Our exclusive look at the NCAA Tournament continues, this time with a snapshot of the Midwest Regional, where the defending champions threaten to do it all again.
Until proven otherwise, Florida reigns. No national champion since Arizona (1998) brought back every starter, and the Gators are like a faucet -- it can turn on to full volume whenever it pleases.
After mailing in the end of the regular season, Florida destroyed the SEC Tournament field. As long as Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer, Lee Humphrey and Taurean Green remain injury-free and interested, the rest of the field will play catch-up.
In New Orleans, the Gators get Jackson State for a warm-up. After that, it's Arizona or Purdue. Will the real Wildcats please show up? They sure didn't in blowout losses to North Carolina, UCLA and (in the Pac-10 Tournament) Oregon. Still, the Cats should figure out the Boilermakers, a team fortunate to be in the Dance after a mediocre Big Ten run. Beyond a great forward in Carl Landry, the Boilermakers don't have much.
Sure, they knocked out a lot of heavyweights early, but is Butler a legitimate no. 5 seed? These Bulldogs might have peaked too soon, as late-season inconsistency and a loss to Wright State in the Horizon League final might indicate. Any team with A.J. Graves is a threat, though.
Old Dominion awaits Butler in Buffalo. This is a chic upset pick, for two reasons. First, Butler's struggles raises alarms. Second, the Monarchs made it as an at-large team out of the Colonial Athletic Association. That happened a year ago to another CAA school from Virginia -- and we all know how that turned out.
Maryland is back. Two years out of the Dance was too much for Terrapins fans to bear, and the boys from College Park took care of that problem with a hot finish that makes it, arguably, the ACC's most dangerous team.