Syracuse

Despite losing the Big East Tournament, the Syracuse Orangemen are leading the dance in the East Region. Photo courtesy Dennis Nett/The Post-Standard

Today the NCAA tournament will get underway with the First Four which can only mean one thing: March Madness is here! The field of 68 teams has been selected and one will be crowned the champion of NCAA Men’s Basketball. So who are the favorites? Who are the underdogs? Who is this year’s VCU? We have all the answers for you right now!

The Frontrunners

Anthony Davis

Anthony Davis will be an NBA lottery pick, but the Wildcats hope he brings them an NCAA title on his way out. Photo courtesy David E. Klutho/Sports Illustrated

Kentucky – Maybe this section should only have one team. With not a single game yet played in the tournament, the Wildcats are 2:1 Vegas favorites to win it all this year. Let’s put this into layman’s terms: Despite having 67 other teams competing, Vegas thinks Kentucky has the odds of a coin toss. And, yes, they are that good.

One of the reasons Vanderbilt was rewarded with such a favorable seed wasn’t just because they won the SEC tournament but they did it by beating Kentucky. Only one other team, Indiana, had done that and they too were rewarded with a nice seed.

Syracuse - The Orangemen’s path to a top seed oddly resembles that of Kentucky. A one-loss regular season record, a second loss in the conference tournament, and now they are headed to the big dance trophy-less and hungry to win.

In some ways, Syracuse, is the Kentucky of the Big East. In other ways, they are not. Despite identical records, Kentucky proved with their level of play that they are simply an echelon or two higher than the rest of the pack. Syracuse isn’t necessarily part of “the rest of the pack”, but they aren’t Kentucky, either.

The Dark Horses You Know About

Memphis

The Memphis Tigers absolutely mauled the competition in the C-USA tournament. Now they take on the best Division I basketball has to offer. Photo courtesy Spruce Derden/US Presswire

Memphis - I’m a little annoyed that everyone has hyped the Tigers so much. I saw the way they were playing and liked them as a dark horse candidate ever before anyone else did! Okay, maybe that’s not true but Memphis IS playing supremely well right now. They look like the Tigers of a few years ago and top-seeded Michigan State should be losing sleep over the fact that they potentially have to play them in the second round.

Vanderbilt – As mentioned before, Vandy has the SEC crown. They beat top-ranked Kentucky and are coming into the big dance with a head of steam. There aren’t really any teams I absolutely love to win the East Region, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the fifth-seeded Commodores steals it this year. Six of their ten losses came in the tough SEC conference which is just fine for Vanderbilt because there isn’t another SEC school in their region.

VCU - Come on, you knew I was going to mention them here. Last year they went to the Final Four in a move that NO ONE saw coming. This year, four of the five starters from that team aren’t back but one important man is: Shaka Smart. The VCU Head Coach has engrained a new culture into the central Virginia basketball program. The overused program moniker “havoc” basically means the Rams can win or lose to just about anyone at any given time. Unfortunately for their opponents, they win a lot more than they lose.

The Dark Horses You DON’T Know About

Colorado State

Colorado State isn't even the most talked-about team named the Rams (VCU). But they could be if they knock off Murray State. Photo courtesy Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Colorado State - FOX Sports radio anchor Mike North said “I know absolutely nothing about Colorado State”. Maybe he should. The Rams have managed to fly under the radar and, despite their #11 seeding in the West bracket, are ranked 29th in the nation in RPI. This team is very good. But more importantly, this team is off everyone’s radar. That is, for now. Colorado State has a tough matchup against the one-loss Murray State Racers. But if they can beat them, they can beat almost anyone in their region.

BYU - The headlines generated by West Coast darlings Gonzaga and St. Mary’s kind of left these Cougars as the runt of the litter. Here’s something you should know, though: The Jimmer-less BYU Cougars score more points per game than any team in the nation. They can get into a shootout with the best of them which is kind of how they put games against Gonzaga, Oregon, Nevada, and Virginia Tech in the win column. Oh yeah, and did I mention they lost to Baylor by only three?

South Dakota State – Are you ready for a crazy surprise? The Jackrabbits have a higher RPI than Kansas State, Texas, Virginia, AND West Virginia. Translation? This 14-seed is fundamentally sound and plays great basketball. If Baylor isn’t ready, South Dakota State could be the no-name school with the headline upset that everyone is talking about around the water cooler next week.

Long Beach State - Most people were probably scratching their heads when the 49ers of Long Beach State wound up with a #12 seed on Selection Sunday. But they earned it, and they earned it the hard way. They beat Xavier on neutral ground and beat Pitt AT Pittsburgh. These guys had the HARDEST non-conference Division I schedule and managed to go 5-7. More importantly, they went 2-1 at neutral locations, kind of like the NCAA tournament. The 49ers are for real.

Belmont - It seems like the Bruins perennially put big name schools on upset alert. This year they play Georgetown to open the tournament, a power-conference school with a nasty habit of losing in the first round. The Hoyas have the 4th most productive offense in the country but Belmont has quietly put together a squad with a top-15 defense. Don’t be surprised if Belmont prevails.
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When Bryan isn’t studying bracketology, he is on twitter! Follow him @bclienesch!

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