The NCAA tournament bracket is out, and teams in certain regions will have a much more difficult path to the Final Four than teams in other parts of the field.
The luck of the draw is a big part of March Madness, and few teams are going to have to pass through a gauntlet if the hope to be playing in Atlanta.
But the challenges ahead are clear, and every one of the 68 teams in the field know what it has to do.
Here is a link to a printable PDF of the NCAA tournament field and a link to a live bracket that will be constantly updated throughout the competition. Now, here is each region ranked according to difficulty.
There is no question that the Midwest is the toughest region in the tournament this year. No other region is even close to being as difficult as this one.
No. 1 Louisville did not catch a break as the top overall seed in the tournament, and No. 2 Duke could not have ended up with a worse draw. Instead of being a top seed, the Blue Devils were bumped down a level and landed in a hellish spot.
Michigan State is No. 3, and Tom Izzo is always capable of making a run to the Final Four. Add No. 4 Saint Louis, No. 7 Creighton and No. 8 Colorado State, who are all sleepers, and this region starts to get ridiculous.
What really pushes it over the top is No. 12 Oregon, who won the Pac-12 tournament and was given an inexplicably low seed. Whichever team gets out of this reason will certainly be battle-tested.
While the South is a distant second to the Midwest, it will still be tough to get out of this region. No. 1 Kansas will be the favorite, but Otto Porter and No. 2 Georgetown have proven to be a national powerhouse this season.
But the strength of the next two highest seeds is what makes this bracket tough. No. 3 Florida has been atop Ken Pomeroy’s team rankings for much of the season due to its ability to play on both ends of the floor. Then, No. 4 Michigan is an offensive juggernaut that is impossible to stop if it can speed up the tempo.
After that, there is a bunch of wild cards. No. 13 South Dakota State could be a sleeper if Nate Wolters heats up, and the same goes for No. 7 San Diego State and Jamaal Franklin.
There are four fantastic teams in this region and a handful of possible Cinderellas. It will be fascinating to see the South play out.
No. 1 Indiana and No. 2 Miami are legitimate national title contenders, but after that, the East does not stack up with the Midwest or the South.
No. 3 Marquette is solid but its questionable defense keeps it from being elite. No. 4 Syracuse’s collapse in the second half against Louisville in the Big East tournament title game has the Orange limping into the tournament.
After that, there is even less to be excited about. No. 5 UNLV has relies too much on freshman Anthony Bennett for offense, while No. 6 Butler appears to be lacking the same magic it has had in previous years.
It would be extremely surprising to see anyone but the Hoosiers and Hurricanes reach the Elite Eight.
Which region is the weakest?
Gonzaga is the weakest No. 1 seed in the tournament and it is leading the weakest region. The Bulldogs impressed during the regular season, but rank 97th in strength of schedule.
Then comes No. 2 Ohio State, which is a solid team, but is also arguably the weakest second seed.
Looking down the list, it is tough to find a team to get behind. No. 3 New Mexico and No. 5 Wisconsin have severe struggles on offense, while No. 4 Kansas State’s only quality win away from home came in the Big 12 tournament against Oklahoma State.
Ultimately, teams in the West will be making few waves in this year’s tournament.
Make your picks for the 2013 NCAA Tournament here with the Bracket Challenge Game.