North Carolina has the easiest path to the Elite 8 out of any number one seed and should cruise to that point. A potential second round (or third round as the NCAA calls it now... dumb) game could feature high school teammates and two of the best scorers in the nation, Harrison Barnes and Doug McDermott squaring off against each other. The committee did Kansas a favor by placing them in this regional which will hold its Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games in St. Louis, meaning there will be a lot of "ROOOOOCKKKKK CHAAAAAAALK JAAAAAAAAYHAAAAAAWKKK" chants echoing throughout the arena. Other than UNC and KU, I really don't see any other team having what it takes to pull off a shocker and get to New Orleans.
Best Opening Round Game
#3 Georgetown vs. #14 Belmont
Due to their experience, Belmont is being pegged as a sexy sleeper pick in this bracket. The Bruins have depth as their top six scorers average at least 8.5 points per game and ride a fourteen-game win streak into the tourney. Georgetown has been incredibly erratic this season. At times, they have looked like a Final Four contender while they have been very beatable as well. Henry Sims and Otto Porter looked awesome in the Big East Tournament but if Jason Clark and Hollis Thompson don't show up, the Hoyas could be a one-and-done for the third straight season.
#6 San Diego State
Guard play can carry a team in the NCAA Tournament and the Aztecs use a four-guard line-up led by playmaker Jamaal Franklin and long range gunner Chase Tapley. However, SDSU doesn't have a lot of skill and talent inside which doesn't bode well for their opening round match-up with N.C. State and possible second round game against a tall, long Georgetown team. In my opinion, Steve Fisher's team overachieved in the regular season and will be heading home sooner than they want.
#11 N.C. State
It was a bit surprising that the Wolfpack were a solid 11 seed when many had them firmly on the bubble but I really like their draw. Mark Gottfried's team has talent inside with the crazy athletic C.J. Leslie who has been playing well as of late and the physical Richard Howell. Lorenzo Brown is a versatile, playmaking combo guard while Scott Wood can light it up from deep. N.C. State doesn't have a ton of depth but will need to play to their strengths and push tempo whenever possible. I think they can get to the second weekend if they do that.
Five Impact Players to Watch
Doug McDermott, #8 Creighton
The coach's son had a breakout sophomore season, finishing third in the nation in scoring in leading the Blue Jays to a 28-5 record. He can stroke the ball from deep but also has a solid back to the basket game as well. Creighton is a team that thrives in out-scoring their opponents but faces defensive-minded Alabama in the opening round whose number one priority will be trying to contain McDermott.
Trey Burke, #4 Michigan
Nationally, the Wolverine freshman point guard has not received the publicity that he deserves. His ability to seamlessly take over at the one for Darius Morris is perhaps the biggest reason Michigan earned a share of the Big Ten regular season title and a number four seed. The NCAA Tournament is obviously a different beast but if Burke can show the poise and leadership that he did during the regular season, it could help the Wolverines reach the second weekend.
Matthew Dellavedova, #7 St. Mary's
In case you don't know who Dellavedova is; he will be the goofy looking Aussie with shaggy hair and massive mouthpiece that is always hanging out his mouth. He played a big role in the Gaels' run to the Sweet 16 two years ago and will be leaned on heavily this time around, especially if fellow guard Stephen Holt doesn't return from injury.
Ray McCallum, #15 Detroit
Another coach's son, McCallum is playing his best ball at the end of the season and don't be surprised if he helps the 15 seed Titans give a real scare to Kansas in the opening round. It will be a real test for him to match up against Tyshawn Taylor and a solid showing could really boost McCallum's NBA Draft stock.
Robbie Hummel, #10 Purdue
With the injury hardships that he faced the previous two seasons, you can't help but root for Hummel to play well in his final trip to the tourney. I don't think the Boilermakers have the firepower to make a run but I wouldn't be surprised to see Hummel to leave his heart and soul on the floor in his final hurrah.
#1 North Carolina over #2 Kansas
Tyler Zeller and John Henson vs. Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey. Kendall Marshall vs. Tyshawn Taylor. A likely pro-Jayhawk crowd in St. Louis with a Final Four berth on the line. Yup, I'm rooting for this game to happen. While I'm tempted to pick Kansas because of the home court advantage, UNC just has more depth and talent. If they can get up and down in transition while using their length and athleticism inside to slow down Robinson, the Heels will be heading to New Orleans.
For the LAST TIME. Byron Maxwell has been VERY good this year and is having his best season of his career can we stop with the horrendous and embarrassing narrative that he's been up and down or bad. He's been the best player on our freaking team for last 7 weeks.