State Of The No. 1: Kansas
How much parity is there this year? At some point in the past three weeks, any of the top three seeds in this region would have been plausible No. 1 seeds. Kansas, Georgetown and Florida all could have made convincing arguments down the stretch, but the Jayhawks made the best one. They finished the strongest, winning seven of their last eight in the regular season and winning their three Big 12 tournament games by a combined 59 points.
Still, this is the same team that laid a colossal egg at TCU in the midst of a three-game losing streak in February. The other top seeds in the region also have had their moments of maddening inconsistency. Georgetown lost at USF in January and had its 10-game Big East winning streak snapped at Villanova in its regular-season finale. Florida dominated the SEC for most of the season but can't seem to find a go-to guy late in tight games. Meanwhile, No. 4 Michigan, No. 5 VCU and even No. 8 North Carolina seem like plausible Final Four picks given the right circumstances. "There is more parity today than there has been in years past," Kansas coach Bill Self said Sunday. "This is going to be a unique tournament. ... I would anticipate to expect the unexpected."
Is there so much parity that this is the year a No. 16 knocks off a No. 1? "It's going to happen. A 16 is going to beat a one -- eventually," Self said. "Certainly, we don't want that to happen." While that probably won't happen in this region -- Western Kentucky doesn't match up well with the Jayhawks -- any other result is pretty much fair game. Want to fill out a bracket in which VCU coach Shaka Smart beats former boss Billy Donovan to go to the Final Four? Go for it. Self is correct. Pretty much anything can happen.
"[The selection committee] didn't do us any favors," Self said. "Obviously, it's a tough bracket."
Bracket Buster: VCU
It's tough to call a No. 5 seed a bracketbuster, but when that team is a trendy Final Four pick, the term fits. Two years ago, the Rams went from the First Four to the Final Four. This team had more regular-season success in a tougher league than that team.
Suspect Team: UCLA
The Bruins will have to prove they can win without guard Jordan Adams, whose season ended last Friday when he broke his foot against Arizona. UCLA still has plenty of talent. Shabazz Muhammad is as good as his recruiting hype suggested he would be. Larry Drew II has proven himself a capable point guard, and Travis Wear -- like Drew, a North Carolina transfer -- has provided an offensive spark down low. It's been a tougher-than-expected year in Westwood, so few would be surprised if the Bruins lost to Minnesota. But a lot of people would be disappointed.
Juiciest Matchup: North Carolina-Villanova
Both teams improved tremendously as the season progressed. Villanova looked like an NIT team when the season began and gradually rounded into a solid Big East team capable of beating an eventual No. 1 seed (Louisville) and an eventual No. 2 seed (Georgetown). North Carolina, meanwhile, looked like a bubble team until Roy Williams inserted P.J. Hairston into the starting lineup and decided to roll with four guards and James Michael McAdoo as the lone big man. The Tar Heels have looked like a completely different team since, and they could be a nightmare for Kansas in the round of 32.
Gamebreaker: Otto Porter Jr., G/F, Georgetown
Otto-matic had to pick up a lot of slack when Greg Whittington was ruled academically ineligible earlier this season, and the 6-foot-8 swingman did just that. He improved his scoring by more than six points a game in Whittington's absence, and Porter remained a hustling rebounder and defender in spite of his increased responsibilities in the offense. Porter is capable of putting the Hoyas on his back, as he did when he scored 33 of his team's 57 points in a win at Syracuse on Feb. 23. If anyone in this region can take over a game, it's Porter.
Best Player You've Never Heard Of: Nate Wolters, G, South Dakota State
The 6-4 senior ranks fourth in the nation in scoring with 22.5 points a game, and he leads the Jackrabbits with 5.8 assists a game. When Wolters gets hot, he's virtually unstoppable. Just ask the Mastodons of IUPUI-Fort Wayne. On Feb. 22, Wolters torched them for 53 points on 17-of-28 shooting (9-of-14 from three-point range).
The Pressure's On: Florida
The Gators have blown second-half leads in the Elite Eight the past two seasons, but this team is better than either of those two. Florida has two excellent glue guys (guard Scottie Wilbekin and forward Will Yeguete) and a 6-10 shooter in Erik Murphy who should create matchup problems. But the Gators have to prove they can get over the hump, and they'll have to figure out who should get the ball if they're down late. So far, no one has proven ready for that role.
Number To Ponder: 27-23
That was the score when the Florida-Georgetown game was suspended at halftime Nov. 9 after the court on the USS Bataan was ruled unplayable because of condensation. Could these teams finish in the Sweet 16 what they started in November?
The Pick: Georgetown
Porter should be a tough matchup for everyone, and the Hoyas have proven that they can get hot and stay hot. But like everyone else, I'm really just guessing. This region is as wide open as I've ever seen one.