This year marks the 75th Anniversary of March Madness, making this year's NCAA tournament just a bit more special. Naturally every team in college basketball is gunning for a championship, but there are some teams who simply have better chances.
It's tough to handicap an event that's five months away (especially since the season is still about a month away), but everyone loves a little speculation about what's to come.
With that, these are my odds for each Top 25 team to lift a new banner at the end of the season.
Led by Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota returns most of its team from last season that made a deep run in the NIT. While they missed out on the Big Dance last year, the Gophers will be greatly helped by returning so much talent.
Mbakwe will be the key for this team. He is returning for his senior season after averaging 14.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game last season. He is going to be among the Big Ten's top players next season and will be instrumental in Minnesota's success.
The Gophers are bringing back a ton of talent, which makes them impossible to ignore. However, the question remains about if their experience in the NIT last season will carry over to the NCAA tournament this year.
The Bulldogs only lose one impact player from last season, but that player was the starting center, Robert Sacre. It's tough to replace your seven-foot big man who anchors your guard-heavy team inside, but Gonzaga could do so.
With Sam Dower playing inside and 7'1" 305-pound behemoth Przmek Karnowski joining the team (although we don't know how much he will impact the game in his first year) the team should be solid inside. That allows for the guards to do their thing.
The team's all-freshman backcourt of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. returns this year with a year of experience under their belts. These two, along with Elias Harris, give Gonzaga a great attack that produced 37.1 points, 13.7 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game last season. Now that they are going to be asked to control the offense, these three will be huge for the Bulldogs.
Many think that Creighton basketball has become the Doug McDermott show, but the Bluejays have a good team surrounding him.
Sure, it helps to have a National Player of the Year contender lead your team, but returning players Gregory Echenique, Grant Gibbs, Ethan Wragge and Josh Jones help put the Bluejays among the nation's elite.
Creighton is going to have one of the nation's top offenses once again this season, and if they can pick it up on defense in March, the Bluejays have a legitimate chance to win it all.
The inevitable loss of Tim Abromaitis hurts Notre Dame, but the fact that Scott Martin was granted a sixth year of eligibility helps, as does the return of the team's all-sophomore backcourt of Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins.
The Irish have a solid team once again this year, and the return of their top-five scorers (not including Abromaitis, who only played two games) gives them a chance to surprise a lot of people in the Big East.
Last season the team suffered a first-round loss due to a controversial call, so this year they will be out for blood. However, it's tough to imagine this team to pull off a championship run without a true star.
Goodbye, Yancy Gates. Hello David Nyarsuk.
Cincinnati is losing its center and emotional leader from last year's squad in Gates, but will now be joined by the 7'1" mountain known as David Nyarsuk.
Nyarsuk is a transfer who is eligible for this season, but I can't see him replacing Gates. While he is a huge player with a lot of potential, he isn't quite as refined as I would like to see, and he may not be enough for a guard-heavy team that lacks much height.
Guards Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright are going to be needed to carry the bulk of the work for the Bearcats, but the deciding factor in just how far Cincy goes in the Big Dance will be the frontcourt.
Bo Ryan is still the coach of Wisconsin basketball, and we all know that that means the Badgers are going to focus on defense.
Wisconsin has always been among the nation's top defensive teams under Ryan, and that trend will surely continue this year. The big question for the Badgers is how they are going to score.
Freshman Sam Dekker will have to continue his reputation for clutch play in Madison now that star point guard Jordan Taylor is gone. Seniors Ryans Evans and Jared Berggren will also have to be key for the Badgers on the offensive end, as they are the only returning players who averaged double-digit points last year.
So, as with any Bo Ryan-coached team, defense is the key but offense is the question. It hasn't failed him yet.
After losing stars Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder to the NBA, Buzz Williams will need to start from scratch with a team that lacks a superstar.
Marquette is going to need a team-effort if it is to live up to expectations this year, combining efforts from Vander Blue, Junior Cadougan, Davante Gardner, Jamil Wilson, Jamal Ferguson, Steve Taylor, Chris Otule, Todd Mayo and JUCO transfer T.J. Taylor.
You may have noticed that this list is very long. That's because Marquette has a ton of players who could step up; we just don't know who is going to emerge as the leader.
Tom Izzo's crew looks poised for another great season this year, despite the loss of National Player of the Year candidate Draymond Green.
This year Michigan State will boast a perimeter of quick point guard Keith Appling, talented freshman shooting guard Gary Harris and athletic wing Branden Dawson. These three will be scoring in bunches for the Spartans, and when they cut to the basket, you can expect them to score.
Down low the team lost its do-it-all power forward in Green, but still has big men Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne, and has brought in Top 100 freshmen Kenny Kaminsky and Matt Costello to join them.
Sparty looks dangerous once again, and with Izzo at the helm, the team has a chance to make a deep run in March.
With the exceptions of Kentucky and North Carolina, no team lost more talent from last season than Syracuse. The Orange lost Fab Melo, Dion Waiters, Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine, which could be enough to set most programs back for years.
But this is Syracuse.
Jim Boeheim had more talent on his bench than some team had starting last season, and he has replaced the team's biggest loss (that of seven-footer Fab Melo) on the recruiting trail. DaJuan Coleman is going to anchor Boeheim's 2-3 defense this season, and the 6'10" 240-pound man-child will be a suitable replacement for Melo.
With players like C.J. Fair, Brandon Triche, Rakeem Christmas, Michael Carter-Williams, Colemen and fellow freshman Jerami Grant, this team is going to be athletic, talented and dangerous in March.
San Diego State is going to be scary-good this season, and it will contend with some of college basketball's finest.
Returning its top four scorers helps, but what makes this team special is the fact that they have both Chase Tapley and Jamaal Franklin in the backcourt, who are among the nation's top guards. These two will play huge roles for the team, as will freshman Winston Shepard, who is among the most highly regarded recruits in the nation.
The Aztecs have four amazing guards in Tapley, Franklin, James Rahon and Xavier Thames, but the team needs height. If the Aztecs find a way to compete in the paint they could be a Top 10 team this year, and even without a single player being taller than 6'9", they rank highly. As long as its lack of height doesn't hurt them, this team could make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Naturally if a team loses four starters to the NBA and isn't coached by John Calipari, it won't have a great season the following year, right?
Roy Williams is proving that he can be just as good of a recruiter as Coach Cal, replenishing a team that lost Kendall Marshall, Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson. With new point guard Marcus Paige running an offense that will include National Player of the Year candidate James Michael-McAdoo, the Tar Heels will be a tough team to beat.
These two are not alone, however, as Dexter Strickland is coming back from an ACL tear early last season, and the team has good depth at guard. In the frontcourt the team boasts Michael-McAdoo, three Top 100 recruits and wing P.J. Hairston, who has great range and athleticism.
UNC is going to be among the ACC's top teams for sure, and they could compete for yet another national title under Williams.
No Jared Sullinger. No William Buford. No problem.
Thad Matta's crew might not have a top 10 recruit or a true star, but the team has talent.
Aaron Craft is among the nation's top point guards, thanks to his suffocating defense and ability to run an offense. He has talent around him like DeShaun Thomas, who should have a breakout year.
Craft and Thomas lead the way, but Lenzelle Smith Jr., Evan Ravenel and the rest of the Buckeyes play excellent supporting roles.
While another Final Four run may not be in its future, Ohio State has the potential to make some noise this year.
Duke is never an easy team to judge. The Blue Devils always appear to have the talent to be great, but in recent years the team has struggled to put it all together at times. At times they struggle, but at others, they go on incredible runs, as seen in 2010 when the team won it all.
This year the team brings in two high-profile recruits in SG Rasheed Sulaimon and SF Amile Jefferson, who will play big roles alongside players like Seth Curry, Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and others.
However, the point guard position is still in question, as Quinn Cook has yet to truly take over, and Tyler Thornton is still stealing quite a few minutes from him. It's tough to make deep runs in March without consistency in the offense, and the two could pose problems if they are still sharing time during the tournament.
Another question mark is the big men, Mason Plumlee has the chance to be a star, and Ryan Kelly is a 6'11" forward with range, but he has a tendency to disappear at times.
This team is really up in the air, but the potential is there to be great. If coach Mike Krzyzewski can get the most out of his team when it matters most the team could be hoisting another banner to the rafters of Cameron Indoor Stadium.
There's also a chance of another embarrassing loss like that to Lehigh last season.
Despite losing its entire frontcourt to the NBA, Baylor is among the nation's top teams once again, thanks to Scott Drew's efforts on the recruiting trail.
Quincy Acy, Quincy Miller and Perry Jones III are all gone, but will be replaced by freshmen Isaiah Austin, Chad Ryhoek and Ricardo Gathers, and junior Cory Jefferson. Austin and Gathers are both elite freshmen who will be stars in college, making the loss of last year's frontcourt bearable.
The return of point guard Pierre Jackson is absolutely huge for the Bears, as he led the team last season, especially during the NCAA tournament. Jackson will be joined by Brady Heslip, A.J. Walton and freshman L.J. Rose in the backcourt.
Baylor made it all the way to the Elite Eight last year behind Jackson, and now that he has another year of experience under his belt and he is joined by comparable talent, the team could make a similar run.
Bill Self may not have any true stars like Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor from last season, but he surely has enough talent to make a deep run.
Self is among college basketball's best coaches, and that's because he gets the most out of his players. This season he has a seven-footer in Jeff Withey, a clutch Elijah Johnson and senior leader Travis Releford. He also gets three Top 100 freshmen to use in Andrew White, Perry Ellis and Ben McLemore (redshirt freshman).
No, the team doesn't have a National Player of the Year contender like Robinson. Yes, Self can potentially lead this team to a run similar to last year's.
While Florida has lost a bit of talent in the backcourt with the departures of Erving Walker and Bradley Beal, their improvements in the frontcourt more than make up for it.
The reason Florida was so streaky last season was because of a lack of good big men. Patric Young was asked to do too much, and many teams took advantage of that.
However, this year the team has three solid big men in Young, Will Yeguete and Erik Murphy. These three will greatly help the Gators on both ends of the floor, and their importance in making this year's team better than last year's cannot be understated.
However, this is still not a big man-oriented team, as the Gators still have a great backcourt. Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario are back, while freshmen Braxton Ogbueze and Dillon Graham are ready to make an immediate impact.
This is a balanced team, and one that should do better in March this year than last.
It sounds strange, but UNLV is full of stars this season. The team has as much talent as it's had since the days of Jerry Tarkanian, and we could see similar success in the tourney.
Returning star Mike Moser leads the way, entering his junior season after averaging a double-double last season. He will be joined by returning guard Anthony Marshall, who could have a breakout season, and star freshmen Anthony Bennett, Katin Reinhardt and Savon Goodman. UNLV has also killed it when it comes to transfers, bringing in Khem Birch (a highly touted center from the Class of 2011) from Pittsburgh and UConn forward Roscoe Smith.
The team has a ton of talented big men, while Marshall is the point guard. Goodman and Reinhardt will likely be playing in the backcourt with him at times.
The Rebels are simply stacked this year, and if all of these parts can mesh together, the team will excel.
Frank Haith's crew isn't as talented as last year's, which boasted Marcus Denmon and a host of other talented players and secured a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, but it's still pretty good.
Missouri will be led by Phil Pressey and Michael Dixon in the backcourt, and they will be key to the team's success. Inside the heavy majority of the damage will be by UConn transfer Alex Oriakhi, who will need to be a stud for the team.
This is a new team for Mizzou, with six freshmen and four transfers (including Oriakhi). Haith has a big job to help the team develop chemistry, since he is essentially starting from scratch outside of Pressey and Dixon, and it will be interesting to see how he does it.
Head coach Sean Miller and his staff should be really proud about the talent they've brought to Arizona in the last year. With the No. 1 overall recruiting class and one of the top transfers available all rushing to the desert, the team should compete for a Pac-12 title this season.
Point guard Mark Lyons left Xavier to join the Wildcats, and he will be running the offense this year as both a scoring threat and a facilitator. He will have plenty of options to go to, with the brand-new frontcourt of Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski all being top 25 freshmen in the Class of 2012.
And let's not forget about the returning talent. The team still has Nick Johnson, Kevin Parrom and Solomon Hill, who will all be playing big roles for the Wildcats.
This level of talent brings with it high expectations, and I fully expect the team to live up to the hype.
Michigan has a talent group of stars who will comprise one of the top starting fives in college basketball, and Kansas proved last year just how far that can take a team in the NCAA tournament.
Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr., both return to the team, making up a formidable backcourt. The team also brings in a pair of top 25 freshmen in wing Glenn Robinson III and center Mitch McGary.
These four make up a dangerous core, and when you throw in a host of role players you can see why I'm so high on the Wolverines this year.
Mark Gottfried has taken North Carolina State from a middle-of-the-pack team in the ACC to one of the top teams in college basketball. After his hard work on the recruiting trail and during practice, Gottfried's team has a good chance to win this year's NCAA tournament (what would be the team's first in 30 years).
The return of C.J. Leslie, Scott Wood, Richard Howell and Lorenzo Brown greatly help the Wolfpack. These four made up the core of last year's team that made it to the Sweet 16, and they will be joined by one of the nation's top recruiting classes.
Gottfried did it again this year, bringing in three McDonald's All-Americans in Rodney Purvis, T.J. Warren and Tyler Lewis. These three complement the returning stars perfectly, giving NC State seven legitimate stars who can play every position.
Gottfried finally has the talent to make a deep run in the Big Dance. Last season he found a way to bring a No. 11 seed to the Sweet 16, and this year he could bring a No. 1 seed all the way.
Ben Howland is on the hot seat, but by bringing in the nation's No. 1 overall recruiting class, he may have bought himself another season. With a deep run in this year's NCAA tournament, he could definitely save his job.
Shabazz Muhammad is the top freshman in the Class of 2012, while Kyle Anderson is No. 3. these two will lead the way for the Bruins next season, along with two other top 50 recruits in Tony Parker and Jordan Adams.
These four freshmen are going to play huge roles in Westwood, along with returning players like Tyler Lamb, Joshua Smith and the Wear twins.
Howland has all the talent necessary for a deep run, but after his team missed the NCAA tournament last year, the Bruins might not have enough experience. Kentucky proved that experience isn't everything by winning it all last year, but we will see if that holds true for UCLA.
Speaking of John Calipari and his Kentucky Wildcats, don't be surprised to see a repeat performance. Despite losing an incredible six players to the NBA, including all five starters, Calipari worked his magic on the recruiting trail to keep his team among the nation's best.
Center Nerlens Noel is going to lead the Wildcats next season. He is the top recruit in Calipari's 2012 class, but he will also be joined by Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley. And we can't forget about transfer point guard Ryan Harrow, who will be the key to Kentucky's NCAA tournament success.
Kentucky boasts another young, talented team, and after lat year's success it would be idiotic to overlook this team.
Leadership is key in an NCAA tournament run, and no team has more of it than Louisville.
Head coach Rick Pitino is one of the best in the nation. His teams always find a great deal of success, including last year's team, which won the Big East tournament and made a run to the Final Four.
However, Pitino isn't the only leader. Point guard Peyton Siva is practically a coach himself, except for the fact that he will also be in the running for National Player of the Year honors. Siva is among the nation's best players, and he will be vital in Louisville's success.
Louisville also has the talent to complement the leadership exhibited by Pitino and Siva, including players like Russ Smith, Gorgui Dieng, Chane Behanan, Montrezl Harrell and Mike Marra. With this combination the Cardinals will surely contend for a national title this season.
Last year, Indiana made it to the Sweet 16 before losing to the eventual national champions, Kentucky. The team had one heck of a season, but it ended after just two wins in the Big Dance.
Not so fast.
Indiana returns all five starters from last year's team. With the same starting five as last season, it doesn't look like Indiana's success is anywhere close to over. Then throw in one of the nation's top recruiting class, boasting five good recruits, and you can see why Indiana is the consensus No. 1 team.
Tom Crean has taken IU from one of the worst teams in the country to the preseason No. 1 in just four years, and in his fifth year as head coach we could see him win a national title with the Hoosiers.
1. Indiana: 10-1
2. Louisville: 10-1
3. Kentucky: 10-1
4. UCLA: 12-1
5. North Carolina State: 12-1
6. Michigan: 20-1
7. Arizona: 20-1
8. Missouri: 35-1
9. UNLV: 25-1
10. Florida: 35-1
11. Kansas: 35-1
12. Baylor: 25-1
13. Duke: 25-1
14. Ohio State: 35-1
15. North Carolina: 25-1
16. San Diego State: 50-1
17. Syracuse: 50-1
18. Michigan State: 40-1
19. Marquette: 65-1
20. Wisconsin: 65-1
21. Cincinnati: 65-1
22. Notre Dame: 75-1
23. Creighton: 60-1
24. Gonzaga: 65-1
25. Minnesota: 100-1