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Bracket overview: Kentucky should win it all, but it won't be that easy


The Field of 68 has been finalized.

I know you've seen it.

I've seen it, too.

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, and it never disappoints. What you need to know is that no BCS-affiliated school with a top-59 RPI was omitted this season, but five non-BCS-affiliated schools with top 56 RPIs were left out -- specifically Marshall (47), Oral Roberts (51), UCF (54), Akron (55) and Middle Tennessee State (56). That means the three best RPIs omitted from the field belonged to non-BCS affiliated schools for the eighth 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.

(Here's the rundown from the past seven years)

Top three RPIs left out of the NCAA tournament

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

1. Kentucky vs. Connecticut on Saturday would be fun (even if the UK coach probably doesn't think so): John Calipari is among the most paranoid individuals I know. He sees ghosts everywhere. And so I can report with 100 percent certainty that he saw his potential Round of 32 matchup with Connecticut and mumbled (or yelled), "WTF?" And I don't really blame him in this case. He's the coach of the No. 1 overall seed, and there's a chance he won't be able to get out of the first weekend without beating a team that was ranked third in the preseason and features one of the few rosters that can almost match UK pro-for-pro. No, UConn's talent doesn't equal Kentucky's talent. But the gap isn't nearly as wide as it tends to be in games between No. 1 seeds and No. 9 seeds. Marquis Teague vs. Shabazz Napier. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist vs. Jeremy Lamb. Anthony Davis vs. Andre Drummond. And Jim Calhoun against the rival (hated rival, I might add) he once mocked and called "Johnny Clam Chowder" when Calipari tried to speak as an authority on New England basketball. Yes, I'll gladly pull up a chair for that matchup. So while I love what Fred Hoiberg is doing at Iowa State, I'm kinda hoping he and his Cyclones don't screw this up.

2. It's hard out there for a non-BCS team: I realize it's probably random and on some level unavoidable, but I hate when some of the best non-BCS teams are forced to eliminate other non-BCS teams (or be eliminated by other non-BCS teams) in the Round of 64. A conspiracy theorist might suggest it's like the selection committee wants to ensure too many teams from non-BCS leagues can't possibly make it to the second weekend. The most glaring example this year is Memphis and Saint Louis playing each other in the Round of 64. That's ridiculous ... and not only because it's an eight-nine game. And you probably noticed no non-BCS team got better than a No. 5 seed even though two non-BCS teams (Wichita State and Memphis) are in the top 16 at CollegeRPI.com and four non-BCS teams (Memphis, Wichita State, New Mexico and Saint Louis) are in the top 16 at KenPom.com. (if you didn't notice, I noticed for you.)

3. Locations matters to you, me ... but not to the selection committee in the way that it should: When I am put in charge of the NCAA tournament -- I'm hoping that happens no later than 2022, when my son starts college (provided he escapes third grade, because cursive is harder than you can imagine) -- I will make sure, one way or another, that a higher-seeded team isn't punished by having to play a solid lower-seeded team in its backyard, because I think that's really unfair. The selection committee? They don't seem to care at all -- evidence being that No. 7 seed Gonzaga has to play No. 10 seed West Virginia in the Round of 64 in Pittsburgh, which is 72 miles from West Virginia's campus and 2,272 miles from Gonzaga's campus. Simply put, that should never happen to a higher-seeded team in the Round of 64.

Ranking the regions from strongest to weakest

1. West: The Big Ten tournament champion (Michigan State), Big 12 tournament champion (Missouri), Big East tournament champion (Louisville), Mountain West tournament champion (New Mexico), Ohio Valley Conference tournament champion (Murray State) and Conference USA tournament champion (Memphis) are all in the West along with four other schools (Saint Louis, Marquette, Florida and Virginia) that have been ranked in the Top 25 of the AP poll at some point this season, and seven of the schools I just listed have spent time in the Top 10. That's a whole bunch of quality. At least four or five or six different schools could reasonably be picked to make it to New Orleans out of the West.

2. East: The Big East champion (Syracuse), co-Big Ten champion (Ohio State), ACC tournament champion (Florida State), SEC tournament champion (Vanderbilt) and the team ranked sixth at KenPom.com (Wisconsin) are all in the East. Syracuse has been the most impressive this season. But Ohio State has the best roster. And Vanderbilt has the best victory (against Kentucky). And Florida State is 4-1 against North Carolina and Duke. Nothing that happens in this region will surprise me ... except for UNC-Asheville beating the Orange in the Round of 64.

3. South: Remember how I told you seven schools in the West have spent time in the Top 10 of the AP poll this season? That's true. And it's almost true for the South, because No. 1 seed Kentucky, No. 2 seed Duke, No. 3 seed Baylor, No. 4 seed Indiana, No. 9 seed Connecticut and No. 10 seed Xavier have also all spent time in the Top 10, and No. 6 seed UNLV got to 11th in the AP poll in late January. So Kentucky is the favorite here, clearly. But Duke has the nation's most accomplished coach and Baylor and Connecticut have pros, point being this could get interesting for the Wildcats.

4. Midwest: This is the only region where I feel comfortable writing there are only two schools that can reasonably expect to make the Final Four -- No. 1 seed North Carolina and No. 2 seed Kansas. Everybody else is playing for a Sweet 16 or Elite Eight, at best.

Seeded too low: Memphis is the No. 8 seed in the West despite a No. 9 ranking at KenPom.com.

Seeded too high: San Diego State is a No. 6 seed in the Midwest despite a No. 52 ranking at KenPom.com.

Seven teams I could see winning it all

1. Kentucky
2. North Carolina
3. Ohio State
4. Marquette
5. Michigan State
6. Syracuse
7. Kansas

My Final Four

 Kentucky vs. Marquette
 North Carolina vs. Ohio State

My National Championship Game

  Kentucky vs. North Carolina

My National Champion


Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and college basketball insider for the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts an award-winning radio show in Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two sons and two dogs.

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