Favorite: No. 1 seed Kentucky (32-2) -- The Wildcats probably have the most talent in the field. They have length and athleticism and defend and rebound as well as any team, and they have one of the best players in the country in John Wall. But they are also extremely young and don't shoot particularly well. They are not a shoo-in to reach Indianapolis and the Final Four, however, because the East appears to be the toughest of the four regions.
Next in line: No. 2 West Virginia (27-6) -- The Big East tournament champion is athletic, rebounds and defends well but a lack of consistent guard play could do the Mountaineers in early. No. 4 Wisconsin (23-8) -- The Badgers are always a tough out because they are disciplined, play great defense and shoot the ball well.
Sleeper: No. 8 seed Texas (24-9) could lose in the first round. The Longhorns also could reach the Final Four. That is what makes them so hard to figure. They were 17-0 and No. 1 in the country with a lot of quality wins, but stumbled down the stretch. It is a typical Rick Barnes team and certainly good enough to beat anyone. But because it doesn't always play hard or smart, capable of losing to anyone as well.
Best first-round game: No. 6 Marquette (22-11) vs. No. 11 Washington (24-9) -- If you like offense, then this is a game you should love. Both are capable of scoring a lot of points and both have great guard play. The Huskies, who won the Pac-10 tournament, average 80 points per game and are led by one of the best players nobody in the East has heard of ... Quincy Pondexter.
Upset special: No. 12 Cornell (27-4) over No. 5 Temple (29-5) -- To be honest, this wouldn't really be much of an upset because the Big Red is an excellent team with victories against St. John's, Vermont and Alabama, and Cornell played tough against Syracuse and Kansas. The Big Red is one of the best Ivy League teams in recent memory.
Noteworthy: No. 13 seed Wofford will play in the NCAA tournament for the first time. ... No. 3 seed New Mexico is coached by former Indiana star Steve Alford. ... No. 11 Washington is one of only two Pac-10 teams in the field. ... No. 7 Clemson is a high-pressure team with a lot of athleticism and, if it makes it to the second round, could give West Virginia trouble.
Favorite: No. 1 seed Duke (29-5) -- The Blue Devils have not been to the Final Four since 2004 and have not won the national title since '01. This is the school's best team in at least five years, so a return to the Final Four is clearly possible. Duke under coach K always defends but this team is also very good offensively (78 ppg), more athletic than it has been in a while and has an excellent point guard in Jon Scheyer.
Next in line: No. 2 Villanova -- Guards usually dominate the NCAA tournament, and the Wildcats might have the best backcourt in the country, not to mention one of the best clutch players in Scottie Reynolds. Just ask Pitt fans about Reynolds. No. 3 Baylor -- An excellent team, one with size, athleticism and enough ability to get to the Final Four.
Sleeper: No. 13 Siena -- Looking at the road ahead for the Saints, they certainly are capable of getting to the Sweet 16. In fact, they probably should be the favorite in their first-round matchup against No. 4 Purdue given the fact that the Boilermakers have had their fortunes crushed by at least one, if not more, major injuries.
Best first-round game: No. 7 Richmond (26-8) vs. No. 10 St. Mary's, Calif., (26-5) -- These are two smart, disciplined teams are extremely good at managing their possessions and controlling the tempo of a game. St. Mary's features an excellent big man in Omar Samham (20.9 ppg, 11 rpg).
Upset special: No. 11 Old Dominion (26-8) over No. 6 Notre Dame -- The Irish will be the sleeper pick of a lot of people because of their run at the end of the season, but let us be honest -- teams that have to revert to 1950's style basketball rarely have much success in the postseason. The Irish are the same team that lost to Northwestern, Loyola, St. John's and Rutgers, and Old Dominion is extremely balanced on offense and did win at Georgetown earlier this season
Noteworthy: Duke's first-round opponent will be the winner of the play-in game between Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Winthrop. ... Purdue was once considered a No. 1 seed but an injury to forward Robbie Hummel has made the Boilermakers significantly less dangerous. ... Robert Morris is the No. 15 seed in this region and will play Villanova Thursday in Providence.
Favorite: No. 1 Kansas (32-2) -- If there is a prohibitive favorite to win the national title it is the Jayhawks, but this not a situation like last year when North Carolina was so superior to the rest of the field it seemed everyone else was playing for second. Kansas is loaded with talent, shoots the ball well and is experienced.
Next in line: No. 2 Ohio State (27-7) and No. 3 Georgetown (23-10) are similar in a couple areas -- they have excellent starting fives and enough star power to make long runs in the tournament. But neither has much depth and both will need to stay out of foul trouble. No. 4 Maryland (23-8) is smallish but has great guard play.
Sleeper: No. 10 Georgia Tech -- The Yellow Jackets individual parts should add up to more than their less-than-lofty seeding. But the continued improvement of 6-foot-10 freshman forward Derrick Favor seems to have helped the Yellow Jackets find some consistency.
Best first-round game: Tennessee (25-8) vs. San Diego State (25-8) -- Not many mid-majors have a head coach who has been to three Final Fours and won a national title. San Diego State's Steve Fisher has built a reputation on being an excellent NCAA tournament coach at Michigan and has done an excellent job with the Aztecs.
Upset special: No. 13 Houston (19-15) over No. 4 Maryland (23-8) -- Basketball is a game of matchups and while the Cougars aren't exactly returning to their Phi Slamma Jamma roots, they do have enough athleticism and size to give the Terrapins problems. It should an entertaining game if nothing else.
Noteworthy: Former Illinois and Florida coach Lon Kruger is the coach at No. 8 UNLV. ... No. 5 Michigan State was in the national title game last season and is always a tough out in the NCAA tournament. ... No. 7 seed Oklahoma State is one of only two teams to beat Kansas this year.
Favorite: No. 2 Kansas State (26-7) -- This region is the most wide open because there isn't any team to get really excited about. That said, the Wildcats get the nod here because they have more balance than the other top teams in the West and they are more versatile offensively. Three of the Wildcats losses came to No. 1 Kansas and they really didn't have a bad loss.
Next in line: No. 1 Syracuse (28-4) -- It seems to be feast or famine in the NCAA tournament for the Orange and while it is clearly blessed with talent, the team's performance in the Big East tournament certainly raised some eyebrows. No. 4 Vanderbilt is long and athletic, plays great defense and finished second in the SEC.
Sleeper: No. 6 Xavier (24-8) -- The Musketeers have a great guards in Jordan Crawford and Terrell Holloway, and 6-9 Jason Love gives them a solid inside-outside game. They also defend well, are efficient offensively and have been to the Sweet 16 in each of the past two seasons.
Best first-round game: No. 8 Gonzaga (26-6) vs. No. 9 Florida State (22-9) -- An interesting clash of styles as the Zags shoot well, prefer to control tempo and play great defense while the Seminoles are an athletic team that doesn't shoot particularly well. The pace of the game will go a long way toward determining who wins.
Upset special: No. 12 UTEP (26-6) over No. 5 Butler (28-4) -- The Miners were 15-1 in Conference USA and had won 16 in a row before losing in the C-USA tournament to Houston. But they can win up-tempo games and they can win when teams slow the pace, and Butler has struggled with athletic teams (see UAB 67, Butler 57).
Noteworthy: Pitt (24-8) is the No. 3 seed in this region and has a favorable first-round matchup against No. 14 Oakland (26-8). If the Panthers win, they likely will meet Xavier for the second consecutive year. ... No. 10 seed Florida won national titles in 2006 and '07 but had not been in the tournament since. ... No. 16 seed Vermont plays No. 1 Syracuse and this is the Catamounts first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2005 when they upset the Orange, 60-57, in a first-round game.
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1720.