Just who will be left when the big dance comes down to four in March of 2012?

The NCAA Tournament is one of the most exciting times in sports and in the world of NCAA basketball betting. A team can have an unblemished record all season and one loss to a Cinderella storied team or an underdog and their entire season could be wiped out in just 40 minutes of play. March madness didn't get its name for nothing.

As I've mentioned previously, some teams like the Uconn Huskies lost a major star to the NBA and some teams like North Carolina will return with the same starters that it had last year, making them one of the favorites to win the title. There are teams like Duke, who have lost their senior leadership but have some big time freshmen coming in this season. Let's face it, it's a great accomplishment to win a conference title but the ultimate goal is to win an a National Championship, being able to hold the trophy, cut down the net, and hanging a championship banner from the rafters of a college's home arena that can be remembered for decades in the future.

Projected Final Four 2012

Tyler Zeller Dunk North Carolina Tar HeelsNorth Carolina Tarheels

This might be a great chance for North Carolina to dominate the ACC, get a number one seed, and set themselves up perfectly in the tournament. Each season, Duke has always been an obstacle for the Heels. Duke has dominated the ACC tournament, winning 10 out of the last 13 ACC titles. Coach K uses it as a warm up for the big dance. Duke will have a difficult time doing that this year. The hype on Austin Rivers (son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers) is huge. However, inexperience versus 4 returning established Tarheel players gives North Carolina a big edge. Duke returns Seth Curry (9 points per game) and junior guard Andre Dawkins (8.1). They're simply no match for the Tarheels.

This is a season where North Carolina should snatch the ACC title and make it to the final four. They return sophomore Harrison Barnes (15.7 points, 5.8 rebounds), Tyler Zeller (15.7 points, 7.2 rebounds), John Henson (11.7 points, 10.1 rebounds), and guard Kendall Marshall (6.2 points, 6.2 rebounds). Not many teams have 4 legitimate players returning the next season. The Heels are covered in all areas. North Carolina was 1st in the nation in rebounding last season and they seem to have the complete package for the 2011-2012 season.

 

Jared Sullinger celebrating scoring ohio state buckeyesOhio State Buckeyes

For most of the season last year, Ohio State was the number 1 team in the country. They were ousted in the tournament by the Kentucky Wildcats 62-60. Brandon Knight knocked the Buckeyes out of the tournament with a 15 foot jumper with 5 seconds to play. These two teams could possibly have a rematch in the big dance. I was impressed that Ohio State only shot 32.8 % from the field yet it took a game winning jumper to beat them. The better team lost that day. 

Returning for the Buckeyes is the best big man in the country in Jared Sullinger (17.2 points, 10.2 rebounds). Sullinger showed a lot of poise and looked much more experienced than a freshman at the time. The NBA will be knocking on Sullinger's door so look for him to go big this season in search of grabbing the title. Sullinger played Kentucky tough with 21 points and 16 rebounds. This 280 pound mountain of a man will only get better. Senior guard William Buford (14.4 points, 3.9 rebounds) will look to make his senior campaign one to remember. Buford went out poorly last season with a disastrous 2 for 16 shooting performance against the Wildcats in the tournament. Buford will be eager to forget about that performance and will be looking to create a stellar senior season, in search of a title. The Buckeyes take a hit as sharp shooting 3 point specialist Jon Diebler has graduated. Does anyone remember the display that Diebler put on late in the season against Wisconsin? He'll be sorely missed. Guard Aaron Craft (6.9 points, 4.8 rebounds) returns and his numbers don't stand out but he played exceptionally well against teams in his conference. Ohio State will be a major contender and will make it to the final four for the 2012 season.

 

John Calipari Head Coach Kentucky WildcatsKentucky Wildcats 

I hate to jump all over the chalk but Kentucky will be sharp this season. They beat Ohio State last season in the tournament and Ohio State was the better team. This season, the Wildcats have recruited well with Anthony Davis, Michael Gilchrist (coming out of one of the best high schools in New Jersey in St. Patricks), Marquis Teague, and Kyle Wiltjer. Looks like the Wildcats will be contenders on a regular basis.

Let's not forget that sophomore forward Terrence Jones (15.7 points, 8.8 rebounds) and senior guard Darius Miller (10.9 points, 4.6 rebounds) will be returning for the Kentucky Wildcats, as sophmore Brandon Knight has made the decision to go to the NBA.

The Wildcats made it to the final four and were edged out 56-55 by the eventual champions, the Connecticut Huskies. It's a game that Knight and Miller would like to forget. Brandon Knight shot just 6 for 23 in this defensive battle while Darius Miller was a "no show" with 4 points on 1 for 7 shooting from the field. Look for the Wildcats to make a return trip. They're a well rounded team with new talent and established talent.

 

Kevin Stalling Head Coach VanderbiltVanderbilt Commodores

I'm going to go out on a limb here but I am not alone as Inkwell77 in the forum considers them worth a mention (although their odds have shortened a little). There were major upsets in the tournament last year and Vanderbilt was sent packing in the 2nd round by the Richmond Spiders in a 69-66 defeat. Let's also remember, this was a team that had quality wins against North Carolina and Kentucky. Rarely does the tournament pan out exactly the way that it's expected to. Vanderbilt returns it's 3 top player in John Jenkins (19.5 points), senior forward Jeffery Taylor (14.7, points, 5.5 rebounds), and senior center Festus Ezeli (13 points, 6.3 rebounds). Senior guard Brad Tinsley (10.6 points, 4.6 assists, 3.7 rebounds) also returns for his senior season. Having a go to guy and senior leadership is a major plus when a team gets into the big dance. I'm going to forget about one bad performance against Richmond (Jeffery Taylor would like to also, going 1-10 with 4 points). Vanderbilt does lack a little depth but they're strong in the key positions. Look for them to go much deeper in the NCAA Tournament for 2011-2012.

 

Here's a list of the final four selections to win the 2011-2012 National Championship with NCAA basketball odds from Bodog

North Carolina - 3/1 

Kentucky - 6/1

Ohio State - 17/2

Vanderbilt - 35/1