NCAA tournament 2018 bracket breakdown: Biggest question, upset alert, player to watch in each region
It's official, we now know the 2018 NCAA tournament bracket. Now NCAA.com's Andy Katz is here to break down each region, offering up the biggest question, the best opening round matchup and the player to watch for each region.
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1. Three of the four teams that played in the Champions Classic are in this region in No. 1 Kansas, No. 2 Duke, and No. 3 Michigan State.
2. Penn might be one of the best No. 16 seeds ever.
3. The Arizona State-Syracuse game should be one of the most intriguing First Four games ever played in Dayton. There’s something about the Orange playing in the First Four that just makes this have more meaning.
4. Oklahoma’s Trae Young has a chance to redeem the season for the Sooners. They got a new lifeline with their admission into the field.
5. Duke’s losses late in the season clearly moved the Blue Devils out of the region to Pittsburgh and a potential Omaha regional.
6. Clemson and Auburn overachieved in the regular season but injuries have made both teams a shell of what they were earlier in the year.
7. Rhode Island needs to get back to playing the way it did earlier in February before its late-season slide. The Rams fell to a No. 7 seed after being on the cusp of a top-four seed line when the first top 16 reveal came out.
8. A number of schools have had quite the turnaround in this region: Jamie Dixon leading his alma mater TCU to the tournament; Bruce Pearl taking Auburn to the Dance; Brad Brownell doing the same with Clemson and the first-year jobs of Chris Jans at New Mexico State and Kevin Keatts at NC State should be celebrated, too.
Biggest question: When will Udoka Azubuike return for Kansas? He didn’t play in the Big 12 tournament and Bill Self said during our pre-selection show special that he expected him to be back on the weekend, but it’s unclear how effective he'll be.
Best first round matchup: Rhode Island-Oklahoma in Pittsburgh. The Rams will run. So will the Sooners. This was a game that in December looked like it could be in the Sweet 16, not in the first round.
Upset alert: Clemson. The Tigers may have peaked and they get an athletic, rangy and dangerous New Mexico State in a 5 vs. 12 matchup in San Diego. The Tiger faithful could be outnumbered by the Aggies’ fanbase in this game.
Player to watch: The easy answer would be Trae Young. But let us not forget about Marvin Bagley III. He has been putting up some monopoly numbers at times over the past month for Duke since he came back from his knee injury. Iona will struggle containing his size in the post.
Dream matchup: Michigan State-Duke in the Sweet 16. Please get us this in Omaha. That’s a national title game-level matchup, only a weekend earlier.
1. Collin Sexton is appointment viewing. The Alabama freshman can change the game on his own. He’s that special.
2. The St. Bonaventure-UCLA First Four matchup is highly intriguing with the Bonnies playing in an A-10 home venue in Dayton and the Bruins having to travel to the Midwest on short notice.
3. Marshall is clearly on a momentum run, beating Middle Tennessee on the road and then knocking off Western Kentucky to win the C-USA title.
4. The possible West Virginia-Wichita State second-round matchup could be one of the best in the tournament. This would be an intense affair between two coaches who demand a lot from their teams, but get devotion in return.
5. Villanova could end up in Boston, on the same floor in the Elite Eight where the Wildcats knocked off Pitt on a Scottie Reynolds game-winner in 2009.
6. No player in the region is as large and has the potential to be a problem as much as Purdue’s Isaac Haas.
7. A matchup of Florida's Chris Chiozza against the Bonnies’ guards would be a treat and could see plenty of end-to-end, transition plays.
8. A possible Texas Tech-Purdue Sweet 16 would be a defensive slug fest.
Biggest question: How much of an effect will Virginia Tech’s 21-point collapse against Notre Dame in the ACC tournament have on the Hokies in their first-round game against Alabama?
Best first round matchup: Arkansas-Butler. I debated this pick quite a bit. Kelan Martin could go off and Butler has shown it can compete with anybody, or go cold. Arkansas will try to speed up the Bulldogs. This game in Detroit could be decided on a late possession.
Upset alert: The winner of St. Bonaventure/UCLA game over Florida. The Gators have been too inconsistent this season to bank on them advancing. I’ve got the Bonnies breaking through to the second round if they can get past UCLA.
Player to watch: Collin Sexton. He’s the real deal. He can control the game, as was the case in the SEC tournament. If you need one other, then make sure you track Keenan Evans of Texas Tech. He has been a stud.
Dream matchup: West Virginia-Wichita State. This has to happen. It would be a big-time battle.
1. Virginia is the overwhelming favorite to get to San Antonio out of this region.
2. Cincinnati got the respect it coveted by earning a No. 2 seed.
3. Arizona may be the most talented and dangerous No. 4 seed ever.
4. Kentucky got seeded to its record/resume not its talent and play of late in being tabbed a No. 5 seed.
5. A dream matchup that likely won’t occur would be Arizona’s Deandre Ayton versus Mo Bamba in an Arizona-Texas Elite Eight matchup.
6. Rick Barnes could coach against the school that fired him if Tennessee and Texas were to advance to the Sweet 16.
7. Loyola-Chicago is the best story in the region, making the NCAA tournament for the first time in 33 years.
8. This is the champions/momentum region with the tournament champs of high-profile conferences the ACC (Virginia), Pac-12 (Arizona), AAC (Cincinnati) and A-10 (Davidson).
Biggest question: How healthy are Kansas State’s Dean Wade and Texas’ Mo Bamba? Wade didn’t play in the Big 12 semifinal against Kansas. Bamba missed three games and then played only 14 minutes against Texas Tech in the Big 12 semifinal.
Best first round matchup: Davidson vs. Kentucky in Boise. Davidson is rolling after winning the A-10. Peyton Aldridge will be a tough matchup for Kentucky. Now, the athleticism of the Wildcats could be an issue for Davidson. But Davidson has showed it is playing its best basketball of the season at the right time.
Upset alert: Miami. The No. 6 Hurricanes take on No. 11 Loyola, a team that won at Florida earlier in the season. The Ramblers defend exceptionally well.
Player to watch: Creighton’s Marcus Foster. He’s going to need to go off for the Bluejays to beat Kansas State. He can. And he may.
Dream matchup: Please, please give us Kentucky-Arizona. Even though Davidson is a great story, the size on both squads would be must-see in Boise.
1. How effective will Michael Porter Jr. be for Missouri?
2. Will the real Texas A&M step up in the NCAA tournament?
3. Gonzaga has a real chance in this bracket to get back to the Final Four after losing in the national title game.
4. There is a chance for a Gonzaga-North Carolina title game rematch in the Elite Eight.
5. Xavier-Ohio State would be a great series on a regular basis and it could occur in the Sweet 16.
6. The hottest team entering the tournament not named Virginia is Michigan. The Wolverines could come out of this region.
7. The best scorer in the region may just be Mike Daum of South Dakota State.
8. Kelvin Sampson is back in the NCAA tournament with Houston, completing quite a coaching comeback.
Biggest question: How will the long layoff affect Michigan, which won the Big Ten tournament a week ago.
Best first round matchup: Texas A&M-Providence. The Aggies were a top-10 team earlier in the season. But injuries and suspensions slid them back into bubble status at one point. The Friars just played three overtime games in the Big East tournament and have momentum on their side. This could be one of the most physical games in the first round.
Upset alert: Ohio State. The Buckeyes didn’t play as well in the final week of the Big Ten regular season, save for a game against Indiana. Ohio State has had a long layoff. Has this team peaked? South Dakota State has scorers and could be a dicey first-round opponent. Oh, and the game is in Boise and while Boise is still a flight from South Dakota, it’s still a lot closer than Columbus. The Jackrabbits could have the advantage as the No. 12 seed.
Player to watch: Rob Gray. The Houston senior turned the ball over in the final seconds in the AAC title game loss to Cincinnati. He looked like he felt awful about the unforced error. He is a gamer and a winner. Look for him to have a bust-out first weekend in Wichita against San Diego State and then potentially against Michigan.
Dream matchup: Michigan-North Carolina in the Sweet 16. This would be a game between two powerhouses. They already played this season and the Tar Heels won 86-71 in Chapel Hill in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Both teams are vastly improved since then.