Selection Sunday is officially in the books, signalling the start of the most exciting three weeks in sports: the NCAA tournament.
With the field of 68 teams having been announced and the first- and second-round matchups all set, the madness is just around the corner.
All Your Bracket Essentials:
Below I'll predict which teams are set to advance from each region this spring.
Spartans Will Rule the East
It's fair to say that the East Region is the most wide-open of the four regions.
With inexperienced Virginia earning the No. 1 seed, No. 2 Villanova and No. 3 Iowa State each presenting a threat at the bottom of the bracket and Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans rounding out the top four seeds, it's anyone's guess as to who will advance to North Texas by way of New York.
But with so much uncertainty surrounding the East, Michigan State would appear to be the safest pick. After all, Izzo has led his team to the Final Four six times since 1999 and has the ideal mix of talent and experience to get back in 2014, per WLNS-TV sports anchor Kevin Gehl:
Seniors Keith Appling and Adreian Payne are reliable players who can score from anywhere on the floor, and sophomore Gary Harris gives the Spartans another wing threat capable of pushing them over the top.
There's certainly a lot that can go wrong for this team, but keep in mind that it's beaten a handful of tournament teams already and is riding a three-game winning streak coming into the Big Dance.
Florida Will Survive the South
The top-seeded Gators are hands down the best team in America. Led by a core of four seniors, Florida has won 26 straight games and enters the Big Dance as SEC tournament champions for the first time since 2007, the year it last won the national title.
Coached by a two-time national champion in Billy Donovan and anchored by physically imposing center Patric Young, Florida possesses everything you look for in a championship unit, including the ability to get stops when it matters.
The Gators' narrow win over Kentucky in the SEC tournament title game highlighted their defensive strengths, according to Young, per Lexington Herald-Leader's Jerry Tipton:
Honestly, I don't think this was our best in terms of handling the close game. But when we needed to make plays, especially on the defensive side, we were able to.
No. 2 Kansas, No. 3 Syracuse and No. 4 UCLA are all threats in the South Region, but they all pale in comparison to the Gators when you consider Florida's tournament experience, consistency game in and game out, and its ability to put up points in a hurry.
Florida hasn't won 26 games in a row on accident, and the Gators' ability to go unscathed over the past three-and-a-half months speaks to their potential to wreak serious havoc this March.
Wildcats Control the West
The West Region is arguably the easiest of the four and will provide a relatively inexperienced Arizona Wildcats team with an excellent shot at reaching the Final Four.
With No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 3 Creighton and No. 4 San Diego State rounding out the top seeds in that region, it's no wonder so many people like Sean Miller's Pac-12 powerhouse to make a deep run.
Led by junior point guard Nick Johnson and freshman forward Aaron Gordon, Arizona is a legitimate title threat thanks to its defensive prowess and dominance on the boards. Free-throw shooting will also be a huge key for the Wildcats as they progress through the bracket. Cashing in from the charity stripe is critical this time of year, and the Wildcats went 6-of-16 in their most recent loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament championship game.
If Arizona can hit foul shots and can get past a potential matchup with No. 9 Oklahoma State in the round of 32, it should be well on its way to winning the West.
Defending Champs Advance from Midwest
The Louisville Cardinals may be a No. 4 seed in the Midwest Region, but they are still the defending national champions. And, oh yeah, they still have Rick Pitino, Russ Smith and Luke Hancock, three key pieces to last year's triumph in Atlanta.
Plus, the Cardinals have won five straight games this March and are playing confident basketball on both ends of the floor.
The road to the Final Four won't be easy, but it will be awfully familiar for Louisville, who won the Midwest Region a year ago, playing in Indianapolis, the same site as this year's Midwest Regional semifinals and final.
No. 1 seed Wichita State could wind up being a big-time challenge in the Sweet 16, but remember, the Cardinals were the last team to beat the Shockers in the Final Four last April.
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