PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) – As the NCAA prepares to play two of its “First Four” games in the NCAA Tournament, some fans are having trouble picking a tournament favorite as they fill out their brackets.
In the past couple of years, there were certain favorites like Duke, Kansas and Florida, but this year is very different.
This year, there doesn’t seem to be that one team that will be at the top of everyone’s bracket. It’s probably closer to a dozen. There are five or six teams just in the Big East that could be considered legitimate title contenders.
Certainly, going with one of the top four seeds is a pretty safe route, but each one in this year’s field of 68 has enough strengths and weaknesses that it’s going to be difficult to feel certain about the final pick at the middle of the bracket.
Below is a rundown with the odds for each team to win the title and reason why they will win and won’t win the NCAA Title in Houston.
The odds are courtesy of Glantz-Culver.
Odds to win championship: 7-1.
Why they’ll win: The Panthers earned the No. 1 seed in the Southeast Regional coming out of the brutally tough Big East. The Panthers, as they have since Jamie Dixon became coach, love to pound on teams defensively and have one of the best shooters in the country in Ashton Gibbs. Pitt also has what should be an easy start in the first two rounds.
Why they won’t: The Panthers are vulnerable when Gibbs doesn’t get help. Pitt found that out in the Big East Tournament when UConn nipped the Panthers on Kemba Walker’s last-second shot. Potential matchups with Louisville or Notre Dame late in the regional could be tripping points.
Odds to win championship: 3-1.
Why they’ll win: The Buckeyes are as deep and talented as any team in the country and have a national player of the year candidate in Jared Sullinger. The freshman didn’t play like one this season, allowing Ohio State not miss a beat after losing last year’s player of the year, Evan Turner. The Buckeyes also have sharpshooter Jon Diebler, who led the nation in 3-point shooting at 50 percent.
Why they won’t: The Buckeyes aren’t invincible, as losses to Wisconsin and Purdue in a span of eight days showed. Ohio State blew a 15-point lead against the Badgers and allowed the Boilermakers to shoot 51 percent, so they can break into lapses of concentration. They’re also in a tough East Regional that includes North Carolina, Syracuse and Kentucky.
Odds to win championship: 9-2.
Why they’ll win: If Ohio State is the No. 1 team for talent and depth, the Jayhawks are 1A. Led by twin forwards Marcus and Markieff Morris, Kansas looks like a younger version of the team that won the 2008 title. The Jayhawks have plenty of players who can get out on the break, excellent spot-up shooters and are tough to match up inside with the Morrises and Thomas Robinson.
Why they won’t: Kansas, like Ohio State had a couple of letdowns during the conference season. The Jayhawks allowed Texas to score 51 points in a dominating second half to see their nation’s-best 69-game home winning streak end and were run over on the road by Kansas State, which had been struggling to that point. Kansas also was at the wrong end of the biggest upset in last year’s tournament, losing to Northern Iowa.
Odds to win championship: 5-1.
Why they’ll win: They’re the defending national champions. Well, it’s more than that. The Blue Devils have one of the best 1-2 punches in Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, and plenty of role players to fit around them. Duke is also multidimensional, with just about everyone on the roster able to step out and hit 3-pointers.
Why they won’t: Duke still managed to win the ACC tournament and get a No. 1 seed in the West Regional despite playing three months without Kyrie Irving, but could be in a tough spot later in the tournament if the talented freshman guard isn’t able to return. The Blue Devils also are in a difficult region that includes San Diego State, Connecticut and Texas.
SAN DIEGO STATE
Odds to win championship: 12-1.
Why they’ll win: What a run by the Aztecs this season under coach Steve Fisher. San Diego State swept the Mountain West regular-season and conference titles on its way to winning a school-record 32 games. The Aztecs were swept by BYU during the regular season, but turned the tables with a dominating performance in the tournament title game. San Diego State also has one of the best players in the country in Kawhi Leonard.
Why they won’t: The Aztecs had a hard time stopping Jimmer Fredette in the two losses to BYU and they could face a similar, light-up-the-scoreboard player in UConn’s Walker in the third round. San Diego State, despite its high seeding, hasn’t had much success in the NCAA tournament lately, either, going winless its past six trips, including three under Fisher.
Odds to win championship: 15-1.
Why they’ll win: The Tar Heels made a quick turnaround after a miserable 17-loss season a year ago. North Carolina won 19 of its final 21 games, including one over Duke in the finale to win the ACC regular-season crown, and had two comeback wins in the ACC tournament. The Tar Heels also are loaded with talented players, including freshman Harrison Barnes, who came on strong late after some early lumps.
Why they won’t: The Tar Heels are young, which could leave them a little shellshocked in the bright lights of March. North Carolina was blown out in the ACC tournament final by Duke and doesn’t have a particularly easy road coming out of the East Regional. The Tar Heels also have just eight scholarship players after point guard Larry Drew III transferred and freshman reserve Reggie Bullock suffered a late-season knee injury.
Odds to win championship: 18-1.
Why they’ll win: The Gators won the Southeastern Conference’s regular-season title and get to open the NCAA tournament close to home in Tampa. Florida has one of the best guard combinations in the country in Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker, and a good inside presence with Chandler Parsons and Vernon Macklin.
Why they won’t: The Gators may rely too much on Boynton and Walker. When those two struggle, so does Florida. That was evident in Florida’s two losses to Kentucky, when the Wildcats used tall, athletic guards to manhandle the Gators’ two smallish guards.
Odds to win championship: 20-1.
Why they’ll win: Purdue’s title hopes seemed to take a huge hit when Robbie Hummel tore his ACL for a second time in preseason practice. The Boilermakers not only survived without the hustle-all-the-time forward, they became a top-10 team behind JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore. Opening the NCAAs at relatively close Chicago is also a boost.
Why they won’t: Purdue was in the running for a No. 1 seed the NCAA tournament before faltering late in the season. The Boilermakers ended the regular season by getting stunned by Iowa, then were bounced from the Big Ten tournament by Michigan State. A potential second-round game against Georgetown is dangerous.