Welcome to the bracket of heavy hitters. The South region is loaded with teams thought to be favorites to win it all at different times this year: Kansas, Syracuse, Florida. The Gators have been the steadiest group all year, but perhaps no team has the upside of the Jayhawks. If the chips fall correctly, this one could produce some heavyweight fights with UCLA and Ohio State in the mix.
By the numbers
1 Danny Manning’s first trip to the tournament at Tulsa. The former Kansas star who led the Jayhawks to the 1988 NCAA title, Manning has turned around Tulsa in just his second year.
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10 Colorado’s scoring offense ranking in the Pac 12. Without star player Spencer Dinwiddie, the Buffaloes struggled mightily to score the ball. It became their Achilles’ heel.
6 The number of teams from the Atlantic 10 that made the field this year and also where Dayton finished in the conference standings. The A-10 has become a force in basketball, and the Flyers are representative of that this year.
FLORIDA: The Gators are the rare combination of talent and veteran savvy that college basketball doesn’t produce that often anymore. No team has been more consistent this season.
KANSAS: The Jayhawks can win it all — if freshman phenom center Joel Embiid returns healthy. Embiid will almost undoubtedly miss the tournament’s first weekend, but if he returns healthy after that, Kansas has as much firepower as any team in the country.
VCU: The Rams get the nod here solely for their frenetic style of play. Their full-court pressure defense is called Havoc, and it can shipwreck teams not accustomed to it.
NEW MEXICO: The Lobos have flown under the radar all season long, but buoyed by a dramatic takedown of San Diego State in the Mountain West title game Saturday night, are peaking at the right time.
Headed for a fall?
OHIO STATE: The Buckeyes have scrapped toward a respectable finish in the Big Ten, but without the explosive scorer they’ve boasted in recent seasons, are ripe for an early exit.
Andrew Wiggins had an up and down start to his season with Kansas, but he’s been more aggressive down the stretch and has looked like the star so many people hyped him to be.
Another freshman, Tyler Ennis, has been the catalyst for Syracuse this season and has been clutch all year: He helped the Orange knock off Duke and hit a half-court shot to beat Pittsburgh.
His ejection against Duke aside, Jim Boeheim has guided Syracuse masterfully this season and has a team capable of making a deep push. Long criticized for never winning a title, Boeheim is now a towering presence in the tourney.
Best players you might not have heard of
Lamar Patterson, Pitt: Patterson has kept the Panthers in games all season, a rangy lefty whose range extends well outside the arc. Expect the senior to enjoy his last dance on the big stage.
Shayne Whittington, Western Michigan: Whittington is averaging nearly a double-double for the Mid-American Conference champions. The burly Bronco has suffered through four long years of missed chances before that recent breakthrough.
Zach LaVine, UCLA: OK, so you’ve probably heard of LaVine, who starred at Bothell High last year, but he’s still a small secret nationally. He slumped late in the season, but has the potential to explode and is as athletic as they come.