March Madness: In-Depth Look at the Brackets

Top storylines, games to watch in the NCAA Tournament

By Ryan Wilson
|  Monday, Mar 12, 2012  |  Updated 7:36 PM PDT
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It is, as they say, go time. The regular season is in the books, the conference championships are over and the selection committee has named names. Here's a rundown of what's what in each of the four regions as we head into Wednesday's First Four.

South Region
Top Seed
The Kentucky Wildcats (32-2) lost in the SEC Championship game to Vanderbilt but were still the NCAA Tournament's top team in the eyes of the selection committee. And rightly so, given how well the Wildcats played from start to finish this season. With the most talented roster in the country — Anthony Davis, Doron Lamb, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones and Marquis Teague among others — John Calipari's club are heavy favorites to win the whole thing. No pressure, guys.

Storylines

  • Defending national champion Connecticut is a No. 9 seed after going 20-13 during the season. If they win their first-round matchup with Iowa State, they'll face top-seeded Kentucky.
     
  • Speaking of the No. 8 Cyclones, they're coached by former ISU player Fred "The Mayor" Hoiberg and are making their first tournament appearance since 2005.
     
  • VCU, one of the Cinderella teams from last year, earned a 12th-seed by beating Drexel in the CAA Tournament. Drexel, though, was shut out of the NCAAs, even though many experts liked them to make the field.
  • No. 6 UNLV was undefeated at home for the first time in 20 years. That 1991-92 Runnin' Rebels team lost in the Final Four to Duke, the same team they demolished the year before in the national championship game.


Games to Watch

  • Keeping the "Remember when?" theme going, Duke and UNLV could meet in the Sweet 16. (Maybe Larry Johnson and Christian Laettner could serve as honorary captains.)
     
  • If UConn gets past Iowa State, the third round UConn-Kentucky game would be a rematch of last year's Final Four. And if the Wildcats win that game…
     
  • Potential Sweet 16 rematch between No. 4 Indiana and No. 1 Kentucky. When these two teams met in December, the Hoosiers upset the Wildcats when Christian Watford hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer.


West Region
Top Seed
Michigan State (27-7) is the only No. 1 seed to win its conference tournament. This isn't unprecendented: In 2009, three of the No. 1 seeds lost their respective conference finals, including eventual national champs UNC. The Spartans opened the season with a loss to the Tar Heels on the USS Carl Vinson in the Carrier Classic and lost four days later to Duke in Madison Square Garden. But in the four months since, Tom Izzo's team has gone 17-1 at home and 14-5 in the Big 10, including two wins over Ohio State.

Storylines

  • No. 9 St. Louis is the third school coach Rick Majerus has taken to the NCAAs. (The others were Utah and Ball State.)
     
  • No. 5 New Mexico, the regular season and Mountain West Tourney champion, is coached by former Hoosier great Steve Alford.
     
  • No. 2 Missouri becomes the first power-conference team to win 30 games and not get a No. 1 seed.
     
  • Coach Tony Bennett led No. 10 Virginia to a 22-9 record, the most wins for the Cavs since 1983. That season, with Ralph Sampson at center, they went 29-5, were ACC regular-season champs and made it to the Elite Eight.
     
  • No. 3 Marquette (25-7) had their best record since joining the Big East and their seventh straight 20-win season (and fifth straight under coach Buzz Williams).
     
  • Iona faces BYU on Wednesday for the 14th seed and the right to face Marquette. The Gaels were the biggest bubble-team surprise of Selection Sunday. They had no wins over the top 50, 16-4 in the MAAC, although CBS' Seth Davis called them the "VCU of this year" during the Selection Show.

Games to Watch

  • No. 8 Memphis presents a huge challenge for the West's top seed, Michigan State.
     
  • If Marquette and Missouri meet in the Sweet 16, the winner could be a legit Final Four team, given the problems Michigan State could face with Memphis in Round 3.


East Region
Top Seed
The Syracuse Orange (31-2) won the Big East regular-season title but lost to Cincy in the conference tournament. In 2003, they won their only national title in New Orleans, the site of this year's Final Four (remember when people still loved Carmelo?). The Orange lost only twice this season, but they can be exposed: their perimeter shooting has been an issue, and they struggle on the defensive boards. ESPN.com's Eamonn Brennan points out that Syracuse shot just 34.5 percent from behind the arc (compared to 52 percent on two-pointers) and ranked 341 out of 345 Division I schools in defensive rebounding. Ouch.

Storylines

  • Frank Martin became the first Kansas State coach to have five consecutive 20-win seasons. And for that honor they'll be the No. 8 seed and will have to face Syracuse should they get by Southern Miss in Round 2.
     
  • Vanderbilt earned a fifth seed after winning the SEC Tournament, their first title since 1951. For some perspective, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was six years old at the time.
     
  • No. 12 Harvard was nationally ranked for much of the season (a first-ever for the Crimson), and they'll make their first NCAA Tourney appearance since 1946. (In case you're wondering: Boeheim was one.)
     
  • No. 13 Montana was the Big Sky regular season and tournament champs, and they enter the NCAAs with a 14-game winning streak.
     
  • Ohio State earned a No. 2 seed after losing to Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament. The selection committee had them as the eighth-ranked team in the country, so even with a victory over the Spartans Sunday it would've been difficult for them to earn a No. 1 seed.
  • No. 3 Florida State is fresh off their first ACC Tournament championship, and Leonard Hamilton is fresh off ACC Coach of the Year honors.


Games to Watch

  • No. 6 Cincinnati had its best season in Big East play (24-10 overall, 12-6 in conference), including a win over Syracuse in the conference tournament. In Round 2, Cincinnati will face Texas, a team that had countless close losses during the season.
     
  • No. 10 West Virginia could give Ohio State fits in Round 3 because of their physicality. Otherwise the bracket sets up for an Orange-Buckeyes get-together for the right to go to the Final Four.


Midwest Region
Top Seed
The North Carolina Tar Heels (29-5) are among the biggest teams in the country. Their front line of Tyler Zeller (ACC Player of the Year), John Henson (ACC Defensive Player of the Year) and Harrison Barnes (ACC All-First Team) are all lottery picks. Henson missed the final two games of the conference tournament with a bruised wrist, but he should be available for the NCAAs. If not, the Heels will have to rely on freshman James Michael McAdoo inside and hope freshman P.J. Hairston, one of the best pure shooters coming out of high school, can break out of a months-long slump. (He showed glimpses of that during UNC's loss to Florida State in the ACC Tourney finals.)

Storylines

  • No. 5 Temple won the Atlantic 10 regular-season title. In 2013, Temple will join the Big East. That, along with the addition of several other new members, could help offset the loss of perennial conference powerhouse Syracuse, who's headed to the ACC.
     
  • California will face South Florida in a Wednesday play-in game for the 12th seed and the right to meet Temple. Cal is one of just two Pac-10 teams to make the tournament. For USF, it's their first NCAA appearance in 20 years.
     
  • No. 4 Michigan enters the Big Dance as co-Big 10 regular-season champs, the first time they've earned that distinction in 26 years.
     
  • No. 15 Detroit won the Horizon League by knocking off No. 2 Cleveland State and No. 1 Valparaiso. And for that they'll get to face No. 2 Kansas.
     
  • No. 6 San Diego State lost four starters off last year's team that made it to the Sweet 16, and they're one of four teams in the tournament from the Mountain West Conference.
     
  • NC State squeezed in as an 11 seed. Coach Mark Gottfried was second in wins among all first-year year head coaches.


Teams to Watch

  • The Jayhawks may not have been thrilled with the No. 2 seed, but the bracket sets up favorably for a matchup with UNC in the Elite Eight.
     
  • Belmont (27-7) could be a bracket buster. (CBS' Davis likes them to beat Georgetown and SDSU.)

Other Tournament Tidbits

  • The Big East led the way with nine teams in the tournament, followed by the Big 10 (6), the Big 12 (6) and the ACC (5). Conference USA, the MAAC, the Missouri Valley and the Pac-12 all had two.
     
  • Breakdown of at-large bids: 26 from the power conferences, 11 from the non-power conferences. In the last 10 years, only 2004 had more non-power conferences get at-large bids (12).
     
  • Teams on the outside looking in: Drexel (record: 27-6, RPI: 66), Northwestern (18-13, 60), Nevada (26-6, 66), University of Miami (19-12, 60), Washington (21-10, 71).
     
  • Bubble talk: "Outside of Iona getting in," CBS' Seth Davis said Sunday night during the Selection Show, "I don't say I have a major problem with [the bubble teams who got in]. But I just feel that if you're going to go the non-conference power route, that Drexel had a much stronger case. They had better road wins — at Cleveland State, at Old Dominion and most of all no bad losses — whereas Iona had two very bad losses."

The fun starts Tuesday with the First Four.

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