Duke, fresh off another ACC tournament title, begins defense of its national championship.
Hampton will be a scrimmage in the opener, and beating Tennessee or Michigan — we say it will be Michigan — will be tougher, but not a major problem, either. Then it gets interesting.
Arizona and Memphis play a second-round game that should light up the scoreboard, and Memphis can pull the upset. Texas needs to worry about Oakland in its opener, but the Longhorns have too much talent and speed. Texas also has too much talent for Memphis, but the Longhorns could have a problem handling the Blue Devils. It will be high level, but Duke will prevail.
The regional final opponent will be third-seeded UConn, which won five games in five days to capture the Big East tournament. Bucknell will be a nice opening challenge, but the Huskies are too quick, and neither Cincinnati nor Missouri can match UConn.
San Diego State will roll over Northern Colorado, and neither Temple nor Penn State will be a challenge, but UConn will be very much a test. The key will be UConn’s Kemba Walker, who can dominate in a variety of ways. San Diego State will be the sentimental favorite in Anaheim, but UConn won’t be denied. In a tossup game, we’ll stick with UConn.
That sets up Duke-UConn, which will have a Final Four flavor. UConn has played tougher competition this season, and that will be the difference.
1. Duke (30-4)
The Blue Devils have a decent shot at back-to-back titles, even without Kyrie Irving, out with a foot injury. Nolan Smith (21.3 ppg) and Kyle Singler (17.3 ppg) provide the scoring punch, with a thin bench the only concern.
2. San Diego State (32-2)
Outstanding seniors combine with great sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard (15.4 ppg, 10.7 rpg).
3. Connecticut (26-9)
After winning five games in five days to take the Big East tournament, will the Huskies have anything left in the tank? Kemba Walker does it all.
4. Texas (27-7)
The Longhorns have as much talent as any team but have been inconsistent. Jordan Hamilton has to elevate his game.
5. Arizona (27-7)
Wildcats are led by sophomore forward Derrick Williams (19.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg), the Pac-10 player of the year.
6. Cincinnati (25-8)
Back in the tournament for the first time since 2005, the Bearcats win with depth, balanced scoring (nobody averages more than 11.8 ppg), and stingy defense (59.2 points allowed per game, sixth nationally).
7. Temple (25-7)
The Owls win with defense because they struggle at times on offense.
8. Michigan (20-13)
Wolverines won six of their last eight regular-season games to get off the bubble, then added a win in the Big Ten tournament, and have held 10 of their last 11 opponents to 68 points or fewer.
9. Tennessee (19-14)
Lost seven of their last 11, but the Volunteers have put the Bruce Pearl mess aside long enough to earn their sixth straight spot in the tournament.
10. Penn State (19-14)
Nittany Lions saved their best for last, winning seven of nine before falling in the Big Ten tournament final, a run that punched their ticket.
11. Missouri (23-10)
The inconsistent Tigers are exciting because they run and press, averaging 81 ppg.
12. Memphis (25-9)
Four of the Tigers’ top scorers are freshmen, so they’ve had quite a season but sometimes play down to their age.
13. Oakland (25-9)
A possible upsetter, the Grizz have a great coach, Greg Kampe, and a possible NBA player in 6-11 center Keith Benson.
14. Bucknell (25-8)
A well-balanced offensive team, the Bison hold victories over BC and Richmond.
15. Northern Colorado (21-10)
The Bears are led by guard Devon Beitzel, the poor man’s Jimmer Fredette.
16. Hampton (24-8)
A high-level MEAC club that holds victories over several larger-conference teams, including Colorado State.
Analysis by Mark Blaudschun. Capsules by Joe Sullivan and Michael Whitmer