Parity has been the norm this season as no team has been a dominant force, unlike when Kentucky was No. 1 all of last year until being knocked off by Wisconsin in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium.
But even with the parity, there are only a handful of teams capable of winning the national championship April 4 in Houston. And Kansas, North Carolina, Michigan State and Kentucky look like good bets to cut down the nets again. Collectively, they have won 12 titles.
Kansas (30-4), the overall No. 1 seed, is in the South Regional and will open play against Austin Peay on Thursday. North Carolina (28-6), the No. 1 seed in the East, looked impressive in winning the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and plays Thursday, meeting the winner of Tuesday’s Florida Gulf Coast-Fairleigh Dickinson play-in game.
The other No. 1 seeds are Virginia (26-7) in the Midwest and Oregon (28-6) in the West. They play Hampton Thursday and North Carolina-Asheville Friday, respectively.
Michigan State (29-5), winners of the Big Ten tournament, is seeded No. 2 in the West. The Spartans, who play Middle Tennessee State on Friday, have made it to the Sweet 16 in eight of the past nine tourneys and made it to the Final Four last year before falling to eventual champion Duke.
Kentucky (26-8) won the Southeastern Conference tourney and is healthy for the first time this season. The Cardinals can never be counted out and should cruise past Stony Brook on Thursday.
Closer to home, Indiana and Purdue are No. 5 seeds, with the Hoosiers in the East and the Boilermakers in the Midwest. Notre Dame is seeded sixth in the West, and Butler is a No. 9 seed in the Midwest.
The Hoosiers, champions of the regular-season Big Ten title after winning their last five games, probably dropped a spot or two in the seeding game when losing to Michigan in the conference tournament.
Indiana (25-7) opens play Thursday at 7:10 p.m. (CBS) against Chattanooga (29-5) in Des Moines, Iowa. The winner meets the victor of the Kentucky-Stony Brook contest.
Hoosier Nation is ready to bring on the Wildcats, but IU can’t look past the Mocs, who dominated the Southern Conference tournament by playing team ball.
IU is dangerous from beyond the 3-point arc, averaging more than 10 trifectas a game. If the Hoosiers get in a roll, they are unstoppable.
Purdue (26-8), which lost to Michigan State in the finals of the Big Ten tournament, will meet Arkansas Little Rock at 4:30 p.m. Thursday (TBS) in Denver.
If the Boilers win, they will have their hands full if meeting Iowa State in their second game.
Size and strength are Purdue’s forte in 7-foot-2-inch Isaac Haas, 7-foot A.J. Hammonds and 6-9 Caleb Swanigan. The Boilers shoot solid as a team, but turnovers can plague them.
Notre Dame (21-11) plays at 9:40 p.m. (CBS) Friday in New York and will meet the winner of today’s Michigan-Tulsa game.
The Irish looked impressive at times this year, defeating Duke, North Carolina and Louisville, but they were pasted 78-47 by the Tar Heels in the ACC tournament. Five of Notre Dame’s players average double digits in scoring.
Butler (21-10) has a tough opening game against Texas Tech (19-12) at 12:40 p.m. (truTV) Thursday in Raleigh, N.C. If victorious, the Bulldogs will most likely face No. 1 Virginia (26-7) Saturday.
In a hometown story that’s missing, former IU standout Steve Alford and his UCLA team aren’t in this year’s tournament. Alford, who led the Hoosiers to the 1987 national championship when he nailed 7-of-10 3-pointers against Syracuse, steered UCLA to the Sweet 16 in 2014 and 2015.
The oddmakers have Kansas, North Carolina and Michigan State as 5-to-1 favorites to win the title, with Kentucky at 12-to-1.
IU is 30-to-1, Purdue 35-to-1, Notre Dame 75-to-1 and Butler 150-to-1.
The Cinderella of all Cinderellas is Holy Cross, given a 9,999-to-1 chance of winning it all ... maybe a million-to-1 would be more accurate. The Crusaders (14-19) won its conference tournament to earn a spot in the Big Dance.
Let the games begin.