Get the Athlon Sports Newsletter
An inside look at March Madness
(1) Indiana Hoosiers (27–6, 14–4 Big Ten)
The preseason No. 1 team in the nation desperately wanted to be the top overall seed in this year’s Big Dance. That distinction would have meant playing in front of a home crowd in Indianapolis. But when the Big Ten regular season champs lost to Wisconsin, 68–56, in the Big Ten Tournament, IU lost its grip on its potential tickets to Indy.
Tom Crean boasts arguably the most talented team in the country, with high-flying wing Victor Oladipo, steady big man Cody Zeller, big shot taker Christian Watford and freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell highlighting a deep roster. This particular group of Hoosiers represents the renaissance of Indiana basketball. Anything less than the school’s ninth trip to the Final Four — and first since 2002 — will be considered a failure. And really, IU’s sixth NCAA title — its first since 1987 — is the unspoken expectation.
(2) Miami Hurricanes (27–6, 15–3 ACC)
The 2012-13 Canes are the undisputed greatest team in Miami basketball history after clinching both the ACC’s regular season and conference tournament titles — the latter coming with an 87–77 victory over traditional powerhouse North Carolina. These are uncharted waters for the Hurricanes, however, who are making just their sixth trip to the NCAA Tournament since rejoining the D-I ranks in 1985 and have just one Sweet 16 appearance (2000) to their credit.
While no one on the Miami roster has any NCAA Tourney experience, coach Jim Larranaga has five prior trips to the Big Dance under his belt — famously leading CAA Cinderella story George Mason to the Final Four in 2006. Larranaga has even more talent to work with this time around, with a balanced backcourt of Barry’s son Shane Larkin and New York City product Durand Scott, and a stacked frontcourt of 300-pounder Reggie Johnson and former Florida transfer Kenny Kadji.
Related: Our best advice for your bracket pool
Sweet 16 Sleeper
(6) Butler Bulldogs
Coach Brad Stevens is making his fifth trip to the NCAA Tournament in six seasons at Butler. The 36-year-old has two runner-up finishes — coming a front-rimmed halfcourt shot away from beating Duke in 2010 — and an 11–4 record in the Big Dance. Not bad. Along with a brilliant coach, Butler also has the resume (wins over Indiana, Gonzaga and North Carolina) and big-time players (led by Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke) to advance to the second weekend of the Tourney.
(12) California Golden Bears vs. (5) UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
While the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee always tries to avoid rematches, it was unable to break up the bracket with this first-round matchup. Berkeley lost to Vegas, 76–75, in early December this season. Now Cal gets its chance at revenge, playing in front of a presumably Bear-friendly crowd in San Jose. UNLV will have to overcome its own youth as well as a rematch in a hostile environment.
Related: March Madness by the numbers
Mike Muscala, Sr., Bucknell Bison (11)
The 6’11”, 240-pound senior anchors the Bison on both ends of the floor, averaging a team-high 19.0 points per game, while cleaning up the glass to the tune of 11.2 rebounds, dishing out an underrated 2.3 assists and protecting the rim defensively with 2.4 blocks and countless altered shots in the paint. If Bucknell hopes to pull off a “Butler” against Butler, Muscala will be counted on to do the heavy lifting.