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Syracuse strong, but beware of Buckeyes

March 12, 2012
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Syracuse starts in Pittsburgh with what should be a warm-up against UNC-Asheville, but the next round against either Kansas State or Southern Miss will provide a different challenge.

Vanderbilt looks like the team that resembled a Final Four contender when the season started. The Commodores hit their stride on Sunday by beating Kentucky in the SEC final, which means they can handle anyone. Harvard will have matchup problems and will have to slow the pace, but we’re guessing it won’t be enough.

Montana will not be able to handle Wisconsin, but Vanderbilt will - and Harvard might, if it can upset the Commodores.

Cincinnati and Florida State should handle their opening games, although Texas might be dangerous for Cincinnati, and Florida State did lose to Boston College. But the Seminoles should make it to Boston.

Gonzaga should prevail against West Virginia and Ohio State will be too much for Loyola (Md.), then either West Virginia or Gonzaga.

That leaves an intriguing group of Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Florida State, and Ohio State coming to Boston. Or maybe Harvard.

But the feeling here is that Cinderella will be somewhere other than Boston.

Upset specials: Texas over Cincinnati, Harvard over Vanderbilt, Harvard over Wisconsin

Teams moving to Boston: Syracuse, Harvard, Florida State, Ohio State

Regional champion: Ohio State

1. Syracuse (31-2) Kris Joseph (13.8 ppg) leads a team that was ranked No. 1 for a chunk of the season.

2. Ohio State (27-7) When you have Jared Sullinger (17.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg), you might not need much else. The Buckeyes tied for the Big Ten title, and also beat Duke.

3. Florida State (24-9) Not many teams can claim wins over North Carolina and Duke in the same season. The Seminoles have done one better: They’ve knocked off the Tar Heels and Blue Devils twice.

4. Wisconsin (24-9) The Badgers are always a tough out under Bo Ryan, and this year is no exception: Seven of their losses came against ranked teams.

5. Vanderbilt (24-10) The Commodores are soaring after knocking off Kentucky in the SEC final. John Jenkins is the leading scorer (20.0 ppg), but senior center Festus Ezeli (9.7 ppg) is equally important.

6. Cincinnati (24-10) The Bearcats turned into a capable team with seven wins against ranked teams.

7. Gonzaga (25-6) Kevin Pagos is the emerging star but the Zags are well-balanced and hit the boards (plus-6.5).

8. Kansas State (21-10) Frank Martin has five 20-win seasons and four trips to the NCAAs. Guard Rodney McGruder (15.4 ppg) has more turnovers than assists.

9. Southern Mississippi (25-8) Coach Larry Eustachy’s Eagles are scrappy and they have to be, shooting only 41 percent.

10. West Virginia (19-13) Kevin Jones might be the best player you’ve never heard of. The senior forward scores (20.1 ppg), rebounds (11.1 rpg), and shoots 51 percent.

11. Texas (20-13) Junior guard J’Covan Brown (20.1 ppg, double his output from last season) helped the Longhorns to their third straight NCAA trip.

12. Harvard (26-4) The Crimson are not playing their best, but are capable of pulling off an upset.

13. Montana (25-6) The Grizz dominated the Big Sky, going 15-1, and their best nonconference win was over Long Beach State.

14. St. Bonaventure (20-11) An upset winner of the Atlantic 10 tournament, the Bonnies have an exceptional player is 6-foot-9-inch center Andrew Nicholson.

15. Loyola (Md.) (24-8) The Greyhounds are coached by Jimmy Patsos, whose passion is there for all to see. This team will need a low-scoring game to pull an upset.

16. UNC Asheville (24-9) The Bulldogs are led by guards Matt Dickey (16.5 ppg), J.P. Primm (15.3), and Chris Stephenson (13.1).

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