Does Syracuse have the go-to scorer for the big bucket?
One of the knocks on 'Cuse all season long has been that they lack a real go-to player; instead, coach Jim Boeheim is afforded one of the most talented and deepest rosters top to bottom in all of college basketball where the Orange routinely go ten or 11 deep, including first-team all-conference pick Kris Joseph, second-team pick Scoop Jardine, Sixth Man of the Year Dion Waiters and the Defensive Player of the Year Fab Melo anchoring the middle.
Despite all of the accolades earned, this team only has two double-digit scorers, but four players averaging between 7.8 and 9.3 points.
If there is a last shot to be had, expect the ball to be in the hands of super sub, Dion Waiters, the team's best shooter and a guard crafty enough to create his own shot.
Will Vanderbilt suffer another opening round defeat?
In their past three NCAA Tournament appearances, Vanderbilt has posted exactly zero wins- losing in their opening game to the likes of Richmond (2011), Murray State (2010) and Siena (2008). Will there be a fourth straight for Kevin Stallings and the Commodres? Their opponent will be Harvard, the Ivy League winner who spent much of the season ranked in the Top 25, one of the better double-digit seeds the NCAA Selection Committee put forth.
Let's take a closer look at Vanderbilt. This is one of the most experienced squads in the country with all five starters around for the previous two disappointing NCAA Tournaments. The SEC Tournament champions are led by sharpshooting John Jenkins, one of the most accurate 3-point shooters in the country. His supporting cast includes future-NBA wing, Jeff Taylor, a lockdown defender who is averaging career-bests across the board, specifically shooting the ball from the perimeter, his glaring weakness in the past. Both Taylor and Jenkins were first-team All-SEC picks.
But this team's x-factor is senior center Festus Ezeli, a second-team All-SEC pick a year ago, but struggled putting together his game with an early-season suspension and injury. The burly 7-footer has a propensity for converting his shots around the rim and getting to the foul line- putting forth one of the highest free-throw rates in the country. Ezeli's success inside will determine how far Vanderbilt can go in this Tournament, but a third-round matchup with the winner of Wisconsin/Montana seems likely.
Is there a hotter region than the East?
It looks as if top-to-bottom the South Region puts forth more talented teams, but none are hotter than that of the East Region. This side of the bracket features SEC Tournament champion Vanderbilt, ACC Tournament champion Florida State, Ohio State who are winners of four of their last five, a Cincinnati team that has beaten three top-14 opponents in the last five games, a Montana team tied for the nation's longest winning streak of 14 games and a St. Bonaventure team that steamrolled the A-10, beating three higher-ranked seeds to take home the Tournament title.
Can Syracuse keep teams off the glass?
One of the biggest weaknesses of a zone defense is the lack of rebounding, as each man is responsible for a specific area, and not a man. Syracuse is no exception to that despite their 7-foot center, 6'9" Rakeem Christmas, 6'7" Kris Joseph and 6'10" Baye Keita, and 6'8" forwards CJ Fair and James Southerland coming off the bench. The Orange's defensive rebounding percentage of 60.7 percent ranked 341st in the country out of 345 Division I teams.
A third-round matchup with Frank Martin and Kansas State could prove to be a problem then since the Wildcats are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country- grabbing 40.8 percent of their missed shots, ranking 7th.
Which team is more one-dimensional: the Texas Longhorns or West Virginia Mountaineers?
Perhaps no two teams ride their star player moreso than Texas and West Virginia. Kevin Jones, the runner-up for Big East Player of the Year, logged 38 minutes per game and launched nearly 500 field-goal attempts en route to leading the Mountaineers; he led the conference in scoring and rebounding. But he was out-done by the trigger-happy guard from Texas: J'Covan Brown attempted 520 shots this season, eighth most in the country, which is nearly 32 percent of his team's shots when he is on the floor.
Both teams could suffer losses in their opening round game, or both Jones and Brown could catch-fire and ride the momentum into the third round.
Will there be a Roy Williams-Kansas reunion in the Elite Eight?
To me, this is the weakest region of the Tournament aside from North Carolina and Kansas. Georgetown is talented with their elite defense, but can Henry Sims and Jason Clark be counted on? The Hoyas have lost four of their last nine. Sure, Michigan captured a piece of the Big Ten crown, but this is a team that relies heavily on the 3-point shot, attempting the eighth most shots from behind the arc; they are nearly below-average everywhere else. Temple has a stellar three-guard attack, but lack depth and aren't very strong defensively.
Things could set up nicely for the two most talented teams in the region, a showdown between Kansas and North Carolina who rank second and third on the all-time wins list. Current North Carolina coach Roy Williams is partially responsible for both teams having such high rankings- he won four regular-season championships with the Jayhawks and six with the Tar Heels.
How many points will be scored in the potential matchup of Creighton and North Carolina?
These two teams can meet in the third-round of the Mid-West bracket and expect sparks in this one. Creighton has to make it past defensive-minded Alabama in their first game and UNC must make it past the winner of 16-seeds Lamar/Vermont.
Let's look at the raw stats to build the excitement here:
Creighton: 80.0 points per game (7th in the country), on 50.9 field-goal percentage (1st) with 17.9 assists per game (2nd), 1.18 points per possession (2nd)
UNC: 82.0 points per game (2nd in the country), on 46.3 field-goal percentage (54th) with 17.6 assists per game (4th), 1.13 points per possession (13th)
Within this matchup, high school teammates Harrison Barnes and Doug McDermott will be pitted against each other for the first time.
Can Mark Gottfried keep North Carolina State fired up?
Given the talent on this roster, their hot streak and the potential draw, NC State could find themselves playing in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Coach Mark Gottfried has his team buying into his energy and has CJ Leslie playing the best basketball of his young career. Along with him in the frontcourt, Gottfried has two 6'9" horses, Richard Howell, who is a-half rebound shy of averaging a double-double on the year and reserve DeShawn Painter. They'll go against a San Diego State team in the second round without much depth or talent in the frontcourt after losing three starters from last year's team.
In the backcourt, Gottfried features 6'5" point guard Lorenzo Brown, who was second in the ACC this season with 6.4 assists per game and led the conference with 1.8 steals per game. Brown's sidekick is the streaky shooter in Scott Wood. Wood's shooting makes all the difference in whether the Wolfpack win as he is shooting 47.0 percent from 3-point range in wins versus 27.7 percent from behind the arc in losses.
Will Georgetown be upset in the opening round again?
The Hoyas past teams have been more talented and certainly more experienced, yet those Georgetown teams were upset in the opening-round by VCU (2011), Ohio (2010) and by Baylor in the NIT (2009).
Drawing Belmont is tough- the contrasting styles will certainly make this game one to watch. The Bruins are the third most efficient offense in college basketball, shooting a high percentage from all over (48.4 field-goal percentage, 37.8 3-point percentage, 73.6 free-throw percentage) and they average 1.17 points per possession. Georgetown, on the other hand, has the nation's 19 most-efficient defense, holding opponents to 0.92 points per possession, holding opponents to 38.7 percent shooting from the floor and 27 percent from 3 (tops in the nation). Belmont has made the second-most 3s in the country. Something has got to give.