Ohio State, winner of 17 straight games and the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles, is the No. 1 seed playing in nearby Lexington. The Buckeyes play through two freshmen — 7-0 Greg Oden and point guard Michael Conley, Jr. — who were both McDonald's All-Americans on Lawrence North's three-time Indiana State Championship high school team. Oden, who played most of the year with a torn ligament in his right hand, is healthy again, giving Thad Matta a huge force in the middle that can generate a high double-double and create a huge defensive stop sign for opposing teams attempting to establish a low-post presence.
This bracket is loaded on one side with Memphis (2), Texas A&M (3) and under-seeded Louisville (6), which will be playing its first-round games just 70 miles from campus at the Lexington pod.
Memphis coach John Calipari won 30 games for a second straight year and is 30-13 in postseason play at UMass and Memphis. Calipari claims that opposing coaches from Conference USA have told him this year's team is better than the one that was seeded No. 1 last year. We'll buy that. The Tigers, who attempt to maximize shots and play 85-point basketball, are much more unselfish at the point with freshmen Willie Kemp and Andre Allen, more productive in the middle with 6-9 junior Joey Dorsey, and as effective at the wing with Antonio Anderson, Chris Douglas Roberts and Antonio Anderson.
A&M is the flavor of the month to reach the Final Four, largely because the Aggies will get to play in a San Antonio Regional, just a three-hour drive from campus, if they get out of this sub-regional. While Durant may well be the National Player of the Year, Aggies' senior guard Acie Law — a first team All-American who is the best clutch shooter in the country — might well have been the Most Valuable Player in the Big 12 in terms of the way he lifted his defensively oriented team into the Top 10 for the fist time since 1981.
Having a tournament-tested coach like Rick Pitino, who led Kentucky to a 1996 national championship, in the Lexington sub-regional should add spice. It's hard to imagine the amount of red that will be invading the hallowed halls of Rupp Arena.
Looking for an intriguing first-round matchup? How about Missouri Valley tournament champion Creighton (10) against Nevada (7), a WAC power with a 6-10 Nick Fazekas, who was conference Player of the Year three straight seasons.