This is the bracket anyone can win. Yes, that includes Maryland.
The Terrapins are a No. 6 seed in a region that can be won by any of the top eight seeds. Heck, the most dangerous team might be Connecticut -- the No. 5 seed.
Let's start at the top. Texas has two key ingredients for March success: a fabulous point guard (T.J. Ford) and strength and depth inside. But the Longhorns haven't been past the round of 16 since 1990. Their coach, Rick Barnes, has been a great program builder at four schools, but he hasn't been past the round of 16 either. This might be his chance to change all that -- or it might not.
The first round is a virtual walkover, Texas playing the winner of the awful play-in game between Texas Southern and UNC Asheville. (Note to committee: If you are going to insist on continuing this blight, you should at least send the two lowest seeded at-large teams to play in it; then just put them into the bracket somewhere as a No. 12 or 13 seed. The one-bid conferences should not be put through this).
A second-round game for Texas against the LSU-Purdue winner won't be a walkover. LSU was very up and down this season, beating Arizona early, struggling in the middle, then finishing strong. Purdue is back in the tournament for the first time since 2000 -- hard to believe -- and it is good to see Gene Keady back. There have been some rumors he might retire at season's end. If so, he would at least go out with an NCAA team -- albeit probably in the first round.
Mark this down: Connecticut will beat BYU and then Stanford (which faces San Diego in the first round) to reach the round of 16. Stanford is dangerous because Mike Montgomery can really coach, but U-Conn. has legit Final Four potential if it can keep Emeka Okafor on the court. He's the best inside defensive player in the country -- by far. That's why it will be no shock if the Huskies take down Texas, although they would have to do it in Texas (San Antonio).
The question for Maryland, of course, is which group of Terrapins shows up in Nashville on Friday. Will it be the group that was dominant at times (almost always at home) or the group that looked like it couldn't wait to get out of Dodge last Friday night against North Carolina. Of course ACC tournament failures mean nothing to Maryland; they're an annual part of the script. But UNC Wilmington is no first-round bargain with the best name in the tournament -- Brett Blizzard -- who happens to be one of the better players. Survive that, though, and a second-round game against Xavier is less than daunting. David West is great, but we're talking about a team that struggled all three times it faced George Washington. Heck, the Musketeers are not guaranteed to beat No. 14 Troy State.
Florida, the No. 2 seed, is a lock to beat Sam Houston State in the first round, setting up a terrific second-round game with either Michigan State or Colorado. Think Michigan State isn't any good just because it came out of the mediocre Big Ten? Well, it might not be, but it did beat Kentucky (albeit early) at Kentucky; it has a coach who has won a national title and been to three Final Fours, and Colorado's best wins were all at home. Little Billy Donovan (adopted son of Little Ricky Pitino) would rather not face the Spartans in the second round.
Most likely first-round upset: Troy State over Xavier. (But beware, Terrapins).
Best story: Jim Calhoun coming back from cancer surgery to take his team deep into the tournament. Or, Barnes and Williams meeting in the regional final. Barnes worked for Williams at Ohio State. "Gary played a key role in my development as a coach," Barnes likes to say. "He taught me how to curse."