Butler and Virginia Commonwealth defied the odds with Hoosiers-like runs to the Final Four last season, leaving a trail of ripped up NCAA Tournament brackets across the country.
The Rams will get another shot after winning the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament, but the Bulldogs – and lovable mascot Blue2 – are in the CBI after consecutive trips to the NCAA title game.
Last season seemed like a confluence of chaos, but this year’s bracket has the potential to match it after the top four teams in the AP Top 25 went down last week.
Kentucky, Syracuse, Michigan State and North Carolina got the
No. 1 nods from the tournament selection committee. All four have their faults, though, particularly the Orange, who will be playing without center Fab Melo.
To get you ready for the action, we’ve got a rundown of what to look for leading up to the title game in New Orleans on April 2.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Thomas Robinson, Kansas. Big, powerful, agile, dominating, player of the year candidate.
Jared Sullinger, Ohio State. See “Thomas Robinson, Kansas.”
Anthony Davis, Kentucky. Scores, blocks shots, dominates. You get the idea.
Doug McDermott, Creighton. Third in the nation with 23.2 points per game, shot 61 percent from the field and that’s-not-a-typo 49 percent from 3. This year’s Jimmer?
Peyton Siva, Louisville. That teardrop of his could bring rain.
Draymond Green, Michigan State. Does it all, seems to know it all on the court.
Austin Rivers, Duke. Hit that big 3-pointer to beat North Carolina, can take over games down the stretch.
Isaiah Canaan, Murray State. He’s the main reason the Racers are in the dance.
Every year there are high seeds that win games they’re not supposed to win and shatter brackets.
Here’s several potential opening-round upsets to consider.
Colorado State over Murray State. The Racers, the sixth seed in the West, like to shoot the 3 and have Isaiah Canaan. The 11th-seeded Rams have seen teams and players like this before.
Virginia Commonwealth over Wichita State. The Rams were panned for getting into the NCAA Tournament last year, then went to the Final Four. Why not again?
5-2: Odds for Kentucky to win the title, lowest by oddsmaker Mike Colbert of Cantor Gaming.
6-1: Odds for Ohio State to win the title, second-best despite being a No. 2 seed.
5: Teams from North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament: North Carolina, Duke, N.C. State, UNC Asheville, Davidson.
9: NCAA Tournament bids by the Big East, most of any conference.
11: At-large mid-majors in the bracket, most since 12 made it in 2004.
12: Presidents since Harvard’s last trip to the NCAA Tournament, starting with Truman in 1946.
53: NCAA Tournament appearances by Kentucky, most all-time.
Louisville vs. Davidson. The Cardinals have lost in the first round each of the past two years, and Davidson has done the David vs. Goliath thing before.
Creighton vs. Alabama. McDermott dominates. The Crimson Tide are peaking at just the right time.
North Carolina vs. Kansas, potential Midwest Region final. OK, a lot has to happen before we get to this, but two perennial powers and Roy Williams against his former team back in the Midwest builds a little anticipation.
KEEP AN EYE ON
After Butler made it to consecutive championship games and VCU joined the Bulldogs last year, it’s hard to rule anyone out. Here’s a few of the mid-majors to watch.
Detroit. The Titans are as talented as anyone and have scoring machine Ray McCallum.
Memphis. The Tigers are long, athletic and can stay with anyone when they’re on top of their game.
VCU. Coach Shaka Smart. He did it once before, can do it again.
Wichita State. The Shockers must get by VCU in their opener but have the look of a team that could make a run.
Long Beach State. The 49ers had three victories in as many nights to win the Big West Conference Tournament but aren’t sure if star Larry Anderson will be able to play against New Mexico today.