- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 11, 2012

THE POWERFUL (12 teams to be wary of)

Florida State: With the possible exception of guard Michael Snaer, this isn’t a team of stars. But heavens, do the Seminoles defend, just as they have throughout their run as the best team in the ACC outside of Duke and North Carolina over the last four years. On a night when Florida State can hit some 3-pointers, it will be an immensely difficult out.

Kansas: Credit to Bill Self for shrugging off some preseason concerns and leading the Jayhawks to a 27-6 mark. The Jayhawks have a recent history of odd NCAA losses, but have reached the round of 16 in four of the last five years. Kansas won’t go quietly; its only loss by double digits all season was a 10-point setback to Kentucky.

Kentucky: The Wildcats are the prohibitive favorite, even with yet another roster littered with freshmen. Of course, when one of the freshmen is Anthony Davis and the rest are exceptionally skilled, it might not matter that much. John Calipari came excruciatingly close to a title in 2008 with Memphis; he may well get it this year.

Michigan: Yes, the Wolverines are back among the elite, earning their highest seed since they were a No. 3 in 1998. The next step? Reaching the second weekend for the first time since Juwan Howard was still in Ann Arbor. That’s right, Michigan hasn’t made the round of 16 since 1994. John Beilein and Co. are poised to end that drought.

Michigan State: Bet against Tom Izzo and Draymond Green at your own risk. As usual, the Spartans are tough, tested and plenty capable of making life miserable for anyone standing in their way. After a first-round exit a year ago, there’s little doubt Michigan State is back to its normal self. The Spartans will go deep, perhaps back to the Final Four for the third time in four years.

Missouri: It’s been a magical season for senior guard Kim English and his teammates, including a Big 12 tournament title as a going-away present as the Tigers head into the SEC next year. Missouri entered Sunday with an 11-3 mark against the top 50, a solid sign the program’s elusive first Final Four trip is possible.

Murray State: The Racers lost only once, and their seeding had to be one of the more difficult decisions facing the committee. Nonetheless, there are solid wins (Memphis and Saint Mary’s) on Murray State’s resume, and the Racers are two years removed from knocking off Vanderbilt in the first round. They’ll be interesting to monitor.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels have the issue of John Henson’s wrist injury, which cost the junior forward time in the ACC tournament. But they also have Kendall Marshall, Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller, which means they can probably out-talent opponents for a couple rounds. This team opened the season with national title expectations; they’re still there.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes aren’t the overwhelming pick to go all the way this year, but they’re still plenty capable thanks to guard Aaron Craft, center Jared Sullinger and plenty of talent throughout the roster. Ohio State suffered all but one of its losses in the bruising Big Ten, and it might be well-served facing teams it usually doesn’t see.

Syracuse: Is this Jim Boeheim’s last chance at a second national title? Perhaps. The Orange lost twice all season: On the road against traditional home-court hero Notre Dame, and in the Big East semifinals to sweet-shooting Cincinnati. Syracuse has had its share of premature flameouts, but this bunch has the goods for a deep run.

Temple: Coach Fran Dunphy finally made it out of the first round for the first time in 17 years last season. The next step: The Owls’ first round of 16 appearance since 2001. Senior guards Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez (as well as junior scorer Khalif Wyatt) make Temple an exceptionally dangerous commodity.

Wisconsin: The Badgers have won their NCAA opener in nine of 10 years under coach Bo Ryan, and point guard Jordan Taylor is likely help Wisconsin go at least a step further this season. As usual, defense carries the day in Madison; the Badgers gave up 70 points only twice all season and 60 points just 12 times in 33 games.

THE PRETENDERS (teams to count on an early exit from)

Baylor: There isn’t an obvious reason to dislike the Bears, who reached the Big 12 title game last week. But with four losses (out of seven) by at least a dozen points, it’s clear Baylor can be blown out. With a 6-5 finish to the regular season, the Bears could be a reasonably early out.

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