With the field of 68 set, the path toward the Final Four in New Orleans kicks off Tuesday night with the play-in games, and two days later a full serving of March Madness will be served.
Boston Globe college basketball reporter Mark Blaudschun breaks down the regions:
EAST: Syracuse strong, but beware of Ohio State
Syracuse starts in Pittsburgh with what should be a warm-up against UNC-Asheville, but the next round against either Kansas State or Southern Miss will provide a different challenge.
Vanderbilt looks like the team that resembled a Final Four contender when the season started. The Commodores hit their stride on Sunday by beating Kentucky in the SEC final, which means they can handle anyone. Harvard will have matchup problems and will have to slow the pace, but we’re guessing it won’t be enough.
Montana will not be able to handle Wisconsin, but Vanderbilt will - and Harvard might, if it can upset the Commodores.
Cincinnati and Florida State should handle their opening games, although Texas might be dangerous for Cincinnati, and Florida State did lose to Boston College. But the Seminoles should make it to Boston.
Gonzaga should prevail against West Virginia and Ohio State will be too much for Loyola (Md.), then either West Virginia or Gonzaga.
That leaves an intriguing group of Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Florida State, and Ohio State coming to Boston. Or maybe Harvard.
But the feeling here is that Cinderella will be somewhere other than Boston.
Upset specials: Texas over Cincinnati, Harvard over Vanderbilt, Harvard over Wisconsin
Teams moving to Boston: Syracuse, Harvard, Florida State, Ohio State
Regional champion: Ohio State
A closer look at the teams in the East bracket:
1. Syracuse (31-2)
Kris Joseph (13.8 ppg) leads a team that was ranked No. 1 for a chunk of the season.
2. Ohio State (27-7)
When you have Jared Sullinger (17.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg), you might not need much else. The Buckeyes tied for the Big Ten title, and also beat Duke.
3. Florida State (24-9)
Not many teams can claim wins over North Carolina and Duke in the same season. The Seminoles have done one better: They’ve knocked off the Tar Heels and Blue Devils twice.
4. Wisconsin (24-9)
The Badgers are always a tough out under Bo Ryan, and this year is no exception: Seven of their losses came against ranked teams.
5. Vanderbilt (24-10)
The Commodores are soaring after knocking off Kentucky in the SEC final. John Jenkins is the leading scorer (20.0 ppg), but senior center Festus Ezeli (9.7 ppg) is equally important.
6. Cincinnati (24-10)
The Bearcats turned into a capable team with seven wins against ranked teams.
7. Gonzaga (25-6)
Kevin Pagos is the emerging star but the Zags are well-balanced and hit the boards (plus-6.5).
8. Kansas State (21-10)
Frank Martin has five 20-win seasons and four trips to the NCAAs. Guard Rodney McGruder (15.4 ppg) has more turnovers than assists.
9. Southern Mississippi (25-8)
Coach Larry Eustachy’s Eagles are scrappy and they have to be, shooting only 41 percent.
10. West Virginia (19-13)
Kevin Jones might be the best player you’ve never heard of. The senior forward scores (20.1 ppg), rebounds (11.1 rpg), and shoots 51 percent.
11. Texas (20-13)
Junior guard J’Covan Brown (20.1 ppg, double his output from last season) helped the Longhorns to their third straight NCAA trip.
12. Harvard (26-4)
The Crimson are not playing their best, but are capable of pulling off an upset.
13. Montana (25-6)
The Grizz dominated the Big Sky, going 15-1, and their best nonconference win was over Long Beach State.
14. St. Bonaventure (20-11)
An upset winner of the Atlantic 10 tournament, the Bonnies have an exceptional player is 6-foot-9-inch center Andrew Nicholson.
15. Loyola (Md.) (24-8)
The Greyhounds are coached by Jimmy Patsos, whose passion is there for all to see. This team will need a low-scoring game to pull an upset.
16. UNC Asheville (24-9)
The Bulldogs are led by guards Matt Dickey (16.5 ppg), J.P. Primm (15.3), and Chris Stephenson (13.1).
WEST: Michigan State not finished cutting down the nets
This might be a chalk regional, but the journey figures to be interesting. No. 1 Michigan State should handle LIU, although it could be interesting for a half. The next game shouldn’t be a problem, either. Memphis is good and Saint Louis can play when it wants to, but Michigan State is too tough for either.
Long Beach State breezed through the Big West regular season, won the conference tournament, should handle New Mexico, and might give Louisville all it can handle. Louisville is too athletic for Davidson, but Long Beach State is another issue. Watch out for the upset.
Murray State might take a Cinderella ride for a few games. It can handle Colorado State, but Marquette is a very athletic opponent that should overwhelm BYU or Iona.
Florida should knock off Virginia and Missouri will deal with Norfolk State. Missouri and Florida should be an above-the-rim game in what will be an SEC preview of next season. This year’s Missouri team can play with just about anybody in the SEC.
A regional semifinal between Missouri and Marquette might be ugly to watch, but fascinating. Michigan State vs. Long Beach State will also have high entertainment value.
Upset specials: Long Beach State over New Mexico, Long Beach State over Louisville
Teams moving to Phoenix: Michigan State, Long Beach State, Marquette, Missouri
Regional champion: Michigan State
A closer look at the teams in the West bracket:
1. Michigan State (27-7)
Started 0-2 but found stride, sharing the Big Ten regular-season title and winning the tournament.
2. Missouri (30-4)
Marcus Denmon (17.6 ppg), Kim English (14.9), and Phil Pressey (10.0 ppg, 6.3 apg) form a dynamic backcourt, and the Tigers are 14-3 away from home, including 7-0 on neutral courts.
3. Marquette (25-7)
The Golden Eagles love to push the pace and force more than 16 turnovers per game.
4. Louisville (26-9)
Have won 12 of their last 16. Point guard Peyton Siva (9.1 ppg, 5.5 apg) spurs the Cardinals.
5. New Mexico (27-6)
The Lobos are coached by former Indiana star Steve Alford. Their best player is forward Drew Gordon (13.4 ppg).
6. Murray State (30-1)
The Racers have a solid resume and were one mediocre shooting night from being undefeated.
7. Florida (23-10)
Just 1-4 in their last five - two losses to Kentucky - the Gators have five players averaging in double figures, topped by Kenny Boynton’s 16.3.
8. Memphis (26-8)
The Tigers lost big nonconference games (Michigan and Louisville) but have athletic players, led by Will Barton (18.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg).
9. Saint Louis (25-7)
The Billikens hold teams to 57.5 ppg. Leading scorer is Brian Conklin (13.9 ppg).
10. Virginia (22-9)
Fifth-year senior Mike Scott (18.1 ppg) has been in double digits in 28 games.
11. Colorado State (20-11)
A nondescript team without a true star that went 14-1 at home.
12. Long Beach State (25-8)
The Beach played a tough schedule to prepare for this. Casper Wear, the 49ers’ 5-11 senior guard, averages 16.9 ppg.
13. Davidson (25-7)
After getting pummeled at UMass in December, the Wildcats improved, and Bob McKillop is a top-notch coach.
14. Brigham Young (25-8)
The energetic Cougars average 78 points per game. Forward Brandon Davies, suspended for last season’s tournament, is their best player.
14. Iona (25-7)
A surprise selection but a dangerous opponent. The Gaels led the nation in scoring (83.3 ppg). Mike Glover (18.5 ppg, 9.0 rpg) is a beast inside.
15. Norfolk State (25-9)
The school’s first NCAA berth after winning the MEAC tournament. The Vikings beat TCU and Drexel, and lost by 2 at Marquette.
16. LIU (25-8)
The Blackbirds will be run-and-gun, averaging 81.9 ppg.
SOUTH: Are Duke, Kentucky destined for rematch?
Forget about Kentucky’s loss to Vanderbilt Sunday. John Calipari has the best team in the country, and it will play out that way.
The Wildcats will have a glorified scrimmage against the Mississippi Valley State-Western Kentucky winner, but then will have to put on the hard hats. Iowa State or UConn is capable of beating the Wildcats, but playing Kentucky in Louisville won’t be easy.
Once Kentucky gets to Atlanta, it is likely to find some serious challenges. Wichita State should knock off VCU, and Indiana or New Mexico State should also fall to the Shockers.
The other half of the regional might have some new faces. UNLV should be able to handle surprising Pac-12 champion Colorado, but then could have a problem with Baylor, which should end the dreams of South Dakota State.
Duke will take Lehigh in Greensboro, N.C., but the Notre Dame-Xavier winner could be a problem, although both look a little soft.
Dealing with Baylor might be a tougher task. It should be a shootout, perhaps in the 90s, but the Dukies can also make it work, which puts them up against Kentucky in a 20-year anniversary of the classic decided by Christian Laettner.
Not this time, Duke. Sorry.
Upset specials: New Mexico State over Indiana, Xavier over Notre Dame
Teams moving to Atlanta: Kentucky, Wichita State, Baylor, Duke
Regional champion: Kentucky
A closer look at the teams in the South bracket:
1. Kentucky (32-2)
Freshman center Anthony Davis, a national player of the year favorite, is averaging 14.3 ppg and 10.0 rpg with 154 blocked shots.
2. Duke (27-6)
Freshman Austin Rivers (15.4 ppg) is aided by Seth Curry (13.4 ppg) and Mason Plumlee (9.1 rpg).
3. Baylor (27-7)
The Bears started 17-0, then closed by winning five of six before falling to Missouri in the Big 12 final. Led by Perry Jones (14.0 ppg).
4. Indiana (25-8)
Beat No. 1 Kentucky, then-No. 2 Ohio State, and then-No. 5 Michigan State. Cody Zeller (15.5 ppg) leads a very balanced offense.
5. Wichita State (27-5)
The Shockers are stingy on defense (39 percent shooting), rebound ferociously (plus-6), and finally have a good big man in 7-footer Garrett Stutz (13.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg).
6. UNLV (26-8)
Especially difficult to beat in Sin City (17-1). Mike Moser leads the team at 14.1 ppg and 10.6 rpg.
7. Notre Dame (22-11)
Leading scorer Tim Abromaitis was lost to a knee injury in November. Jack Cooley’s numbers spiked (3.7 ppg to 12.4, 61 percent shooting).
8. Iowa State (22-10)
Home wins over Kansas and Baylor stand out, and sophomore forward Royce White (13.1 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 5.1 apg) could become a star.
9. Connecticut (20-13)
The defending national champion has relied on Jeremy Lamb (17.7 ppg) and freshman Andre Drummond (10.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg).
10. Xavier (21-12)
Tu Holloway (17.0 ppg, 5.2 apg) can be an explosive player when engaged.
11. Colorado (23-11)
Forward Andre Roberson is 6-7, but he’s fifth in the country in rebounding (11.1).
12. VCU (28-6)
Looked for lots of full-court pressure. The Rams have won 17 of their last 18.
13. New Mexico State (26-9)
Coach Marvin Menzies is a Rick Pitino disciple, so the Aggies like to press and run.
14. South Dakota State (27-7)
The mascot looks like a life-sized stuffed bunny. The Rabbits are led by Nate Wolters (21.3 ppg).
15. Lehigh (26-7)
C.J. McCollum averages 21.3 points and 3.5 assists.
16. Mississippi Valley State (21-12)
The Delta Devils were 1-11, but then dominated the SWAC, going 17-1.
16. Western Kentucky (15-18)
The school fired coach Ken McDonald Jan. 6, and somehow replacement Ray Harper got the Hilltoppers to win the Sun Belt tournament.
MIDWEST: North Carolina, Kansas plot collision course
North Carolina was regarded as the best team in the country when the season began, and the Tar Heels may prove to be the best team when the final game is played in New Orleans.
Roy Williams’s team opens in Greensboro, N.C., against Lamar or Vermont. Alabama is talented enough to bother the Tar Heels, Creighton isn’t. Neither will pull off the upset.
South Florida and Temple figure to have a huge tug-of-war in Nashville - provided South Florida beats California. Michigan might beat either of those teams after it takes care of Ohio.
In the bottom half of the bracket, North Carolina State might emerge as a sleeper if the Wolfpack can play the way they did in the ACC tournament. The Wolfpack should be able to get past San Diego State and perhaps even Georgetown, should the Hoyas dispatch Belmont.
The other half of the bracket looks like it should belong to Kansas. Saint Mary’s should be one-and-done against Purdue, and Kansas should then roll over Purdue.
Georgetown should knock off Belmont, but beating Kansas will be a different matter.
That will set up a Kansas vs. North Carolina regional final in St. Louis, which says the edge belongs to Kansas. But UNC has more talent.
Upset specials: N.C. State over San Diego State, N.C. State over Georgetown
Teams moving to St. Louis: N.C. State, North Carolina, Kansas, Temple
Regional champion: North Carolina
A closer look at the teams in the Midwest bracket
1. North Carolina (29-5)
A nine-game win streak was snapped by Florida State in the ACC final, but the Tar Heels have the country’s best point guard in Kendall Marshall. John Henson’s wrist injury could be a blow.
2. Kansas (27-6)
The Jayhawks dominated the Big 12 behind Thomas Robinson (17.9 ppg and 11.8 rpg) and Tyshawn Taylor (17.3 ppg, 4.8 apg).
3. Georgetown (23-8)
The Hoyas win with balanced scoring (Jason Clark’s 13.9 ppg leads team), good shot selection, and solid defense.
4. Michigan (24-9)
Scintillating freshman point guard Trey Burke (14.8 ppg) leads the way.
5. Temple (24-7)
The Owls have an outstanding guard in Ramone Moore (17.7 ppg) but have failed to advance out of the first round under Fran Dunphy in three tries.
6. San Diego State (26 -7)
It is defense first for the surprising Aztecs, who keep opponents to only 39 percent shooting.
7. Saint Mary’s (27-5)
The key to success is usually the play of forward Rob Jones (14.8 ppg).
8. Creighton (28-5)
The best-shooting team in the nation (50.9 percent) has the best unknown player in 6-foot-8-inch forward Doug McDermott (23.2 ppg).
9. Alabama (21-11)
The Tide are back for the first time since 2006, and are led by senior forward JaMychal Green.
10. Purdue (21-12)
Robbie Hummel is averaging a career-best 16.3 ppg.
11. N.C. State (22-12)
A late four-game win streak pushed the Wolfpack into the field. How long they last might depend on C.J. Leslie (14.6, 7.5).
12. California (24-9)
Guard Jorge Gutierrez (13.1 ppg) is the Pac-12’s player of the year.
12. South Florida (20-13)
The Bulls have held 10 straight opponents under 60 points.
13. Ohio (27-7)
D.J. Cooper, a 5-11 lefty, is the crafty leader of the Bobcats, averaging 14.6 ppg and 5.7 apg.
14. Belmont (27-7)
The deep, battle-tested Bruins are deep, play fast, and score a lot (81.5).
15. Detroit (22-13)
Guard Ray McCallum (15.6 ppg) spurned offers from larger schools to play for his father.
16. Lamar (23-11)
Pat Knight, son of Bob, can coach, too.
16. Vermont (23-11)
The Catamounts are in the NCAAs for the fifth time in 10 years.
Capsules by Joe Sullivan and Michael Whitmer