At long last, March Madness is here. This year's NCAA Tournament kicks off with the First Four games on Tuesday and Wednesday, before the round of 64 begins on Thursday. This year’s tournament, like all others before it, features plenty of star power, some returning heavyweights, and a few intriguing possible upset candidates.
The full NCAA bracket was released on Sunday evening. Here’s everything you need to know about who to watch, which teams have a chance to go far, and who has a right to be upset about being left out of the action.
- Duke’s Dominance – By far the biggest name in this year’s NCAA Tournament is Duke freshman phenom Zion Williamson, who returned for the ACC Tournament after missing several weeks with an ankle injury. With Williamson healthy, Duke has looked unstoppable, rolling to an ACC title and entering March Madness as a deserving No. 1 seed. As long as he’s on the floor, the Blue Devils are a good bet to go all the way, and every game Williamson plays will be a must-watch.
- Ja Morant’s Rise – Outside of Williamson, the most high-profile NBA prospect in the tournament is Murray State guard Ja Morant, who has made a name for himself with highlight dunks and smart passing instincts. The No. 12-ranked Racers face No. 5 Marquette in the first round of the tournament and have been tabbed as a popular upset pick among the early games. If Murray State can make a deep run, it will only help Morant’s case to be the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA Draft after Williamson.
- How Far Can Villanova Go? – Villanova has won two of the last three NCAA titles, beating Michigan last year and North Carolina in 2016. But they enter this year’s tournament as a No. 6 seed, having lost several key players from the title team to the NBA, including Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, and Jalen Brunson. They still managed to capture the Big East regular-season and tournament championships, and look to be a tough out for any opponent they face during March Madness.
- Michigan's Redemption – On the other side, Michigan will be looking for revenge after losing to Villanova in last year’s title game. This year’s Wolverines squad is the No. 2 seed in the West region after another strong campaign under head coach John Beilein. They’re deep, they're versatile, they can shoot, and they boast one of the country’s best defenses. Combine that with last year’s Final Four experience and you have one of the most dangerous teams in the entire tournament.
- This Year’s UMBC? – Last year, University of Maryland-Baltimore County made NCAA Tournament history by becoming the first No. 16 seed ever to upset a No. 1, blowing out top-ranked Virginia by 20 points. They lost to Kansas State in the second round, but their place in history was secure. UMBC isn’t in the tournament this year, but what they did last March gives hope to the other No. 16 seeds in the bracket. Can the likes of North Dakota State, North Carolina Central or Iona pull off a similar stunning upset? Not likely, but all eyes will be on them.
- North Carolina State – The Wolfpack built a case for a Tournament bid by blowing out bottom-tier teams, which led to strong rankings in various overall performance metrics. But their soft non-conference schedule came back to bite them in the end, as the selection committee decided it wasn’t impressed by NC State beating up on lower-level opponents. They faltered when playing against better competition, and were ultimately left on the outside looking in on Selection Sunday.
- Alabama – The Crimson Tide are one of the bubble teams with the most cause for frustration at the final result. They posted a solid 18-15 record in the regular season with one of the toughest schedules in the country. Avery Johnson’s team was ultimately done in by losing seven of its final 10 games of the season, albeit against some good teams. Still, they have plenty to be proud of this season, including a win over eventual No. 12 seed Murray State in non-conference play.
- TCU – A tough final stretch of the season saw the Horned Frogs, like Alabama, lose seven of their final 10 games. However, the rest of their resume is strong, playing in the Big 12 with a tough schedule while beating some impressive competition. None of their losses can be classified as embarrassing, but there simply wasn’t room for TCU in the final bracket. They would have been a deserving selection for a lower seed.
- Texas – The Longhorns’ strength of schedule ranked in the top five in the nation, which proved to be both a blessing and a curse. It should have bolstered their case for a tournament bid, considering the caliber of their competition, especially when you factor in wins over Purdue, Kansas and Kansas State. Texas’ downfall was its pedestrian 16-16 record on the season. Letting an at-large team into the tournament with 16 losses is something the selection committee has never done before, and they weren’t about to start now.
- Georgetown – The Hoyas put up some impressive wins during Big East conference play, including victories over Marquette and Villanova. Despite finishing with a solid 19-13 overall record on the season, their weak non-conference schedule was another notch in the loss column when it got to Selection Sunday. Patrick Ewing’s team is young and has a bright future, but they'll have to wait at least another year to return to the program's glory days.
Keep up with the NCAA Tournament action on DIRECTV.