The Favorite: Ohio State (32-2, 16-2 Big Ten).
Ohio State is one of the best shooting teams in the country as the Buckeyes shoot a combined 49.4 percent from the field, good for third in the country. It doesn’t hurt when their best player, Jared Sullinger has tremendous discipline with his shooting, hitting 53.6 percent of his shots, and their sharpshooter, Jon Diebler, leads the nation in 3-point shooting (102-204 from downtown).
And their reward for dominance all season? Being the No. 1 seed in the toughest region. The Buckeyes will compete with traditional powerhouses North Carolina (No. 2), Syracuse (No. 3) and Kentucky (No. 4). A potential Elite 8 matchup with Syracuse would essentially be an away game for Ohio State in Newark, and its two loses this season have come at Purdue and at Wisconsin.
Cinderella: Washington (23-10, 11-7 Pac-10).
North Carolina’s bread and butter has been its transition game this season. But the Tar Heels are in for a shootout if they play Washington in the third round. The Huskies are one of the top scoring teams this season, averaging 83.5 points this season.
Keep an eye on Isaiah Thomas, the team’s leading scorer at 16.8 points per game. There’s been a lot made of Kemba Walker’s run in the Big East Tournament, but Thomas had a dramatic tourney of his own. He averaged 19.6 points during the tournament, and hit the game winning shot in overtime as Washington knocked off Arizona in the league’s first ever overtime title game.
Potential upset: Xavier (24-7, 15-1 A 10).
The Musketeers boast a senior class that has been to at least the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament in each of their years at school. Syracuse faces a potential matchup with Xavier in the third round, and SU will have to contend with senior guard Tu Holloway, who leads the team in scoring at 20.2 points per game. More concerning for the Orange is Xavier’s size, as 7-foot, 269-pound center Kenny Frease and 6-foot-8, 245-pound forward Jamel McLean patrol the lane. The Orange’s best lineup has been with Rick Jackson playing center, but Syracuse may need to lean on Baye Moussa Keita and Fab Melo, who have been inconsistent this season.
Player to watch: Corey Fisher (Villanova).
The Wildcats are limping into the NCAA tournament, having lost five straight games, including an ugly 70-69 loss to lowly South Florida in the first round of the Big East tournament. Fisher has been one of the culprits for the Wildcats slide, as he’s averaged just 10.6 points while shooting 20 for 69 from the field in those losses. But Fisher is capable of exploding at any time (he leads Villanova in scoring at 15.4 ppg) and this is the same Wildcats team that went 16-1 to start the season. They face a George Mason team that had won 16 in a row prior to losing to Virginia Commonwealth in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament. But that number may be deceiving as the Patriots have a strength of schedule of just 91.
Sweet 16: Ohio State. West Virginia. Syracuse. North Carolina.
Elite 8: Syracuse. Syracuse. Ohio State.
Regional champion: Ohio State.