For many, many years, News & Observer sports columnist Caulton Tudor reviewed the bracket in his own inimitable way, scrambling to get it done Sunday night for the Monday paper. He had his own phrases, his own slang and his own way of doing it. In honor of Tudor, who passed away in November, we've revived the format.
Virginia done no favors in South
REGIONAL RATING: First
FAVORITE: The way Virginia (1) finished the season, the Cavaliers look ready to avenge tournament disappointments past, but the committee didn't do the No. 1 overall seed any favors.
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GOING SWEET: Virginia (1), Kentucky (5), Nevada (7), Loyola-Chicago (11).
DARK HORSES: Davidson (12) can shoot its way out of any jam but Kentucky's athleticism will be an issue. Loyola (11) won at Florida. After rock-fighting its way through the Big East, Creighton (8) won't be fazed by Virginia's pace.
MIGHT FLOP: Arizona (4) won the Pac-12 tourney but has lost some baffling games and has that great tournament weakness: inadequate point-guard play. Tennessee (3) was 18th in the country in tournament-quality games, going 8-8.
SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE: The Martin twins, formerly of N.C. State, have helped make Nevada (7) a Sweet 16-caliber team this season. There's not a lot separating the Wolf Pack from Cincinnati and Tennessee. UMBC (16) is coached by Ryan Odom, son of Wake Forest's Dave.
SYNOPSIS: Virginia faces an absolutely brutal 4/5 pairing of two teams loaded with NBA talent with Cincinnati, Tennessee, Miami or Nevada potentially waiting behind that. After UMBC, there's a good chance every team Virginia will play on its way to San Antonio will have spent time in the top 25 this season. This may very well be Virginia's year, but the Cavaliers will have to prove it.
Villanova the beast of the East
REGIONAL RATING: Second
FAVORITE: Villanova (1) is the obvious choice, but if it turns out the week off after the Big Ten tournament is a positive, Purdue (2) will be just as much of a beast.
GOING SWEET: Villanova (1), Texas Tech (3), Wichita State (4), Butler (10).
DARK HORSES: It was clear by December that Wichita State (4) was going to be the 4 seed in some very unlucky 1 seed's regional. Congrats, Villanova. Virginia Tech (8) and West Virginia (5) are the only two teams to beat Virginia this season. Butler (10) is one of four teams to beat Villanova this season.
MIGHT FLOP: There might not have been a more up-and-down team in the country than Florida (6), which can beat anyone and lose to anyone. West Virginia (5) is always a threat until it runs into a team with good guards it can't press into submission. That's going to come quickly in this bracket.
SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE: Dan D'Antoni got Marshall (13) into the tournament for the first time since 1987, but it was his 2016 rant about his awakening to basketball analytics – “I coached for 15 years like a dummy, running down there real hard for the worst shot in basketball” – that won him a place in our hearts.
SYNOPSIS: It's anyone's guess what West Virginia and Florida will bring to the table, the real wild cards in this regional. And no one is talking about Texas Tech (3), which more than held its own in the brutal Big 12. If Wichita State doesn't get Villanova, Purdue or Texas Tech will. (Or everyone's favorite March surprise, Butler?)
Blue bloods reign in the Midwest
REGIONAL RATING: Third
FAVORITE: Kansas (1) gets to stay home in Wichita and Omaha, but that didn't help the Jayhawks last year.
GOING SWEET: Duke (2), Michigan State (3), Auburn (4), N.C. State (9)
DARK HORSES: The Wolfpack (9) has torn it up against elite teams this season and beat a 1 seed in its home state the last time it was in the tournament. If N.C. State can get past Seton Hall, the Wolfpack will be fired up for Kansas (1) and Devonte Graham. Everyone assumes Oklahoma (10) is terrible, but if this was that easy, everyone would get it right. Bucknell (14) looked very good against North Carolina in Chapel Hill; that won't be an easy game for Michigan State (3).
MIGHT FLOP: Oklahoma (10), obviously. Duke (2) has had its issues getting out of the first weekend in recent years and may have to play a Hurley (Dan, not Bobby). Auburn (4) will not only face two very disciplined teams, presumably, in College of Charleston (13) and Clemson (5) but face constant questions about the FBI investigation.
SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE: Penn (16) is the first Ivy team to get a 16-seed since Princeton in 1989, and we all know what almost happened then. The Quakers rank higher in Ken Pomeroy's efficiency ratings than one 14 seed and three 15 seeds and are coached by Steve Donahue, who took Cornell to the Sweet 16 before flaming out at Boston College.
SYNOPSIS: This is a top-heavy regional with three teams with title-winning coaches that could be Final Four favorites if they were in separate regions. The rest of the bracket isn't all that fearsome – Arizona (11) vs. Syracuse (11) is an NIT semifinal in NCAA clothing – which could lead to a chalky weekend in Omaha, assuming N.C. State doesn't interfere. Which it might.
West is weakest, so look out
REGIONAL RATING: Fourth
FAVORITE: North Carolina (2) is far ahead of Xavier (1) in every metric but NCAA seeding criteria.
GOING SWEET: Xavier (1), North Carolina (2), Gonzaga (4), Houston (6).
DARK HORSES: There were times this season when Texas A&M (7) looked like the best team in the country. Ohio State (5) showed it could beat anybody in the Big Ten, even if it's a tough ask to beat Gonzaga (4) in Boise. No one is talking about Houston (6), which showed slow and steady progress throughout the season. In a regional full of East Coast teams, the Zags will feel right at home (Boise to Los Angeles).
MIGHT FLOP: There were times this season when Texas A&M looked like the worst team in the country. Forgive us, Trevon Bluiett, we're just not sold on Xavier (1), which has the analytical profile of a 4 seed. If the week off after the Big Ten tournament is a major negative, it'll show up in this regional with Michigan (3) and Ohio State (5).
SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE: Former North Carolina guard Wes Miller has done remarkable things at UNC Greensboro (13), just as N.C. Central (16) coach LeVelle Moton continues to do wonderful things at his alma mater. It's also easy to root for a team called the Jackrabbits – South Dakota State (12) – and Providence (10) coach Ed Cooley's pants after he split his seat in the Big East tournament and coached wearing a towel.
SYNOPSIS: North Carolina (2) may not be the top seed but the Tar Heels are clearly the best team in this regional. A Zags-Heels rematch out west, in Los Angeles this time, feels not only inevitable but right.
MY PICKS: Virginia, Texas Tech, Duke, North Carolina