2012 NCAA Tournament
Top Two –Kentucky (1), Duke (2)
The Kentucky Wildcats (32–2, 16–0 SEC) enter the Big Dance as the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, despite suffering their second loss of the season to Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament title game. In his third season at UK, coach John Calipari has assembled the most talented team in the country. The Cats are anchored by shot-swatting freshman center Anthony Davis (14.3 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 4.7 bpg) — the likely No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft — whose talented supporting cast includes freshman wing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (12.0 ppg, 7.8 rpg), sophomore shooter Doron Lamb (13.3 ppg, 47.4 3PT%), sophomore forward Terrence Jones (12.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg), freshman point guard Marquis Teaque (9.7 ppg, 4.7 apg) and senior glue guy Darius Miller (9.4 ppg). After making the Elite Eight and Final Four in Coach Cal’s first two seasons, Kentucky fans are hoping the third time is the charm; anything less than a net-cutting ceremony in New Orleans on Monday night, April 2, will be a disappointment in Big Blue Nation.
The Duke Blue Devils (27–6, 13–3 ACC) have been a different team since freshman scorer Austin Rivers (15.4 ppg) hit the shot heard ‘round the world to beat North Carolina on a deep 3-pointer over 7-footer Tyler Zeller as time expired in Chapel Hill. Doc Rivers’ son secured his place in Duke-Carolina lore while also establishing himself as the go-to guy on this year’s Duke squad. Coach Mike Krzyzewski has won four national championships (1991, 1992, 2001, 2010), played in eight national title games and made 11 trips to the Final Four. But Coach K has never had a team quite like this one. The Devils are an inside-outside bunch with no Grant Hill or Shane Battier type on the wing. Duke lives by the 3-point shot — where Rivers, Seth Curry (13.4 ppg), Ryan Kelly (11.8 ppg) and Andre Dawkins (8.5 ppg) have combined to hit 39.1 percent (225-of-576) from long range. The Plumlee brothers (Mason and Miles) and Kelly can clean up the glass down low, but Duke will likely live by the three or die by the three in the Tourney.
Player to Watch –Perry Jones III, Baylor (3)
This season, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III morphed into the iconic, Heisman Trophy-winning superhero now known simply as “RG3” among NFL Draft watchers and Redskins fans. NBA scouts are eager to see if Jones will become “PJ3” by making a splash in the NCAA Tournament. After returning to school despite his reputation as a sure one-and-done recruit, the 6’11”, 235-pound sophomore averaged a respectable 14.0 points and 7.7 rebounds. But more was expected from the skillful forward, who will have his chance to make a new name for himself on the national stage.
Sweet 16 Sleeper –UNLV (6)
These may not be Jerry Tarkanian’s Runnin’ Rebels, but first-year coach Dave Rice was a player on the 1990 national championship squad led by Larry Johnson, so these Rebels certainly have a Vegas edge to them. A pair of UCLA transfers — Mike Moser (14.1 ppg, 10.6 rpg) and Chase Stanback (12.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg) — are joined by the unselfish backcourt duo of local legend Anthony Marshall (12.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 4.6 apg) and senior Oscar Bellfield (9.8 ppg, 5.3 apg), giving UNLV a chance to run to the second weekend of the Big Dance, where a potential rematch of the 1991 title game with Duke awaits.
Upset Pick –VCU (12) over Wichita State (5)
Coach Shaka Smart led VCU to the Final Four as one of the inaugural “First Four” play-in teams last season. Now the CAA Tournament champions will square off with the Missouri Valley regular season champs from Wichita State in a battle of the mid-majors. Senior slasher Bradford Burgess (13.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg) was a key contributor during last year’s run and will be counted on to take over if the Rams hope to Shaka the Shockers.