All this talk about brackets, upsets and dancing means only one thing: The 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is here.
When the ball is tipped at 12:15 p.m. Thursday in Louisville, Ky., for the Murray State and Colorado State second-round game, another year of March Madness will begin. Not that the four "first round" match-ups aren't part of the tournament, but Thursday is when the madness really gets rolling. (Just check out the amount of sick days used around your office).
After another season of rivalries, buzzer-beaters and bubble-watching, it's time for this year's field of 68 to leave it out on the hardwood.
If there is one thing clear going into the tournament - it's that nothing is clear.
So here is a breakdown of the madness:
Breakdown: The tournament's number one overall seed Kentucky headlines this region. But with all the fire-power aligned in the south bracket, the road to New Orleans won't be easy for John Calipari's collection of stars. Just below the Cats' awaits a potential third-round match-up with defending National Champion Connecticut Huskies. Though UConn hasn't had a UConn-like season, a Jim Calhoun roster can always play with anyone.
The region also features two-seed Duke, the X-Factor Baylor, and last year's surprise of the tournament VCU. Can Shaka Smart work his March magic again?
Game to Watch: (3) Baylor vs. (14) South Dakota St. This match-up will impact the rest of the region. If Baylor and sophomore forward Perry Jones III can get going, all bets are off in the south. The Bears have the potential and talent to make a final-four run. Their first game will show us whether they actually will.
Player to Watch: Tu Holloway, Xavier. Before the infamous backyard brawl with Cincinnati in December, the Musketeers were 8-0 and one of the nation's top teams. Xavier has stumbled along the way but expect the senior guard to shine this March.
Upset Alert: (4) Indiana vs. (13) New Mexico St. The knee injury to senior guard Verdell Jones III in the conference tournament is a big loss for the Hoosiers and puts their chances for a March run in doubt. The Aggies have four players averaging double figures and have clicked at the right time winning nine of its last 10 games.
Final Four Pick: Kentucky. This team is too good, too fast and too talented. I'd take this team over half of the NBA teams out there. Unless the Cats self-implode, they should make it to New Orleans with relative ease. Though the young Cats better not be caught sleeping against a potential date with UConn.
Breakdown: The West region boasts a bevy of teams with deep-run potential. A seven-loss Michigan State team is the one seed, with Missouri, Marquette and Louisville rounding out the top four teams in west. Lower-seeds Memphis, Florida and Murray State (30-1) can all take claim to the west region.
Game to Watch: (6) Murray State vs. (11) Colorado State. The sixth-seeded Racers come in under-the-radar having only one loss on the season. With the afro of junior forward Edward Daniel and the shooting of guard Isaiah Canaan, the Racers could be the perennial bracket-buster of the west.
Player to Watch: Will Barton, Memphis. The sophomore guard has lit it up this season for the Tigers, averaging 18 points and eight rebounds. With the athletic roster of Memphis, the Tigers can go far if Barton stays hot.
Upset Alert: (5) New Mexico vs. (12) Long Beach State. Coach Steve Alford has the Lobos playing an exciting brand of basketball. They won the competitive Mountain West Conference. Though "The Beach" has proved it can play with anyone this year with wins over Xavier and Pittsburgh, and close loses to North Carolina and Kansas.
Final Four Pick: Murray State. This team is experienced and has done it all season long. Plus, who can root against a man with a 'fro like Daniels?
Breakdown: The disqualification of Syracuse center Fab Melo has opened up the east region. The 'Cuse have become very vulnerable sitting in the top spot. With teams riding momentum such as Vanderbilt and Florida State (no stranger to March runs, see 2011) this region is looking more and more like a toss-up.
Game to Watch: (6) Cincinnati vs. (11) Texas. The guard match-up of Cashmere Wright and J'Covan Brown is a special one. These two guards have carried their teams into the tournament and are set up for a clash Friday in Nashville.
Player to Watch: Kevin Jones, West Virginia. The pride of the Mountaineers has been doing it all season long. It's a shame the senior hasn't had much help.
Upset Alert: (5) Vanderbilt vs. (12) Harvard. Doesn't it just seem that Vanderbilt gets upset every year? This Vandy team is playing solid ball, but the Commodores just have upset special written all over them. Besides, why not pull for the alma mater of Jeremy Lin?
Final Four Pick: Ohio State. The bracket seems to line up fairly favorable for Jared Sullinger and the gang. If William Buford and Aaron Craft get hot, there aren't too many teams that can stop the inside-outside game of Ohio State.
Breakdown: Much like in the East region, the injury to North Carolina big man John Henson has cast doubt in the region's top team. Kansas looks to be the team standing in the way of a Tar Heel Final Four.
Game to Watch: (4) Michigan vs. (13) Ohio. The Wolverines live and die by the three. Which one will it be Friday against the pride of the Mid-American Conference?
Player to Watch: Thomas Robinson, Kansas. You just have to root for Robinson. To overcome the tragedies of losing his grandmother, grandfather and mother in a one-week span last year is both remarkable and makes him someone we can all root for.
Upset Alert: (7) St. Mary's vs. (10) Purdue. This one's for Robbie Hummel.
Final Four Pick: North Carolina. As much doubt as Henson's injury leaves, the Heels are solid across the board. Sophomores Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall had the young Tar Heels on the cusp of the Final Four last year and should be able to reach New Orleans this year.
What teams do you think will reach the Final Four? Comment Below
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