Even though Duke is ranked No. 1 and seeded first overall in the NCAA tournament, make no mistake: The favorite on sheer talent is Connecticut.

Sophomore forward Rudy Gay will be an NBA lottery pick when he turns pro even though he doesn't always play to his potential.

Forwards Josh Boone and Hilton Armstrong and point guard Marcus Williams look as if they'll be first-round picks too, and guards Denham Brown and Rashad Anderson could go in the second. (Boone and Williams, like Gay, are underclassmen.)

Having the best assortment of NBA talent doesn't necessarily translate into a national championship, of course, but the threats in the regional aren't overwhelming.

Tennessee, seeded second, lost four of its last six games. The real threat is probably defending champion North Carolina, but the Tar Heels are a freshman-laden team after their own exodus of NBA talent.

Illinois has Dee Brown and James Augustine from the starting five that lost to North Carolina in the title game but is hardly the same team.

Washington has a terrific player in Brandon Roy, but was swept by Washington State.

Michigan State has a toughness that can cause teams trouble and offensive threats in Maurice Ager, Paul Davis and Shannon Brown.

But back to Connecticut: When Anderson — who scored 18 points in the 2004 NCAA championship game but has had health problems — comes off the bench, you know a team is loaded.

You could compare Connecticut to the North Carolina team with Sean May, Rashad McCants, Raymond Felton and Marvin Williams that won last season.

Or you could compare Connecticut to the 1999 Duke team that had Elton Brand, Shane Battier and Corey Maggette — and lost to Connecticut in the title game.

But with capable shooters and a point guard who can deliver the ball and make free throws if the game is close — and a Hall of Fame coach in Jim Calhoun — there's not any good reason to bet against Connecticut.



•  Location: Storrs.

•  Conference: Big East.

•  RPI: 3.

•  Record: 27-3.

•  Against tournament field: 12-3.