2017 NCAA Tournament: 68 reasons this bracket sets up as a beauty

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The bracket is set. The arguments are underway. Selection Sunday is in the past. So let’s dive in. Here are 68 things you need to know about this 68-team NCAA Tournament.

1. The selection committee got the 68 teams right

The only serious debate for at-large teams came down to Southern California Trojans , Kansas State Wildcats , Vanderbilt Commodores and Syracuse Orange . Four teams. Three spots. Ultimately, the committee went with USC, Kansas State and Vanderbilt. And I believe those were the correct picks. So the right schools are in the field, I think.

2. And the No. 1 seeds are ... fine

Villanova Wildcats , Kansas Jayhawks and Gonzaga Bulldogs as top seeds were no-brainers. And North Carolina Tar Heels as a No. 1 is also reasonable, I guess. It’s not the craziest thing about the bracket. But I still don’t get how the selection committee can spend all season talking about “total bodies of work” and then not recognize that Duke’s total body of work is better than North Carolina’s total body of work. The Blue Devils have more top-25 RPI wins, more top-50 RPI wins, the same number of sub-50 RPI losses, a 2-1 record against UNC and a better strength of schedule rating. So I would’ve had Duke Blue Devils as a 1-seed over UNC. But whatever. Like I said, it’s not the craziest thing about the bracket. Wichita State Shockers is the craziest thing about the bracket.

3. Wichita State got a 10-seed

The Shockers are eighth at KenPom, 11th in Sagarin and 31st in the flawed RPI that doesn’t value them properly. But even if you value the RPI over KenPom and Sagarin, which you shouldn’t, there’s no way to reasonably go any lower than an 8-seed for Wichita State. And yet the selection committee made the Shockers a 10-seed. Ridiculous. And do you realize which team this hurts the most? Answer: Dayton Flyers . Because the Flyers are the 7-seed opposite Wichita State. And they’re 6.5-point underdogs to Wichita State. Yes, the lower-seeded team is a significant favorite over the higher-seeded team. That’s how wrong the committee got Wichita State.

4. Every power conference AD will be drooling over Dayton-Wichita State

It seems like Dayton’s Archie Miller and Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall are the two coaches working outside a power conference who most often get mentioned for high-profile openings. Coincidentally, they’ll coach against each other Friday night. And you just know the people at NC State Wolfpack , Missouri Tigers , LSU Tigers and Illinois Fighting Illini will be watching and dreaming.

5. We might be in for a 2014 flashback

Wichita State will, if it beats Dayton, likely play Kentucky Wildcats -- just like it did in 2014. That would be a Round of 32 game between the teams ranked fourth and eighth at KenPom. Again, ridiculous. What the committee did with Wichita State lacks common sense.

6. But that wasn’t the only head-scatcher

Matt Norlander detailed some other weird seeding decisions by the committee. You can read about them here.

7. The South Regional is filled with big brands

How about North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA all being in the same regional? It means we could get a Kentucky-UCLA rematch in the Sweet 16 and a Kentucky-North Carolina rematch in the Elite Eight. The Wildcats lost to UCLA earlier this season before beating North Carolina in December. Malik Monk had 47 points in that game. I was there. It was fun to witness.

8. John Calipari might make a return to FedExForum

The Wildcats were placed in the South Regional, where the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight will be played in Memphis. Calipari used to be the Memphis coach, you might’ve heard. He did great things there. But he’s not loved there. So it could make for an awkward experience while serving as a reminder for Memphians of just how far the Tigers have fallen since Calipari moved to Lexington.

9. Calipari’s (possible) return to FedExForum won’t feature boos, though

Somebody suggested to me that Memphians might fill FedExForum and boo Calipari relentlessly. The only problem with that theory is that Kentucky fans will have all of the tickets. Kentucky fans always have all of the tickets. Always.

10. The South Regional’s 12-5 game will be lots of folks’ 12-5 upset

Minnesota Golden Gophers is the 5-seed in the South. Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders is the 12. But the Golden Gophers opened as just a 1-point favorite, which suggests Minnesota is over-seeded. And do you realize Middle Tennessee is only a win over Minnesota and a win over the Butler-Winthrop winner from playing in the Sweet 16 in Memphis? We could have Middle Tennessee in Memphis, Tennessee. And that would be cool for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is because Middle Tennessee coach Kermit Davis was raised in nearby Mississippi. He has friends and family in Memphis.

11. Nevada-Iowa State is another fun 12-5 game

Eric Musselman’s Wolf Pack won the Mountain West regular-season title and the Mountain West Tournament title. They will not be an easy out for Iowa State Cyclones -- which, of course, just won the Big 12 Tournament title for the third time in four years.

12. No First Four team will win two games

TNT’s Ernie Johnson pointed out something during Sunday’s telecast that I didn’t realize -- specifically that a First Four team has advanced to at least the Round of 32 every year since the First Four was created. So he asked me which First Four team will win two games this year. My answer: None. I don’t think the Providence-USC winner will get past SMU. I don’t think the Wake Forest-Kansas State winner will get past Cincinnati Bearcats . But, hey, I’ve been wrong before.

13. South Dakota State Jackrabbits avoided the First Four

Good for SDSU for staying out of the First Four. But I would’ve enjoyed seeing Mike Daum on Tuesday night on the type of isolated stage the First Four provides. Alas, the nation will have to settle for Daum against Gonzaga on Thursday afternoon.

14. I’ll take E. Tennessee State Buccaneers as the lowest-seeded team to make the Round of 32

Florida’s metrics are great. That’s why the Gators got a 4-seed. But they’ve lost three of their past four games and are just 3-3 since John Egbuno suffered a season-ending injury. They’re not what their seed suggests they are -- not in their current form, at least. So don’t be surprised if Steve Forbes’ Buccaneers make things difficult for Florida Gators in the first round. I’m picking ETSU to win.

15. Don’t give up on Virginia Cavaliers

The Cavaliers are 6-7 in their past 13 games. They often have a hard time scoring. But don’t forget the Cavaliers own wins over North Carolina, Louisville Cardinals and Notre Dame Fighting Irish ; they can beat good teams. And they’ll be a tough out for the reigning national champions in the Sweet 16, provided both schools make it that far. Villanova and Virginia played at Villanova in January. Villanova barely won -- 61-59.

16. Only two No. 1 seeds will make the Final Four

I don’t believe there’s much difference between the No. 1 seeds and the No. 2 seeds -- and even some of the No. 3 seeds. So the Elite Eight matchups, and perhaps even the Sweet 16 matchups, are going to be coin flips. Of the top seeds, I’ll take Gonzaga and Kansas to get to the Final Four but not Villanova or UNC. Either way, bet this: No more than two top seeds will be in Phoenix.

17. The sites could create big advantages for teams

It’s been pointed out that Arizona Wildcats , if it wins four games, could have an advantage at the Final Four because the Final Four is in Phoenix. That’s true, obviously. But let’s not stop there. Let’s take a look at the role regional sites could have in outcomes.

18. Kansas can win the Midwest Regional in Kansas City

Note to everybody: If you play Kansas in the Sweet 16/Elite Eight, you’ll be playing a road game.

19. Villanova and/or Duke could have East Regional advantages in New York City

The East Regional is at Madison Square Garden. Villanova fans will have that building filled. And Duke has a large NYC fanbase of its own, which is why the Blue Devils play so many games there. So if Villanova and Duke advance to MSG, their opponents’ fans will be outnumbered easily. Tough ticket, this will one will be.

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Mike Krzyzewski led Duke to the ACC tournament championship in New York. USATSI

20. The Round of 32 might feature Coach K vs. Wojo

There’s always something like this early in the bracket. And, no, I don’t think it’s intentional. I just think it sorta ... happens. Either way, if Duke and Marquette Golden Eagles both win their openers, it’ll be Duke’s coach against a former Duke player and assistant. Storylines won’t be hard to find.

21. Rick Pitino is back in the field

The Louisville coach had coached in nine straight NCAA Tournaments until the Cardinals self-imposed a postseason ban last season. His new string starts now. The Cardinals are the 2-seed in the Midwest.

22. Richard Pitino is also in the field

The Minnesota coach, Rick’s son, is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time. His Gophers are 9-2 in their last 11 games. They’re the 5-seed in the South.

23. Don’t forget about the Drews and Millers

There are no other father-son combos in this NCAA Tournament besides the Pitinos. But there are two sets of brothers. Scott Drew ( Baylor Bears ) and Bryce Drew (Vanderbilt) both made it. So did Sean Miller (Arizona) and Archie Miller (Dayton).

24. There are pros all over the bracket

Nine of the 14 projected lottery picks, according to DraftExpress, will participate in this NCAA Tournament. Let’s run through them in order.

25. Lonzo Ball

The UCLA freshman is averaging 14.6 points, 7.7 assists and 6.1 rebounds. He’s projected as the second pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. His first game is against Kent State Golden Flashes on Friday at 9:57 p.m. ET on TruTv.

26. Josh Jackson

The Kansas freshman is averaging 16.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists. He’s projected as the third pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. His first game is against either NC Central or UC Davis Aggies on Friday at 6:50 p.m ET on TNT.

27. Jayson Tatum

The Duke freshman is averaging 16.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists. He’s projected as the fourth pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. His first game is against Troy Trojans on Friday at 7:20 p.m. ET on TBS.

28. De’Aaron Fox

The Kentucky freshman is averaging 16.1 points, 4.9 assists and 4.2 rebounds. He’s projected as the fifth pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. His first game is against Northern Kentucky on Friday at 9:40 p.m. ET on CBS.

29. Lauri Markkannen 

The Arizona freshman is averaging 15.6 points and 7.1 rebounds. He’s projected as the seventh pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. His first game is against North Dakota Fighting Hawks on Thursday at 9:50 p.m. ET on TBS.

30. Malik Monk

The Kentucky freshman is averaging 20.5 points and 2.6 rebounds. He’s projected as the eighth pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. His first game is against Northern Kentucky on Friday at 9:40 p.m. ET on CBS.

31. Jonathan Isaac

The Florida State Seminoles freshman is averaging 11.9 points and 7.6 rebounds. He’s projected as the ninth pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. His first game is against Florida Gulf Coast Eagles on Thursday at 9:20 p.m. ET on TNT.

32. Dunk City!

We take a break from these NBA prospect breakdowns to celebrate Florida Gulf Coast’s return to the Big Dance. The Eagles are in the NCAA Tournament for the third time in five years even though they weren’t even a Division I program until 2008. It started with Andy Enfield. But Joe Dooley is carrying the torch well. Now back to the lottery prospects.

33. Miles Bridges

The Michigan State Spartans freshman is averaging 16.7 points and 8.3 rebounds. He’s projected as the 12th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. His first game is against Miami on Friday at 9:20 p.m. ET on TNT.

34. Justin Jackson

The North Carolina junior is averaging 18.1 points and 4.6 rebounds. He’s projected as the 13th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. His first game is against Texas Southern Tigers on Friday at 4 p.m. ET on TNT.

35. UNC and Kansas lost their last games

The Tar Heels lost in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament. And top-seeded Kansas lost in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals. But this isn’t a big deal because last year’s national champion (Villanova) lost in the Big East Tournament title game. And the 2015 national champion (Duke) lost in the ACC Tournament semifinals. And the 2014 national champion (UConn) lost in the AAC Tournament title game. So don’t let what happened in Championship Week influence you too much. It doesn’t usually matter.

36. A nice RPI couldn’t save Illinois State Redbirds

For the 13th consecutive season, the top two RPIs omitted from the field belonged to non-power conference schools. Every school from a power league with a top-51 RPI made the NCAA Tournament. But Illinois State didn’t with an RPI of 33. And Monmouth Hawks didn’t with an RPI of 48. So, once again, we are reminded that a respectable RPI can save you if you’re from a big conference. But it won’t help much if you’re not.

37. Clemson Tigers was the top KenPom team omitted

The Tigers finished 35th at KenPom but just 17-15 in the real word. Consequently, they did not make the NCAA Tournament. But everybody with a top-34 KenPom rating did. Last year it was everybody with a top-33 KenPom rating. Year before that, same thing.

38. Vanderbilt got in with 15 losses

The Commodores became the first team to make the NCAA Tournament with 15 losses -- and they got a nine seed. The inclusion was not surprising. But the seed was. It’s directly tied to the fact that Vanderbilt has the best strength of schedule rating in the nation, according to the RPI.

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Arkansas lost in the SEC tournament final but nevertheless finished the season strong. USATSI

39. The SEC got five schools in the NCAA Tournament

There was a time when it looked like the SEC would be limited to just three NCAA Tournament teams for the second straight year. But Arkansas Razorbacks went 8-2 in its final 10 games and earned an 8-seed. And Vanderbilt went 7-2 in its final nine games and earned a 9-seed. Combine them with Kentucky, Florida and South Carolina Gamecocks , and that’s five SEC teams in the NCAA Tournament. Not bad.

40. The ACC only got nine teams in the field

Nine still led all conferences. And six of the nine are top-five seeds. But there was a time, just a few weeks ago, when it looked like the ACC might get 10 or even 11. However, bubble teams like Syracuse, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and Clemson squandered opportunities late. So the ACC only got nine. Here’s how some other leagues did ...

41. The Big Ten got seven bids

The Big Ten is weird in the sense that half of its 14 members made the NCAA Tournament but only one ( Purdue Boilermakers ) got a top-four seed. Three of the seven ( Wisconsin Badgers , Northwestern Wildcats , Michigan State) are on the 8-9 line. That’s rarely fun.

42. The Big East got seven bids too

Seventy percent of the Big East’s members made the NCAA Tournament, but only two (Villanova, Butler Bulldogs ) are top-four seeds. Creighton Bluejays got a 6-seed despite the loss of Maurice Watson. Xavier Musketeers got an 11-seed because of the loss of Edmond Sumner .

43. The Big 12 got six bids

Sixty percent of the Big 12’s members made the NCAA Tournament -- and three (Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia) got top-four seeds. Those teams finished first (Kansas) and tied for second (Baylor, West Virginia) in the Big 12 standings.

44. The Pac-12 go 4 bids

Only 33 percent of the Pac-12’s members made the NCAA Tournament, which is the only thing that scares me about Arizona, UCLA and Oregon. Are they a combined 88-13 because they’re great? Or because the rest of the Pac-12 is mostly bad?

45. A No. 2 seed is the favorite to win the NCAA Tournament

For what it’s worth, Las Vegas has made Duke the favorite to be 2017 national champions. So if you’re looking for a place to pick something other than a top seed, the East Regional might be the place. If the schools advance as their seeds suggest they should, we’ll get a Villanova-Duke showdown at MSG in the Elite Eight. That would be a game between the 2015 national champions and the 2016 national champions.

46. Rhode Island Rams over Creighton is a reasonable upset pick

Creighton is a 6-seed. Rhode Island is the 11. But the Bluejays are only a 1-point favorite over the Rams, if you’re looking for a spot (besides Dayton-Wichita State) to take a double-digit seed over a single-digit seed. Put me down for URI.

47. Xavier over Maryland Terrapins is a another reasonable upset pick

I’m not sure how or why Maryland got a 6-seed given that the Terrapins dropped six of their final 10 games and only finished with four top-50 RPI wins. And they’re only a 2-point favorite over Xavier. The Musketeers are 3-7 in their past 10 games, by the way. So either a Maryland team that’s 4-6 in its past 10 games or a Xavier team that’s 3-7 in its past 10 games is guaranteed to be in the Round of 32. That means Florida State is the 3-seed with the safest path to the Sweet 16.

48. Northwestern made it for the first time

An at-large bid was secured weeks ago. But nothing is official until it’s official, and it became official Sunday. Northwestern is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time. The Wildcats are the 8-seed in the West Regional. They’ll play the only 15-loss team in the field (Vanderbilt) in the Round of 64. If they win, they’ll likely get Gonzaga unless Daum goes bananas and creates the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history.

49. There are three former Coach K assistants in the field

Northwestern’s inclusion has Chris Collins in the NCAA Tournament for the first time. So is Marquette’s Steve Wojciechowski. And Notre Dame’s Mike Brey is in because he’s always in. So that’s three former Mike Krzyzewski assistants with teams in the NCAA Tournament. Bill Self also has three former assistants in the field. Rick Pitino has four.

50. Best Round of 64 matchups

Norlander listed his five favorite first-round games here. Now let me go through my five favorite ...

51. Dayton-Wichita State

Two elite coaches and two tough teams. It’s stupid that these schools are paired with each other. But it’s my favorite Round of 64 game. Tip-off is set for Friday at 7:10 p.m. ET on CBS. This one deserves that marquee prime-time slot.

52. Minnesota-Middle Tennessee

Can the Blue Raiders upset a Big Ten team for the second straight year? Perhaps. But this won’t even be a big upset. The Golden Gophers are only 1-point favorites even though they’re a 5-seed playing a 12-seed.

53. Virginia-UNC Wilmington

Talk about a contrast of styles. Virginia plays slower than anybody in the nation -- proof being how the Cavaliers are ranked 351st out of 351 teams in tempo, according to KenPom. But UNC-Wilmington Seahawks likes to get up and down the court. Should be fun. And it could be a game between an ACC coach and a future ACC coach, if Kevin Keatts parlays back-to-back trips to the NCAA Tournament into the NC State job.

54. Florida-East Tennessee State

Second-year ETSU coach Steve Forbes got some memorable wins over the Gators when he was an assistant on Bruce Pearl’s staff at Tennessee. Obviously, a lot of things have changed since then -- most notably Tennessee’s coach and Florida’s coach. But ETSU has some high-major talent. As I mentioned earlier, I’m taking the Bucs.

55. Michigan-Oklahoma State

I like both of these teams and would have them both advancing if they weren’t playing each other in the Round of 64. Each is well-coached and playing well. Give me the Wolverines, I guess. But Brad Underwood is going to do big things in Stillwater.

56. Let’s do some predictions

Ready? Here we go ...

57. The first No. 1 seed to lose will be ...

Villanova. In the Sweet 16. To Virginia.

58. The most likely double-digit seed to make the Sweet 16 is ...

Rhode Island. Love the Rams. They’re finally healthy and on an eight-game winning streak.

59. The unknown player everybody will be talking about later in the week is ...

T.J. Cromer . ETSU guard. Averages 19.1 points while shooting 40.4 percent from 3-point range. He got 41 points against Samford in the Southern Tournament semifinals.

60. The coach most likely to make his first Final Four is ...

Gonzaga’s Mark Few. But I’d put UCLA’s Steve Alford on the list, too. And, obviously, Arizona’s Sean Miller. And I love that Gonzaga, Arizona and Florida State are the top three seeds in the West. That means, barring a surprise, either Few, Miller or Leonard Hamilton should become a Final Four coach for the first time this year.

61. The East Regional winner will be ...

Duke. Las Vegas oddsmakers aren’t stupid. They have Duke winning the East for a reason -- and that reason is Mike Krzyzewski and his nine McDonald’s All-Americans.

62. The West Regional winner will be ...

Gonzaga. The Zags have the best adjusted efficiency margin in the country, according to KenPom. Doubt them at your own risk.

63. The Midwest Regional winner will be ...

Kansas. Bill Self will be in the Final Four for the third time. And he has a real chance to win his second national championship -- thanks to Frank Mason and Josh Jackson.

64. The South Regional winner will be ...

UCLA. To me, this is the toughest regional to predict. I like UCLA, North Carolina and Kentucky. They’re three of the eight teams I think are best equipped to win the national championship. But if I can only pick one, I’ll pick the Bruins.

65. The national title game will be ...

Duke vs. UCLA. Big brand vs. Big brand. The Bruins have 11 national titles. Duke has five. That ranks first and tied for third in history. This would be an awesome final game.

66. The national champion will be ...

UCLA. A few weeks back I decided I’d take the Bruins to win it all because they have a nice mixture of youth and experience, pros at multiple positions, a difference-maker at point guard, a historically great offense and an improving defense. When UCLA is clicking, they’re the nation’s most unstoppable team. So get to clicking, Bruins.

67. The Final Four Most Outstanding Player will be ...

Lonzo Ball. I know some of you are tired of hearing his father, LaVar Ball, say wild things just about everyday. But don’t let that make you forget that UCLA’s freshman point guard is an amazing talent who has completely transformed this Pac-12 program. The Bruins went 15-17 last season. They’re 29-4 now. That’s not all because of Ball. But it’s mostly because of Ball.

68. The end

I’m not one of those college basketball writers who tries to tell you college basketball is the world’s best sport. Because it’s not. The NFL and college football are both way bigger. The NBA is better. My favorite sport, personally, is Major League Baseball.

But the NCAA Tournament is fabulous.

Such a fun few weeks.

Unimaginable stories emerge from everywhere. Unknown coaches and players become household names. Legends are made. It’s like I’ve said many times, we occasionally get bad Super Bowls and boring College Football Playoffs. The MLB Playoffs can be lame. The NBA Playoffs are sometimes predictable. But the NCAA Tournament never lets us down.

It never sucks.

It’s always wild.

So buckle up and enjoy it.

Things get started Tuesday night.

CBS Sports Insider

Gary Parrish is an award-winning college basketball columnist and television analyst for CBS Sports who also hosts the highest-rated afternoon drive radio show in Memphis, where he lives with his wife... Full Bio

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