Bracket overview: The Midwest is the toughest of the tough

The Field of 68 has been finalized.

Here are some random thoughts and wild predictions upon first look ...

When the RPI doesn't matter: I lead with this category every Selection Sunday. It never disappoints. What you need to know is that no BCS-affiliated school with a top-56 RPI was omitted this season, but three non-BCS-affiliated schools with top 56 RPIs were left out -- specifically Southern Miss Golden Eagles (31), Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (54) and Massachusetts Minutemen (56). That means the three best RPIs omitted from the field belonged to non-BCS affiliated schools for the ninth consecutive season, which once again shows that a good RPI can save you if you're from a power league, but it won't help much if you're not.

TOP THREE RPI RANKINGS LEFT OUT OF THE FIELD OF 68

2013: Southern Miss (31), Louisiana Tech (54), UMass (56)

2012: Marshall (47), Oral Roberts (51), UCF (54)

2011: Harvard (35), Cleveland State (42), Missouri State (43)

2010: Rhode Island (40), Wichita State (43), UAB (45)

2009: San Diego State (34), Creighton (40), UAB (46)

2008: Dayton (32), Illinois State (33), UMass (42)

2007: Air Force (30), Missouri State (36), Bradley (38)

2006: Missouri State (21), Hofstra (30), Creighton (39)

2005: Miami, Ohio (39), Wichita State (45), Buffalo (46)

THREE THINGS I IMMEDIATELY NOTICED ABOUT THE BRACKET

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1. The Midwest Regional is ridiculous: I wrote about the Midwest earlier -- here's the link -- but what I put there is worth repeating here, specifically that the committee did Louisville Cardinals no favors. The Cards are the No. 1 overall seed and yet stuck with Duke Blue Devils , Michigan State Spartans , Saint Louis Billikens , Oklahoma State Cowboys , Memphis Tigers and Creighton Bluejays in their regional. That represents the schools ranked No. 2 (Duke), No. 4 (Louisville), No. 8 (Michigan State), No. 14 (Oklahoma State), No. 16 (SLU), No. 20 (Memphis) and No. 23 (Creighton) in the latest AP Poll, and all of the top-10 seeds -- plus No. 12 seed Oregon Ducks -- have been ranked at one time. So Louisville is the favorite, sure. But there's nothing simple about Rick Pitino's path.

2. The committee doesn't think much of the Pac-12: The regular-season champ ( UCLA Bruins ) got a six seed. The tournament champ (Oregon) got a 12. Arizona Wildcats got a six. Colorado Buffaloes got a 10. California Golden Bears got a 12. And how is commissioner Larry Scott supposed to get his Pac-12 network on DirecTV with this kind of slap in the face? Honestly, the seeds are mostly OK once you downgrade UCLA because of Jordan Adams' injury suffered in the Pac-12 semifinals. But Oregon's seed makes no sense at all. The Ducks are 21-4 with Dominic Artis in the lineup. They were leading the Pac-12 when he got hurt. They won the Pac-12 tournament after he returned. So Oregon should've been evaluated on what it is with its starting point guard available, and there's no way Oregon is a 12 with its starting point guard available.

3. Kentucky is missing: I think we all knew the Kentucky Wildcats were NIT-bound when Vanderbilt throttled them in the SEC tournament, but it's still wild to think this team with all that talent failed to make the Field of 68. UK was ranked third in the preseason AP Poll. They had multiple future lottery picks even after Nerlens Noel went down with a torn ACL. Still, things never clicked for a variety of reasons. So John Calipari's string of Sweet 16 appearances (dating to his days at Memphis) will stop at seven. But he will have a chance to win his second NIT. The Wildcats will play at Robert Morris on Wednesday night.

RANKING THE REGIONALS FROM STRONGEST TO WEAKEST

1. Midwest: The Big East co-champ (Louisville), the top-ranked team from the ACC (Duke), the Big Ten runner-up (Michigan State), the Atlantic 10 champ (Saint Louis), the Big 12 runner-up (Oklahoma State), the Conference USA champ (Memphis), the Missouri Valley champ (Creighton) and the Mountain West runner-up ( Colorado State Rams ) are all in the Midwest. Three of those schools (Louisville, Duke and Michigan State) are ranked in the top 10 at KenPom.com and coached by sure-bet future Hall of Famers (Rick Pitino, Mike Krzyzewski and Tom Izzo). So this regional is stacked with great teams, players and coaches.

2. South: The Big 12 co-champ ( Kansas Jayhawks ), the Big East co-champ ( Georgetown Hoyas ), the SEC champ ( Florida Gators ), a former top-ranked team ( Michigan Wolverines ), the Atlantic 10 runner-up ( VCU Rams ), the Pac-12 champ (UCLA) and dangerous outfits from the Mountain West ( San Diego State Aztecs ), ACC ( North Carolina Tar Heels ), Big East ( Villanova Wildcats ), Big 12 ( Oklahoma Sooners ) and Big Ten ( Minnesota Golden Gophers ) are all in the South. Kansas is Kansas. Georgetown and Michigan have first-team All-Americans (Otto Porter and Trey Burke) capable of carrying them, Florida is ranked No. 1 at KenPom.com, and VCU is a matchup nightmare for almost anybody. This regional, I think more than any other, is completely up for grabs.

3. West: The nation's top-ranked team ( Gonzaga Bulldogs ), the Big Ten tournament champ ( Ohio State Buckeyes ), the Mountain West champ ( New Mexico Lobos ), the Big 12 co-champ ( Kansas State Wildcats ), a Big Ten team with two wins over Indiana and Michigan and another over Ohio State ( Wisconsin Badgers ), the preseason Pac-12 favorite (Arizona), two tough outs from the Big East ( Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Pittsburgh Panthers ), a scary team from the Big 12 ( Iowa State Cyclones ), a 26-win team from the Ohio Valley ( Belmont Bruins ), a tough team from the Missouri Valley ( Wichita State Shockers ) and the SEC tournament champ ( Ole Miss Rebels ) are all in the West. Gonzaga will have its hands full in the Round of 32 regardless of whether it plays Pittsburgh or Wichita State.

4. East: The Big Ten champ ( Indiana Hoosiers ), ACC champ ( Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes ), Big East co-champ ( Marquette Golden Eagles ), a team that spent part of the season ranked in the top 10 ( Syracuse Orange ), a team with as much frontcourt talent as anybody ( UNLV Rebels ), two teams that own wins over two No. 1 seeds ( Butler Bulldogs and Illinois Fighting Illini ) and the preseason pick in the ACC ( NC State Wolfpack ) are all in the East. But this is either Indiana or Miami, right? Nobody else is getting out.

Seeded too low: Pittsburgh is a No. 8 seed in the West despite being ranked No. 7 at KenPom.com.

Seeded too high: Temple Owls is a No. 9 seed in the East despite being ranked No. 68 at KenPom.com.

TEN TEAMS I COULD SEE WINNING IT ALL

  1. Louisville
  2. Indiana
  3. Wisconsin
  4. VCU
  5. Gonzaga
  6. Duke
  7. Kansas
  8. Miami
  9. Ohio State
  10. Michigan State

MY FINAL FOUR

  • Louisville vs. Wisconsin
  • Indiana vs. VCU

MY NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

  • Louisville vs. Indiana

MY NATIONAL CHAMPION

  • Louisville
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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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