Every year when the NCAA tournament bracket comes out, there's a
team, maybe a couple that stand out as the ones to beat.
Last year, to a certain extent, it was Duke. Kansas, with those
five future pros, was the bracket behemoth in 2008 and Florida was
the no-brainer the year before.
This year, there doesn't seem to be that one team that'll be at
the top of everyone's bracket. It's probably closer to a dozen.
Heck, there are five or six teams just in the Big East that could
be considered legitimate title contenders.
Certainly, going with one of the top four seeds is a pretty safe
route, but each one in this year's field of 68 has enough flaws
that it's going to be difficult to feel certain about the final
pick at the middle of the bracket.
To help out, here's a rundown of the favorites, with opening
odds to win the title from the folks at Glantz-Culver:
Odds to win championship: 3-1.
Why they'll win: The Buckeyes are as deep and talented as any
team in the country and have a national player of the year
candidate in Jared Sullinger. The freshman didn't play like one
this season, allowing Ohio State not miss a beat after losing last
year's player of the year, Evan Turner. The Buckeyes also have
sharpshooter Jon Diebler, who led the nation in 3-point shooting at
Why they won't: The Buckeyes aren't invincible, as losses to
Wisconsin and Purdue in a span of eight days showed. Ohio State
blew a 15-point lead against the Badgers and allowed the
Boilermakers to shoot 51 percent, so they can break into lapses of
concentration. They're also in a tough East Regional that includes
North Carolina, Syracuse and Kentucky.
Odds to win championship: 9-2.
Why they'll win: If Ohio State is the No. 1 team for talent and
depth, the Jayhawks are 1A. Led by twin forwards Marcus and
Markieff Morris, Kansas looks like a younger version of the team
that won the 2008 title. The Jayhawks have plenty of players who
can get out on the break, excellent spot-up shooters and are tough
to match up inside with the Morrises and Thomas Robinson.
Why they won't: Kansas, like Ohio State had a couple of letdowns
during the conference season. The Jayhawks allowed Texas to score
51 points in a dominating second half to see their nation's-best
69-game home winning streak end and were run over on the road to
Kansas State, which had been struggling to that point. Kansas also
was at the wrong end of the biggest upset in last year's
tournament, losing to Northern Iowa.
Odds to win championship: 5-1.
Why they'll win: They're the defending national champions. Well,
it's more than that. The Blue Devils have one of the best 1-2
punches in Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, and plenty of role players
to fit around them. Duke is also multidimensional, with just about
everyone on the roster able to step out and hit 3-pointers.
Why they won't: Duke still managed to win the ACC tournament and
get a No. 1 seed in the West Regional despite playing three months
without Kyrie Irving, but could be in a tough spot later in the
tournament if the talented freshman guard isn't able to return. The
Blue Devils also are in a difficult region that includes San Diego
State, Connecticut and Texas.
Odds to win championship: 7-1.
Why they'll win: The Panthers earned the No. 1 seed in the
Southeast Regional coming out of the brutally tough Big East. The
Panthers, as they have since Jamie Dixon became coach, love to
pound on teams defensively and have one of the best shooters in the
country in Ashton Gibbs. Pitt also has what should be an easy start
in the first two rounds.
Why they won't: The Panthers are vulnerable when Gibbs doesn't
get help. Pitt found that out in the Big East tournament when UConn
nipped the Panthers on Kemba Walker's last-second shot. Potential
matchups with Louisville or Notre Dame late in the regional could
be tripping points.
SAN DIEGO STATE
Odds to win championship: 12-1.
Why they'll win: What a run by the Aztecs this season under
coach Steve Fisher. San Diego State swept the Mountain West
regular-season and conference titles on its way to winning a
school-record 32 games. The Aztecs were swept by BYU during the
regular season, but turned the tables with a dominating performance
in the tournament title game. San Diego State also has one of the
best players in the country in Kawhi Leonard.
Why they won't: The Aztecs had a hard time stopping Jimmer
Fredette in the two losses to BYU and they could face a similar,
light-up-the-scoreboard player in UConn's Walker in the third
round. San Diego State, despite its high seeding, hasn't had much
success in the NCAA tournament lately, either, going winless its
past six trips, including three under Fisher.
Odds to win championship: 15-1.
Why they'll win: The Tar Heels made a quick turnaround after a
miserable 17-loss season a year ago. North Carolina won 19 of its
final 21 games, including over Duke in the finale to win the ACC
regular-season crown, and had two comeback wins in the ACC
tournament. The Tar Heels also are loaded with talented players,
including freshman Harrison Barnes, who came on strong late after
some early lumps.
Why they won't: The Tar Heels are young, which could leave them
a little shellshocked in the bright lights of March. North Carolina
was blown out in the ACC tournament final by Duke and doesn't have
a particularly easy road coming out of the East Regional. The Tar
Heels also have just eight scholarship players after point guard
Larry Drew III transferred and freshman reserve Reggie Bullock
suffered a late-season knee injury.
Odds to win championship: 18-1.
Why they'll win: The Gators won the Southeastern Conference's
regular-season title and get to open the NCAA tournament close to
home in Tampa. Florida has one of the best guard combinations in
the country in Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker, and a good inside
presence with Chandler Parsons and Vernon Macklin.
Why they won't: The Gators may rely too much on Boynton and
Walker. When those two struggle, so does Florida. That was evident
in Florida's two losses to Kentucky, when the Wildcats used tall,
athletic guards to manhandle the Gators' two smallish guards.
Odds to win championship: 20-1.
Why they'll win: Purdue's title hopes seemed to take a huge hit
when Robbie Hummel tore his ACL for a second time in preseason
practice. The Boilermakers not only survived without the
hustle-all-the-time forward, they became a top-10 team behind
JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore. Opening the NCAAs at relatively
close Chicago is also a boost.
Why they won't: Purdue was in the running for a No. 1 seed the
NCAA tournament before faltering late in the season. The
Boilermakers ended the regular season by getting stunned by Iowa,
then were bounced from the Big Ten tournament by Michigan State. A
potential second-round game against Georgetown is dangerous.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)