(1) Kansas Jayhawks (29–5, 14–4 Big 12)
After losing three straight games to start February, the Jayhawks won 10 of their next 11 contests to cap their regular season with a share of the Big 12 title and a statement victory over conference co-champion Kansas State, 70–54, in the Big 12 Tournament title game. The Kansas faithful are aiming to make their 15th trip to the Final Four and shooting for the fourth national championship for the alma mater of the game’s inventor and KU’s first coach, Dr. James Naismith.
Coach Bill Self has made two trips to the NCAA championship game — beating John Calipari and Memphis in overtime in 2008 and losing to Coach Cal’s Kentucky team last season. But Self has also failed to advance to the Sweet 16 three times while at KU, including back-to-back losses in the first round in 2005 and 2006. This year’s squad has the firepower to go the distance, led by potential No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick shooter Ben McLemore, senior shot-blocker Jeff Withey and senior point guard Elijah Johnson.
(2) Georgetown Hoyas (25–6, 14–4 Big East)
The Hoyas had hoped to “kiss Syracuse goodbye” after sweeping the Orange during the regular season, but instead lost to their longtime rivals, 58–55 in overtime, in the final conference meeting between the teams in the Big East Tournament. The loss was Georgetown’s second in four games after reeling off an 11-game winning streak from late January to early March.
John Thompson III has the luxury of coaching one of the top all-around players in the country in Otto Porter Jr., a 6’8” sophomore wing who has shown the ability to rise to the occasion when the pressure is on and the spotlight is brightest. Porter is talented enough to carry the Hoyas to their sixth Final Four. But he will need the help of veteran lead guard Markel Starks, forward Nate Lubick and freshman D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera if JT3 hopes to match his father (1984) by winning the school’s second national title.
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Sweet 16 Sleeper
(5) VCU Rams
Giant slayer Virginia Commonwealth knocked off Duke under coach Anthony Grant in 2007 before going coast-to-coast from the First Four to the Final Four under current coach Shaka Smart in 2011. The Rams’ havoc is keyed by wings Treveon Graham and Troy Daniels, big man Juvonte Reddic and senior point guard Darius Theus. No team wants to play the perennial Cinderellas from Richmond, a team that changed coaches but not its NCAA Tournament results.
(11) Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. (6) UCLA Bruins
Unfortunately for the crazier-than-ever Bill Walton, these Bruins’ disappointing season may end in the same one-and-done fashion that coach Ben Howland controversially speculated of star freshman Shabazz Muhammad. The Golden Gophers have a championship winning coach (Tubby Smith), brothers in the backcourt (Andre and Austin Hollins) and enough athletic wing defenders (Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe) to end Shabazz’s college career earlier than even Howland expects.
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Nate Wolters, Sr., South Dakota State Jackrabbits (13)
The Summit League Player of the Year has been compared to none other than Steve Nash — who led Santa Clara to an upset over No. 2 seed Arizona in the 1993 NCAA Tourney. Wolters fills the stat sheet, averaging 22.7 points, 5.8 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game. Wolters will have a chance to show off his all-around game against Michigan’s National Player of the Year candidate Trey Burke, in a battle of two of the best point guards in the college game.
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