The field for the 2012 NCAA Tournament is so balanced that any of a number of teams could cut down the nets in New Orleans. The committee did a great job making each bracket difficult for the top seeds, and provided a plethora of entertaining match-ups. But it wouldn’t be wise to stray too far away from what we already know: The higher seeds are there for a reason.
So who will reign supreme when it’s all said and done?
(NOTES: We had a bit of fun with this. We decided that one No.1-seed would not be able to win it all, we also decided that a No.5-seed or higher could win it all. Does it make perfect sense? No. But neither does March Madness.)
(UPDATE: We’ve had to make an adjustment to our list due to the breaking news that Syracuse center Fab Melo won’t be elligible to participate in the NCAA Tournament.)
Ten teams who can win it all:
Kentucky (No. 1 South):
Simply put, they are the best team in the country. There are not more than two or three teams that can match up with Terrence Jones, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis. They have solid guards in Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague, and Darius Miller is a terrific shooter to bring off the bench. Their loss in the SEC Tournament Championship game served as a reality check, and the ‘Cats aren’t likely to let it happen again. Their portion of the bracket has a lot of interesting teams, but not very many that can beat Kentucky without playing a perfect game.
North Carolina (No. 1 Midwest):
The Tar Heels are the top rebounding team in the country and rank second in points per game. They force a bunch of turnovers and want to get out and run. Next to Kentucky, North Carolina has the most talented front line in the country in Tyler Zeller and John Henson with Harrison Barnes able to step out and knock down shots. The south bracket could shake out in a variety of different ways, which could help smooth out the Tar Heels path to New Orleans.
Kansas (No. 2 Midwest):
The Jayhawks will not face a team with as much tournament experience as them until the Elite-Eight. Thomas Robinson is the most dominant big man in the country, and Jeff Withy is one of the best shot blockers in the country. This team as a whole is one of the most efficient teams in the country on both offense and defense, and their starting line-up has the experience and talent to make up for their lack of depth.
Missouri (No. 2 West):
Size does not matter with this team. Their four guard set is difficult for teams with a lot of size but not a lot of speed. Phil Pressey is one of the best point guards in the country. Marcus Denmon is one of the best scoring threats in the country. Michael Dixon is one of the play-makers in the country. Ricardo Ratliffe has the highest field goal percentage in the country, and Kim English does absolutely everything. Missouri is in a difficult bracket, but they are experienced and mentally tough.
Ohio State (No. 2 East):
The trio of Jared Sullinger, William Buford and Arron Craft will be the key components to a National Championship run. Buford is a difficult assignment for any defender, and Craft’s relentless defense will be difficult for any opposing point guard. Sullinger will go up against a bevy of other quality big men in the East bracket, but his physicality and ability to step out and make shots will be a difference-maker.
Baylor (No. 3 South):
The amount of talent on this team is overwhelming. Their loss to Missouri in the Big-XII Tournament finals was not as bad as it seemed. The Bears showed toughness and resiliency, which had been questioned for much of the year. Pierre Jackson is as dynamic of a point guard as there is in the country, and Perry Jones III is starting to play like the lottery pick he is projected to be.
Georgetown (No.3 Midwest):
The Hoyas have been promoted thanks to the decline of their arch-rivals. Georgetown has had recent issues in the first round, but this year’s squad is wired differently. Their defense is as suffocating as it was in 20o7 when they advanced to the Final Four. The Hoyas lead the nation in defensive 3-point efficiency. Their length at the guard and forward positions make it nearly impossible for opponents to get good looks from behind the arc. With Henry Sims as a threat to score as well as distribute, this is a team that might not win style points, but could win a handful of tournament games.
Louisville (No. 4 West):
The Big East Tournament Champions struggled through injuries this season after cracking the top-5 in December. But they are fully healthy and playing at a very high level. Their ability to play both up-tempo and grind-it-out styles will benefit the Cardinals when they have to prepare on short notice. Peyton Siva’s leadership cannot be questioned and the depth of this team is starting to show again.
Vanderbilt (No. 5 East):
Despite recent early exits in the NCAA Tournament, the Commodores are clicking at the right time, and their victory over Kentucky in the SEC Tournament Championship showed that they are capable of beating elite teams. John Jenkins has the ability to be a game-changer, Jeff Taylor can hit almost any open shot and Festus Ezeli will be a difficult assignment down low. The East bracket could end up producing a handful of upsets, which would provide Vanderbilt with an easier path back to New Orleans, where they won the SEC Tournament.
Memphis (No. 8 West):
Having won seven in a row, the Tigers are one of the hottest teams in the country right now. They looked nearly unstoppable in the Conference-USA Tournament and Will Barton is putting together an All-American caliber season. People forget that this team is loaded with talent, and having flown under the radar for the past two months could provide the Tigers with the self-confidence needed to make a run at the title.
Five who can’t win it all:
Syracuse (No. 1 East):
With the recent news that Fab Melo won’t play in the NCAA Tournament, Syracuse has been pulled from our list up top. Why you ask? Because Fab Melo is a game-changer. Even if he’s not producing statistics, he forces teams to alter their offensive decisions. In Syracuse’s only regular season loss, a road blowout to Notre Dame, Melo did not play because of eligibillity issues. Sure the Orange have depth, even at the center position, but Fab Melo was one of a kind. This is deflating news that is sure to affect how the team fuctions.
Michigan State (No. 1 West):
The season-ending injury to Branden Dawson is more costly than you may think. He was the Spartan’s best swing player, and without him there is a big gap between the backcourt and forward Draymond Green. Plus, their bracket is just difficult. Any of the top six or seven seeds could advance from the West regional. Even if Tom Izzo is their coach, a National Championship in 2012 just seems a bit out of reach.
Duke (No. 2 South):
Duke lives by the three and dies by the three. As of late, it’s been more of the later than the former. Plus, their defense is just not that good. The talent is there but the execution is not.
Florida State (No. 3 East):
Despite defeating both Duke and North Carolina twice in the same season, including in the ACC Tournament, the Seminoles don’t have the makings of a National Championship team> Bernard James is a good frontcourt player, but he has very little help. The East bracket is filled with teams with dominant big men, and Florida State just doesn’t have the talent up front.
Marquette (No. 3 West):
The Golden Eagles have a propensity for digging holes they cannot get out of. They are notoriously slow starters, and in every one of their losses, they have either squandered a big lead or were unable to claw back from a huge deficit. Injuries to big men Chris Otule and DaVante Gardner took away a lot of Marquette’s depth, something that they could use during March.
Indiana (No. 4 South):
When the Hoosiers beat Kentucky earlier in the season, it was the perfect storm, everything was going right and everything was in place. But in order to win a National Championship, they would have to beat Kentucky in the Sweet-16, after beating a scary-good New Mexico State team and either Wichita State or VCU, two of the best mid-major teams in the country. The brackets just don’t line up in the Hoosiers favor.