By Andy Katz
FOX Sports College Basketball Analyst
the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament field is set, but selecting the 68 teams in this year’s Big Dance was no easy task.
Some teams emerged into the tournament conversation late in the season, such as Texas A&M, which ran off seven straight wins before falling to Tennessee in Sunday’s SEC Tournament championship.
Then there were the teams that started hot but faltered down the stretch, such as Oregon and Xavier.
In the end, the selection committee was forced to make some difficult decisions, but it all resulted in a 68-team tournament that should be filled with suspense, intrigue and, yes, plenty of upsets.
Gonzaga, Arizona, Kansas and Baylor earned the top seeds in this year’s bracket, but which one of those powerhouse programs has the best path to New Orleans? Is there a Cinderella team we should be expecting to make a deep run in this tournament?
Here are my 10 takeaways from Sunday’s bracket reveal.
1. Toughest region: Midwest
No. 1 seed Kansas potentially has to get past Big Ten champion Iowa — arguably the hottest team in the country not named Arizona.
Auburn lurks as the No. 2 seed and is more than capable of knocking off Kansas. I don’t see the Jayhawks getting out of this region.
2. No. 1 seed with the easiest path: Arizona
Yes, the Wildcats have the easiest path because they are playing the best basketball in the country. Arizona could face Illinois in the Sweet 16, but the Wildcats already beat them in Champaign.
Plus, Arizona has the size to disrupt every team in this bracket.
3. Most anticipated first-round game: North Carolina–Marquette
The No. 8 vs. No. 9 matchup in the East should be a high-pressure game. Both teams have experienced guards who can… guard!
This should be one of the best games of the first round. The winner will likely face No. 1 Baylor in Fort Worth, Texas.
4. Snubbed: Texas A&M
I thought the Aggies would be in the field over Wyoming, but I was wrong. It turns out that the Aggies, who lost in the SEC title game to Tennessee on Sunday, weren’t the next team in the field.
That was Dayton, followed by SMU before Texas A&M. The Aggies had to beat Tennessee to go dancing.
Look out for a few here, including Murray State, which could take out Kentucky in the second round. Then there’s Virginia Tech, which is more than capable of beating Texas and advancing.
Davidson could topple Michigan State and cause Duke problems. Rutgers could get past Notre Dame and Texas Tech in the West, and Indiana has a good shot to beat Wyoming and Saint Mary’s before possibly taking on and beating UCLA.
6. Household names
This will be the tournament for Jaden Ivey of Purdue, Keegan Murray of Iowa, Chet Holmgren of Gonzaga and Bennedict Mathurin of Arizona.
Expect to also hear a lot about Collin Gillespie of Villanova, Jabari Smith of Auburn and Kennedy Chandler of Tennessee. Those will be the names to know this month.
7. Upset alert: Illinois
The Illini are hampered heading into the Chattanooga game in a 5-vs.-12 matchup. Texas could go down to Virginia Tech in a 6-vs.-11, and I love the upset pick of Loyola-Chicago over Ohio State in a 10-vs.-7 matchup in the South.
8. Cinderella Story
Murray State could be that team with KJ Williams if the Racers beat Kentucky. Colorado State has a path if it gets past Michigan, and Chattanooga has a path if it can get past Illinois.
Also, I could see Rutgers and Indiana advancing to the Sweet 16.
9. Final Four picks
Gonzaga (West), Purdue (East), Arizona (South) and Iowa (Midwest).
10. National champion: Arizona over Purdue
I just love the way Tommy Lloyd is coaching this team. The Wildcats are flying all over the court. Arizona has shooters, scorers and rim protectors and plays with so much confidence.
The 180 this program has made since a postseason ban and coaching change is quite remarkable. Arizona has earned the right to be the favorite title.
Andy Katz is a longtime college basketball writer, analyst and host. He can be seen on FOX Sports and Big Ten Network platforms, as well as March Madness and NCAA.com, and he hosts the podcast “March Madness 365.” Katz worked at ESPN for nearly two decades and, prior to that, in newspapers for nine years.
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