1)Kentucky: The strengths are clear. A ton of raw talent and no obvious weakness. They have four starters who can put the ball in the basket. John Wall at the point and DeMarcus Couisins in the post give them a potent combo, either one of whom can get the ball in the crunch. The problems are intangible. Three freshman starters, including the aforementioned duo is one. The other is that no one knows how good the SEC really is. The league didn’t impress in December. Kentucky was likely beating up shaky teams most of the last three months, and they barely escaped North Carolina at home prior to New Year’s, something that looks much worse in retrospect than it did at the time.
2)West Virginia: The Mounatineers are very physical and the entire starting lineup can hit the boards. De’Sean Butler is the legitimate go-to man when they need a basket, as he did most spectacularly in New York, as they won the Big East tournament. They have been inconsistent though, and that means a downward cycle is next. And while Bob Huggins is a tough coach and a proven winner, he’s had his problems in March since making the Final Four with Cincinnati back in 1992.
3)New Mexico: Not a high degree of familiarity here. But one thought—what does it say about the current state of the Iowa basketball program that Steve Alford can have such success here, while struggling to rise above mid-level seeding in Iowa City?
4)Wisconsin: Trevon Hughes at the point is one of the top players in the Big Ten, and now that Jon Leurer is integrated back into the lineup after a broken wrist in January, the Badgers have balance. The wild-card is shooting guard Jason Bohannon. A pure three-point bomber, his shooting touch holds UW’s fate in its hands.
5)Temple: Again, not a great depth of knowledge. They have beaten good teams, including Villanova this year, so a potential game with Wisconsin in Round 2 would be a good one.
6)Marquette vs. Washington: The Golden Eagles are getting love from ESPN analysts as a dark horse. Washington finished the season very strong, finally looking like the top-level Pac-10 team they were supposed to be all year long. Great forwards on both sides in Lazar Hayward and Quincy Pondexter. MU, like its in-state rival Wisconsin, will see its fate rise and fall on the three-point shot, especially Darius Johnson-Odom.
7)Clemson vs. Missouri: Trevor Booker, power forward for the Tigers, is one of the most underappreciated players in the tournament. But his team is inconsistent and has a history of being so. Mizzou has quietly churned along in the Big 12 behind talented guard Kim English, but they really tanked in the conference tournament, losing to Nebraska.
8)Texas vs. Wake Forest: Another Big 12-ACC showdown and this is a great game. Wake’s been the steadier team, as Texas has fallen apart. But the Longhorns have a potential dominator in swingman Damion James. The Deacons can match up with them elsewhere, but they don’t have a James. But will he show up?
Check back later today for the South. And check The Baseball Notebook for spring training previews.