All that ugly loss at lowly TCU on Feb. 6 did was wake up the Jayhawks. And once again, Kansas ended up ruling the Big 12 with its ninth league tournament championship and sixth in eight years. Kansas did it in emphatic fashion, crushing Kansas State 70-54 Saturday for the title in Kansas City - the site of KU's first two NCAA Tournament games. The Jayhawks, featuring 7-foot senior Jeff Withey and 6-5 freshman Ben McLemore, are as difficult to prepare for as any team in the bracket. They average 75.4 points and yet concentrate on defense (yielding 61.5 points). This is considered a more talented KU team than last year's national finalist. That can't be good news for others.
Sleeper: North Carolina
The mighty Tar Heels a sleeper? Yes, but this year North Carolina hasn't been, well, North Carolina. The Tar Heels are seeded eighth (no, that's not a misprint). And North Carolina already has 10 losses (against 24 wins). But a Roy Williams' squad is never devoid of talent and North Carolina was included in some preseason top-10 lists. The loss of four starters was difficult to replace, and freshman point guard Marcus Paige has, not surprisingly, been inconsistent. But with 6-7 Reggie Bullock and 6-9 James Michael McAdoo up front and swingman P.J. Harrison slashing through the lane, North Carolina can do some damage - against anybody.
Minnesota over UCLA: Injuries seem to play a part in every March Madness. Kentucky couldn't overcome the loss of standout freshman center Nerlens Noel and was left off the bracket. Now, all eyes will be on UCLA, which saw 6-foot-5 freshman swingman Jordan Adams (15.3 points per game) go down with a broken right foot in the closing seconds of the Bruins' Pac-12 Tournament semifinal victory over Arizona. Without Adams, UCLA was upset by Oregon in the conference title game. And now comes Tubby Smith-coached Minnesota, which sometimes plays like a top-10 team and has the athleticism to get loose from UCLA's young defenders.
Even in this year of parity in college basketball, the South Regional may be the one to have few upsets. The top four seeds - Kansas, Georgetown, Florida and Michigan - would appear to have a relatively easy route to the Sweet 16. But that doesn't at mean this regional lacks intrigue. North Carolina, the No. 9 seed, stands a win over 8-seed Villanova away from Roy Williams almost assuredly coaching against his former Kansas Jayhawks - in Kansas City. Can formerly top-ranked Michigan regain its form? Should Georgetown or Florida have been a No. 1 seed? And will Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart pull off another Cinderella story?