March 18--West Region
FAVORITE: No. 2 Ohio State (26-7). The Big Ten tournament champions have won eight in a row and they showed down the stretch they can beat teams in many ways. They have a hellacious defender in Aaron Craft and one of the nation's best players in DeShaun Thomas.
NEXT IN LINE: No. 1 Gonzaga (31-2). The Zags haven't been great in the NCAA tournament, but this version is very, very good. No. 3 New Mexico (29-5). Steve Alford's crew has the look of a Final Four team. They can play big and small, they shoot it well and they have a really good lead guard in Kendall Williams (13.5 ppg, 5 apg).
SLEEPER: No. 12 Mississippi (26-8). The Rebels aren't consistent, or at least haven't been, but they found their stride down the stretch and have won six in a row, including the SEC title game. Their ability to score could prove to be a problem, but they proved in the SEC tournament they can win low-scoring games as well.
BEST SECOND-ROUND GAME: No. 10 Iowa State (22-11) vs. No. 7 Notre Dame (25-9). This could be a very entertaining game as the Cyclones like to fill it up (averaging 80 ppg) and the Irish have the ability to light it up at times as well. If it becomes a clash of styles and battle of wills, it becomes far less interesting.
UPSET SPECIAL: No. 11 Belmont (26-6) against No. 6 Arizona (25-7). The Wildcats are one year away and they have very few quality wins after Jan. 1. Belmont is always a team that is scary as the Bruins are athletic and feature a go-to guy in Ian Clark (18.1 ppg).
NOTEWORTHY: No. 4 Kansas State will play the winner of the first-round game between Boise State and LaSalle. ... Arizona coach Sean Miller played at Pitt and is the son of legendary former Blackhawk coach John Miller. ... Pitt is the region's No. 8 seed and will play No. 9 Wichita State. ... Harvard is in the field for the second year in a row after not playing in it from 1947-2011.
FAVORITE: Indiana (27-6). The Hoosiers were some people's pick to be the No. 1 overall seed and spent a number of weeks ranked No. 1. They won the Big Ten Conference regular-season title and feature a bona fide player of the year candidate in Cody Zeller (16.9 ppg). The Hoosiers are as balanced as anyone and can play inside and out and have the size to guard and score in the post. A Big Ten tournament loss to Wisconsin showed, however, that they may be vulnerable to a team that can slow it down.
NEXT IN LINE: No. 2 Miami (27-6). The Hurricanes are athletic, they play good defense, they can score from a number of spots and they proved they are clearly worthy of their lofty ranking by winning the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament titles. A lack of tournament experience could be an issue. No. 4 Syracuse (26-9). The Orange aren't tough and fall apart at times but when they are playing well, they can beat anybody and they clearly have enough talent to make a run.
SLEEPER: No. 7 Illinois (22-12). Yes, a losing conference record. Yes, at one point considered outside the field. And yes, a talented team that just needs to stay focused and has wins against Gonzaga, Butler, Ohio State and Indiana. This is a really good team when it plays its game.
BEST SECOND-ROUND GAME: No. 3 Marquette vs. No. 14 Davidson. Marquette has a very good tandem of guards and defends well. But Davidson is a scary team because of its athleticism and ability to get up and down the court.
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