The NCAA Tournament field is set and everyone will be trying to end Kentucky’s bid to become the first team to go undefeated in 39 years.
The Wildcats are clearly the big story, but with 68 teams playing over three weeks from Seattle to Jacksonville, there’s plenty of other reasons to tune in as March Madness kicks into full gear.
So now that the bracket is complete, it’s time to run down some of the best matchups, surprises and potential upsets to keep an eye out for in the lead up to the national championship game in Indianapolis:
TOP MATCHUPS: You want to see muscle on muscle, Louisville vs. UC Irvine should be a good one. Cardinals powerful power forward Montrezl Harrell against the Anteaters’ 7-foot-6, 300-pound center Mamadou Ndiaye will be a heavyweight bout.
Both teams need to win their opening games, but Kansas against Wichita State in the round of 32 would be one of those must-see games. The Jayhawks will not play the mid-major monster Shockers during the regular season and the entire state of Kansas may be in Omaha if those two teams get through.
Keep an eye on Virginia Commonwealth and Ohio State in Portland on Thursday. That’s when the Buckeyes’ dynamic scorer D’Angelo Russell faces the Rams’ Havoc defense.
Not to get too far ahead, but a Wisconsin-Arizona final in the West Region could be epic. The Badgers survived a last-second shot to beat the Wildcats in overtime in last year’s West final.
TOP PLAYERS: Duke’s Jahlil Okafor has been one of the nation’s best players all season and figures to be headed to the NBA after one season, so he’s going to be motivated to play well.
Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky helped lead the Badgers to the Final Four last season and has been neck-and-neck with Okafor for player of the year honors.
Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein is arguably the best player on the nation’s best team.
Utah’s Delon Wright is a dynamic player who can be unstoppable.
Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant is a potential All-America. So is Iowa State’s Georges Niang.
And, if it wasn’t for Okafor, the talk of the nation’s best freshman might have been about Maryland’s Melo Trimble. Arizona’s Stanley Johnson is in the same category.
SURPRISES: Perhaps the biggest head-scratcher of the bracket was the inclusion of UCLA. The Bruins scored seven first-half points in a blowout loss to Kentucky, went 1-7 against top-25 teams in the RPI and went 2-8 on the road.
But UCLA had a strong schedule (32nd nationally) and won eight of its final 11 games to get in.
Texas, Indiana and North Carolina State were also somewhat unexpected additions to the bracket.
Dayton was considered a bubble team and sneaked in, playing one of the First Four games. The surprise is more where they’ll play: At home against Boise State on Wednesday.
And, as always, there are teams that thought they should have gotten in and were left out, among them Colorado State, Temple, Old Dominion and Richmond
UPSETS?: Stephen F. Austin over Utah will be a trendy upset pick.
The Utes, the fifth seed in the South Region, limped to the finish this season, losing four of their final seven games. The 12th-seeded Lumberjacks shoot the ball well and were upset winners a year ago, knocking off VCU as a No. 12 seed.
Brigham Young, the No. 11 seed in the West, was considered to be on the bubble, but has a talented team led by hot-shooting Tyler Haws and do-it-all point guard Kyle Collinsworth. Xavier was a bit of a surprise as a No. 6 seed. The Cougars have to play Mississippi first, but could give the Musketeers a run if they do.
Midwest No. 12 seed Buffalo was able to hang with top-ranked Kentucky earlier this season and fifth-seeded West Virginia is dealing with injuries.
Maryland reached the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament, but faces a tough opening challenge against No. 14 seed Valparaiso in the South Region.