The Top Seed: No. 1 Florida — The Gators (32-2) didn’t lose to an SEC team all year, going 18-0 in the regular season and beating Kentucky in the SEC title game. The win over the Wildcats extended Florida’s school-record winning streak to 26 in a row. The Gators are a veteran group, with three of their top four scorers being seniors.
The Sleeper: No. 6 Ohio State — The Buckeyes (25-9) have had an up-and-down season, but since Feb. 1 they have wins over Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan State. Senior point guard Aaron Craft is their defensive leader, but the Buckeyes will go as far as LaQuinton Ross can take them. Ross has scored at least 19 points in six straight games.
Second-Round Upset: No. 9 Pittsburgh over No. 8 Colorado — Not much of an upset, but the Panthers (25-9) are going to be a tough out for whoever they face. Talib Zanna, who had 19 points and 21 rebounds in an ACC tournament win over North Carolina, is a beast in the post. Colorado (23-11) has lost four of its past seven.
Best Possible Matchup: No. 4 UCLA vs. No. 5 VCU (Third Round) — With their “Havoc” defense, the Rams (26-8) are a tough team to prepare for in a tournament setting. For a third straight year, VCU led the country in steals. UCLA (26-8) counters with one of the toughest guys to guard in the country, 6-foot-9 sophomore Kyle Anderson.
Final Four Prediction: No. 1 Florida — This group of seniors — Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin and Patric Young — has lost in the Elite Eight three straight years. They’ll take that next step.
The Top Seed: No. 1 Virginia — The Cavaliers locked up a top seed with their ACC title game win over Duke. They come into the tournament as hot as anyone, having won 16 of their last 17, keyed by stifling defense and a balanced offensive attack led by Malcolm Brogdon (12.3 ppg).
The Sleeper: No. 7 UConn — Guard Shabazz Napier was a freshman when Kemba Walker led Connecticut to a national title run in 2011. Now, as a do-everything senior, he’s capable of leading the Huskies to a deep run as well. With a veteran core, the Huskies are a force to be reckoned with — as long as they’re not playing Louisville, who handed them three of their eight losses.
Second-Round Upset: No. 11 Providence over No. 6 North Carolina — Providence has been in tournament mode for the past week already — winning a de facto play-in game against St. John’s two days before stunning Creighton in the Big East championship game. Look for the Friars — led by the Big East’s Best-Player-Not-Named-Doug-McDermott Bryce Cotton (21.4 ppg) — to stay hot against the Tar Heels.
Best Possible Matchup: No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 4 Michigan St. (Sweet 16) — Like defense? You’ll love this game. Michigan State gives up a stingy 65.3 points per game, which is a full 10 more than the Cavaliers, who give up the fewest points per game in the country. This game will be like a heavyweight title bout, beautiful in its ugliness.
Final Four Prediction: No. 3 Iowa State — Led by Melvin Ejim, the Cyclones have had their ups and downs, but they are peaking at the right time. Look for them to outshoot and outrun their competition all the way to the Final Four.
The Top Seed: No. 1 Arizona — The Wildcats (30-4) lost their regular-season finale to Oregon and fell in the Pac-12 title game to UCLA, but they are well deserving of the top seed. With Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon, they are one of the most athletic teams, and they have the fifth-best scoring defense (allowing 58.1 points a game).
The Sleeper: No. 6 Baylor — The Bears (24-11) have a balanced attack, with four players averaging between 11 and 14 points per game. Baylor’s zone defense is anchored by 7-foot-1 center Isaiah Austin (3.3 blocks per game). If sharpshooter Brady Heslip is hitting his outside shots, the Bears are dangerous.
Second-Round Upset: No. 12 North Dakota St. over No. 5 Oklahoma — The Summit League champions have won 14 of their past 15 games and has a nonconference win over Notre Dame. The Bison (25-6) lead the country in field goal percentage, led by 6-foot-8, 250-pound senior forward Marshall Bjorklund. The big man averages 13.4 points a game and shoots 63.6 percent from the field.
Best Possible Matchup: No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 3 Creighton (Sweet 16) — Doug McDermott has climbed to fifth on the all-time scoring list with 3,105 points. How high will he go? A Sweet 16 matchup against Wisconsin would see plenty of 3-point attempts. The Bluejays lead the nation (10.4 pg), while the Badgers rank 49th (7.7 pg)
Final Four Prediction: No. 1 Arizona — Arizona ranks in the top five in the country in rebound margin, scoring defense and scoring margin.
The Top Seed: No. 1 Wichita State — The Shockers (34-0) are trying to become the first team to complete an undefeated season since Indiana’s perfect run in 1975-76 and the first team from a non-major conference to win a national title since UNLV in 1990. The one knock on them has been their schedule. They didn’t play a ranked team all year.
The Sleeper: No. 8 Kentucky — The preseason No. 1 team in the AP poll hasn’t lived up to their high expectations, but the Wildcats are as talented as any team in the field and nearly upset Florida in the SEC title game. Julius Randle, James Young and Willie Cauley-Stein form an NBA-caliber front line.
Second-Round Upset: No. 12 N.C. State/Xavier over No. 5 Saint Louis — At one point this season, the Billikens reeled off 19 straight wins, but they enter the NCAA tournament having lost four of their past five games. In the Atlantic 10 tournament, Saint Louis was upset by a ninth-seeded Saint Bonaventure team that was 6-10 in the conference.
Best Possible Matchup: No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 2 Michigan (Elite Eight) — Both teams had their sights set on a No. 1 seed and neither of them got it. The Midwest region has three of the Final Four teams from a year ago and this would be a rematch of last year’s title game, which Russ Smith and Louisville won 82-76.
Final Four Prediction No. 4 Louisville — Russ Smith and the Cardinals (29-5) have just been destroying teams, winning their three American tournament games by an average of 33.3 points. They led the country in scoring margin this year.