Oklahoma State (21): Remember when Marcus Smart shoved a fan? It was kind of a thing. That feels forever ago now. When Smart returned from his three-game suspension, he immediately played the best basketball of his season. He stopped flopping (as much). He stopped freaking out on officials. And the Cowboys finished 5-2 and ended their disastrous midseason slide. There should be little question about this team's talent or ability to make a deep tournament run. The train is back on the tracks.
Pittsburgh (20): Pittsburgh will play close games. It's all the Panthers do, really, whether it is matched up against Virginia or Miami, Syracuse or Florida State. The Panthers still look alluring on paper: They don't turn the ball over, rebound well and create points off assists as well as any team in the country. But they will play close games. They can't help it. In the tournament, one close game is all it takes to go home in a hurry.
Ohio State (19): Aaron Craft is a smart dude with enough perspective to be able to laugh at something as visually hilarious as a high-level college basketball player missing a last-second 3 because the ball goofily slips out of his hands. The gifs won't haunt him. But Craft's slip in the final Big Ten game of his career Saturday was revealing about the Buckeyes as a whole. Thad Matta's team defends like crazy, but it doesn't score like crazy. There is no go-to finisher on call. That's why Craft has to hoist the unlikely last-second 3-pointer in close games and why it's hard to trust the Buckeyes with one of your bracket's precious Elite Eight spots.
Syracuse (18): A month ago, Syracuse would have belonged among the title threats -- if not further up our list. But after a 25-0 start, the Orange have collapsed down the stretch, failing to score more than a point per possession in six straight games (including against NC State's woeful defense in Greensboro last week). Tyler Ennis, C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant are an awfully good core. But until the Orange find their scoring touch, who knows?
North Carolina (17): Roy Williams had a miserable summer. His best player, guard P.J. Hairston, was pulled over for a traffic stop in a vehicle rented by a convicted felon. Hairston was eventually ruled ineligible by the NCAA, but not before a minor local media circus. The Tar Heels began the season with one of the wackiest sequences (home loss to Belmont, win vs. Louisville, road loss to UAB, road win at Michigan State) in recent college hoops history. Lately, though, they've just been good. Marcus Paige has already developed into one of the nation's smartest, craftiest scoring point guards. He has bailed out UNC a handful of times this season already.
UConn (16): After last week's American semifinals win over Cincinnati, the Internet immediately noticed how similar Shabazz Napier's stepback game winner was to one Kemba Walker hit during his famed run to the national title in 2011. Napier is that good now. In some ways -- as a pure ball handler and distributor -- he is even better than Walker. He might just be good enough to carry UConn deep into the tournament. Can the Huskies give him enough help?
There are favorites, and there are The Favorites. This group is variously flawed but still totally viable, a sign of the depth at the top of the bracket this year.