Breaking Down the No. 1 Seeds

For a while, it appeared as though no one really wanted to take hold of a No. 1 seed. However, a few teams peaked in the postseason and made their case as the nation's elite entering the NCAA tournament.

Let's be honest, though. The only thing a No. 1 seed guarantees is moving into the second round. After that, no one is safe.

Not even these guys.

Florida

The defending national champs returned everyone from their improbable run a year ago and while they have had their hiccups, the Gators (29-5) still did enough to earn a No. 1 seed.

They went 13-3 in the SEC for their first outright title in 18 years, blew out Ohio State in Gainesville and also rolled to the SEC conference title with three routs over the weekend, including a 77-56 victory over Arkansas on Sunday.

Joakim Noah opted to return for a chance to defend the title and now he and his teammates will get that opportunity. Noah and fellow juniors Al Horford, Taurean Green and Corey Brewer could all be putting up gaudy numbers just about anywhere else in the country.

Instead, they share the wealth and none average more than 14 points per game. All four surpassed the 1,000-point mark in their careers this year and senior shooting guard Lee Humphrey is on the verge of joining them.

Noah and Horford give Billy Donovan's club a potent 1-2 punch while Green is arguably the team's most important player. He runs the club and picks his spots while Brewer is a lock-down defender who is as versatile a player as there is in the nation.

Brewer played with mono in the early-season loss to Kansas in a pro-Jayhawk crowd in Las Vegas. He didn't play at all in a setback at Florida State. The Gators proceeded to reel off 17 straight before losing a trio of road SEC games against Vanderbilt, LSU and Tennessee.

But Florida appears to have corrected some of its late-season defensive issues and the Gators also look like a team that has its swagger back.

If Noah and Horford stay out of foul trouble and Lee Humphrey, the only senior in the group, makes shots from the perimeter, the Gators remain the team to beat this season. Been there, done that. I know it's been a while since anyone repeated (Duke did it in 1991-92), but Donovan's team is certainly capable.

They share the ball, lead the nation in field goal percentage and play with energy.

This year's edition may be even better than last year's and not just because the starters are a year older. Walter Hodge has developed into a capable backup to Green and senior Chris Richard can step in and give Noah and Horford a break.

Ohio State

The debate is whether the Buckeyes picked up enough quality wins to warrant a No. 1 seed?

Other than two victories over Wisconsin (at home and in Sunday's Big Ten final), Ohio State's best wins have come on the road against a pair of Bubble teams from the Big Ten — Michigan State and Illinois.

Everyone knows Thad Matta's team is oozing with talent, but the Buckeyes (30-3) still haven't quite fulfilled their potential — yet.

Give Matta credit. His team went on the road and faced three of the best teams in America: Florida, North Carolina and Wisconsin. However, the Buckeyes dropped all three.

However, those are the only losses that Matta's group has on its resume.

Matta had a blend of experience and youth on his roster. Freshmen Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., Daequan Cook and David Lighty came to Columbus as the most celebrated recruiting class in the country.

Add in seniors Ron Lewis and Ivan Harris and juniors Jamar Butler and Matt Terwilliger and it's a good mix.

Oden missed the first part of the season while recovering from offseason wrist surgery and he's been criticized by many for his lack of dominance. However, he's still playing with a wrap on his right wrist and continues to shoot free throws left-handed.

There's no one who can affect a game more than Oden on the defensive end. The 7-footer has also started to assert himself a little more lately and wound up with 17 points and a Big Ten tournament-record 19 rebounds in the semifinal win over Purdue on Saturday.

Conley is arguably the best pure point guard in the nation. He'll finish with more than 200 assists and knows how to make his teammates better.

However, the key to Ohio State's success isn't Oden or Conley. It's whether guys like Cook, Lewis and Harris can make shots from the perimeter.

The Buckeyes made shots without Oden in the lineup early in the season and nearly knocked off North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Matta has all the pieces and a late-season win against Wisconsin at home might have given his team just the confidence that it needed to compete with the big boys.

Kansas

The Jayhawks (30-4) flew under the radar for much of the season despite knocking off the defending national champion Florida Gators in November out in Las Vegas.

Kansas was in the Top 10 for 14 weeks and smoked a Boston College team that had Sean Williams at the time, but never seemed to get the recognition that some of the other elite programs received. Maybe it was the home loss to Oral Roberts or the setback at DePaul.

Whatever the case, no one really began to take Bill Self's team seriously as a national championship contender until recently.

Self's team won the Big 12 regular-season crown for the third straight year, then beat Texas on Sunday in a thrilling conference championship game. It has won more games than any KU team since the 2003 Final Four squad, which went 30-8.

Self questioned his team's toughness early, but they were tough enough to go 12-2 away from Allen Fieldhouse.

This is the most talented eight-man team in the country. Self has a trio of talented guards in Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson and freshman Sherron Collins. Robinson is a steady leader while Chalmers can keep defenses honest with his perimeter shot. Collins, a tough Chicago kid, is able to do a little bit of both.

Sasha Kaun, who hasn't developed into a dominating presence some anticipated, starts in the middle and Darnell Jackson is as serviceable backup as there is in the country. Self would like more production on both ends of the court from his big man duo, but it'll suffice with all of the talent surrounding Kaun and Jackson.

We haven't even gotten to KU's three future pros. Julian Wright is Mr. Versatile. The 6-foot-8 sophomore provides whatever the team needs on any given night. Brandon Rush has really picked up his play in the second half of the year and Darrell Arthur is one of the most talented freshmen in the nation.

It's highly unlikely that Kansas will lose in the first round for the third straight season. There's never been a No. 16 seed that has won a first-round game and it's not going to happen this season.

North Carolina

The expectations were that the Tar Heels would flat-out dominate the ACC — and it never quite happened that way.

North Carolina needed a win against Duke in the regular-season finale to earn the top seed in the ACC tournament via a tiebreaker with Virginia. Then the Tar Heels went out and coasted to their first ACC tournament crown in nine years.

Roy Williams' problem is that he has too much talent. He goes 12 deep and all of them can play. However, many of them just doesn't play enough.

It's a young team that features a trio of freshman starters — Ty Lawson, Brandan Wright and Wayne Ellington. Williams' concern often is that his young guys don't play with the same level of intensity as their sophomore leader, Tyler Hansbrough.

Hansbrough has displayed the same intensity, but his production hasn't been the same since having to wear a mask after suffering a broken nose via a Gerald Henderson Jr. elbow in the final game of the regular season.

Hansbrough has had trouble scoring because the mask affects his vision. That means that the three freshman and the rest of the team — which includes seniors Reyshawn Terry and Wes Miller and sophomores Bobby Frasor and Danny Green — will have to step up their games.

North Carolina is certainly more than capable of raising another national championship banner — if Hansbrough returns to his old form.

If not, guys like Wright and Lawson in particular will need to raise their level of play throughout the Big Dance. Instead of picking their spots when to shine, they will need to become more consistent.

The Tar Heels blew Arizona out of its own building in Tucson and also got past Ohio State — albeit without Greg Oden. But there are plenty of other times that this team has looked ordinary, such as in a pair of losses to Virginia Tech or road setbacks late in the season at Maryland and Georgia Tech.

Everyone knows how much talent there is in Chapel Hill, but it's just a matter of putting it all together at the right time for the Tar Heels.


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