The 2012 NCAA Tournament is poised to be the most competitive and entertaining tournament we’ve had in years. Within a week of Selection Sunday, be it in the conference tournament games or just before them, each of the No. 1 seeds fell once to a team they probably should have beaten. That’s not an indictment on any of these squads or a sign of them not being as good as advertised; rather, it’s just an indicator of how prevalent parity is in this year’s proceedings.
When you look at the four No. 1s in this tournament, Kentucky (5/2), Syracuse (10/1), North Carolina (6/1) and Michigan State (7/2) each have legitimate shots at winning the championship, and the odds they've been given clearly reflect that. .
The Wildcats, this year’s No. 1 overall seed, oddly drew a tougher bracket -- in terms of competition -- than North Carolina did. In the South Region, Kentucky will have to tread softly and watch out for UConn (75/1) in the second round, as well as Duke (18/1) or Baylor (35/1) in regional final. VCU (250/1) has a very good shot at beating Wichita State (50/1) in the opening round, but the Rams' Cinderella run will end when they run into Indiana (65/1). The Hoosiers, who made beating teams perceived to be better than them into a hobby this season, could be this bracket’s sleeper pick.
Of course, even though North Carolina will face off against lighter competition than Kentucky in the Midwest Region, it’s not all good news for the Tar Heels. Should they advance to the regional finals against the No. 2 ranked team in the Midwest, Kansas (12/1), they’ll wind up doing battle a few hours away from the Jayhawks’ campus. Fortunately for both of the aforementioned top dogs, this region boasts very little in the way of threats to their seemingly inevitable showdown. Georgetown (60/1) is a sort of weak No. 3 seed -- that has a history of falling to lower ranked teams -- and could actually get upset by Belmont (125/1) when it's all said and done. Michigan (100/1) deserved the seed it got – but just doesn’t feel like a real contender to come out of this bracket. The Wolverines don't have the size or talent to compete with teams like North Carolina; then again, squads that live and die with their shooting skills can go far if they get hot enough, so maybe that's what this group is counting on. Belmont has a somewhat open path until it runs into Kansas, so if anyone can be a sleeper in this bracket, it’s definitely the Bruins.
Syracuse drew a really tough bracket, arguably the toughest one of any of the other No. 1 seeds, so it’ll be interesting to see how Jim Boeheim and Co. handle this latest challenge. No. 2 seeded Ohio State (23/4) and No. 3 seeded Florida State (25/1) are both extremely formidable, and either school advancing to the Final Four wouldn’t be particularly shocking. The Buckeyes, especially, right up until the Big Ten Tournament championship game, were very legitimate contenders to capture the No. 1 seed that Michigan State eventually got. And really, if Kansas State (85/1) were to beat Syracuse in the second round, would anyone even bat an eye?
Michigan State’s West Region, another bracket packed with conference tournament champs, won’t exactly be a cake walk either. No. 2 Missouri (10/1) should be treated as a No. 1 seed for all intents and purposes, and possesses all the attributes necessary to get to the regional finals. Both Florida (65/1) and then Marquette (30/1) might be able to give the Tigers a run for their money but, ultimately, it's unlikely that either team will be able to defeat Frank Haith and Co. when they meet up.