Syracuse (31-2) has veteran leaders in Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine, shot-blocking under the basket from Fab Melo and a sixth man in shooting guard Dion Waiters who can play a dominant role in the tournament. Orange coach Jim Boeheim lets the off-court controversies surrounding his team roll off his back like water off a duck. But as he said following a Big East Tournament loss, seniors Joseph and Jardine must step up their spotty play of late.
Best big man
Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger is 6-9, 265 and a force under the basket, averaging 17.5 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 54.8 percent. But he also can step outside and hit three-pointers, which puts more pressure on the opposing defense.
Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor was a preseason All-American selection who is an all-around threat, averaging 14.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists in Bo Ryan's deliberate offense. Taylor is a smart player who makes great decisions and isn't afraid to take the big shot.
Best player you've never heard of
Vanderbilt forward Jeffery Taylor labors in the shadow of shooting guard John Jenkins, but at 6-7, 225, he's a great complementary offensive threat. He averages 16.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, shoots 50 percent overall and 43 percent from three.
Best go-to guy
Vanderbilt guard John Jenkins is among the best shooters in the country, connecting at a 48.5-percent rate overall and 45.3 from three-point range. He averaged 20.0 points per game, and he's clutch at the line, hitting 84 percent of his free throws.
Best bet to spring an upset
If there's going to be a major upset in this bracket, Vanderbilt is the leading candidate to take out Syracuse in the Sweet 16 as the Commodores showed in knocking off No. 1 Kentucky in the SEC tourney final Sunday. Vandy has great shooters, but it's also inconsistent enough to lose to Cleveland State and Indiana State.
If the selection committee has done its job well, Syracuse and Ohio State should meet in the East final in Boston. The Buckeyes have a terrific playmaker in Aaron Craft, and forwards William Buford (14.8 points, 4.9 rebounds) and DeShaun Thomas (15.5, 5.0) add firepower. But the player who might emerge as the difference-maker is Syracuse guard Dion Waiters (12.6), who can take over a game on offense or as a muscular defender.
Best coaching matchup
West Virginia's Bob Huggins is making his 20th NCAA appearance with his third school, and Mark Few has built Gonzaga into a mid-major power that is making its 13th straight NCAA appearance. Huggins is more hard-nosed and gets more pro prospects, while Few takes a cerebral approach. Playing this game in Pittsburgh means it will practically be a home game for the Mountaineers similar to Gonzaga's loss to Syracuse in Buffalo a couple years ago.
North Carolina should reverse its one-point December loss to Kentucky in the championship game because the Tar Heels have the most imposing front line in the country with Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes and John Henson and a polished playmaker in Kendall Marshall.