March Madness: 68 reasons to love and obsess over the 2018 NCAA Tournament field

A 68-team bracket gives me about 5,000 reasons to react and pontificate on the greatest event in sports. But now -- after ranking all 68 teams, submitting my own bracket and poring over game times and TV info -- I've managed whittled my thoughts into 68 portions. 

1. I've already explained to you why Virginia is the best team in college basketball. The Cavs, who've been knocked out twice in recent years by Michigan State, can rest easy: Sparty's on the opposite corner of the bracket. And I know their region provides a lot of challenges, but I'm taking the Wahoos to win the whole thing

2. I'm interested to see if we'll get a new champion this season. Sixteen of the 68 schools in the field have won a national title: Arizona, Arkansas, Cincinnati, Duke, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Loyola Chicago, Michigan, Michigan State, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Ohio State, Syracuse, UCLA and Villanova. That means three of the eight top teams (Virginia, Xavier, Purdue) have a good shot at joining the club. Virginia and Xavier have never made a title game; Purdue's only trip came in 1969. 

3. The best images of Selection Sunday came from the Hurley brothers. First, check Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley bursting in celebration then being overcome by emotion after he saw his brother made the bracket with Arizona State.

And here's Bobby Hurley's reaction after the Sun Devils slipped through to the First Four. Everybody in the pool!

4. Then, there is the other side of this. Powerful photo. Middle Tennessee was good enough to win in this tournament but again won't get the chance.  

5. Before we get to the rest of the field, let's note Oklahoma State being left out despite having one less loss and much better wins than Alabama ... which is a No. 9 seed. OSU won seven games against top-50 teams, including a sweep of Kansas, a win over 3 seed Texas Tech, a win at 5 seed West Virginia and a semi-road win at Florida State. It's my position that we'll look back in 10 years and log Oklahoma State's snub -- it wasn't even in the first four out -- as one of the most egregious by the committee.  

6. USC finished second in the Pac-12 and didn't get in either. It's one of the most surprising snubs ever. Some projections had the Trojans as a No. 9.

7. Syracuse ... in! Credit to our Jerry Palm, one of the few who had the Orange clearing the bar. For me, it's something of a stunner, though. SU has one less loss than Oklahoma State and three fewer losses against top-50 teams than the Cowboys -- and no road victory as good as Oklahoma State. Baffling call, but the Orange get their chance in Dayton

8. You want some fun picks? Here are my four nominees for best Cinderella consideration

9. Scanning the bracket, and boy oh boy do I LOVE the fact that URI-Oklahoma is the first game on Thursday. We waste no time. Come 12:15 on CBS, it's Trae Young right away. (Tip times and channels here!) I'll be in Pittsburgh for that game. Rhody-Oklahoma could be big.

10. Duke-Oklahoma would be even bigger. If the Sooners and Blue Devils win on Thursday, it will set up a Saturday afternoon game between the two most polarizing players in college basketball of the past five years: Young vs. Grayson Allen. Dear lord, think of the tweets and memes. 

11. Rhode Island-Oklahoma is the first tip of the first round. The last? Should be Clemson vs. New Mexico State out in San Diego on Friday night. I adore that late window of games every year. 

12. I've been critical of Kansas' Final Four chances this season, but I will applaud this team for landing on the 1 line. It's the seventh No. 1 seed for Kansas under Bill Self. KU's been a top-two seed nine years running. Ridiculous. 

13. Elsewhere on the 1 line: This is the first top seed in Xavier history. X's 27 NCAA Tournament wins are the most for any program without a Final Four. 

14. The program with the second most NCAA Tournament wins to never make a Final Four? Missouri. Guess what: That's a potential second-round matchup in Nashville. Mizzou has made the Elite Eight five times, Xavier three. 

15. Speaking of Missouri, how good will Michael Porter Jr. be? How good will Missouri be? One of its starters was suspended after an arrest on suspicion of drinking and driving over the weekend. 

16. I've got very little issue with the committee's seeding this season. In a rarity, the Westgate sports book put out its betting lines on Sunday night -- and not one lower-seeded school is favored in its game. If Vegas is lining up with what you've done, you've done good. 

17. Allow me to Curb Your Enthusiasm myself by adding ... having said that, there are a few teams who seem a line off. Penn should be a 15, not a 16. (Swap with Lipscomb). WVU probably a 4, not a 5 (swap with Wichita State). And, for me, a 15-loss team should never be in the single digits, so I'd move Alabama from the 9 line down to a 10 and scoot Loyola up from an 11.  

18. You big on Michigan State? Think it's one of the "safest" 3 seeds you could ever pick to make the Final Four? I feel that. But here's something to keep in mind: The only teams MSU defeated this year that also made the tournament: North Carolina and Purdue. Both big wins, certainly. But it's strange that the Spartans only have two victories vs. the 67 other teams in the bracket.

19. Power region? It's obviously the Midwest: Kansas, Duke and Michigan State on the top three lines. The programs combined for 10 national titles and 39 Final Four showings. 

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Devonte' Graham and the Jayhawks could eventually face Duke or Michigan State in the Elite Eight. Denny Medley, Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

20. Not a coincidence: Wichita State switches leagues, wins 25 games, gets a No. 4 seed. It won 30 last year and got a 10.  

21. This year's field has five teams who failed to finish .500 in league play. Of course, they are all from power conferences. Alabama (SEC), Arizona State (Pac-12), Oklahoma (Big 12), Syracuse (ACC) and Texas (Big 12) each wound up going 8-10. That seems like a record.

22. I'm torn on North Carolina, which is in the bottom left corner of your bracket. The Tar Heels are a good team, but they're also the first No. 2 seed to ever have at least 10 losses. And they were the top-ranked 2 seed at that. Making three straight Final Fours is hard. The last team to do it was UCLA from 2006-08.

23. KenPom isn't everything (nor should it be). Six teams in the KenPom top 40 who didn't get an invite: Saint Mary's(28), Penn State (29), Notre Dame (31), Louisville (33), Baylor (34) and USC (40). Lowest KenPom team to get an at-large: St. Bonaventure (69), which plays UCLA on Tuesday night in Dayton. 

24. This year's field is loaded with talent. There are too many players to list, so instead, let me give you five guys who are under-the-radar great: Davidson's Peyton Aldridge, Houston's Rob Gray, Seton Hall's Angel Delgado, Butler's Kelan Martin and UCLA's Aaron Holiday

25. The NCAA Tournament can be a volatile thing year over year. Look to Oregon and South Carolina as examples. They made the Final Four in 2017. Neither was close to getting in this year. 

26. Virginia's Tony Bennett and Arizona's Sean Miller are considered the two best coaches to not make a Final Four. Well, they could face off the Sweet 16. Because they're in the same region, the South, at least one's guaranteed to wait another year.

27. I morbidly would love a Virginia-Cincinnati regional final in the South. It could be a 48-45 finish. Horrendously captivating. The top two defenses in college basketball. 

28. I have never rooted for a 16 seed to beat a 1, and until it happens, I never will. There are only a few results, a few landmark things, that the NCAA Tournament still hasn't seen happen. A mid-major winning the whole thing in the modern era is one of them. A 15 seed making the Elite Eight is another. But a 16-over-a-1 is the only one-game result we're still waiting on. This is one box we still haven't opened, and I love that. With Penn being the first 16 seed out of the Ivy League since 1989, the Quakers are getting a closer look. After all, Princeton in 1989 played the closest game ever for a 16. It lost 50-49 to Georgetown

29. I'd love to be wrong, but I think this winds up being the first tournament in six years not to have a No. 7 seed or worse make the Final Four. I don't think we make enough of the fact that lower-seeded teams are busting through to the final weekend with as much regularity as they have shown. Even beyond the past five years, you had George Mason and Butler doing it too. The lowest-seeded team with the best chance this year: Florida. 

30. Two games I know I am going to pick wrong no matter what I decide: Virginia Tech-Alabama and Arkansas-Butler. I've got the Hokies and Bulldogs as of now, so fade me. 

31. Two upset picks I'm way too confident in: No. 12 New Mexico State over No. 5 Clemson, No. 11 Loyola over No. 6 Miami. Lotta people piling on that Ramblers wagon already. 

32. Providence over A&M is recency bias completely taking over my judgment. I saw PC play at the Big East Tournament and am convinced Kyron Cartwright can drop 30 in his next game. 

33. Ranking the regions in terms of toughness: East, Midwest, South, West.

34. Ranking the regions in terms of best coaches: 1. Midwest (Krzyzewski Self, Boeheim, Izzo, Kruger), 2. South (Bennett, Calipari, Miller, Larranaga, Barnes), 3. West (Mack, Few, Beilein, Williams), 4. East (Wright, Huggins, Marshall).

35. Ranking the regions in terms of chaotic potential: 1. East, 2. West, 3. South, 4. Midwest. 

36. Ranking the regions in terms of best nicknames: 1. East (Highlanders, Racers, Boilermakers, Bonnies, Lumberjacks, Razorbacks), 2. South (Retrievers, Bluejays, Ramblers, Bearcats, Longhorns), 3. West (Musketeers, Jackrabbits, Grizzlies, Bisons), 4. Midwest (Sun Devils, Horned Frogs, Pirates, Quakers). 

37. The South is full of felines: Kansas State, Davidson, Arizona and Kentucky are all Wildcats. Bearcats there too!

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Kentucky
Kevin Knox and the Wildcats could have a huge matchup against Arizona in the second round.  Mark Zerof / USA TODAY Sports

38. First round game with biggest revenge factor: Creighton's Marcus Foster takes on his former school, Kansas State. Foster was dismissed from K-State but now takes a lot of the blame for what happened there. Still, he may drop 40. 

39. South Dakota State on that No. 12 line. Tempting me. Tempting you. Almost too tempting. 

40. Best to worst No. 12 seeds: Murray State, Davidson, South Dakota State, New Mexico State. 

41. Best to worst No. 11 seeds: St. Bonaventure, Loyola, UCLA, Arizona State, Syracuse, San Diego State

42. Murray State is a trendy 12-over-5 pick. The Racers have the most wins of anyone in the field without a Sweet 16 appearance (five). 

43. Best possible second-round matchup: Arizona vs. Kentucky in the South. 

44. Best possible Sweet 16 matchup: Duke vs. Michigan State in the Midwest. 

45. Best possible Elite Eight matchup: Gonzaga vs. UNC in the West. Title game rematch! 

46. I'm eager to see what Rick Barnes does with this Tennessee group. The Vols are a 3 seed in the South and clearly not a popular pick to make the Final Four. It's the school's best seed since it was a 2 in 2008. Barnes has coached four programs (Providence, Clemson, Texas, Tennessee) to the tournament. Six other coaches have done that, and two are in this year's Dance: John Beilein and Lon Kruger. The others are Lefty Driesell, Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith, Eddie Sutton.

47. The most consistent programs in the past two decades are mostly in this field. Duke (20 straight NCAA Tournaments), Gonzaga (20), Kansas (20), Michigan State (20), Texas (18), Arizona (18) and Kentucky (18). The only team not in the field that's made 18 or more of the past 20 tournaments: Wisconsin, which is out for the first time in the 2000s. 

48. If you're a believer in tough schedules building bracket contenders, maybe don't sleep on Texas. The Longhorns played 19 times against NCAA Tournament-bound competition. 

49. Speaking of Texas, the state has the most teams in the tourney with seven: Texas, Texas A&M, Stephen F. Austin, TCU, Houston, Texas Southern and Texas Tech. (Baylor almost made it too.) The state of North Carolina is has six in: North Carolina, North Carolina Central, UNC Greensboro, Davidson, North Carolina State and Duke. Meanwhile, Kansas went 3 for 3 with its Division I schools (KU, K-State and Wichita State) and so did West Virginia: WVU and Marshall are the only D-I schools in the Mountaineer State. 

50. Houston last made the NCAAs in 2010. But it hasn't won a tournament game since it was in the 1984 Final Four. Via ESPN, 180 other teams have won in the NCAAs since the last time the Cougars did.

51. The ACC sent nine teams to this party. That matches last year's league record. It's the second most in history; the Big East put 11 in back in 2009. Mark me down for four ACC teams to make it to the Sweet 16. 

52. Villanova is on the 1 line again. Strangely, every Wildcats appearance since 2009 has ended either the first or last weekend of the tournament. The last time Villanova lost in the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight was 2008. 

53. Overvalued: Kansas, North Carolina, Duke.

54. Undervalued: Texas Tech, Ohio State, Cincinnati. 

55. Plenty of coaches taking teams to the tournament in their first year running their respective programs. They are Butler's LaVall Jordan, Ohio State's Chris Holtmann, NC State's Kevin Keatts, Missouri's Cuonzo Martin, San Diego State's Brian Dutcher, LIU Brooklyn's Derek Kellogg and New Mexico State's Chris Jans. 

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Cuonzo Martin and the Missouri Tigers will play Florida State on Friday.  Kyle Terada / USA TODAY Sports

56. Will any team from the 2008 Final Four in San Antonio get to the 2018 Final Four in San Antonio? Memphis can't because it's not in the field. But No. 1 Kansas and No. 2 North Carolina have a good shot. No. 11 UCLA would need to pull a VCU to go from the First Four to the Final Four. 

57. That 2008 Final Four is famously the only one with all four No. 1 seeds. And so it will remain that way, at least for another year. All four No. 1s aren't surviving the next two weeks. 

58. Shoutout to Lipscomb, the only team in the field making its NCAA Tournament debut. The Bisons play Friday around 2:45 p.m. ET on CBS against UNC.

59. Major conference programs ending their longest droughts: TCU (20 years) and Auburn (15). I don't have TCU getting out of the first weekend. I do have Auburn in the Sweet 16 but can't give you any reason why. LOVE MY BRACKET, THOUGH.

60. Also ending long droughts: Loyola (1985), Marshall (1985), Charleston (1999). 

61. Top to bottom, this is the strongest season of the past 15 years for the SEC. The league sent eight teams, the most in its history. Tennessee is the highest, with a 3 seed, while Kentucky, as a 5, is considered the most dangerous entering the field. 

62. Coaches in the field who could be pulled to bigger jobs in a matter of weeks: Rhode Island's Dan Hurley, Charleston's Earl Grant, Buffalo's Nate Oats, UMBC's Ryan Odom, Loyola's Porter Moser, Georgia State's Ron Hunter, UNC Greensboro's Wes Miller. 

63. Regional sites this year: Atlanta, Los Angeles, Boston and Omaha. Kansas, by way of traveling to Wichita and potentially Omaha, has the easiest commute of any of the 1 seeds. Xavier's Nashville-then-LA route is the most inconvenient. 

64. One fascinating backdrop to this tournament is the ongoing FBI investigation into the sport. That will serve as a reason for some people to tune in, maybe a little, but ultimately the bracket is so compelling that people will watch for the upsets and their own gambling motivations. Isn't college sports grand? 

65. Always love examining the tip time windows and ranking them accordingly. Here's your viewer's guide and priority list. I'd rank them like this, with the qualifier that these are really balanced blocks this year.

1. Thursday late afternoon: Duke-Iona, Miami-Loyola, Ohio State-South Dakota State, Seton Hall-NC State
2. Thursday late night: Va. Tech-Bama, Arizona-Buffalo, Michigan-Montana, Florida-Bona/UCLA
3. Friday after dinner: Creighton-Kansas State, Michigan State-Bucknell, Xavier-TBD 16, Auburn-Charleston
4. Friday late afternoon: UNC-Lipscomb, Arkansas-Butler, West Virginia-Murray State, Nevada-Texas
5. Friday late night: Virginia-UMBC, TCU-ASU/Cuse, Missouri-Florida State, Clemson-New Mexico State
6. Thursday early afternoon: URI-Oklahoma, Tennessee-Wright State, Gonzaga-UNC Greensboro, Kansas-Penn
7. Friday early afternoon: A&M-Providence, Purdue-Fullerton, Wichita State-Marshall, Cincinnati-Georgia State
8. Thursday after dinner: Villanova vs. 16 TBD, Kentucky-Davidson, Houston-San Diego State, Texas Tech-Stephen F. Austin

66. In terms of most interesting pods, I'll go with 

1. Pittsburgh (Duke, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Villanova, Alabama)
2. Boise (Kentucky, Arizona, Davidson, Gonzaga, South Dakota State)
3. San Diego (West Virginia, Murray State, Wichita State, Auburn)
4. Charlotte (Virginia, UNC, Providence, Creighton, K-State)
5. Nashville (Xavier, Cincinnati, Missouri, Texas)
6. Detroit (Purdue, Butler, Michigan State, TCU) 
7. Dallas (Tennessee, Loyola, Florida, Stephen F. Austin)
8. Wichita (Kansas, Michigan, Houston, Seton Hall)

67. Over/under on true buzzer-beating shots to win or tie a game: 2.5. Historically that number hits the under. I'm saying we get three this year.

68. I think we're going to get a compelling Final Four, as is usually the case. The question is which No. 3, 4, 5 or 6 seed gets there. I can almost promise you it's happening. My picks: Virginia, Gonzaga, Purdue, Michigan State. I'll take Virginia over Purdue for the 2018 title.

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning senior writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his eighth season covering college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics,... Full Bio

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