1)Kansas—The showcase of consistency. There’s no true superstar on this team, the way they had in their 1988 title run with Danny Manning. But everyone in the lineup is a threat. Sherrod Collins and Xavier Henry are steady in the backcourt and both can score. Marcus Morris and Cole Aldrich are very physical up front and go hard to the glass. They are well-coached. The only question left is whether the lack of a clear go-to guy hurts them in a tight game.
2)Ohio State—Coming on strong down the stretch, they surged to a three-way tie for the Big Ten title and won the conference tournament. Another team with no obvious weaknesses. Evan Turner is the man in Columbus and a triple threat. Jon Diebler can hit the three. Dallas Lauderdale can hit the glass. But lack of depth is an issue, and the way the team struggled when Turner was hurt is Exhibit A. According to Jeff Fogle over at Stat Intelligence, the Buckeyes are disproportionately weak when it comes to bench production. They overcame it in the conference tournament, but they didn’t have to face fellow tri-champs Michigan State or Purdue.
3)Georgetown—Yet another team with no obvious weaknesses in a bracket that ESPN’s pundits accurately tabbed the toughest of the four. Sophomore sensation Greg Monroe may be the best true center in the tournament. He scores, he rebounds, he passes—and he blocks shots, a defensive variable very few teams have. Austin Freeman on the perimeter holds the key to giving the Hoyas balance.
4)Maryland—a tough team in the mold of its coach. Also on the temperamental side, perhaps also in the mold of its coach. Greivis Vazquez, the best player in the ACC runs the show and puts up the points. Getting points and rebounds from his supporting cast—Jordan Williams and Landon Milbourne up front—will decide how far the Terps advance.
5)Michigan State—They picked up a share of another Big Ten title, but it came after they let a three-game lead in the conference slip away after Kalin Lucas missed some time with a sprained ankle. Lucas is back in the flow, but the Spartans haven’t done the same as a team. Watch Draymond Green off the bench, a physical rebounder who scores and gets starters’ minutes. MSU has to do a turnaround that’s shown no signs of coming.
6)Tennessee-San Diego State—The Aztecs completed a nice run to the Mountain West tournament title. The Vols were humiliated by Kentucky. But Vol center Wayne Chism has been able to dominate competition like this, and J.P Prince and Scotty Hopson are a competent backcourt combo. The track record of teams who make stirring runs to league tourney crowns isn’t great in the Big Dance.
7) Oklahoma State-Georgia Tech—What’s with turning the first round into the Big 12-ACC Challenge? This game joins Clemson-Missouri and Texas-Wake. I really like the Cowboys with my own Player of the Year choice, James Anderson, popping in the points at the two-guard spot. Whether Anderson sticks around depends in large part on whether power forward Matt Pilgrim rebounds the ball consistently. Georgia Tech has some tough big guys in Derrick Favors and Ganai Lawal, but consistency isn’t always there.
8)UNLV-Northern Iowa—No knowledge on these two teams, so I’ll pass on commenting. See you later today for a look at the West.