITTSBURGH (1) gets the edge in what is arguably the toughest region. The Panthers are a veteran group that dominates the boards and plays a physical brand of defense that has held opponents to just 60 points per game. Pittsburgh is well balanced offensively with six players who average nearly seven points a game.
Best of the Rest: Lead by 10 seniors, ST. JOHN’S (6) is a force to be reckoned with in the Southeast. The Red Storm is the only non-ACC team to knock off Duke and also has wins against Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. Look for this group of veterans to play with a chip on its shoulder after being unfairly knocked out of the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament.
Early Exit? BYU (3)-Shut down Jimmer Fredette, shut down the BYU Cougars. It’s really as simple as that. Another team that could make an early exit is FLORIDA (2). It’s a mystery how the Gators drew a No. 2 seed despite losing to Kentucky (a No. 4 seed) in the finals of the SEC Tournament. They should win their first round game against UC-Santa Barbara, but I don’t see them getting past either UCLA or Michigan State in the second round.
Cinderella: BELMONT (13) has a high tempo offense that should be enough to get them past a struggling Wisconsin team that scored just 33 points in its Big 10 quarterfinal loss to Penn State.
Skip Class to See: UCLA (7) vs. MICHIGAN STATE (10)-Two evenly matched teams battling it out for what I believe will ultimately be a trip to the Sweet Sixteen (as I said before, I don’t think either team will have trouble vs. Florida). UCLA rebounded nicely from a 14-18 season last year while Michigan State, led by Kalin Lucas, finished strong to ensure itself a spot in the Big Dance.
Game We’d Pay to See: BYU (3) vs. KANSAS STATE (5)-This would be a fun game to watch. BYU’s Jimmer Ferdette versus K-State’s Jacob Pullen sets up a potential showdown for the ages. Both guys carry their respective teams and seem to score at will.
Picking a Winner: KANSAS STATE (5) has potential to be a three-headed monster. It will need Curtis Kelly and Rodney McGruder to continue stepping up in support of Jacob Pullen if the team expects to get past Utah State. Once the Wildcats get rolling, they will be a tough team to stop.
Best of the Best: KANSAS (1)-It seems like we say this every year, but this Kansas team appears poised to make a run at the National Title. The Morris twins make this one of the most versatile offenses in the nation that can kill you both inside and from three-point land. Bill Self will use the loss last year to Northern Iowa to help motivate his team and keep it on track to its ultimate goal. An interesting side note: the last time KU played a tournament game in Tulsa was in 1975 when the Jayhawks lost to Notre Dame in round two.
Best of the Rest: PURDUE (3) may have collapsed at the end of the season but is still a force to be reckoned with. Beware of Big Ten Player of the Year JuJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore. If those two get hot, Purdue could find itself playing in Houston in a few weeks.
Early Exit? NOTRE DAME (2) will join Florida as the only other No. 2 seed upset in the tourney. Despite wins over Pittsburgh and UConn, the Fighting Irish are not all that impressive. Look for either Texas A&M or Florida State to shut down Ben Hansbrough, leaving Notre Dame hapless offensively.
Cinderella: RICHMOND (12) has the offensive weapons to make a run deep into this tournament. The Spiders did beat Purdue earlier in the season, so do not expect them to be intimidated by anyone as the tourney goes on.
Skip Class to See: VANDERBILT (5) vs. RICHMOND (12)-Most college basketball fans enjoy watching games with a lot of scoring and this matchup will provide plenty of that with two teams that have high shooting percentages.
Game We’d Pay to See: ILLINOIS (9) vs. LOUISVILLE (4)-It would just be fun to see Kansas get knocked out in the second round again, even if it is at the hands of another one of Missouri’s rivals.
Picking a Winner: KANSAS (1)-Unfortunately, the Jayhawks have a relatively easy road to the Final Four. One potential road block would be Louisville in the Sweet Sixteen. However, the Morris twins and Thomas Robinson should have no problem dominating the Cardinals down low, making it that much easier for KU. Purdue could make a run at the Jayhawks in the Elite Eight, but Kansas has enough weapons on defense to shut down Johnson and Moore.