Indiana, one of the best teams all season, will be a popular choice to advance, but Miami could pose a challenge.
At first glance
Indiana will be a popular choice to advance. The Hoosiers seem to be the team most likely to win, but if you had a choice of Indiana or the field, you might be better off taking the field.
The Big Ten was regarded as the best conference and you have to respect Illinois, which beat Indiana at home and won at Gonzaga, the top seed in the West.
Miami was playing the best basketball in the country for about a one-month stretch, and by winning the ACC tournament, the Hurricanes proved they have gotten over a late-season slump. But you wonder how Miami, which snagged its first NCAA bid since 2008, will react to tournament pressure.
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If you’re looking for possible bracket-busting teams, the Atlantic 10 schools, Temple and Butler, are a good place to start.
By the numbers
0 The chance the play-in winner (James Madison or LIU Brooklyn) has of beating Indiana.
1 Times both Syracuse and Davidson have advanced past the Sweet 16 since 1996.
6 Trips to the NCAA tournament in the past 11 seasons for Montana (with just one victory in that span).
MIAMI: Not much was expected from the Hurricanes, but this senior-dominated squad was the best team in the ACC and it beat Duke by 27.
ILLINOIS: The Illini are lined up to meet Miami in the second round, and if you’re good enough to win at Gonzaga, you can win anywhere. The winner of this expected second-round game has a great shot at getting to the regional final.
BUTLER: The past two times the Bulldogs were in the tournament, they reached the title game (2010 and 2011). The team this year isn’t as good as those squads, but the Bulldogs faced good competition in the Atlantic 10 and they seem to play their best at this time of the year.
DAVIDSON: The Wildcats have won 17 consecutive games and they won’t be intimidated by No. 3 seed Marquette, having played this season at Gonzaga, Duke and North Carolina and being fairly competitive in all three games.
SYRACUSE: You have to wonder about the mindset of the Orange after its collapse against Louisville in the Big East tournament final. No. 13 seed Montana can beat Syracuse if the Orange isn’t focused.
Sophomore point guard Shane Larkin is surrounded by four seniors in Miami’s lineup, but the 5-foot-11 Larkin is the key for the Hurricanes, leading the team in scoring (14.2). He might be the biggest star on his team, but he isn’t the biggest star in his family, with that honor going to his father, Barry, the baseball Hall of Famer.
Cody Zeller gets the most attention for Indiana, but when the Hoosiers need a lift it’s often junior guard Victor Oladipo who provides it. He often takes — and makes — the team’s most important shots.
Jim Boeheim is the only coach in this region to have won an NCAA title, but he also has a lot of early round flameouts on his résumé, so the winner is Butler’s Brad Stevens, with honorable mention going to Pacific’s Bob Thomason and Miami’s Jim Larranaga. Stevens is 10-4 in the NCAA tournament, including title-game losses to Duke and Connecticut. Thomason is retiring after 25 seasons at Pacific. This is his fifth NCAA tournament team and his teams have often overachieved. Larranaga led George Mason to the Final Four in 2006.
Best players you might not have heard of
MIKE MUSCALA: The 6-11 Bucknell center leads his team in scoring (19.0) and rebounding (11.2).
KHALIF WYATT: The 6-4 Temple senior guard is averaging team-high 19.8 points and 4.1 assists.
KAREEM JAMAR: Montana’s 6-5 junior guard/forward just repeated as the Big Sky tournament MVP.
And the winner is …
INDIANA: Sure, it’s the safe pick, but this is the best team in the region. The Hoosiers are no lock, but if they play at a high level, they have a very good chance to make it to Atlanta.