The surprise in my NCAA Tournament picks is not Kansas winning it all. It's WICHITA STATE MAKES THE FIELD.
Here's my rationale: WSU is much improved. The Shockers are finally going to figure out how to win on the road. The Missouri Valley Conference will be good enough to send a couple of teams to the dance and, along with Northern Iowa, I'm going with WSU.
Here's my Sweet 16:
Are you going to pick against Butler? I'm not. Butler is simply a great basketball program and nothing the Bulldogs do should be a surprise. They're so well-coached, so smart, so tough to beat. Pencil them in. Oh, make it a pen.
Trevor Booker is a solid scorer and fierce rebounder and newcomer Milton Jennings, a 6-9 freshman, is likely a future star. Clemson starts fast but then fades. It should be different this season because this is a deeper and more experienced team.
Duke Blue Devils
Forward Kyle Singler is off to a hot start. The surprise has been junior guard Nolan Smith. Duke was hurt by Elliot Williams' transfer to Memphis, but if the Blue Devils can find enough guards, they could pass North Carolina for the top of the ACC.
The Hoyas finished 7-11 in the Big East and lost 12 of their last 16, missing the conference's NCAA party. Georgetown should fare better in a Big East that isn't quite as strong. Led by center Greg Monroe, the Hoyas are going to bring it defensively.
Sherron Collins. Cole Aldrich. Xavier Henry. The improved Morris twins. Sophomore guard Tyshawn Taylor. Promising freshmen. More? Bill Self on the bench? Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar are supporting players again.
Where John Calipari goes, the Sweet 16 goes. At a minimum. There is no rebuilding in Lexington, where Calipari hit the ground sprinting. He has perhaps the country's best freshman in 6-4 John Wall, who could be starting for most NBA teams.
Michigan State Spartans
Michigan State is going to miss Goran Suton and Travis Walton, but the return of Kalin Lucas, Chris Allen, Raymar Morgan, Durrell Summers and Draymond Green softens those losses. Don't forget, too, that Tom Izzo is a pretty decent coach.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Most of the parts are missing from last season's championship team. But have you seen these guys? When they're not playing basketball, they're in circus freak shows with a 7-footer, two players who are 6-foot-10 and another two who are 6-9.
Purdue lost to Connecticut in a disappointing Sweet 16 game. But the Boilermakers got that far with three sophomores _ Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore _ in key roles. All are back and better.
Back-to-back wins over California and North Carolina have quickly elevated expectations, even though Syracuse lost significant firepower from last season's 28-10 team. Iowa State transfer Wesley Johnson is a star.
There are no issues here. The Longhorns are loaded with guys who have been there before (Damion James, Dexter Pittman, Gary Johnson, Dogus Balbay) and guys who are going to be there soon (Jordan Hamilton, J'Covan Brown, Avery Bradley).
The Vols don't have the overall talent of Kentucky, but they do have more experience. Tyler Smith returns and will be one of the best players in the SEC. The Vols were a first-round NCAA loser last season. Don't look for a repeat performance.
The Wildcats have added a great recruiting class to a top-notch group from a Final Four team. Senior guard Scottie Reynolds is one of the top playmakers and Villanova has enough experienced players to allow the freshmen time to adapt.
Look for two Huskies to make the all-conference team this season _ sophomore guard Isaiah Thomas and senior forward Quincy Pondexter. It'll be a work in progress for Washington, but there will be progress.
West Virginia Mountaineers
Bob Huggins has almost everyone back, including senior forward Da'Sean Butler, sophomore forward Devin Ebanks and 6-4 guard Casey Mitchell, the reigning junior college player of the year.
It's becoming habit to pick Xavier, even though Sean Miller left for Arizona. Assistant Chris Mack inherits only two returning starters, but does have Indiana transfer Jordan Crawford, the guy who created waves by dunking over LeBron James.
Rest of the field
America East — Boston U.
ACC — Florida State, Maryland, Wake Forest
Atlantic Sun — Campbell
Atlantic 10 — Dayton
Big East — Connecticut, Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh
Big Sky — Montana
Big South — Coastal Carolina
Big Ten — Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State
Big 12 — Kansas State, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M
Big West — Cal State Fullerton
Colonial — Virginia Commonwealth
Conference USA — Memphis, Tulsa
Ivy — Cornell
MEAC — Morgan State
Metro Atlantic — Siena
Mid-American — Akron
Missouri Valley — Northern Iowa, Wichita State
Mountain West — BYU, UNLV
Northeast — Mount St. Mary's
Ohio Valley — Murray State
Pac-10 — California, UCLA
Patriot — Army
SEC — Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt
Southern — Western Carolina
Southland — Stephen F. Austin
Summit — Oakland
Sun Belt — Western Kentucky
SWAC — Alabama State
WAC — Utah State
Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan State, Purdue, Texas, Washington, West Virginia
Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan State, Texas
Kansas over Texas