Who did ESPN.com's experts predict will be playing in San Antonio next April? And who will be cutting down the nets in the Alamodome?
What were they thinking? Here are a few of the experts' thoughts about their picks:
• Fran Fraschilla on Tennessee:
Think back to last season's clobbering of eventual NCAA champions, Florida, in Knoxville and the two excruciating losses to runner-up Ohio State, and you'd have to be quietly confident if you were Vols' coach Bruce Pearl. Returning is not only the reigning SEC Player of the Year, 6-2 sniper Chris Lofton, but also two very underrated backcourt mates in sophomore Ramar Smith and senior JaJuan Smith. Add in Tennessee native and 6-7 Iowa transfer Tyler Smith, who is eligible immediately, and it's safe to say that Pearl's team will be revved up to play at an even more frenetic pace than usual. Assuming 6-7 sophomore Duke Crews can get free and clear of his recent legal difficulties, he'll team with Wayne Chism inside to provide an energetic complement to the Vols' athleticism on the perimeter. Two intangibles about Pearl's teams that I like is that their style of play is hard to prepare for and they rarely take a night off when it come to effort.
• Andy Katz on UCLA:
OK, bear with me for a minute here. I continue to believe that Memphis should be the preseason No. 1 team in the country because of what the Tigers return (the starting five), and add Derrick Rose. Yet, once the season unfolds, UCLA should have its roles defined, notably the scoring shift to Josh Shipp from Arron Afflalo. Also, the Bruins will have become accustomed to Kevin Love's inside presence. Now, add in the veteran leadership of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and point guard Darren Collison, as well as having the experience of two previous trips to the Final Four, and the Bruins are in position to win the title. Memphis should have a gaudier record and likely will be the No. 1 overall seed. But UCLA will be tougher come March with the ability to defend and now score on its way to its first title since 1995.
• Reggie Rankin on UCLA:
The Bruins have the complete inside/outside package despite the loss of Arron Afflalo, who was the team leader and big shot taker and maker. This season, they should not miss a beat because they might have the best lead guard in the country in Darren Collison. Collison made his own share of big shots coming down the stretch of the season and in the Big Dance in addition to handing out almost six assists a game. Josh Shipp provides consistant scoring on the wing, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute creates match-up problems with the ability to play inside and out. Add great post depth in Alfred Aboya, Lorenzo Mata-Real and the instant low-post production from McDonald's All-American Kevin Love, and Darren Collison has tons of options, whether he is attacking in transition or setting up the halfcourt offense.
Even with all that, the most important factor is that Ben Howland's teams are known for is their physical man-to-man defense. A balanced, talented and defensive-minded team is difficult to keep from an April trip to San Antonio.
• Dick Vitale on North Carolina:
Roy Williams has to be thrilled to have Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington all returning. Deon Thompson will step up big-time in place of Brandan Wright up front. Williams is a genuine solid gold Hall of Famer who will direct the Tar Heels to the title if they make a commitment to defense. There is no doubt North Carolina is explosive offensively.