Three who can carry their teams:
• Marcus Paige, G, North Carolina
• Sean Kilpatrick, G, Cincinnati
• Shabazz Napier, G, UConn
Most intriguing opening round matchup: No. 5 Cincinnati vs. No. 12 Harvard
Last March, Harvard proved its mettle on the March stage by stunning third-seeded Mountain West champion New Mexico in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. With the core of that young team returning and seniors Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey back from a year-long suspension, this year's Crimson team is deeper and more talented than the one that pulled that upset. What may hurt Harvard's chances of pulling off a repeat upset is its opening-round opponent this season is more relentless and more athletic than that skilled New Mexico team. Cincinnati isn't a high-scoring team, but the Bearcats have a smothering defense, an array of offensive rebounders and one of the great guards in the country in senior Sean Kilpatrick.
Best potential round of 32 game: No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 6 North Carolina
One of the nation's best shooting teams meets a team that can't shoot but does most everything else well. Iowa State enters the NCAA tournament overflowing with confidence after ousting Kansas State, Kansas and Baylor to win the Big 12 tournament on Saturday night. The Cyclones have seven players who have attempted at least 60 threes this season, enabling them to create matchup problems galore by spreading the floor and forcing opposing big men to defend the perimeter. North Carolina is a poor shooting team besides Marcus Paige and perhaps streaky Leslie McDonald, but the Tar Heels make up for it by getting out in transition and crashing the offensive glass. They had won 12 in a row before a loss at Duke in the regular season finale and another to Pitt in the ACC quarterfinals.
Ripe for an upset: No. 2 Villanova
Even though Villanova has a 28-4 record and captured the Big East regular season crown, the Wildcats didn't beat many top teams this season. In fact, aside from a November win over Kansas, Villanova's most impressive victories all came against bubble teams. The Wildcats shouldn't have much problem with Milwaukee in the opening round and they're certainly capable of getting by UConn or a St. Joseph's team they dismantled early in the season, but a matchup with Iowa State in the Sweet 16 would be far trickier. The ability of the Cyclones to spread the floor with shooters is very similar to the Creighton team that twice throttled Villanova in the regular season. Plus, Iowa State is more competent defensively too.
Bound for the Final Four: No. 4 Michigan State
The two best teams in this region may meet in the Sweet 16 rather than the Elite Eight. That's when ACC champion Virginia could battle a Michigan State team that battled injuries throughout conference play but got healthy in time to outclass both Wisconsin and Michigan en route to the Big Ten tournament title. Virginia's pack-line defense will force Michigan State to score from the perimeter and its patient motion offense will make the Spartans defend for 35 seconds, but Tom Izzo's team is definitely more talented. Plus, the experienced Spartans have ample motivation since this senior class is trying to avoid becoming Izzo's first not to reach a Final Four. Virginia is capable of winning this game and reaching the Final Four, but if Keith Appling continues to look healthy, it's hard to go against the Spartans.
Possible Dark Horse: No. 3 Iowa State
The real dark horse in this region might be a Virginia team that most people probably won't pick to advance past the Sweet 16, but it seems silly to pick the No. 1 seed. As a result, next in line is Iowa State, which is battle-tested after surviving the grueling Big 12 slate and is peaking at the right time after its Big 12 tournament title. If its jump shots fall, the Cyclones are capable of beating anyone in this region.
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