Top Team — Ohio State (1)
The Buckeyes (32-2, 16–2 Big Ten) enter the Tourney as the top overall seed and Vegas’ pick to cut down the nets at the national title game in Houston on Monday, April 4. Coach Thad Matta’s club has a balanced attack anchored by freshman enforcer Jared Sullinger (17.3 ppg, 10.1 rpg). “Big Sully” is flanked by a pair of athletic wings in junior William Buford (14.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.0 apg) and fifth-year senior David Lighty (11.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.2 apg), as well as senior sharpshooter Jon “Threebler” Diebler (12.4 ppg, 49.7 percent from 3). The last time Matta had this type of talent, the Greg Oden-led Buckeyes were national runner-ups to Florida in 2007. This year, OSU expects Sullinger to win one more Tournament game than Oden was able to.
Shooting Star — Harrison Barnes, North Carolina (2)
The first freshman ever named to the AP’s preseason All-American team, Barnes staggered out of the gate as the Tar Heels stumbled to a 12–5 start. But since scoring 11 points on 3-for-13 shooting during an embarrassing 78–58 loss at Georgia Tech on Jan. 16, Barnes has become the type of leader and winner every recruiting guru, draft mocker and college b-ball beatnik predicted he would be. The 6’8”, 210-pounder from Ames, Iowa, led UNC to a 14–2 finish (with two losses to Duke) and set an ACC Tournament freshman record with 40 points — going 6-for-8 from 3-point range — in the semifinals against Clemson.
Sweet 16 Sleeper — Xavier (6)
The Musketeers are going from Cincinnati to Cleveland for the first two rounds, against No. 11-seed Marquette and, with a win, No. 3-seed Syracuse (barring a Larry Legend-style upset of the Orange by Indiana State). Six-foot-flat superhero Tu Holloway (20.2 ppg, 5.5 apg, 5.1 rpg) is capable of carrying the X-Men to the second weekend of the Dance if he heats up and gets the Ohio crowd on his side.
Basketball Blue Bloods — Kentucky (4) vs. Princeton (13)
The dribble drive and backdoor cut will be on display in this speed vs. patience matchup between the SEC Tournament champs and the Ivy League one-game playoff play-in victors. Coach John Calipari’s Wildcats feature a trio of five-star freshmen — Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb — while Sydney Johnson’s Tigers are a veteran bunch led by senior big man Kareem Maddox (13.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.8 bpg). This is the third time that Princeton has been a No. 13 seed; the last time was in 1996, when Johnson (then the captain of Pete Carril’s team) guided the Tigers to a 43–41 upset of reigning champ UCLA.