NCAA Tournament 2012: 10 Teams Primed to Win

Eddie PryceCorrespondent IMarch 22, 2012

NCAA Tournament 2012: 10 Teams Primed to Win

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    This year’s tournament has been anything but a disappointment. There has been a mix of higher seeds making their way through and some huge upsets that always give the tournament its flavor and character. 

    All four No. 1 seeds have advanced to the sweet 16 and three of the four No. 3 and No. 4 seeds have matriculated through the first two rounds of the main tournament. 

    While there is a true favorite in No. 1 Kentucky, there are several teams that have a legitimate shot at winning the tournament.

    North Carolina has looked great through two rounds, but they are likely to have to face the reality of missing their most important player. Syracuse still has as talented a roster as any, but they will meet some tough teams in their bracket. Michigan State has the makings of one of their many final four teams and is well positioned to make a run with Missouri bowing out early.

    Who will take it all this year?

10. Louisville

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    Louisville has had their ups and downs this year, but based on their run through the Big East tournament (which is never an easy task) and several of their big wins this year including Ohio, Vanderbilt, Memphis, Marquette, Notre Dame and Cincinnati, they are a threat to make a deep run in the tournament. 

    They went 10-8 and lost nine games overall this season, so they definitely are a flawed squad, but Louisville is hot.

    Senior Guard Peyton Siva is playing some of his best ball of his career and Coach Rick Pitino has as much Final Four experience as anyone in the tournament outside of Tom Izzo and Roy Williams.

    Look out for a surprise run from Louisville if they can speed up Michigan State and upset them in the Sweet 16. If they get past MSU, they will at worst be faced with a rematch against a Marquette squad they just beat a couple weeks ago.

    Anything is possible after that point.

9. Indiana

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    IU happens to represent the only team that defeated the mighty Kentucky Wildcats prior to postseason. They have slain several dragons this year, especially on their home court. Gone are the days of recent past in which the Hoosiers were an also-ran in the Big Ten.

    IU basketball is back and hopefully here to stay. 

    Given the fact that Indiana has beaten teams like Kentucky, NC State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue, among others, they have proven all year that they can beat anyone.  Most of those wins took place on their home court, but a win over Shaka Smart’s diehard Virginia Commonwealth team always looks good on the resume.

    Kentucky has every reason to be motivated in this sweet 16 matchup as they still are meeting up against a team that dominated the majority of their first contest this year.  John Calipari's squad is a lot better, and Indiana lost one of their senior leaders, Verdell Jones, to injury, but Indiana is fully capable of making a run through this tournament if they can slay the Wildcats once again.

8. Baylor

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    Baylor is as talented and explosive as any team in the country.

    They racked up 29 wins thus far this year, which is impressive no matter what conference you are in. They beat Kansas in the Big 12 tournament and also have impressive wins against Kansas State, San Diego State, BYU, and Mississippi State. 

    They put up tons of points and have a lot of firepower. They have a potential lottery pick on their team in Perry Jones III, and he may very well be their 3rd best player. If Quincy Acy dominates down low offensively and defensively, Pierre Jackson dictates the pace on offense and hits huge shots consistently, and Brady Heslip can continue to shoot the ball well, Baylor can beat anyone in this tournament.

    Kentucky is a tough matchup for them, and a team like Michigan State would force them to play disciplined basketball, but with the way they can put the ball through the basket they are dangerous.

    Sky is the limit for Baylor!

7. Ohio State

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    Going into this season Ohio State was a premier candidate to win it all.

    They returned All-American Jared Sullinger, senior leader William Buford and wily sophomore Aaron Craft to go along with loads of young talent. This season seemed to be full of promise.

    Unfortunately, while there have been good moments including a shared Big Ten Crown and wins over Michigan State, Michigan, Florida, Duke, Indiana and Wisconsin, OSU has shown themselves to be anything but invincible, though at times have been championship quality this year. 

    There is no question that when OSU shoots the ball well, Buford plays like he is capable of playing, and Sullinger is able to make an impact down low and stay out of foul trouble, Ohio State can beat anyone in the country.

    The problem is, their offense seems to be overly reliant on those three factors, and does not seem to create many alternatives given all three are not a guarantee from game to game.

    With that said, Craft hounds the ball as well as anyone in the country and makes plays on offense, and at the end of the day Sullinger is an All-American who can score on you in bulk and get you in foul trouble.

    First things first—they have to win a grind-fest against interstate rival Cincinnati, but if they can pull it together, OSU has the talent to win it all.

6. Kansas

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    The Jayhawks are a wildcard in this tournament.

    At one point they were a lock for a No. 1 seed and ended up falling into a No. 2 seed after a Big 12 semifinal loss to Baylor in their conference tournament. They have an absolute beast playing inside that can change the game on both ends in Thomas Robinson and they have explosive and multi-dimensional guards in Tyshawn Thomas and Elijah Johnson.

    In a game Sunday in which they were thoroughly beaten for much of the contest by Purdue, their backcourt tipped the scales in a blink of an eye.

    Robinson’s efforts are consistent and can be counted upon each night. Kansas will defend hard and they are anchored by Robinson and intimidating shot blocker Jeff Withey.

    With North Carolina now shaken by the potential loss of their floor leader and primary playmaker, things have opened up for Kansas to make a run to the Final Four. Once they get there, anything can happen. They have the talent and they are balanced in their attack.

5. North Carolina

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    This may come as a shock to most of you, but due to the fact that sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall’s status is unknown, things have changed drastically for the Tar Heels.

    An odds-on favorite to win it all coming into this season after they returned three first round draft pick potentials, the Tar Heels have backed it up with quite a season, and have looked as good as any team in the tournament thus far.

    However, despite the fact that Marshall is not one of the three studs that remain in their frontcourt, there is no secret that Roy Williams' teams are highly dependent on good point guard play to make sure they maintain a fast attacking place.

    This year is no different, as demonstrated by the Tar Heels ascent midseason from mediocre to Final Four quality (in the blink of an eye) when Marshall took over as the starting point guard as a freshman. 

    He is the most important piece to the North Carolina puzzle, and if he cannot play or is severely hobbled, the Heels can't navigate through four tough teams to win it all. Maybe one, two, or even three, but I do not think they can win four.

    That is unfortunate because the talent level on this team is matched by only a couple teams in the country and when they are playing at their best, they are as strong a national championship contender as anyone.

4. Syracuse

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    This season Syracuse lost one game prior to the Big East Tournament. One by one, they toppled every team that showed up on their schedule including Florida, NC State, and everyone in their conference they played including Louisville and Marquette. 

    The ‘Cuse have a very talented and potent lineup that can hurt you in a variety of ways.

    They shoot the three well, drive the ball to the basket, and have an inside presence as well.  Their patented zone has been hell to any team that is not extremely hot on a given day or perfect in their execution against their well played zone.

    With that said, Syracuse is led by crafty and clutch point guard Scoop Jardine and their sixth man Dion Waiters might be their most explosive scorer.  While they can hurt you with Kris Joseph, CJ Fair, or Brandon Triche among others, the major concern is that Syracuse is missing the anchor of their defense Fab Melo.

    The last time the Orange won a championship, another guy named “Melo” led the way. It is possible, that the absence of this year’s version of Melo may be the difference.

    Syracuse has won without him, but there is no question that they are a formidable team with him in the lineup while they have shown some vulnerability without him. This team is fully capable of winning it all, but his absence may be all it takes for another team to step up and take down the nets in New Orleans

3. Marquette

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    Marquette has not been talked about a great deal as a championship contender, but they should be.

    They are about as tough and physical a team as you will find in the Nation, and have the star power that you need to make a run in the tournament. They have Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder who has a very versatile game and is explosive and tough, and team leading scorer Darius Johnson-Odom. 

    Things opened up a bit for them when Missouri lost and they can certainly beat Michigan State if they play very well. There is something about this team—I would not count them out.

    They are not very sexy (unless you like the color baby blue!), but they have a ton of wins to show that they can compete with anyone this year. They went 14-4 in the Big East, and beat the upper echelon teams in the conference. They also beat Wisconsin, Norfolk State, and Washington out of conference.

2. Michigan State

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    The Spartans have not won a National Title since 2000, but they have found their way to the Final Four 4 times since then.  No one coaches better and more consistently with good teams in the tournament than Tom Izzo. He’s had very talented teams, and he’s had teams that have struggled in the regular season and barely made it into the tournament and made noise.  They haven’t won every year, but any Spartan team that is considered Final Four worthy is pretty reliable. 

    This year’s team did not appear to be destined for greatness after losing several contributors from last year (many of which played on the 2010 Final Four team) and being beat up a bit by Carolina on the ship in November.  However, as the season went on State showed themselves to be a top 10 caliber team that could possibly make a run at the championship

    They have one of the best leaders the college game has seen in a while, in Draymond Green, who is a charismatic, but yet talented and accountable player to lead the way and be an extension of Tom Izzo on the court. He self regulates his teammates and makes Izzo’s job easier as a result.  It doesn’t hurt that he’s liable to get a double-double or even triple-double every time out.  He had some erratic play over the years as a support player during his first three years, but this year he has hit timely shot after timely shot and can be counted on to get big stops or charges defensively. He also is an outstanding rebounder and willing to dive after loose balls.   

    Defensively, Michigan State is going to grind out any team they play and force them to execute, hit shots, and fight for loose balls and rebounds.  Few teams can do that at a high level.  This gives the Spartans an edge as they get deeper into the tournament.  If Brandon Wood and Keith Appling can continue to be steady and step up in big spots, and their big men continue to play strong and steady inside, State is as likely as any to beat the likes of Kentucky in route to a championship.

1. Kentucky

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    The clear favorite in this tournament are the Kentucky Wildcats.

    Not only do they have the extraordinary depth of talent typical of John Calipari teams, but they for once have a mix of veterans and newbies. This has not been the case for his teams of late as he has made a living of recruiting and encouraging one-and-done college players. Carolina for sure can claim to be as talented as them, but there is something special about the talent and toughness that this year’s Wildcat team has.

    In the past, Calipari has had trouble coaching a team to victory once they make it deep into the tournament. I am not sure that Calipari has changed, as much as this year’s team seems more together and more mature than many of Calipari’s teams from the past.

    No one really takes bad shots, everyone is unselfish, everyone has bought into a role, and their great pressure defense has been enhanced by the presence of a real-life human beast in Player of the Year candidate Anthony Davis. 

    Although he still is a work in progress as a player, he has taken major strides and developed himself into a true terror on defense. He set the single-season SEC record for blocks this year and led the nation while playing in a power six conference (4.6 per game).  If he does not block shots, he alters them. This is a luxury for a team that defends so well on the perimeter. 

    It is going to be tough for any team to really beat the Wildcats unless they catch them on a bad day. They have a balanced attack that does not overly rely on jump shooting or any particular player to score, as they have four players that average double figures topping out with 14.3 ppg by Davis. Two more players could be rounded up to 10 ppg (9.8, 9.9), so they epitomize balanced scoring. 

    Sophomores Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones have been great compliments to freshman stars Davis, Marquis Teague, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

    They have everything it takes, including poise, something that the past two Kentucky teams did not have when faced with tough road tests in-conference and out-of-conference.

    This is a team that looks poised to win it all for the first time since 1998.