Last time the Final Four visited New Orleans, Syracuse soared to the title. Can the 'Cuse go back-to-back where the good times roll?
In a year where, depending on your viewpoint, two or three of the No.1 seeds are indisputable, everyone's opinion will vary on the degree of difficulty each will have getting to the April 2 championship game.
Let's take a look at each, beginning with the Selection and Seeding Committee's fourth-ranked No.1 seed and evaluate how easily, or with how much difficulty, each will get the opportunity to hoist the national championship trophy.
Big Ten Player of the Year, Draymond Green, hoists the Big Ten Conference Championship trophy. Come April 2, he'd like to be holding a smaller, but more significant piece of hardware.
By most accounts, Michigan State earned this No. 1 seed by besting Ohio State in a hard-fought Big Ten Championship game.
Using the Sagarin Ratings (my preferred system to the more-generally recognized RPI and SOS), there's good news and bad news for the Spartans. The good news is there is only one other top 10 team in their region (Missouri). The bad news is there are six more teams in the Sagarin top 20.
That means, after the play-ins—whoops, I mean the "first-round" games—fully half the region is loaded with top 20 teams.
Doing the math, the West region has a very disproportionate percentage (40 percent) of the twenty best teams in the country.
Sparty has his work cut out for him to get to Bourbon Street.
Looking more closely at the bracket, Michigan State's biggest concerns in their half are a dangerous Memphis team that many feel has flown under the radar and Big East tournament champion, Louisville.
I'll add one more team to that mix. I believe Long Beach State is a very dangerous, and underrated No. 12 seed (Sagarin disagrees, rating them 41st).
From the other half of the bracket, Missouri is, in my opinion, a clear favorite to emerge and do battle for a trip to New Orleans.
So, the verdict?
Michigan State has only one easy game and, thus, a very difficult road to overcome. I don't think we'll see them in the Superdome.
ACC Player of the Year, Tyler Zeller, led the Tar Heels to a No.1 seed despite being blasted by Florida State in the regular season, and losing to them again in the ACC championship.
I don't know about you, but I can't ever recall a team losing by 33 points one time and then losing again to the same team in their conference championship and still earning a No. 1 seed.
Oh yeah, it's North Carolina, the "most talented" team in the land!
And make no mistake, they are loaded with talent.
(You're thinking there's a "but" coming, right? Well, you're right!)
But, the Tar Heels have made a living by pounding the ball inside against the ACC, who with the exception of Florida State (the team in the opening sentence), and to some degree, Duke, simply weren't able to match North Carolina's size and strength.
The good news for Carolina is they have been given three close-to-gift games to start the tournament. The bad news is, if things run to form, their last three opponents read like this: Kansas, Syracuse and Kentucky. All three can match the Heels' size and strength inside.
That means needing to find some points on the exterior. Unfortunately, the glaring weakness in this edition of Roy Williams' "Parade of McDonald's All-Americans" is a complete lack of consistent outside shooting.
The Midwest region has the most Sagarin top 50 teams, with 13, but besides Kansas, the Tar Heels only have one other team in the top 22 to contend with in Georgetown.
Even with three passes, let's say it all together now: Kansas, Syracuse and Kentucky.
There are NBA teams that couldn't sweep that trio!
I can't like North Carolina to win it all.
Jim Boeheim is hoping for an instant replay (well, not so "instant" -- it's been nine years) of cutting down the nets in New Orleans.
While North Carolina's road to New Orleans appears to have but one obstacle, Syracuse's may be even easier.
Going by the Sagarins, the East region has the poorest overall strength.
With only 10 top 50 teams and Ohio State and Wisconsin joining the Orange as the only single-digit teams, Syracuse, at first glance, looks to have an easy road.
But wait, sitting at No, 20-22, Vanderbilt, Florida State and Kansas State are all teams whose foot might fit in the slipper.
Syracuse would encounter K-State in the second round. The Wildcats finished fifth in the Big 12. While most pundits will tell you that the Big Ten was the toughest conference, I think the next three weeks may demonstrate otherwise.
Kansas State has been inconsistent, but on any given night they can harass the hell out of you.
If the Orange get by K-State, next up, by seed, would be Wisconsin. I'm thinking, however, that Vanderbilt will show the Badgers to the exit.
And Vandy is the kind of team that could give fits to the 'Cuse.
Because you have to extend your zone to the coaching box hash marks to defend the Commodores.
The team from Nashville has never met a shot they don't like. On a good night, these guys can beat anybody.
If the Orange again survive, the team coming out of the other half of their bracket could be any of four or five possibilities, all of whom would be clear underdogs against the 'Cuse.
That brings us to New Orleans. (Excuse me while I go grab something in a "to-go" cup.)
Syracuse likely encounters North Carolina or Kansas first and then Kentucky.
Not impossible, but if they again are victorious in New Orleans, (in your best John Houseman voice) they will have ear-r-r-r-rned it.
Kentucky's Anthony Davis is playing a sport many basketball players are not familiar with.
Few will dispute that going into the Dance, the Kentucky Wildcats are the "gun-to-your-head" choice.
Yes, the SEC was subpar this season, but the 'Cats hardly broke a sweat, except for occasionally amusing themselves by mailing in a first half.
Do you think there was ever a time that Anthony Davis wasn't the first kid picked in the park?
John Calipari may have topped himself with this collection at "One-and-Done U."
(Question: What's as rare as a snowflake in Key West? Answer: A senior on Kentucky's basketball team!)
Before we just hand over the trophy, let's take a look at the South region.
The Selection and Seeding Committee didn't do the Wildcats any favors. Again, according to the Sagarins, while Kentucky has no company from the top eight, they do have all four of the 9-through-12 teams in their region.
Indiana, Wichita State, Duke and Baylor give the South region five of the top 12 teams in the Sagarin Ratings.
And that doesn't include Connecticut, a team that's had a spotty season, but most feel has NBA-level talent sprinkled through their line-up.
UConn, if they beat Iowa State, would be Kentucky's second opponent.
It doesn't get any easier for Calipari's charges after that.
Third up would likely be either an Indiana team that toppled the 'Cats early in the season or a veteran Wichita State team that could cause them problems.
The Elite Eight game would likely be either Baylor or Duke, both teams that will run it into the 80's or 90's and are capable of the upset.
Should the 'Cats take care of all that business, they'll get almost a breather in the semis.
Figuring either Michigan State or Missouri as the "form" winner of the West, Kentucky would have huge matchup advantages against either.
On Monday night, the only thing for certain is a legitimate team, and likely one that can match-up with the 'Cats will be coming out of the other side.
So, what's the verdict?
While there are clear-cut favorites, nobody's close to a lock to cut down the nets.
And as you fill out your brackets, or place a few bob on someone to win it all, I'll leave you with this thought:
Never attributed to any one coach directly, there's an old story that goes that a college basketball coach was having trouble sleeping, tossing and turning.
His wife finally says, "What's wrong, honey?"
"I just realized," says the coach, "that I've built our whole lives on how a bunch of 18-to-21-year-olds play for two hours."
Good luck, everyone.