THE POW­ER­FUL

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Florida State

Kansas

Ken­tucky

Michi­gan

Mis­souri

Mur­ray State

Ohio State

Syra­cuse

Tem­ple

Wis­con­sin

(12 teams to be wary of)

With the pos­si­ble ex­cep­tion of guard Michael Snaer, this isn’t a team of stars. But heav­ens, do the Semi­noles de­fend, just as they have through­out their run as the best team in the ACC out­side of Duke and North Carolina over the last four years. On a night when Florida State can hit some 3-point­ers, it will be an im­mensely dif­fi­cult out.

Credit to Bill Self for shrug­ging off some pre­sea­son con­cerns and lead­ing the Jay­hawks to a 276 mark. The Jay­hawks have a re­cent his­tory of odd NCAA losses, but have reached the round of 16 in four of the last five years. Kansas won’t go qui­etly; its only loss by dou­ble dig­its all sea­son was a 10-point set­back to Ken­tucky.

The Wild­cats are the pro­hib­i­tive fa­vorite, even with yet an­other ros­ter lit­tered with fresh­men. Of course, when one of the fresh­men is An­thony Davis and the rest are ex­cep­tion­ally skilled, it might not mat­ter that much. John Cali­pari came ex­cru­ci­at­ingly close to a ti­tle in 2008 with Mem­phis; he may well get it this year.

Yes, the Wolver­ines are back among the elite, earn­ing their high­est seed since they were a No. 3 in 1998. The next step? Reach­ing the sec­ond week­end for the first time since Juwan Howard was still in Ann Ar­bor. That’s right, Michi­gan hasn’t made the round of 16 since 1994. John Beilein and Co. are poised to end that drought.

Michi­gan State

Bet against Tom Izzo and Dray­mond Green at your own risk. As usual, the Spar­tans are tough, tested and plenty ca­pa­ble of mak­ing life mis­er­able for any­one stand­ing in their way. Af­ter a firstround exit a year ago, there’s lit­tle doubt Michi­gan State is back to its nor­mal self. The Spar­tans will go deep, per­haps back to the Final Four for the third time in four years.

It’s been a mag­i­cal sea­son for se­nior guard Kim English and his teammates, in­clud­ing a Big 12 tour­na­ment ti­tle as a go­ing-away present as the Tigers head into the SEC next year. Mis­souri en­tered Sun­day with an 11-3 mark against the top 50, a solid sign the pro­gram’s elu­sive first Final Four trip is pos­si­ble.

The Rac­ers lost only once, and their seed­ing had to be one of the more dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions fac­ing the com­mit­tee. Nonethe­less, there are solid wins (Mem­phis and Saint Mary’s) on Mur­ray State’s re­sume, and the Rac­ers are two years re­moved from knock­ing off Van­der­bilt in the first round. They’ll be in­ter­est­ing to mon­i­tor.

North Carolina

The Tar Heels have the is­sue of John Hen­son’s wrist in­jury, which cost the ju­nior for­ward time in the ACC tour­na­ment. But they also have Ken­dall Mar­shall, Har­ri­son Barnes and Tyler Zeller, which means they can prob­a­bly out-tal­ent op­po­nents for a cou­ple rounds. This team opened the sea­son with na­tional ti­tle ex­pec­ta­tions; they’re still there.

The Buck­eyes aren’t the over­whelm­ing pick to go all the way this year, but they’re still plenty ca­pa­ble thanks to guard Aaron Craft, cen­ter Jared Sullinger and plenty of tal­ent through­out the ros­ter. Ohio State suf­fered all but one of its losses in the bruis­ing Big Ten, and it might be well-served fac­ing teams it usu­ally doesn’t see.

Is this Jim Boe­heim’s last chance at a sec­ond na­tional ti­tle? Per­haps. The Orange lost twice all sea­son: On the road against tra­di­tional home­court hero Notre Dame, and in the Big East semi­fi­nals to sweet-shoot­ing Cincin­nati. Syra­cuse has had its share of pre­ma­ture flame­outs, but this bunch has the goods for a deep run.

Coach Fran Dunphy fi­nally made it out of the first round for the first time in 17 years last sea­son. The next step: The Owls’ first round of 16 ap­pear­ance since 2001. Se­nior guards Ra­mone Moore and Juan Fer­nan­dez (as well as ju­nior scorer Khalif Wy­att) make Tem­ple an ex­cep­tion­ally dan­ger­ous com­mod­ity.

The Badgers have won their NCAA opener in nine of 10 years un­der coach Bo Ryan, and point guard Jor­dan Tay­lor is likely help Wis­con­sin go at least a step fur­ther this sea­son. As usual, de­fense car­ries the day in Madi­son; the Badgers gave up 70 points only twice all sea­son and 60 points just 12 times in 33 games.

Yes, it’s a high-ma­jor at-large, but don’t pay at­ten­tion to that. In­stead, just re­al­ize the Golden Bears have no top-50 wins and a los­ing record away from home. There’s also the mat­ter of an ex­cep­tion­ally tepid Pac-12. This is a team poised for a rapid de­par­ture.

Florida

Re­mem­ber when the Ga­tors were 19-4 and pre­sum­ably Ken­tucky’s best chal­lenger in the SEC? Well, 10 games and six losses later (in­clud­ing three set­backs against Ken­tucky), Florida isn’t a par­tic­u­larly im­pos­ing bunch and un­likely to es­cape the first week­end.

Ge­orge­town

The Hoyas (and se­nior cen­ter Henry Sims, es­pe­cially) earn a ton of credit for vastly ex­ceed­ing ex­pec­ta­tions in what was thought to be a re­build­ing year. But Ge­orge­town’s in­abil­ity to string to­gether more than two wins in a row over the last six weeks is a sign such a streak prob­a­bly isn’t about to start now.

In­di­ana

The Hoosiers beat Ken­tucky, Michi­gan, Michi­gan State and Ohio State, all at home. Alas, there are no NCAA tour­na­ment games in Bloom­ing­ton. Toss in a sea­son-end­ing knee in­jury to se­nior guard Verdell Jones III, and Tom Crean’s first NCAA ap­pear­ance at In­di­ana might not be a long one.

Louisville

Yeah, yeah, yeah, the Car­di­nals won the Big East tour­na­ment, and that cer­tainly helped pro­pel Con­necti­cut to a na­tional ti­tle last sea­son. But this was a re­mark­ably mun­dane team through­out league play, and Big East tourney MVP Pey­ton Siva is quite in­con­sis­tent. It’s a tough team to trust for an­other week.

Notre Dame

The Ir­ish plum­meted back to re­al­ity af­ter an in­cred­i­ble mid­sea­son run, drop­ping three of five (in­clud­ing wretched per­for­mances against Ge­orge­town and Louisville) to close out the reg­u­lar sea­son. Notre Dame hasn’t ad­vanced to the round of 16 since 2003, a streak un­likely to end this year.

South­ern Mis­sis­sippi

The RPI is not a per­fect met­ric. Case in point: the Golden Ea­gles. Larry Eus­tachy’s team was lodged in the top 20 of the noted se­lec­tion com­mit­tee tool for much of the last two months. But with a 3-4 mini-slide to end the reg­u­lar sea­son, South­ern Miss doesn’t look like it is long for the tour­na­ment.

UNLV

On the sur­face, there’s plenty to like about the Run­nin’ Rebels. But dig into their pro­file, and they’re just 1-6 against the top 100 out­side of Ve­gas. As usual, there are no NCAA tour­na­ment games in Sin City. The Rebs might be one-and-done.

Van­der­bilt

The Com­modores’ last three NCAA ap­pear­ances ended with first-round ex­its against dou­bledigit seeds (Siena in 2008, Mur­ray State in 2010 and Rich­mond in 2011). Past per­for­mance may not in­di­cate fu­ture re­sults, but that’s a star­tling re­cent trend and it makes Van­der­bilt tough to trust.

Virginia

The Cava­liers have Mike Scott, a not-en­tire­ly­healthy Joe Har­ris and a lock­down de­fender in Jon­tel Evans. They don’t have much depth. Ask­ing any­thing more than one win is a bit too much.

The Tar Heels sopho­more wasn’t a first-team all-acc se­lec­tion, but he just might be the most valu­able player on a cred­i­ble na­tional ti­tle con­tender. Mar­shall’s abil­ity to an­a­lyze the move­ments of the other nine play­ers on the floor is ex­tra­or­di­nary, and Carolina will need it to make a Final Four run.

Best fresh­man: An­thony Davis, Ken­tucky

Who else would it be? Davis is the na­tion’s best fresh­man, best de­fen­sive player and ar­guably its best player over­all. With 4.6 blocks per game, Davis is cer­tainly the coun­try’s top shotswat­ter. En­joy it while it lasts, Big Blue Na­tion; it’s doubt­ful Davis plays more than six more col­lege games.

Best postgame: Jimmy Pat­sos, Loy­ola

You never know what sort of di­rec­tion Pat­sos’ stream-of-con­scious­ness mono­logues will take, only that they will be mem­o­rable, worldly and at least some­what cathar­tic for the Grey­hounds’ en­er­getic eighth-year coach. His pressers be­fore and af­ter Loy­ola’s round of 64 game will be must-see TV.

Best nick­name: South Dakota State

Best se­nior class: La­mar

No one would have sug­gested this af­ter a Feb. 22 loss at Stephen F. Austin. Coach Pat Knight evis­cer­ated the lead­er­ship of his se­niors, and video of it went vi­ral. Six con­sec­u­tive vic­to­ries later, the Car­di­nals are in the tour­na­ment for the first time since 2000.

Best fa­ther-son duo: Creighton

Greg Mcder­mott fled Iowa State for Creighton to per­form a lit­tle ca­reer re­vival two years ago. Guess what helped? Bring­ing along his son Doug, who is av­er­ag­ing 23.2 points and shot 61 per­cent from the floor for the Blue­jays, who won the Mis­souri Val­ley tour­na­ment.

Best team no one is talk­ing about: Mem­phis

The Tigers didn’t take ad­van­tage of their earl­y­sea­son chances to lock up im­pres­sive wins, but no mat­ter. Josh Past­ner’s team re­mains loaded with tal­ent. Mem­phis has won 11 of 12 and coasted through the Con­fer­ence USA tour­na­ment. Mem­phis is a se­ri­ous round of 16 con­tender.

Best lion in late win­ter: Jim Cal­houn, Uconn

With his many tri­umphs over health scares and en­e­mies real and imag­ined, it seems like Cal­houn is prac­ti­cally in­de­struc­tible. But trou­ble looms, with de­fec­tions to the NBA and a tour­na­ment ban for 2013 on the way. But don’t count out the pos­si­bil­ity the three-time na­tional champ makes things in­ter­est­ing in the next few weeks.

Best mayor: Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State

The Cy­clones aren’t a Final Four con­tender, but Hoiberg de­serves praise for get­ting his alma mater back to the NCAA tour­na­ment in only his sec­ond sea­son. Known as “The Mayor” in Ames dur­ing his play­ing days, Hoiberg cob­bled to­gether a ros­ter that’s beaten both Kansas and Bay­lor this sea­son.

Best come­back: Rob­bie Hummel, Pur­due

Af­ter back-to-back ACL tears, Hummel re­turned to lead the Boil­er­mak­ers in scor­ing (16.3) and re­bound­ing (7.1). His in­juries prob­a­bly cost Pur­due a shot at a Final Four last sea­son, but his pres­ence was cru­cial to this year’s team nav­i­gat­ing its way to the Boil­ers’ sixth straight NCAA ap­pear­ance.

Best bat­tle-tested low-ma­jor: Long Beach St.

Dan Mon­son took the 49ers to Pitts­burgh. And San Diego State. And Louisville. And Kansas. And North Carolina. And to Hawaii, where they faced Xavier and Kansas State. Long Beach won the Big West and will not be re­motely rat­tled by a big stage. The 49ers should be a chic up­set pick.

Best re­sponse to a brawl: Cincin­nati

The Bearcats dra­mat­i­cally im­proved their seed­ing with vic­to­ries over Ge­orge­town and Syra­cuse in the Big East tour­na­ment. But re­mem­ber, this team was 5-3 when a brawl against Xavier led to the sus­pen­sions of sev­eral play­ers. The Bearcats started play­ing bet­ter, win­ning 19 of 26 to lock up a bid.

So, are the Rams sim­ply a team that wins a bunch of home games and played the RPI for­mula per­fectly? Or can they make a se­ri­ous im­pres­sion dur­ing their first NCAA ap­pear­ance since 2003? With no top-100 wins out­side of Fort Collins, this isn’t a bunch that’s earned the ben­e­fit of the doubt.

Gon­zaga

As om­nipresent as the Zags are — this is their 14th straight NCAA ap­pear­ance — they’ve ad­vanced to the sec­ond week­end just once in the last five years. With a smat­ter­ing of solid wins to go with a fairly tal­ented ros­ter, Mark Few could still coax a lit­tle more out of this year’s bunch.

Tommy Amaker, Har­vard

Hard as it is to be­lieve, Amaker is coach­ing in the NCAA tour­na­ment for the first time since 2000. He also hap­pens to have a loaded Crim­son team that sur­vived ar­guably the most fe­ro­ciously com­pet­i­tive Ivy League sea­son ever. Har­vard has a shot to make some noise in the next week.

C.J. Mccol­lum, Le­high

How the Ga­torade Player of the Year in Ohio ever wound up in the Pa­triot League is any­one’s guess. But the 6-foot-3 Mccol­lum has a chance to show just what ev­ery­one missed out on while mak­ing his sec­ond NCAA ap­pear­ance. Two years ago, he dropped 26 on Kansas in a loss.

Mar­quette

Here’s a ques­tion: De­spite a sec­ond-place fin­ish in the Big East, the pres­ence of the league Player of the Year (Jae Crow­der) and a trip to the sec­ond week­end last sea­son, are the Golden Ea­gles un­der­rated? It’s tough to be­lieve, but Mar­quette is sur­pris­ingly over­looked for a pro­tected seed.

Steve Al­ford, New Mex­ico

Back in 1999, Al­ford led what was then called South­west Mis­souri State to the re­gional semi­fi­nals. He’s 2-4 in the NCAA tour­na­ment since then dur­ing stops at Iowa and New Mex­ico, twice los­ing to a dou­ble-digit seed. Af­ter an im­pres­sive Moun­tain West ti­tle run, it’s time to see if he can sus­tain some post­sea­son mojo.

Kyle O’quinn, Nor­folk State

The Spar­tans big man has an im­pres­sive skill set and an out­sized per­son­al­ity to match it, and it’s not hard to see him mak­ing money play­ing bas­ket­ball some­where around the globe for years to come. A good show­ing this week cer­tainly wouldn’t hurt, though.

N.C. State

The Wolf­pack slipped into the field on the strength of a de­cent record away from Raleigh (96) and a cred­i­ble show­ing at the ACC tour­na­ment (beat Virginia, pushed North Carolina to the final sec­onds). De­spite an ab­sence of great wins, they looked like they be­longed. It would be nice if they showed they did this week.

Texas

The Longhorns haven’t beaten a higher-seeded team in the NCAA tour­na­ment since 2002. Granted, they haven’t had many op­por­tu­ni­ties, but they’ve seen seven post­sea­son trips end against a lower-seeded out­fit. They’re not the hunted this time, and will need to pull off a sur­prise to ad­vance.

Gregg Mar­shall, Wi­chita State

He has an NCAA tour­na­ment up­set to his name (2007 when Winthrop knocked off Notre Dame). He has an NIT crowd. But a deep run with the Shock­ers will make Mar­shall an es­pe­cially cov­eted coach­ing com­mod­ity. De­spite a Mis­souri Val­ley tour­na­ment loss, Wi­chita State is dan­ger­ous.

Tu Hol­loway, Xavier

Af­ter last year’s five-point, five-turnover, 1-for8 shoot­ing ad­ven­ture in a round of 64 loss to Mar­quette, the Mus­ke­teers star guard could use a lit­tle post­sea­son re­demp­tion. He’s off to a good start this month af­ter Xavier’s At­lantic 10 tour­na­ment run.

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