NBA scouts will flock to St. Louis, where three probable NBA lottery picks will potentially showcase their talents in the round of 16: Kansas' 6-foot-11 center Cole Aldrich, the Buckeyes' Turner and Georgetown center Greg Monroe. Then there are the unconscious scorers such as Coleman and Maryland's Greivis Vasquez, whose teams will advance to a second weekend if they light it up on the first one.
There's variety, of course. Half of the bracket is comprised of two teams each from the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and Mountain West Conference, while No. 9 Northern Iowa (28-4) enters as the class of the mid-majors (like Bob Knight, we don't think of the MWC as a mid-major any more). If there's a sleeper team, it'll come out of the west as UNLV, San Diego State and New Mexico State are teams that, because of the time zones in which they play, only pass the bleary eyeball test.
Upsets give the tourney its zest, but Cinderella got all dressed up for nothing if she thinks she is dancing in this region. Kansas, Ohio State and Georgetown are all bona fide Final Four teams. Too bad only one of them will get there.
Storyline to Watch
Bill Self's Krzyzewskian coronation. The Kansas coach will be favored to win a second national championship before his 48th birthday, and at a school as steeped in hoops tradition as any in the nation. Also, like Coach K, Self has a deserved good guy/good coach rep. The Jayhawks will play within driving distance of Lawrence (Oklahoma City, then St. Louis) until the Final Four and no team has more talent 1 through 8.
The sub-plot? No region has more talent. Even though the Jayhawks possess the No. 1 overall seed, no No. 1 seed may have a more difficult path to Indianapolis.
Best First-Round Matchup
No. 6 Tennessee (25-8) vs. No. 11 San Diego State (25-8)
The MWC tourney champion beat New Mexico (29-4) twice, while the Vols twice slayed the No. 1 team in the nation (Kansas, Kentucky) at the time they met. The Aztecs have four players who average in double figures and have not lost to an unranked team in more than two months. The Vols' Wayne Chism is a double-double dynamo. If it's close late, Rocky Top has the edge: SDSU is in the bottom ten in the nation in free-throw shooting (60.8 percent).
Most Likely Upset
No. 13 Houston (19-15) over No. 4 Maryland (23-8)
Two teams with no question as to who should shoot the ball. The Terrapins' tempestuous Vasquez (19.6 ppg) takes -- and makes -- as many ill-advised shots as anyone in the nation. Houston's Aubrey Coleman leads the nation in scoring (25.6 ppg) and last week he led the middling Cougars to four straight wins in the C-USA tourney. So why do we like Houston? Coach Tom Penders has 10 victories in the NCAA tournament as a double-digit seed.
Teams That'll Bust Your Bracket
This year, of all years, there's less difference than ever between seeds 4 and 13. We like Kansas, Ohio State and Georgetown (not coincidentally, all three teams have lottery picks) but after that? Don't fall in love with No. 4 Maryland, No. 5 Michigan State, No. 6 Tennessee or No. 7 Oklahoma State.
San Diego State. The Aztecs are loose, athletic and a baseline-to-baseline squad that feed off one another's energy. They're the champions of the best conference west of the Rockies this season and can cause headaches for both Tennessee and Georgetown.
Michigan State. Everyone loves Tom Izzo, who has done March as consistently well as any coach in the country the past decade (five Final Fours). But these Spartans lack a go-to scorer and there are chemistry issues with a recent player suspension.
Players to Watch
1. Sherron Collins, G, Kansas: The Jayhawks' senior point guard is not their best player, but he steers the ship.
2. Evan Turner, F, Ohio State: The Buckeyes' do-it-all swingman is the national Player of the Year. He's also a marksman from beyond 35 feet.
3. Greg Monroe, C, Georgetown: The best passing center in the nation, if not the best passer overall, Monroe is a charismatic force for the Hoyas.
4. Greivis Vasquez, G, Maryland: Mercurial. Maddening. Memorable. The type of player who lives for the spotlight, the virtuoso Venezuelan Vasquez is the type of player who can heat up in a tourney and become a household name.
Biggest Question to Answer
Is Georgetown spent? In three straight days at the Big East tourney the Hoyas faced a No. 1 seed (Syracuse), a No. 6 seed (Marquette) and a No. 2 seed (West Virginia). John Thompson III doesn't even like to glance at his bench, so you wonder if Georgetown's weekend in Manhattan will have lingering effects. Asked that very question late Saturday evening, Thompson sighed, "I don't know."
How It Plays Out
Kansas has the best team and Ohio State the best player in the tourney. Neither succumbed to upset fever in the conference tourneys. Both should advance to St. Louis. Look for an upset or two after that. Georgetown was terrific at Madison Square Garden, but if Greg Monroe gets into foul trouble they're cooked. San Diego State, Houston and even Northern Iowa (who won their conference tournament in St. Louis) would be fun additions to the Sweet 16.
Rock. Chalk. Nobody matches Kansas for overall talent, depth and experience. Bill Self's team will be favored to cut down the nets for the second time in three years. Kansas