Round 2 of the NCAA tournament is where the madness of March takes full effect. Eventually, though, the true contenders for the national championship will reveal themselves, and by selecting the ultimate winner, big points can be had in the brackets.
That's why it's important to look ahead to Atlanta already—the site of this year's Final Four—to determine which favorites have the best odds of cutting down the nets when all is said and done.
Based on the next two days, the numbers could drastically change, but here are what the oddsmakers in Vegas are projecting as of March 21 for the tournament's favored first and second seeds.
Note: All odds are courtesy of VegasInsider.com.
Louisville Cardinals: 9-2
The No. 1 overall seed is coached by a national title winner in Rick Pitino, so it makes sense that the Cardinals are the prohibitive favorite.
A decisive victory over Big East rival Syracuse in the conference tournament final has Louisville in top form as it kicks off its bid for a championship in Rupp Arena on Thursday.
The Midwest region also doesn't provide all that much resistance for the Cardinals to gain momentum toward Atlanta. A potential Sweet 16 matchup awaits, likely either against the similarly methodical Saint Louis Billikens or the winner of Thursday's Oklahoma State-Oregon clash.
Beyond those prospective foes, Duke or Michigan State could await in the Elite Eight. The Spartans play a similar brand of basketball, and the Blue Devils have improved since the return of star Ryan Kelly.
Peyton Siva is the catalyst at point guard for the Cardinals offense, and fellow guard Russ Smith leads the team in putting up 18 points per game. Where Louisville perhaps has the biggest edge is inside, though, with Big East Defensive Player of the Year Gorgui Dieng.
If Smith isn't hitting his shots—and he's rather volatile and streaky—the Cardinals don't have many other go-to options for instant offense. That may be a problem very late in the tournament.
Indiana Hoosiers: 7-1
Tom Crean has officially returned the Hoosiers to prominence with a regular season Big Ten title and a No. 1 seed. As far as paths to the Final Four go, no top seed has it easier than the Hoosiers do.
In addition to picking up its defense, Indiana sports one of the most devastating offensive attacks in the country. An argument can be made for insanely efficient guard Victor Oladipo and elite big man Cody Zeller for National Player of the Year, and they give the Hoosiers incredible versatility.
Not to be discounted, too, is senior three-point marksman Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford, an extremely athletic wing player who is an uncomfortable matchup for opponents on both ends of the court.
It remains to be seen how the wear and tear of the Big Ten conference schedule will affect this squad amidst March Madness.
All the teams in this year's best league slugged it out down the stretch. Although it's considered a good thing to play elite competition consistently in preparation for this tournament, it's possible that it winds up backfiring on at least one favored team.
In all likelihood, that team probably won't be Indiana. A little bit of heightened scrutiny will be on this squad, though. President Barack Obama picked the Hoosiers to win it all, as documented by BtownBanners.com's Twitter page.
👻: BtownBanners @BtownBanners
President Obama has selected the Indiana Hoosiers to win it all in his Bracket. #iubb3/20/2013, 1:02:29 PM
The Miami Hurricanes could pose problems in the Elite Eight, but the Hoosiers should be able to overwhelm any team en route to Atlanta thanks to their offensive prowess.
Duke Blue Devils: 8-1
Speaking of explosive scoring, the Blue Devils are absolutely phenomenal in that regard. Like the Hoosiers, Duke shoots the three-pointer at better than 40 percent, which is simply off the charts.
A loss to Maryland in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament is some cause for concern, but the extra time off is actually somewhat of a positive for Duke.
Double-double machine Mason Plumlee gives the Blue Devils a presence on the inside they are not typically renowned for having, and he is a nice complement to the team's plethora of perimeter scorers. Ryan Kelly provides versatility, as he can score from anywhere on the court.
The guard trio of senior Seth Curry, point guard Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon gives Mike Krzyzewski's rotation enough firepower to hang with anyone in the nation.
Of course, the downside of any perimeter-based team is living and dying by the jump shot. It historically works out pretty well for the Duke program, but the Blue Devils could be in trouble if they can't knock down threes.
Michigan State is a legitimate threat to take down Duke in the Sweet 16, as this will be a difficult path for the Blue Devils to manage if they want to avenge last year's second-round loss with a Final Four berth.
Miami Hurricanes: 8-1
National Coach of the Year Jim Larranaga has engineered a phenomenal turnaround in just his second season at the helm of the Hurricanes' program.
Kenny Kadji and Julian Gamble give Miami a ton of size on the inside, which helps the Hurricanes' defense immensely.
In addition, the exciting backcourt tandem of Shane Larkin and Durand Scott make the offense formidable. Kadji can also pour it in from beyond the arc at 6'11", which will provide mismatches that the Hurricanes can exploit.
This is an experienced team, but one that is uncharted territory after improbably winning the regular season and conference tournament ACC titles. However, college basketball has obviously changed, and a veteran roster doesn't always translate to victories in March.
The Hurricanes are under unprecedented pressure to succeed as a No. 2 seed. Miami will have to get by either co-Big East champion Marquette or the winner of a mid-major showdown between Butler and Bucknell in the Sweet 16.
That could spell the end of the road in this dream season—or it could be the spark that ignites a Final Four run.
Kansas Jayhawks: 10-1
Keyed by the outstanding defense of seniors Jeff Withey and Travis Releford, the Jayhawks only allow opponents to shoot 36 percent from the field—tops in the NCAA.
On top of that, freshman sensation Ben McLemore can score with anybody in the country, and emerging first-year forward Perry Ellis has been lighting it up lately. That makes Bill Self's squad a force to be reckoned with once again this March.
Key contributors were lost from Kansas' run to the national final last season, but that has been remedied by outstanding play on the defensive end and the rock-solid production of McLemore.
Even with McLemore scoring a season-low five points in the Big 12 tournament final, the Jayhawks were able to blow out Kansas State 70-54. It makes sense that Kansas is the third No. 1 seed to appear here, though, because this was a team that was largely inconsistent throughout the regular season.
Thanks to their recent hot streak, though, look for the Jayhawks to have as good a chance as anyone of winning it all. Beginning their journey in Kansas City helps immensely, too.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!