How will Texas and point guard Dogus Balbay handle Minnesota's defense? The Gophers force turnovers on more than 13 percent of their opponents' possessions. If Minnesota can ratchet up the pressure and force Balbay into some poor decisions, it would go a long way to helping Minnesota's chances of pulling off the mild upset.
- Ben Voelkel
Most Underrated Team: Wisconsin (19-12, 10-8 Big Ten)
Yeah, I know, but who else can you legitimately make a case for? VCU? The Rams are going to be a tough out once again, as the Rams beat Duke two years and have plenty of balance, but seeing as they are from the Colonial Athletic Association, an 11-seed is probably just. You also could make the case for Texas, who is much better than its seven seed but have look erratic down the stretch going 7-7.
Now to Wisconsin. The Badgers play above average defensively (59.0 points per game) and set a school record for fewest turnovers in a Big Ten season with 9.3 a game. Of course, we all know that no second-half lead with Wisconsin is safe this season. The Badgers have yet to show they can build a lead and deliver the dagger, as you can count on one hand how many times UW has done just that.
Are they a 12 seed? No, but because of the NCAA seeding rules (not having two teams from the same conference meet until the regional finals and avoided a rematch from the regular season), the Badgers were put at a 12.
- Benjamin Worgull
Who is the Cinderella?
Non-BCS: Portland State (23-9, 11-5 Big Sky)
When does the carriage driver turn back into a little oaf? When Pitt pops him in the jaw.
It's a stretch, but with the 5 through 10 and 12 seeds all major conference teams, Portland State will have to do. What about 11 seed VCU you say? I find it hard to believe that a mid-major, even at the level of VCU, will take down Villanova in Philly. Portland State is close to home, in the middle of Big Sky territory, and Xavier is not. It's a tough region for Cinderella, but she's capable of a surprise. Plus, I always pick Xavier to overachieve as a low seed and underachieve as a high seed, so they are ripe for the upset.
BCS: Wisconsin (19-12, 10-8 Big Ten)
When do the bells start to chime? When brings the mallet down.
HOMER! OK, fine, call me what you will. The fact is that the Badgers aren't that far off from Florida State's level. Florida State lost to Northwestern, yes Northwestern, in convincing fashion. The Seminoles get a bump up for beating UNC in the tournament even though Ty Lawson didn't play and The Tar Heels had their sights on something bigger the whole time. Combine that with the fact that Xavier and local fans will be rooting for the upset and Florida State fans have a trek and a half to get to the Pacific Northwest and you have an away game for the Seminoles. As I said before, for some reason, Xavier always overachieves or underachieves in the tournament. The Badgers have a much better shot at the sweet sixteen as a 12 than as an 8 or 9.
- Brad Fedie
Best Bet for an Upset: No. 12 Wisconsin over…
Haha, no just kidding. What kind of homer do you think I am? Fedie?
No. 10 Minnesota over No. 7 Texas
Put it this way: not to underestimate my own occasional absentmindedness, but a few minutes after the entire draw was announced, I actually had to ask myself, "Where's Texas? Did they even make the tournament?" When you have to ask yourself if a particular team is Dancing, and it's actually a single-digit seed playing a double-digit seed, that has "upset alert" written all over it.
Obviously, Texas struggled to meet expectations this season. Its higher seed is padded by the most impressive non-conference resume in the country (Villanova on a neutral court, Wisconsin in the Kohl Center, and UCLA at home), but the Longhorns ended up looking like a product of its home court. Even that win over Oklahoma was helped by the in-game concussion suffered by Blake Griffin. In Big XII play, Texas went 3-5 on the road, beating three of the four worst teams in the conference (Colorado in overtime, Baylor and Texas Tech).
On the other hand, Minnesota just barely got into the tournament and you could say a lot of similar things about the Gophers and their home-road splits. It's not like the Gophers tore it up on the road either (3-6 in the Big Ten). But it seems like this time of year, it helps to have fresh legs, which the Gophers have because they run eleven deep. It helps to have a coaching edge; no disrespect to Rick Barnes, but Tubby Smith didn't bring his national championship ring to Minnesota just to make the tournament.
And finally, it helps to have a cold-blooded scorer at the end of games. Enter Lawrence Westbrook (Wisconsin fans are looking for the nearest wall to punch right now), who is largely overlooked because Smith doesn't let him be "the" guy more often. Well, it's tournament time, Tubs. Time to take the leash off Westbrook, because if he can take over games in March like he has at times this season, Texas will be one and done.
- Aaron Brenner
Region Winner: Pittsburgh
The Panthers have never made it to a regional final under Jamie Dixon and haven't been to one since 1974, as Pitt always seems to stumble early in the tournament. This team is a far cry from Dixon's other five squads. Ranked number two in the A.P. Poll and second in the RPI, Dixon has made the Panthers known for their defensive prowess. This season is a different story with Pittsburgh, averaging 78.5 points per contest and are doing it with a combination of a solid backcourt (Levance Fields and Jermaine Dixon) and frontcourt (Sam Young and DeJuan Blair).
Pursing the bracket, the only team that could seriously challenge Pitt is third-seed Villanova in the regional finals. The Wildcats will have to go through UCLA and Texas-Duke before getting a crack at Pitt in Boston.
I like Dixon's odds to break that Final Four drought, which extends back 68 years.
- Benjamin Worgull